diamond geezer

 Monday, September 14, 2015

Beyond London (9): Slough (part 2)

Yes, I'm still going on about Slough, what of it? [30 photos]

Somewhere famous: Slough Trading Estate
Until I properly visited, I'd had no idea how utterly enormous Slough's famous trading estate is. You'll know it from the opening titles to The Office, and as the home of Mars confectionery. But its two square kilometres contain far more than that, including over 500 businesses, several corporate HQs and some prefab-style units where some of my childhood favourite TV programmes were filmed. The estate originally grew out of a WW1 army transport repair depot, conveniently located on either side of the railway, but alas still under construction when the war was over. Surplus wasted vehicles were piled up here, earning the nickname 'The Dump', before the site was sold off to a group of investors who saw much greater potential. They established the Slough Trading Co. Ltd, later renamed Slough Estates Ltd, transforming army sheds into industrial units and adding more. Companies such as Citroën, Johnson & Johnson and Berlei moved in, and service industries such as shops and banks sprung up to serve the growing daytime community. Betjeman's elegy to Slough marks a phase where he thought the estate was growing too fast, but it remains Europe's largest business park in single ownership and drives Slough's powerhouse economy to this day.

I had two particular targets to visit, but to reach them had to stride through a considerable cross section of the 500 acre site. A large sign on the Bath Road announced the Trading Estate's presence with appropriate modern branding, although the units beyond were not always quite so smart. Several looked more like capacious huts, while the majority were gleaming glass temples, or under construction to become the latter. Some businesses on site are relatively unknown, working out of all or some of an anonymous box, but everywhere has a car park because there's always plenty of room. Every road is named after a British town or city, the main thoroughfare being Buckingham Avenue, while the estate also has its own central power station with enormous looming chimneys. Only two bridges link either side of the railway, one of which (from Brunel's era) is currently being replaced with a much wider lorry-friendly span. This has sadly required the demolition of Crossbow House, the fictional home of David Brent, whose Office workplace has been replaced by a junction on the new connecting road.

A tyre depot beside the other bridge over the railway, by B&Q, holds a very special place in the history of children's television. Gerry Anderson bought the unit on Ipswich Road in 1959 for the filming of his new series Four Feather Falls, and continued with the production of Supercar and Fireball XL5. Half the building became a studio where puppeteers teetered on a Dexion bridge high above the stage, but noise from the Bath Road and Great Western Railway proved problematic (so sound recording always happened on a Sunday). In 1962 Lew Grade was so impressed by the output from this primitive building that he bought the company, providing enough capital for Anderson to move out. This means it's now barely possible to imagine the building in its heyday, but that space where men in overalls jack up cars to check the tyres was once regularly broadcast on ITV. All production was promptly moved to Stirling Road. This dog-leg cul-de-sac round the back of the power station was lined by a series of semi-detached gabled units, and these could now be separately appropriated for Supermarionation, Art, Post-Production, etc. The last unit on the right-hand side was used for special effects, which were more much important in Stingray (Gerry's 1964 series), and grew to even more explosive proportions in Thunderbirds (1965) and Captain Scarlet (1967). [full history] [7 photos]

I will therefore confess to being mildly thrilled as I turned up Stirling Road, even using my phone to play the Thunderbirds theme tune, its bars first heard when the series launched 50 years ago this month. I knew I was in the right place when I spotted four other pilgrims wandering around with cameras, one of whom was pointing at buildings and doorways as if he knew what he was talking about. The original hut-like units still fill one side of the road, although they're now occupied by businesses that make plastics and industrial hose, and those on the opposite side have almost all been replaced. Nevertheless number 697 still has the word 'Reception' above its doorway, which I'd like to think is a survivor from the days of the Century 21 Organisation. Excitingly, one of these units (unidentified) has just been taken over by a Kickstarter project to film three episodes of "Thunderbirds 1965" using original techniques. But best of all, on my visit at least, the entire road smelt of chocolate! It was wafting across from the adjacent Mars factory - a low metal fortress expelling lorryloads of Maltesers - and making the air a delight to inhale. Two childhood pleasures in one street, fab.
by train: Burnham

Somewhere random: Jubilee River
The Thames has long been a threat to the towns of Maidenhead, Windsor and Eton, increasingly so over the last century as its banks have been steadily urbanised. To alleviate the risk of inundation (and associated insurance costs) the Environment Agency dug a seven mile diversion as a flood protection bypass. Where possible they followed the path of minor waterways like the Roundmoor Ditch and the Chalvey Ditch, and completed this major project in 2002 which is why it's called the Jubilee River. Officially it's not a river, it's a 'hydraulic channel', but it acts and looks like one, if in a rather artificial way. Its deep lush banks reminded me of the northern half of the Olympic Park, which performs a similar preventative function, and probably cost almost as much. I was also struck by how wide it was, all the better to hold a once in a generation flood, although following 2014's extremely wet winter some have claimed it's simply pushed the problem further downstream.

I didn't have time to walk the full seven miles, so I targeted the stretch past Slough, accessed off the dual carriageway at the foot of the Windsor Road. It's certainly scenic where the river tumbles down a broad artificial weir, particularly if a heron's taken up fish-watching on top, although other stretches are more blandly reedy and straight. The M4 runs almost alongside, which isn't a coincidence because it too was driven through the marshy bit where residential development would be inadvisable. Planes from Heathrow follow almost overhead, at approximately "disappearing into the clouds" distance, in case you're a bit of a spotter. And I'm told the wetlands at Dorney are rather nice, although I split at the sewage works which aren't. I'd thought the path would be busier, but very few people passed me by - one with dogs, a couple out jogging and the rest on bikes. Indeed the entire route is ideal for cycling, being flat and wide and green, in case you're ever in need of a good ride from not-quite Maidenhead to almost Datchet. [4 photos]

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this month?
28 Jan – 23 Apr (10am-4.30pm)
Sussex Modernism
The sixth annual exhibition at Two Temple Place focuses on radical art/writing in Sussex, and is damned excellent.

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
city metric
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
london museums
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
The DG Tour of Britain
Comment Value Hierarchy

read the archive
Feb17  Jan17
Dec16 Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards