W5: Something for everyone … a comedy tonight

I have resisted the temptation to make a pun involving Ealing – instead I thought I would reference that W5 is the home of Ealing Film Studios, known particularly for comedies, and also that in the 1960s, two well known (at the time) comedians lived in W5. So, tragedy tomorrow … comedy tonight.

We start our walk at the W H Smith store where the main Ealing Post Office is now located. This as it happens is our first stop.

Stop 1: W H Smith, 21/23 The Broadway (site of Ealing/Hippodrome Theatre & Broadway/Palladium  Cinema)

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This dull looking building which now houses W H Smith is on the site of a theatre and cinema. The history is somewhat complex. First came the Ealing Theatre in 1899. This was rebuilt in 1906 and reopened as the Ealing Hippodrome. But by November 1908 it had become a full time cinema, initially called the Broadway but later it reverted to be the Hippodrome. In January 1910 another cinema opened next door. This was the Ealing Cinematograph Theatre, fourth of a small cinema chain built by Montagu Pyke, who soon went bankrupt.

In August 1913, the new owners of the Cinematograph Theatre purchased the adjacent Hippodrome Theatre and created a common entrance to the two buildings. By this time the Cinematograph Theatre had become the Broadway Cinema. This was  closed and converted it into a dance hall. The Hippodrome was re-named Broadway Palladium Cinema in 1914, but later it was known simply as the Palladium. After a couple of changes of ownership it became part of the Gaumont chain and survived as a cinema until 1958. Both buildings was demolished soon after the Palladium Cinema closed and shops were built on the site.

Now take a left out of W H Smith and walk along The Broadway until the first turning on the left (which also seems to be The Broadway)

Stop 2: 42a The Broadway (location of the former Ealing Club)

At the end of the block of shops on the left above Haart Estate Agents, look up to see a plaque to commemorate the location of “The Ealing Club”. Odd really because the club was in the basement.

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The Ealing Jazz Club opened in January 1959  below what was then the Aerated Bread Company tea shop. The entrance was off a little alleyway reached by descending some steps to the right of the shop. On 17 March 1962 (by which time it was known as The Ealing Club) it became London’s first regular Rhythm and Blues venue with a performance by a band called Blues Incorporated which included musicians Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies. Other musicians who played here in the 1960s include Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Charlie Watts, Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart and Manfred Mann (originally the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers). The Who played here in their early career, when they were known as The Detours.

And it was here at this club on 7 April 1962 that Alexis Korner introduced Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to Brian Jones, which led on to the creation of The Rolling Stones. But the venue did not last and became a disco in the late 1960s.

Alexis Korner has sometimes been referred to as “a founding father of British Blues”. In 1970 he helped form a big band ensemble called C.C.S (The Collective Consciousness Society). They had several hit singles. But the one most people will instantly recognise is their version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”,  used as the theme for BBC’s Top of the Pops between 1971 and 1981.

The BBC have been replaying old Top of the Pops shows so you can hear it on these repeats. These are timed to be in the same week as they were originally broadcast 35 years ago. But these repeats do not happen every week. I guess this is because the BBC does not show episodes with persons who have been disgraced or are being prosecuted. So nothing with Jimmy Saville, Gary Glitter, Jonathan King, Dave Lee Travis, Rolf Harris … Whatever they may or may not have done, it does seem wrong to write them out of history like this.

Keep walking and soon you will see on the right is Ealing Broadway Station and a right mess it is too.

Stop 3: Ealing Broadway station

The other western termini of the District Line (Wimbledon and Richmond) were rebuilt as coherent integrated stations by the Southern Railway in the 1930s. Ealing Broadway was not similarly rebuilt probably because the Great Western Railway was a long distance railway which did not care much about its London commuter services. So today you can still see three separate stations (District line, Central line and Great Western) which sit next to each other, and are accessed by a rather terrible 1960s ticket hall. Hopefully Crossrail will mean Ealing Broadway finally gets a decent station.

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If you have a moment (and a valid ticket) do go down into the station and have a look at the old District line station (Platforms 7 – 9). This has a curiosity. There are three station signs on the platform which are in the pre Underground roundel style. This had a two semi circular solid red disks rather than a red circular ring.

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This style of sign was first used in 1908. In 1913 the Underground’s publicity manager, Frank Pick, commissioned the typographer Edward Johnston to design a company typeface. The solid red disc became a circle, and the new symbol was registered as a trademark. By 1919 Johnston’s typeface and a standardised roundel symbol was being used on publicity. It began to appear on stations from the early 1920s. So this would suggest these signs have survived from around or before the First World War – assuming of course they are original and not a later copy. Who knows?

Keep walking along past the station. Note the old District line station building dating from the 1880s is now just shops and no longer used as part of the station.

