diamond geezer

 Sunday, October 03, 2004

Random borough 3: Enfield

So, yesterday I ended up in north London in the randomly selected borough of Enfield. Not London's most interesting borough perhaps, but still better than some I could mention. I gave myself an hour to research Enfield on the internet, then spent the rest of the day wandering around. And yes, I did get very wet in the process. There was so much to see that I'm splitting my report in half - first part today, the rest tomorrow.

Somewhere famous: Cockfosters
I really struggled to find somewhere famous in Enfield. Even the leaflet 'Great days out in Enfield' struggles to find somewhere famous in Enfield. So, my apologies, but I decided to visit London's most famous knob gag instead. Cockfosters (snigger) lies right at the northern tip of the Piccadilly Line and opened for service in 1933. It's a four-platform terminus with a shed-like concrete roof and a large circular ticket hall. All the other Enfield tube stations (Oakwood, Southgate and Arnos Grove) are architecturally renowned, but I didn't consider Cockfosters to be quite in the same league. It still has much of its original signage, however, including a giant illuminated platform indicator hanging beneath a central yellow clock.

The station lies right on the edge of London suburbia, with the Green Belt beginning just a few yards to the north. A parade of shops stretches half a mile to the south, a rather splendid selection of traditional English retailers with not one well-known chainstore in sight. It's all fishmongers rather than supermarkets, chips rather than kebabs, teas rather than coffees and functional rather than fashionable. I was sorry to see one independent menswear shop that provides for sizes 32"-64" holding a closing down sale - what a waist that is. At the bottom of the Cockfosters Road I also found both the Chicken Shed Theatre (for socially aware young starlets) and the intriguing Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (alas closed at the time of my visit). End of the line maybe, but not the back of beyond.
by tube: Cockfosters

Somewhere historic: Royal Small Arms Factory
If you were shot by the British Army during the 19th or 20th centuries, chances are that the gun that shot you came from Enfield. The Royal Small Arms Factory was established beside the River Lee at Enfield Lock during the 1820s, ending the army's previous reliance on private gunmakers. The factory was built just too late for the Napoleonic wars but provided most of the firepower for the Crimean and Boer Wars, as well as World Wars One and Two. It was one of the first factories to develop mass production, as early as 1857, and later produced large numbers of the famous Lee Enfield rifle. The factory survived, even through long periods of peacetime, until 1987 at which point it was sold to British Aerospace who promptly closed it down. Now the island site has been redeveloped as a large housing estate, with a number of the old buildings left standing uneasily amidst a sea of bland townhouses. My photo shows the front of the main factory building, and very impressive it looks too, but what you can't see is that the rest of the structure behind has been replaced by a collection of modern retail and workshop units. There's a gym, a Greek restaurant, a new Tesco Express and a by-appointment-only museum that reflects on the much stronger community that once used to thrive here. Gun, but not forgotten.
by train: Enfield Lock, by bus: 121

Somewhere pretty: Forty Hall
Forty Hall is a Grade 1 listed Jacobean house, built in 1632, surrounded by beautiful grounds which include a lake and a 300 year-old cedar tree. And entrance is free. It's the sort of place which one day, when you're retired, you'll come for the afternoon for a nice sit down in the lovely gardens followed by a cup of tea and another nice sit down in the café afterwards. The grounds contain the remains of Elsynge Hall, one of Henry VIII's many hunting lodges and a favourite childhood residence of the young princess Elizabeth. Forty Hall is now home to the Enfield Museum, a surprisingly interesting collection of local artefacts including an ancient sword, a number of old maps of Middlesex and even a selection of OXO tins. I was pleasantly surprised by the whole place, and I'm hoping to come back in 2030 for a nice sit down and a Rich Tea biscuit.
by bus: 191

Tomorrow: a sporting fiasco, the world's very first cashpoint and 'north' London


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