diamond geezer

 Friday, August 25, 2006

  Metro-land revisited
  Betjeman Close


"Early Electric! Sit you down and see,
'Mid this fine woodwork and a smell of dinner,
A stained-glass windmill and a pot of tea,
And sepia views of leafy lanes in Pinner.

John Betjeman (The Metropolitan Railway, 1954)

Just a thousand souls lived in Pinner before the railway arrived. The Metropolitan changed all that, spreading a fast-growing crop of perennial dwellings across acres of former fields. But the medieval High Street retains much of its charm [photo], climbing the hillside from the River Pinn to the Parish Church [photo]. Actually the river's more a concrete channel strewn with plastic bottles and the church is half hidden behind a mock Tudor Chinese restaurant, but this is everything the centre of neighbouring Harrow isn't. Every year, on the Wednesday after the May Bank Holiday, the High Street is blocked off and filled with brightly-coloured stalls, hubbub and merriment. The annual Pinner Fair [photo] is a genuine Metro-land tradition, dating back to 1336, and it was to this event that the Betjeman camera crew came. They missed out on filming the church choir at the top of the hill, which is a shame because one of the choristers at the time was a 13-year old Simon le Bon. And they resisted a trip to the anonymous house on the Pinner Hill Road where 1972 singing sensation Elton John had been born. The former Dwight residence is still a very ordinary-looking home, far less grand than its immediate neighbour, with a bus stop and a green litter bin plonked on the pavement outside [photo]. It's a very long way from here to the Hollywood Bowl.

To the east of the village centre, just over the railway, is the only road in Metro-land to be named after Sir John [photos]. The developers of this cul-de-sac of 46 retirement flats, built in the year Betjeman died, must have thought it would be a good idea to honour the former Poet Laureate with his very own corner of suburbia. What a mistake. No self-respecting lover of British architecture such as he would ever want to live in one of these brown brick boxes [photo]. Each building's design nods in the direction of a traditional Home Counties villa, but without originality, character or soul. A narrow strip of communal front garden features little more than a scrap of shrubbery beside a patchy lawn. There's a uniformity here which is in direct contrast to the early 20th century buildings all around. The terrace of older houses nextdoor is enlivened by individual ownership and a splash of character. Pinner Court across the road is an imposing green and white block of balconied apartments with a slightly oriental flavour [photo], and the adjacent Harrow Fire Station is the very model of symmetrical simplicity [photo]. But, alas, Betjeman Court is nothing special, nothing special at all. Millions of modern Britons live somewhere remarkably similar.

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