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Stop4: D L Lewis, Chemist. 36 Haven Green

Just a little further on the right is an odd survival of a shop. This is D L Lewis Ltd chemists shop. Ealing Council’s website says this is a Grade II listed building with a complete art nouveau frontage of 1924, and interior fittings dating from 1902 and 1924. And it is still a working chemists shop.

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Now retrace your steps back to the Post Office and keep walking down The Broadway. As you reach the church on the right, look back and across the road you will see a Marks and Spencer store over the road.

Stop 5 Marks & Spencer (site of John Sanders Department store)

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This corner originally housed a department store called John Sanders. The store was destroyed by a flying bomb in 1943 but was rebuilt. Not sure when the store closed but today it is a Marks and Spencer store. But it was certainly still John Sanders in 1970 because this building played a cameo role in episode 4 of season 7 of Doctor Who. Some aliens called Autons started their attack on the human race by bursting out of the shop window of John Sanders store. This was the first season to feature Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, if you interested in that kind of thing.

On the same side of the road as the church on that opposite corner was another department store, a branch of Bentalls. I believe that Bentalls moved into the new shopping centre across the road but they sold this stop to another department store chain called Beales who subsequently closed it. It is now a Primark. I guess this is symptomatic of the decline of Ealing as a shopping destination. I doubt Ealing will ever recover being quite close to the massive Westfield Mall at Shepherd’s Bush.

Continue walking along The Broadway past the church and soon on the right you will reach Ealing Town Hall.

Stop 6 Ealing Town Hall/Perceval House

The Town Hall dates from 1888 and is gothic in style. With the local government reorganisation in 1965, the new larger council chose Ealing as the main centre of business rather than Acton, and Acton disappeared as a council name.

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Just beyond the side street (Longfield Avenue) is where the public come to do business with the Council. This is an early 1980s block which was built as a speculative office development and later taken on by the council. Note it is called Perceval House. 

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Now turn around and look over the road.

Stop 7: Former Forum Cinema, 59/61 New Broadway

What you can see today (January 2014) is the facade of an old cinema held up by steelwork. This is all that is left of the cinema which started life as the Forum, went through many name changes and finally closed in September 2008 as the Empire cinema.

 

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The Forum was one of two near identical movie houses built for Herbert Yapp in 1934 (the other being in Kentish Town). Within a year of opening they had been taken over by Associated British Cinemas. It kept its name until 1961 when it was rechristened ABC.

After closure in 2008, the auditorium and foyer areas were demolished in early 2009. There were plans for a new multiplex cinema to be built behind the original facade. But this seems to have come to naught and no work appears to have been done on the site for some considerable time. Sad really given this is a major site in the middle of Ealing.

Now continue back along the Broadway and turn right into Bond Street. At the end of the buildings turn right and continue until you reach the second car park entrance on the right (almost opposite the gateway to Pitzhanger manor across the way).

Stop 8: facade of Walpole Picture House

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Now here is an unexpected find. On a wall by the car park entrance is what is left of the Walpole Picture Theatre.

This cinema started out life in December 1908 as the Walpole Hall Roller Skating Rink and became the Walpole Picture Theatre in 1912 and these tiles date from that date.

The Walpole was taken over by the Odeon chain in 1936 and it remained open until October 1972. The building was converted into a carpet store and when this closed it became a rehearsal studio for rock groups. It was demolished in May 1981 and an office block named Walpole House was built on the site. This is used by the University of West London (UWL). The tiles are located a short distance from where the facade used to be.

And standing in front of this fragment of the old cinema, you can actually see the back of the facade of the old Forum Cinema and see how big that development site is.

The Walpole name by the way seems to come not from the 18th century Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole but a descendant of his younger brother, Horatio. That descendant was  Sir Spencer Walpole who owned the land hereabouts. Through his mother, he was the grandson of Spencer Perceval, more of whom anon.

Stop 9: Pitzhanger Manor

Our next stop is just over the way from the remains of the Walpole cinema tiles. This is Pitzhanger Manor. We are practically in the centre of Ealing and yet here is a little country house.

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The building we see it today owes its design largely to the architect John Soane. He owned it for ten years from 1800 but radically rebuilt it to his own designs. Soane intended it as a country villa for entertaining and eventually for passing to his elder son. He demolished most of the existing building except the two-storey south wing built in 1768 by George Dance, who had been his first employer. But Soane sold the house in 1810. It then passed through several owners until in 1843 it became home to the daughters of Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval. One of them married a Walpole.

In 1900, the house was acquired by the local council (then Ealing Urban District Council) to serve as a Free Public Library. But work on converting the building did not start until after the death of its last resident, Frederika Perceval in May 1901.

The Library moved out in 1984 and the building underwent restoration. The house reopened to the public in January 1987 as Ealing Council’s main museum, known as the PM Gallery & House. It is certainly worth a visit both to the house and the gallery.

