Ealing and Northfields: West London Through History

When we first moved to London, Jeff and I found ourselves in the borough of Ealing. The first year of our residence was punctuated by police sirens, bus brakes, and drunkards stumbling out of the pubs in the middle of the night not to mention the cramped corners of under-stair showers and water-buckled floors. So, when our lease was up, we saw it as a chance to put our “expert” experience to use and find better digs.

That’s when we landed in Acton Town. Our street was much quieter, nicer, and held all kinds of fascinating neighbors with astounding stories. In our midst, we had a BAFTA winner, an Emmy winner, and even some royalty. For a reasonably priced home (by London standards), we were not short of entertainment.

2016-02-17 07.04.52
The beautiful sunrise over Acton Town.

But all things come to an end, and we had to move again. Extending leases is apparently not a wide practice here because when we had asked what our options were, our landlord had decided he would move back to his home before letting new tenants in.  Staying on was not an option. But like extending leases, renting for short amount of time is also not widely practiced. Lucky for us, we found a home in Northfields, a sort of suburb of our original spot, Ealing.

When I started to learn more about our new neighborhood, I was intrigued by the history, and The Plough Inn is no exception. Situated on the far end of Northfields Avenue, the pub has been standing on that same spot since 1722. Newly refurbished, it has seen the neighborhood change over the centuries. We have yet to try this place out, but I am intrigued by what those walls have seen.

One of their most famous patrons back in late 1880s, when most of the area was surrounded by orchards, was Charles Blondin, the world famous tight rope walker who balanced across Niagara Falls. Born in France, Blondin knew he wanted to be an acrobat by the age of five and gave his first performance as “The Boy Wonder.” But it was his multiple treks across the famous Falls that sent his name into the history books. With each crossing, he upped the ante from being blindfolded, in a sack, pushing a wheelbarrow, walking on stilts or with a man on his back, but most interestingly, on one occasion, he stopped midway through the rope and cooked an omelette.

His home, the Niagara House, sits just across the street from The Plough Inn and is now divided up into flats and shops. It certainly doesn’t look like anything out of the ordinary now, and I have walked passed it many times without a second thought. But now knowing a famous patron lived in those walls, it gives the corner of Northfields Avenue and Little Ealing Road new meaning.

Here is a pretty impressive list of other notable figures who lived in Ealing and Northfields:

  • John Quincy Adams, the 6th President of the U.S. had a home between 1815 and 1817. 
  • Ho Chi Minh worked in the kitchens of Drayton Court in 1914.
  • Dusty Springfield
  • Pete Townshend of The Who
  • Freddie Mercury of Queen
  • Ronnie Woodall of The Rolling Stones

Just behind Blondin’s former home, there is a large park and nature preserve named after him. I decided to take advantage of the sun and go out to see it. And I was not disappointed. It was massive, welcoming, and best of all, green.

That is something Northfields has in spades: parks. Besides Blondin Park and Nature Area, there is also Lammas Park, which gets its names from “Lammas Lands.” Originally used for grazing cattle in medieval times, the park was bought by the Borough of Ealing for £220 per acre on October 11, 1881. Today, it is a lovely park full of playgrounds and memorial trees with lovely plaques remembering various individuals.

From Northfields, you can walk through Lammas Park and connect with Walpole Park to find yourself in bustling Ealing Broadway. It’s a nice, peaceful way to get to the shops instead of following the diesel-fueled roads. But, as I did a little more digging into the history of the historically known, “Queen of the Suburbs,” I found some really stunning photos and wanted to share what those areas look like today.

First known as “Yealing” when established as a Saxon village, the area of Ealing rose to importance in the 1880s as a staging post for stage coaches traveling between London and Bristol. But as more and more people started moving out, development rose and little spin-off areas were created like Little Ealing, West Ealing, Northfields, Greenholt, etc. Northfields was named because it was situated in the “Great North Field of Ealing,” which it literally was until the 1890s when trams were introduced to the ever growing area.

There was a real mix of upper class Victorian housing and also working class homes because of the desire to “get away” from London but also out of necessity since the Great West Railway required workers close by. Today, it is still very evident in the housing styles. From block to block, you can see stark differences in the integrity and style of the homes.

During WWII, Ealing, Acton, and Northfields sustained a lot of damage because of the Great West Road and Railway connections as well as the factories that were taking advantage of the open space. It took many years to come back and rebuild after the war, but next to the docks in East London, West London had its fair share of devastating war damage.

Here are some more pictures that I really enjoyed seeing and retaking.

After living in London for a couple years, I have really loved seeing how history has affected and altered the landscape. It’s truly amazing to see this city survive through medieval times to the devastating wars to modern day development. I love living in such a changing and adaptable town.

Resource: Ealing and Northfields: Britain in Old Photographs by Richard Essen. Budding Books, copyright 1996.


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