W9: Maida force be with you

W9 is Maida Hill according to the Post Office, but it also includes the street called Maida Vale and the tube station of that name. This all seems terribly wrong. I really thought Maida Vale was in North West London and yet it has a W postcode!

Maida Vale took its name from a public house which opened on the Edgware Road in about 1810. The pub itself was called “The Hero of Maida” and was at 435 – 437 Edgware Road but that is in W2. The pub was actually named after John Stuart, Count of Maida, who amongst other things led the British Army to victory against the french at the Battle of Maida in 1806.  Maida is in southern Italy.

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And is there really a place called Maida Hill? Well yes there is. So this is where we start our walk.

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Our starting point is the Maida Hill Post Office at 377 Harrow Road.

Stop 1: Maida Hill Market

Just along the Harrow Road from the Post Office is the Prince of Wales junction and here in a small pedestrianised square created out of the end of Fernhead Road is Maida Hill market.

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As far as I can establish this started in 2009 when the “piazza” was created and it has built up now to run Monday to Friday with a variety of stalls – most of which seem to sell what ordinary folks might want to buy (as opposed to home knitted yogurt or sausages made from individually named pigs.)

Now walk up Fernhead Road until just after Shirland Road. Our next stop is just by the corner of Fordingley Road.

Stop 2: Number 91 Fernhead Road

This was the childhood home of the comedian Norman Wisdom (1915 – 2010) or well a small part of this house was . As he allegedly said himself:  “I was born in very sorry circumstances. Both of my parents were very sorry.”

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His obituary in the Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/film-obituaries/8042823/Sir-Norman-Wisdom.html) said he “ranked second only to Charlie Chaplin as the 20th century’s most consistently successful British screen comic; he shared with Chaplin a talent for visual and physical humour whose roots lay in music hall and whose appeal transcended cultural boundaries.” Personally I found his character rather irritating.

Now in W7 we heard about Freddie Frinton being a cult figure in Germany and Scandinavia. Well Norman Wisdom was a cult figure in Albania. His films were amongst the few western films allowed in the country during the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. This was because he played the little down trodden man who struggled against the bosses and eventually won out.  In 1995 he received the Freedom not only of the City of London but also of the Albanian capital, Tirana

Now retrace your steps to Shirland Road and turn left, continuing until you get to Elgin Avenue. On our way we pass the Chippenham pub, which as it happens is the terminus of bus route 414. This is a fairly new route having started in late 2002 just before the introduction of the central congestion charge zone. At first the route went to Maida Vale but in January 2005 it was rerouted to start at the Chippenham and so we have a route which actually has the destination “Maida Hill”. So Transport for London acknowledge Maida Hill’s existance too!

Stop 3: J Welford and Company (Warwick Farm Diaries)

As we approach Elgin Avenue, you will see a red brick building on the right, with the name J Welford and Sons. Then just before the corner within the white tiled section of the ground floor are two plaques.

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Richard Welford took over Warwick Farm (which was between Harrow Road and Warwick Crescent) in 1845 and opened his first dairy shop at 4 Warwick Place in 1848. Richard had three sons and died in 1858. His second wife was called Jane and one of his sons was John, so I am not sure which J was the J Welford in the company name.
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This building is what is called “a model dairy” and dates from 1882. The lower plaque commemorates the laying of the foundation stone in April 1881 by Miss Annie Welford, who was Richard’s granddaughter whilst the upper one was unveiled on 29 October 1982 by her granddaughter Miss Pamela Bishop.

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J Welford and Sons became part of United Dairies in 1915. I believe the property remained a milk depot well into the 20th century, but I guess the Welford family connection did not go on so long, as United Dairies became a big name.

Turn right down Elgin Avenue and take the first right, Delaware Road.

Stop 4: Maida Vale Studios, Delaware Road

Well I sort of half knew that the BBC had some studios in Maida Vale but nothing quite prepared me for this monster of a building tucked away in an otherwise quiet side street of mansion flats.

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The building started life in 1909 as the “Maida Vale Roller Skating Palace and Club”. The BBC took over in 1933 and stripped it back to a shell and installed studios. But some arches at the doorways survived and give this hanger like building a bit of a boost.

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This was one of the BBC’s earliest premises, pre-dating Broadcasting House, and was the centre of the BBC News operation during World War II.

Overall, the building houses a total of seven music and radio drama studios and has been used for orchestral recording for many years. But it also has other claims to fame. Between 1967 and 2004, many of “John Peel Sessions” were recorded in studio 4 . Bing Crosby made his last recording session in studio 3 in 1977 – a few days before he died of a heart attack in Spain. Most of the material on the Beatles album “Live at the BBC” (released in 1994) was recorded here. It was also the home of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (who created the Doctor Who theme music).

Now retrace your steps back to Elgin Avenue and turn right. Then take the first left.

Stop 5: 111 Wymering Road

In this street of mansion flats, stop at the first block on your left. Number 111 in this first block was the home of Vera Brittain between 1923 and 1927.