Now the spelling of the name has been troubling me because sometimes you see this written as Pitshanger and  other times Pitzhanger. Since Soane’s time, the spelling has varied, but it would appear it has now formally reverted to the name given to it by Soane which is spelt with a Z.

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You can leave the grounds through the grander gate which turns out to be a war memorial. Once out of the grounds, turn right and continue down Ealing Green.

Stop 10: Ealing Studios

Not too far along on the right is Ealing Studios which claims to be the oldest continuously working film studio in the world. It lurks behind this modest white villa.

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A man called Will Barker bought the White Lodge on Ealing Green in 1902 as a base for film making, and films have been made on the site ever since.

It is best known for a series of classic comedy films produced in the 1940s and 1950s. There is a blue plaque on the main building to Sir Michael Balcon who was closely associated with Ealing Studios.

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He produced some of its best known films including Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), Whisky Galore! (1949), Passport to Pimlico (1949), the Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955).

Sir Michael also has another plaque to him which I mentioned in passing when we were in SW1. It is a green City of Westminster one at number No 57A Tufton Street where he lived between 1927 and 1939.

The BBC took over in 1955 and used the facilities until 1995.  It is still a film studios and has made films such as the revived St Trinian’s franchise, The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) and Shaun of the Dead (2004). Ealing Studios is also home to the Met Film School London, which has a purpose built film school on the lot as well as use of the studios. And apparently Ealing Studios is where the servants quarters in the ITV drama Downton Abbey were shot.

Now keep walking down Ealing Green, crossing over when convenient. You will want to turn left into Warwick Road. This has a UWL building at the corner with a blue plaque to Lady Byron, widow of poet Lord Byron. She  founded a local school.

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Continue down Warwick Road until you reach the green open space. Here turn right into the street called Warwick Dene. Our next stop is ahead on the right at the road junction. 

Stop 11: All Saints Church

The church dates from 1905.
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The land on which the church is built belonged originally to Elm Grove, the country home of Spencer Perceval and was later given for the building of the church by Leopold de Rothschild.

So now we get to Spencer Perceval. He has the unfortunate distinction of being the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated. He lived at Elm Grove from 1809 until his death in 1812.  Spencer Perceval was born on 1 November which is All Saints Day so I guess that is why the church was dedicated as All Saints.

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Perceval was shot dead in the lobby of the House of Commons in May 1812 by John Bellingham, who had some grievance against the government and took it out on the Prime Minister. Bellingham was tried, found guilty and hanged just seven days later.  They certainly did not hang about in those days. (Sorry couldn’t resist using that phrase!)

Fascinating fact time: Henry Bellingham, who is descended from a relative of Bellingham, was elected in 1983 as MP for North West Norfolk. In 1997, he lost the seat by 1,339 votes. It has been suggested that this could have been affected by the 2,923 votes received by the Referendum Party candidate Roger Percival, who claimed to be descended from Perceval.

Continue along Elm Avenue until you reach the main road which is called Gunnersbury Avenue. This is the A406 North Circular Road. Turn right and walk along the right hand pavement.

Stop 12: Gunnersbury Avenue

Curiously this road has two blue plaques to dead comedians.

The first one you come to is at Number 35 Gunnersbury Avenue. This is for Carry On veteran, Sid James, who lived here between 1956 and 1963.

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The second one is a bit of a trek. But if you keep walking, you will (eventually) come to Gunnersbury Drive. On the opposite side of Gunnersbury Avenue is a mock tudor house with the other blue plaque recording the fact that comedian Arthur Haynes lived here between 1963 and 1966.

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Interesting that Sid James seems to have moved out of the area as Arthur Haynes moved in. I wonder whether Sid James did not want to live in the same neighbourhood as Arthur Haynes. Haynes was perhaps even more down market than Sid James. Haynes was really only a TV star whereas Sid James was in the movies too (!). Or maybe it was the Haynes house was grander.

Out of curiousity, I checked on the council tax banding to see whether one was higher than the other – and they both turn out to be Band G (of course this is based on the alleged value at 1 April 1991, so may have been different then or indeed now). This is a bit of a surprise as Band G is the second highest and puts these properties in the top 4% of properties in England by value. And yet here they are on a busy main road where the traffic flows like almost set concrete.

So that concludes out W5 walk. A bit of comedy with the studios and Sid and Arthur, but also a bit of tragedy involving the assassination of a Prime Minister, the decline of a shopping centre and the loss of interesting entertainment buildings.

Given how the traffic is here, your best bet for onward travel is to carry on walking along Gunnersbury Avenue to the next junction and take a left into Gunnersbury Lane. Not far down here you will see the distinctive outline of Acton Town station which we saw in the w3 walk.

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5 thoughts on “W5: Something for everyone … a comedy tonight

  1. Interesting! Never really been to Ealing ended up there once when I caught a bus the wrong way at Brentford! I remember the dummies in Dr Who, their hands dropped to reveal a gun – scary!

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