diamond geezer

 Friday, January 13, 2017

Q Feltham/Staines/Sunbury-on-Thames
Against the odds, my second Herbert Dip borough is immediately adjacent to my first. What's more, it's one of only six boroughs proposed in 1960 that extend outside what became the boundary of Greater London in 1965. Staines and Sunbury merged to create what's now the Surrey district of Spelthorne, whereas Feltham became the westernmost part of Hounslow. For today's post I've eschewed the Home Counties and chosen to explore Feltham, because I've seriously underblogged the area over the years. I used a local bus route to help me tour the sights...

 Route H26: Hatton Cross - Sparrow Farm
 Length of journey: 6 miles, 30 minutes

So meandering is the route of the H26 that you can actually walk from one terminus to the other quicker than the bus. I did something even more senseless, I walked from one terminus to the other along the actual route itself, diverting to adjacent points of interest along the way, then returning by bus to confirm how much easier that would have been. My journey started at Hatton Cross station, which I'm not at liberty to write about because it's in Hillingdon. But thirty seconds across the A30 the H26 enters Hounslow, and then it's Feltham Urban District all the way.

Hatton: Before Heathrow was built, Hatton was a minor hamlet on the Great South West Road. It's now a hollowed-out trading estate and service hub, a bleak circulatory surrounded by truck depots and freight hubs, although one burger-friendly 17th century pub survives. Behind one battered fence the landing lights for the airport's south runway sweep across bleak pasture where shaggy ponies graze, which must look amazing (and sound appalling) when flights boom low overhead.

Hatton Road: One bus stop down, The Orchard is the home of Bedfont and Feltham FC, a recently-merged entity in the Combined Counties League Premier Division whose chief sponsor (somewhat unexpectedly) is the frozen food company BirdsEye. A few streets of semis dare to exist airportside, their peace regularly shattered by loud ground-based roars which anywhere else in the country would have residents reaching for social media to check the world wasn't ending. A bridge then crosses the Duke of Northumberland's River and the Longford River, at the point where the two artificial channels finally diverge. Terminal 4 is only a brief walk up the riverbank, should you wish to connect with my previous post hereabouts.

East Bedfont: One of two former Middlesex villages, this incarnation is now mostly suburbia, whereas West Bedfont is mostly oil terminal. A hint of rural Georgian charm exists around the conservation area at Bedfont Green, but the pièce de résistance is St Mary's church, Hounslow's oldest place of worship. The timber and tile spire would normally be photogenic enough, but this is completely overshadowed by a giant topiary sculpture outside the front door where a pair of yew trees has been clipped into the shape of two peacocks on pillows linked by an arch. Two dates appear into the base - 1704 which is believed to be the year the yews were first trimmed, and 1990 which is the date of the most recent restoration - and the end result is indeed as amazing as it sounds.

Bedfont Lakes Business Park: This anodyne commercial centre helps keep London's tech businesses ticking over, plus it's also where BirdsEye has its HQ, hence that sponsorship deal I mentioned earlier. Employees at IBM and Cisco have roof terraces overlooking the eponymous lakes for when the weather's better, and a bespoke bus service to the nearest stations so they don't have to ride with the commoners.

Bedfont Lakes Country Park: This is more like it - 180 acres of rolling meadows, woodland and water, landscaped from gravel pits and opened to the public in 1995. The H26 stops at the eastern end, near Bedfont Cemetery and the car park where Volvo drivers coerce muddy dogs back into their vehicles. A swirl of paths leads off around the central grassy expanse and along the edge of various migration-friendly lakes, some of the banks of which are fenced off as nature reserves. In the woods at the far end are a fishing lake, a cafe and an animal rescue centre, while possibly the most interesting feature is slap bang in the middle. Monolith Hill is an artificial mound with a rocky block on the top, and was intended to be the highest point in the borough of Hounslow, reaching a lofty 29m above sea level. Unfortunately certain areas around Heston top 35m, so the record lies elsewhere, but the view from the summit's considerably better.

Feltham Young Offenders Institution: ... or HMYOI Feltham, as the sign outside this juvenile sinbin has it. The H26 stops at a shelter in the car park, where staff and visitors mingle, well away from the Union Flag hoisted prominently by the front gate. Up to 550 young people and young adults are secured within the fenced perimeter, beyond which can be seen numerous slanted rooftops, an industrial-sized chimney and several cameras on very tall poles.

Feltham High Street: Feltham's main drag runs from St Dunstan's to St Catherine's, the former Georgian, the latter now vacant after once being converted into council offices. A few old buildings remain, especially around the Green where the Red Lion has been serving pints since 1800. I spotted a heron on the island in the middle of the pond, and a sign on a lamppost pointing the way along the Feltham Heritage Trail (of which no documentary evidence exists, so best not follow). But most of Olde Feltham has been swept away, the shopping centre twice, with a semi-substantial mall called The Centre now feeding custom past numerous chainstore units to a large Asda at the rear. Bland, but useful,

22 Gladstone Avenue: In September 1964, just before this corner of Middlesex became London, the Bulsara family arrived in Feltham from Zanzibar. Dad Bomi got a job as a cashier, Mum Jer became an assistant at Marks & Spencer, and son Farrokh went to art school. Known to his friends as Freddie, he was still living in this modest semi behind Feltham Park in 1970 when he met drummer Roger Taylor and local guitarist Brian May with whom he formed the band Queen. Rock history ensued. A previous attempt to commemorate Freddie Mercury's life - a flamboyant star-shaped plaque in Feltham shopping centre - suffered such bad weathering that it had to be removed after a couple of years, and was replaced by a lesser slab outside a nondescript office block across the road. Thank goodness then that English Heritage have stepped in and placed a blue plaque in the pebbledash at number 22, unveiled last year, and a proud reminder of the precocious talent nurtured in this most ordinary of streets.

Sparrow Farm: Housing developments have an uncanny knack of naming themselves after what they replace. In this case that's a farm on the banks of the River Crane, formerly fields and orchards and now a minor 1930s estate. The H26 terminates outside a brief brick parade, topped by flats, offering residents a chippie, a Londis and a Christine's World of Beauty. It's a seemingly lacklustre finish to my exploration of Feltham, but locate the exit to the riverbank to enter a much more peaceful world, with shallow waters rippling beneath stripped branches, and Hounslow Heath rising on the opposite bank.

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