Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gants Hill

This is the first truly underground station I have visited as I go from East to West on the Central line. It has no surface buildings whatsoever.
As I stepped off the Tube the first thing I noticed was this clock where roundels have taken the place of numbers.

There are even ceramic roundel tiles.

There are only two platforms, one for the eastbound trains and one for the westbound.

Between the platforms is this barrel-vaulted hall designed by the modernist architect Charles Holden in the 1930s. It is said that the design was influenced by his visit to the Moscow Metro in 1936. The outbreak of war in 1939 meant that work on the station had to stop. At that point only the tunnelling from Leytonstone to Gants Hill had been completed  and they were being used as air raid shelters.   In September 1940, air raids on the East end of London caused severe damage to Plessey's factory in Ilford which halted the production of vital aircraft components. Plessey moved the production line to the tunnels in 1942 once extra ventilation and access shafts had been made. A railway was built to carry materials to the machines and with a workforce of 2000 there was a canteen that could seat 600 and restrooms for 1600. It took almost two years to dismantle the factory after the war and Gants Hill didn't open as an underground station until December 1947.

Escalators are needed here to take you up to ground level, where you are greeted with these art deco lights and a maze of subways.

Reading newspaper articles from 1986-89, it was obvious that the subways attracted muggers and vandals with a constant stream of rubbish in the subways and vandalised lights. When new tiles were put up in the subways they were coated with an anti-graffiti surface which allows spray paint to be wiped off. In 1993 security cameras were installed at the station. It looked reasonably clean the day I visited so I can only assume things have changed for the better.

The station is situated beneath the junction of five major roads : A12(East and West), Cranbrook Road, Woodford Ave and the High Street. You emerge from the subways onto a busy roundabout which is the centre of Gant's Hill, the name originating from the medieval owners of the land, the Le Gant family. I could find no evidence of a hill! There used to be an art deco cinema next to the roundabout which was a local landmark but that was demolished in 2003 and replaced by a block of flats.

In the centre of the roundabout is this 'work of art'. It was commissioned as something that would give a feeling of arrival and regeneration. Referred to as a 'rusty looking egg whisk' by local people it has not gone down well. I would like to say that it looks better in real life but that would be a lie.

I found this piece of art more welcoming. It is called The Beacon and is designed by a local Infant school in collaboration with  local artists.

There were no upmarket shops here but the usual array of newsagents, hair and beauty shops and takeaways. I do like the shape of the street lamps though.

This is Lloyds bank which has an art deco feel to it. I don't know for certain but I imagine it was built in the late 1930s with the coming of the Underground and the increase in housing and population.

I decided to walk down each of the major roads looking for places of interest. Walking down Cranbrook Road (A123) my first stop was the local library where the staff couldn't have been more helpful. The library was built in 1938 and has a deep basement that was used as a bomb shelter. They didn't have a large section of local history books but I did look at some old photos of the area and gleaned some information from those.

Close to the station on Perth Road is this large three storey, mock Tudor pub. An attractive building with its cream weather boarding and leaded windows. It is huge inside but not particularly welcoming unless you like numerous large TV screens showing sport.

Continuing down Perth Road I came to the side entrance into Valentine's Park. This is a huge park with its ornamental lakes, formal gardens, tennis courts,cricket ground, delightful cafe and of course the mansion.

Valentines Mansion was built around 1696 for Elizabeth Tillotson and her family after the death of her husband, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The  area was very different then with the mansion surrounded by open countryside. The house has been owned by numerous families since then. The last private resident died in 1906 and the local council acquired the house in 1912. Since then the mansion has been a home to wartime refugees, a hospital, a public health centre and a council housing department. As well as the backdrop for the filming of The Great British Bake Off.

After standing empty for 15 years it was restored and opened to the public in 2009
It was a bitterly cold day and so a  hot bowl of soup in the cafe was very welcome before wandering around this large park. It was a delight to find somewhere so enchanting after the dreariness and heavy traffic of the surrounding roads. The park is approximately 125 acres in size.

I walked past the frozen ornamental water and exited the park onto Cranbrook Road.

This corner store caught my eye with its original name on the clock face.

 One of the oldest buildings in this area is the Hospital Chapel of St Mary and St Thomas. Founded c1145 by the Abbess of Barking as a hospice for old and infirm men. It is about a 20 minute walk from Gants Hill station

 Exterior view of the chapel

The complex consisted of the chapel and on either side, the almshouses which housed the poor and the chaplains of which there would have been two. By 1218 the hospital was admitting lepers. In 1960 an archaeological investigation of the courtyard revealed over 20 burials and recent scientific examinations revealed that some had indeed suffered from leprosy. Recently the almshouses have been converted to modern flats.

 At one time this was the Chaplain's house

Above the door is the Arms of Gascogne-Cecil family

On the opposite side of the courtyard is the almshouse
Above the door is the Arms of the Abbess of Barking

I had now explored South of the Gants Hill roundabout so I walked in the opposite direction down Woodford Avenue. Very residential so not much to see. Noticed this 1957 Telephone Exchange. Not quite sure how I managed to make the building alongside it look as though it's about to fall over though!

Just around the corner was Clayhill Park with its children's playground, bowling green and flower garden.

