As the weather was fine (not sunny but at least not wet), we set off as soon as we were ready, stopping for breakfast along the way at EAT on the corner of Kingsway and Parker Street in Holborn. Porridge, croissants and coffee filled the bill.
I stopped to take a photo of the logo of the British Electrical Federation Ltd. over the door of their old premises. I was intrigued by the way the wheel projects out from the shield. I know almost nothing about the BEF, but believe they were a federation of electric tram companies – hence the flanged wheel. The Kingsway Tram Underpass starts just a few yards along the road.
We took the Central Line to Ealing Broadway. The picture shows the old Broadway station, not the modern tube station which is an ugly piece of work and does nothing to enhance the area.
Opposite the tube station is a pleasant park called Haven Green and we walked right around it.
The Green is home to a flock of pigeons who seem well fed and healthy. The sun had come out and the pigeons were taking advantage of it, preening, resting and courting.
I have been taking an interest in the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association lately and thought this might be one of theirs. It doesn’t belong to them and bears a simple inscription “Given by Mrs Walter Wilson 1898”. I assume this gift was intended as a memorial to her husband and, if so, it has faithfully performed that task for 112 years so far. Unfortunately, I cannot find out anything about Walter Wilson himself, or indeed about his wife.
We also found this curious little establishment. It purports to be a dolls house museum but in reality is more like a disparate collection, albeit a big one, of dolls and other small objects and toys of the sort you might find in gift shops or on shelves and in drawers in people’s homes.
We came upon this fine old chemist’s shop. The elegant woodwork was in perfect condition and in the tiny entrance hall, a pair of pigeons had found beautiful surroundings in which to take up residence. I am glad to discover that this shop is a listed building and is therefore safe for the time being.
Another grand building is Ealing’s town hall. It was opened in 1888 and was built to replace the existing town hall that had become too small. It was also meant to send a message, that of civic pride and confidence. It is a well proportioned structure with the solidity of a medieval castle about it.
Look at the harmonious shape of the arches and the decorative flower-shaped mouldings on the windows.
Across the road was this strange sight. A steel skeleton had been erected in front of what appeared to be a building but a closer look revealed that only the façade remained and that the rest of the building had been demolished. Perhaps it was an old cinema or theatre and its site is being developed. The façade with its fine columns has obviously been deemed worthy of saving to front whatever structure is built on the site.
We had lunch in a Lebanese restaurant and then set out again, pausing to admire this characterful radio shop that opened in 1929 and still seems to be going strong. We then went on to Ealing Green.
Beside Ealing Green stands this gateway and the remarkable building that it frames in the picture above. This is Pitzhanger Manor-House, now owned by Ealing Borough Council. It is free to visit and – yes! – photography is allowed in the house (though not in the attached PM Art Gallery, reasonably enough).
Pitzhanger Manor has a long history, probably with several episodes of building but it sprang to prominence when it was bought by architect Sir John Soane in 1800. He demolished most of the existing house and rebuilt it to his own design as an out-of-town family residence.
The house (for its history see here and here) was completed in 1804 and sold again in 1810. In 1900, it came into the ownership of Ealing District Council who opened the grounds as a park in 1901 and the house as a public lending library in 1902.
Since the library moved in 1985, the house has been undergoing restoration to reveal its original beauty and splendour.
Ornate ceilings are a feature of this house. Soane typically designed curved ceilings with embossed motifs.
Soane used big windows to let in plenty of light and installed mirrors to maximize its effects. This creates an effect of luminosity but the photographer has to choose his viewpoint carefully to avoid appearing in – and spoiling – the photo!
Undoing the changes that have occurred in the last 200 years requires carefully study. For examples, paint samples have been analysed in order to recreate the original striking colour schemes and designs that Soane was so fond of.
While the small drawing room on the ground floor was meant as a cosy living room for the family, the large drawing room on the first floor was designed for entertaining and is big enough to host a glittering event.
It is lit on either side by windows and has a patterned ceiling that seems inspired by Wedgewood in the contrast between the white tracery and the pastel blue and green background.
Sculpture is present throughout the house, whether incorporated into the mouldings or free-standing, and no piece is more memorable than this statue of Britannia poised above the stairwell. It is a calmly confident Britannia, assured in her strength and righteousness.
There is more sculpture and relief work around the front entrance whose elegance is emphasised by four columns. Yet the front door, and the corridor beyond, are curiously understated, as though Soane were deliberately avoiding boastful grandeur, to make a house where beauty and harmony are more important than pompous display.
The front gate, too small for horse drawn carriages which must have entered through the side gate, is a fine one in wrought iron, flanked by columns with urns. Today, the gate has been incorporated into a war memorial commemorating both world wars.
This view from the front gate, across Ealing Green to the shops and houses, must be very different from the view that John Soane would have seen. Something else that he would not have seen here is the parakeets, an escaped exotic species that is now established in parks and gardens throughout the UK, recognizable by their bright green plumage and long tails.
Ealing dates from Anglo-Saxon times, being originally named Gillingas. Like many place names ending in ‘-ing(s)’, the suffice means “people (of)” and is accompanied by the name of the person who was head of the family or chief of the group, in this case Gilla. So the name means something like “(The land of) Gilla’s folk”. Could Gilla ever have imagined that his settlement would one day become an important part of a mighty metropolis?