In praise of… Greenford!

Thursday, June 4 2009


GWR autocoach at Greenford, August 1952. Photo ©Dewi Williams

I’m not very good at the ‘stream of consciousness’ style of blogging.

What is it that bids me to seek out spirit of place (platzgeist in German, mirroring the word zeitgeist or ‘spirit of time’)?

And why am I so happy having found a specific spirit of place here in Jeziorki? Being in a place brings on spiritual contentment? Can one have a metaphysical attachment to place?

I leave this sort of thing to Michael Dembinski from whose latest post on the Wwa-Jeziorki blog the above quotation is taken. Mike does this very well and in fact Wwa Jeziorki – although completely different in style – provided the inspiration to start Behind The Water Tower.

There are places that have a peculiar magic about them; these can be urban, suburban or rural, mountains, coast or plains, but they differ from places that lack any atmosphere or klimat. Greenford or Hayes in Middlesex – ghastly places. Vast swathes of outer London – identical high streets, traffic, crowds, lacking in character.

But what’s this? Greenford or Hayes… I’m prepared to take Mike’s word for Hayes, but Greenford, I strongly protest.

From the age of three upwards my parents used to take me for walks up Horsenden Hill half-way between Sudbury Hill and Greenford. It was here I caught frostbite. Friends used to ask my parents, I suppose he caught it in Siberia? and seemed rather disappointed when they replied, No, Horsenden Hill, actually. At first our walks didn’t get much further than the Ballot Box pub. (By the way have you voted yet?)

The whole area was a magic portal that lead to a strange foreign land. The southern edge of Horsenden Hill was skirted by the Grand Union Canal. As I grew bigger the walks grew longer and continued along the canal. The towpath lead to Greenford! Here was the largest factory for miles around, Rockware Glass, which at its height employed 900 people and had its own railway network.

A couple of years later and we were walking as far as the J Lyons tea factory – which had its own canal basin and railway network, and was the first factory to apply computing to managing a business.

A short bus hop from where we lived was Greenford Station. Here I saw my first ‘push-pull’ train consisting of an ex GWR 14xx and autocoach. Occasionally dark green ‘Kings’ or ‘Castles’ flew past on the main line with expresses to Birmingham and beyond. Sadly J Lyons and the Rockware glass factory are no more, but Greenford remains the last place in London where you can see GWR style lower quadrant signals still in operation. Greenford lacking in character? Never!


where perfect food products are made by happy workpeople in healthy rural surroundings
Postcard from the http://www.kzwp.com website

My grateful thanks to Dewi Williams for helping to bring the good times back with his brilliant railway photographs. You can see more of his pictures from the early 1950s here.




  1. Horsenden Hill – is it Greenford? UB6 postcode? I do not associate this rare island of beauty (referred to by Betjeman) with the utter, irredeemable ghastliness of the Ruislip Road as it wends its way through featureless suburban shopping parades, past the 95p Store, Shu-Time, £ or Less, Footloose West End Fashions, Khan’s Bargain Ltd, Shoe Zone, Mecca Mark Hong Kong Tailors & Fabrics, Ambiha Superstore, Tangle’n’Twist Hair & Beauty etc etc.

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