It also had this line of trees. I then noticed the stone on the right of this picture which has a metal plaque embedded into it referring to trees planted in the park on Armistice day 1937 to commemorate the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the mother and father of our present Queen).

'...the leaves on the tree were for the healing of the Nations.' Rev 22.2

My walk around the area of Gants Hill was complete and on this freezing cold day it was definitely time to go home.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Newbury Park

This is the 14th station out of 49 that I have visited as I travel East to West on the Central Line. It is still part of the 6.5 mile loop of the line.
As I walked up the stairs(no escalators or lifts here) I was thinking about the two award winning buildings that I wanted to find, a bus shelter and a synagogue. I couldn't understand why a bus shelter had been awarded Grade II status. In my head I had an image of the small bus shelters I see everywhere. I couldn't have been more wrong.

In fact, as I left the station wondering which direction I should go first to find the shelter, I suddenly realised I was standing beneath the bus shelter.

I had to walk a distance from it to obtain a decent photo of this massive, barrel-shaped vaulted structure. Now I could see why it had won an award! Designed by Oliver Hill in 1937 it couldn't be built until many years later, after WW2 in 1949. Built from concrete, the roof is covered with copper and the original plan was to rebuild the Underground station as well but that had to be called off due to post war financial restrictions.

At the side of the structure is this plaque from 1951 when it was given  the Festival of Britain Award for Merit.

A short walk from the station along the very busy A12 you come to the Ilford War Memorial in a small park. The land for the memorial was purchased in the 1920s after a public appeal to build a memorial for those local men who lost their lives in WW1. It was decided in a referendum that most of the money raised should go to building a hospital ward for children and a memorial hall to hold all the names of the service men and women who lost their lives. The memorial Hall would then become the entrance to the hospital. (This memorial commemorates the local service men who lost their lives in both World Wars.)

It was another five years before the  Hall and the children's ward were completed. The Hall was never used as an entrance and in 1993 when the hospital closed not many people knew the historical significance of this small building. However in 1995 a case was successfully made for it to become a Grade II listed building and it is now used each year during the Remembrance day services.

This old primary school was converted to a synagogue in 1981. Before that services were held in Barnardo's Church (see Barkingside post).

Walking away from the busy roads and station I once again found lots of green space with a playground for the children and beyond that, agricultural land.

Until the 1850s this was part of Hainault Forest and the trees came down to this area known as Aldborough Hatch. In 1851, an act of Parliament allowed 100,000 trees to be felled and farm land was laid out, as well as roads and housing,  for labourers.

Aldborough Hatch Farm House was built between 1855 and 1857 after the clearing of the Forest. There was a hatch (gate) leading into the forest.

This was originally an 18th cent building attached to a large farmhouse. However when the farm house was demolished in the early 1800s the chapel was left as it was the only place for local people to worship. Once St Peter's church was built a short distance away the chapel was no longer used and fell into disrepair. New owners restored the property including the chapel. As a private residence it is no longer open to the public.

I continued walking along the path enjoying the large skies on my left.

At the end of the footpath I came across St Peter's Church. I had read that the Portland stone from the first Westminster Bridge was used to build this church. The first Westminster Bridge was replaced in 1862 by the same contractor who had been commissioned to build St Peter's so it made sense to reuse the stone. As I was photographing the church a couple directed me inside saying that it would be closing in a couple of minutes. I hadn't realised that it was open to visitors for 2 hours on a Mon and Wed  morning. So for once I was in the right place at the right time.

I quickly entered and introduced myself to Ron Jeffries who was there to show visitors round and answer any questions they might have. Ron has been a member of the church since 1944  at the age of 11. As a child he had a terrible stutter but this would disappear when he sang so he was desperate to join the choir. It was here he met his wife who  joined the choir a few years later much to the annoyance of the boys.

Ron told me much about the history of the church which he has documented but unfortunately for me the pamphlet is out of print. Ron was the font of all knowledge when it came to the church and spent  quite some time taking me round. I'm only sorry I can't remember all the details.

Looking towards the altar and the hanging cross which caused much controversy when it was first hung in the church.
This beautiful organ was given to the church by Charles and Bessie Painter in 1893 in memory of their son who died aged 6 months.

The organ has been used in a painting by Sir Frank Dicksee called 'Harmony' which is now in the Tate Britain Gallery.

This beautiful statue is titled 'And other sheep I have' by Anthony Foster (1909-1957)

Leaving the church by the lych gate, I walked a little further along Aldborough North Road as far as

Aldborough Hall Farm, rebuilt in 1857, part of the estate of Aldborough Hatch

 which was divided in 1668 and part sold to the Crown in 1828. The estate was passed to Ilford Borough Council in the 1930s. Looking over into the farmyard I was surprised to see a peacock looking like the king of the castle.

Next door to the farm is the Dick Turpin pub which started off as a beer house in a cottage on the farm. This present building dates from 1912 although it suffered damage in 1944 when it was hit by a V2 rocket but parts of the original structure still remain.

On the way back to the station I found the other award winning building I was looking for, the South West Essex Reform Synagogue. It has a circular prayer hall lit by small circular windows set into the wall.

Then back to the station and home.