diamond geezer

 Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Westminster: St John's Wood

52 metres (25th out of 33) [map] [map]

Westminster isn't simply the tourist mecca in the south of the borough, it spreads a lot further north than that. Beyond Baker Street, beyond Regent's Park, almost as far as the giddy heights of Swiss Cottage. And it's on the northernmost edge of the borough that we find the borough's highest point which, like that of Islington, is merely a staging point on the steady ascent to Hampstead/Highgate. This time we're on a 200 year-old turnpike, also known as the A41, better known as the Finchley Road. We are not, whatever the official list says, on parallel St John's Wood Park. That residential road might look convincingly summit-like on a map but is blatantly incorrect when visited in the flesh, a good few metres down from the saddleback on the trunk road. Here traffic swooshes past in waves, fed by traffic lights that allow acceleration only so far as the next red, which here may be a little further away than usual. Finchley Road's especially popular with long-distance coaches heading for the M1 and beyond, or returning to London from All Points North before limping slowly into Victoria. And for today's purposes the key location is the minor crossroads with the street that marks the boundary between Westminster and Camden, which appropriately enough is called Boundary Road. [3 photos]

It's rather residential round here. To the east of the crossroads rise two tall-ish apartment blocks, with white balconies, one called Blair Court, the other Buttermere Court. Despite being in different boroughs both are ostensibly identical, but Blair's surroundings are more plain, while Buttermere rises on stilts above a heavily-trimmed subtropical jungle. To the west is the Hilgrove Estate, not Camden's finest, plus a long white box the occasional blue shutter that can only be a freshly-funded academy. This is Quintin Kynaston, a school that sounds like it was named by someone who wanted its pupils to be mercilessly ribbed, and which moves wholesale into this state of the art building in the New Year. The most striking features of this borough highpoint, however, are the cyclists. They ride in up Boundary Road following some local bikeway, and pause cautiously to cross the stream of arterial traffic through a special tiny gap in the central reservation. I watched several cyclists thread through, including an angsty Dad intent on urging his small daughter across the box junction before the lights changed. Next time you're on the National Express to Manchester, keep an eye out.
by train: South Hampstead   by bus: 13, 46, 82, 113, 187

Hammersmith and Fulham: Harrow Road

46 metres (26th out of 33) [map] [map]
Kensington and Chelsea: Kensal Green Cemetery
45 metres (27th out of 33) [map] [map]

It had to happen eventually, two boroughs with a highpoint in the same place. Or in this case nearly the same place, which is on the northern edge of Kensal Green Cemetery along the Harrow Road. This old road marks the former boundary between London and Middlesex, now the southern edge of Brent, and also the edge of the drainage basin of one of West London's lost rivers. Counter's Creek ran down from approximately here to Chelsea Creek, its line now approximately the divide between H&F and K&C, which sort-of explains the slopes that spill south through the gravestones and across the railway.

I'll take the Kensington and Chelsea 'peak' first, because it's prettier. Kensal Green is a splendid post-Georgian pre-Victorian cemetery, the first of the 'Magnificent Seven' garden-style public burial grounds in London. More people are buried here than currently live in Kensington and Chelsea, which is saying something, amid the chapels and avenues and landscaped humps. The highest point is near the West Gate, where North Avenue runs up behind the The Masons Arms and the hostel block on the Harrow Road. Such is the demand for places that the very latest burials are being interred along what were once grassy pathways, with a chain of wooden crosses awaiting a more permanent headstone. Everybody's here - the famous chess champion, the much loved mum, beloved Dorcas Frimpong, 'Sledge' the Rasta grandpa - watched over by the steward in her information hut by the entrance. In truth the highest point is at the West Gate, up the driveway, where the temporary florists sit in their makeshift tent waiting to disperse bouquets to visiting mourners. They do a brisk trade too, this elderly husband and wife team, with pot plants and floral crosses a speciality. Mind the cars driving in and out, people don't walk to their relatives' plots if they can avoid it, and two signs are required to warn potential purchasers not to park up and block the way in. [3 photos]

Accessed via the same entrance is St Mary's Cemetery, the Roman Catholic enclave above the crematorium, this very firmly in Hammersmith and Fulham. Just one road beside the West Gate makes it into the borough proper, a runty dogleg dead end that serves the rear of a residential terrace. But this short terrace is possibly unique in London as having once been in three separate administrative districts. The first three houses were in Kensington Parish, the next two in Hammersmith and the last two in Willesden, each boundary delineated by a pair of chiselled stones embedded in the brickwork (K.P/H.P 1865) (H.P/W.P 1865). The road here is raised slightly to allow the West Coast mainline to tunnel beneath, which might mean the modern borough's highest point is here beneath the Aldi billboard, or maybe it's further along the Harrow Road. A few galleries and distressed furniture stores raise the tone near the cemetery gates, but the retail offering then descends somewhat to the usual veg-in-a-bowl and kebab merchants beyond. A few backstreets off the main drag form the residential enclave of College Park, another candidate for the summit of Hammersmith and Fulham, although I'd like to hope the triple-parish-terrace takes the crown. [5 photos]
by train: Kensal Green   by bus: 18

» 45 photos of London Borough Tops (three each, so far)
» List and map of London Borough Tops
» Previous reports: Outer NE; Inner E; Inner N

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