In praise of… Greenford!



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 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.


4 Responses to “In praise of… Greenford!”

  1. Michael Dembinski Says:

    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.

    • dyspozytor Says:

      Surely Horsenden Lane starts in Greenford and large parts of this wonderful open area are within the boundaries of the parish?

      I used to use the Ruislip Road to escape from suburbia on many of my cycle rides which headed out towards the North West. Yes the Greenford bit was not the most exciting stretch of the road, but there were (and still are!) many other facets to Greenford.

      In addition to the attractions described in my post, Greenford still has its own railway line, the Greenford loop, which once had beautifully laid out pointwork, where it joined the main lines. (Sadly these have now been terribly disfigured.)

      There is also the Greenford Road which started by diving under the GWR main line (it has now been diverted) then dives under the Central Line tube and the GWR spur to the GW&GC joint line, then crosses over the Grand Union Canal, the Picadilly Line and shortly afterwards the GWR spur to the GW&GC joint line. All in about 5 miles! One day, I will give the Greenford Road a post all of its own!

  2. Ted Reading Says:

    Hello there,

    Publishing my second book of my 1960’s railway photographs.

    Greenford is included, have also included an article about Greenford as I lived and worked there

    For my article I would dearly like to include your auto coach on Greenford push a pullphoto to go with another of the “new” Lt & BR entance taken in the 1960’s As I am nearly ready for printing could you come back ASAP with a yes or no, if yes could E Mail over as photo will not be large.

    Source of photo will of course be acknowledged

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