If you were a stranger to Acton you might assume this station was in the town centre.
But on emerging you'd find yourself on Churchfield Road, a chi-chi backstreet with no bus service and a level crossing which regularly disrupts the traffic. It's got a Londis and a gourmet grocers, and is pretty convenient for the local park, but if you want Morrisons and the shopping centre it's a bit of a trek. The station would have been a bit more central if they'd built it where the railway crosses the high street, although even that's not called the High Street at this point, and although it's quite near central Acton it's not really Acton Central.
Let's think more broadly. Acton is famous for having seven stations named after it, a national record, indeed no other town in Britain can boast all four compass points being namechecked in the names of its stations. So why don't we apply some geospatial analysis to the locations of those seven stations and see if we can't work out precisely where the centre of Acton ought to be.
A quick glance at this map suggests the central point should be somewhere near the C or the M, that's Acton Central or Acton Main Line. But we can do better than a quick glance, we can use mathematics. What we need is coordinates of some kind for each of the seven Acton stations and then we just average them out and see where that ends up.
It's quite subjective to decide on one specific grid reference to represent an entire station - do you pick the station entrance, the ticket hall or the platforms, and if the latter whereabouts because platforms tend to be quite long. For example the eastbound platform at Acton Main Line is 250 metres in length so picking one end over the other could make a significant difference to the calculations.
I therefore decided to run with TfL's official location coordinates, as revealed in more than one FoI release, specifically using digital latitudes and longitudes.
Acton Central 51.50875778, -0.263430199
Acton Main Line 51.51688693, -0.267689952
Acton Town 51.50307144, -0.280302701
East Acton 51.51626341, -0.248112225
North Acton 51.52343243, -0.259729528
South Acton 51.49968583, -0.270215208
West Acton 51.51777015, -0.280657175
And if you calculate the average of each column separately you get
central Acton 51.51226685, -0.267162427
If you prefer that in more traditional format, it's 51°30′44″N, 0°16′02″W.
Alternatively it's grid reference TQ203806.
On my earlier map it's about halfway between the M and the C (and just a tad to the left).
And then I went there to take a look.
This is Maldon Road in Acton, W3. It's a full-on residential street, 250 metres in length, and not so much a side road as a road off a sideroad. It's quiet, not because the council installed an LTN but because the Victorian street layout doesn't encourage through traffic. It's also a little younger than its neighbours, added on the site of some tennis courts when the pressure to densify the local villas became too great. The porches and gables aren't quite so fancy as the adjacent streets of Cumberland Road and Cumberland Park, but Maldon Road must still thrill Acton's estate agents when a property comes up for sale. Not for nothing is the borough of Ealing known as the Queen of the Suburbs.
Front gardens aren't quite large enough for cars, so if you own a vintage silver Porsche or a sporty 70s Volvo it'll have to go in the street. But they are spacious enough for shrubberies, flowerbeds and coloured gravel, or whatever else best enhances the frontage, plus a lot of the front paths retain the original elegant chequerboard pattern. Counting the bins suggests the vast majority of houses haven't been subdivided into flats, and a little nosing online suggests these five-bedders sell for comfortably over a million. Throw in some sympathetic loft extensions and mature verdant street trees and you have the epitome of a cosy middle class family bolthole.
One peculiarity is that the southern end of Maldon Road has three different styles of street sign. One's drab, one's the brighter modern version complete with council URL and the third lingers high on a wall at front bedroom level. It has a dark blue background and is so old it's still titled 'Council of Acton' (you don't have to troop all this way to see one, there's a better example at the top of King Street). Also several of the houses in Maldon Road retain the name they were given by their Edwardian developers, chiselled deep into the lintel above the porch. These include such generic delights as Woodhurst, Sunnyside, Ashbourne, Hazleigh and Holmlea, each a masterwork of inoffensive pastorality.
According to my coordinate calculations the precise centre of Acton is on the west side of the street, about a third of the way down, in the vicinity of the house named Haselbury. If you take all those decimal places seriously then it seems to be in a back room, perhaps the kitchen, not a front parlour or back garden. Nowhere else is better placed to access all seven of Acton's stations because this is the very epicentre of accessibility. And yes OK, this isn't exactly the throbbing civic heart of Acton either, indeed it's exactly the same distance from the marketplace by the parish church as Acton Central station was. But Maldon Road is where the maths tells us the centre is, hence it must be here QED.
Join me again soon and I'll demonstrate that the middle of Ruislip is just off the playing fields, the centre of Clapham is on the edge of the common and the hub of Harrow is high on its hill.