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Vera Brittain is known today mainly for her book, Testament of Youth, published in 1933. This was her memoir covering the period 1900 – 1925. It is particularly known for its coverage of the impact of World War I on the lives of women and the middle-class civilian population of Britain. But it is also the story of Vera Brittain’s struggle to have an independent career in a male dominated world.

A five part BBC TV series was made in the late 1970s and apparently there are plans to make a feature film which is due to be released later this year.

Brittain’s daughter is Baroness Shirley Williams, now a Liberal Democrat Peer but once a Labour MP and Cabinet Minister and one of the” Gang of Four” who split from Labour to form the short lived Social Democratic Party in 1981.

Return to Elgin Avenue and turn left. At the next junction (where there are shops) take the second turning on the right (the one that goes at 45 degrees to the main road. This street is called Lauderdale  Road.

Stop 6: 155 Lauderdale Mansions

This street is also lined with mansion flats and was one of the first streets to be developed hereabouts, dating from 1897. These blocks are very similar to the ones to the south of Victoria Street. But it seems so odd to be in an area which is so almost completely mansions flats. This style of buildings is so “un-English”.

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Of particular interest is number 155 Lauderdale Mansion which is on the right hand side as you walk away from Elgin Avenue.

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This was the birthplace of Sir Alec Guinness (1914 – 2000).

He had a varied career. His early films included not only several Ealing Comedies (including The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he played eight different characters) but he also had major roles in David Lean’s movies of  Great Expectations and Oliver Twist in the late 1940s. He won an Oscar  for his role in the 1957 film “The Bridge on the River Kwai”.

But the one part which will ensure he is not forgotten is that of Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy. Apparently he thought the film would be a great success. He was shrewd enough to get a % deal which made him very rich indeed – and the deal also said he did not have to do any publicity. Interestingly there is no blue plaque here and in fact the only blue plaque I can find to Guinness is in Upper St Martins Lane erected by the British Film Institute in 1996 as part of the Centenary Of Cinema series. I guess the residents of Lauderdale Mansions might not want a “proper” blue plaque here given how obsessive some Star Wars fans can be.

Walk a little further along Lauderdale Road and take the first on the right (Biddulph Road). Now this is a bit of a surprise as it is a street of two story houses in a sea of mansion flats.

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When you reach Elgin Avenue turn right. Our next stop is ahead at the corner of Randolph Avenue.

Stop 7: Maida Vale Station

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This station opened in 1915 when the Bakerloo Railway extended from Paddington to Queen’s Park. On the face of it this station looks like one of the many Leslie Green stations with its distinctive dark red tiles. However, this is not strictly a Leslie Green station as he only worked with the Underground Electric Railway Company of London until 1907 and he died in 1908.

This station and the next one (Kilburn Park) are of a modified design being slightly lower than the original 1906/07 Leslie Green stations. Also unlike the more central stations, no development was ever built over these two stations. Plus unlike the ones in central London, they (and Warwick Avenue) were built with escalators rather than lifts.

Fascinating fact: Leslie Green had a Maida Vale connection. It is possible he may have been born here, but he did live here as a child and young man in what is now Randolph Avenue. (see comments for this extra info – thanks, Tony)

The station some nice looking lamp brackets with old style shades and also has a couple of mosaics with the early underground logo. This logo was first used in 1908 but by 1917 it had  mutated to become the more familiar roundel of a ring crossed by a bar later adopted by London Transport.  So this mosaic is a rare survival.

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Now the next stop is a bit of a trek to the far end of Maida Vale the street. So if you want to walk go to the end of Elgin Avenue and turn left towards Kilburn. Alternatively you can jump on a bus for a couple of stops to Kilburn Park Road.

Stop 8: Islamic Centre of England (former Maida Vale Picture House/Carlton Rooms)

Just before the junction with the street called Kilburn Priory on the right is our next stop – the Islamic Centre of England.

It is a strange feature of the way postcodes work in that you can get a street like Maida Vale where the side streets on either side are actually in a different post code. I guess this was so that this long street did not change its post code for the last little bit.

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This building has had an interesting history, starting as an early cinema in 1913. It closed during the Second World War and was reincarnated as a Mecca dance hall. It became a Mecca Bingo Hall in 1961 and bingo continued until 1996 by which it was called Jasmine Bingo. It was then renovated as an Islamic Centre which opened in 1998. There are some picture of its current use on their website: http://www.ic-el.com/en/ICELgallery.asp

Strange that a place that used to be used for dancing and gambling and was called Mecca should end up being an Islamic Centre.

And whilst we are here pause a while at the building just to the south of the Islamic Centre. Today this is a modern building but apparently number 136 Maida Vale was the location of the home of William Friese-Greene (1855–1921) between 1888 and 1891. He was a pioneer of cinematography although he does not seem to have been a very good business man. Wikipedia says that he shot the world’s first movie film at his Maida Vale home, but I have been unable to find a source for this statement.

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And just to prove the point we are still in W9 even though we are almost in Kilburn and in the western most reaches of Camden, here is the street sign outside Number 136.

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Now retrace your steps back down Maida Vale towards central London and go as far as Sutherland Avenue, where you need to take a right. Our next stop is right by this junction.

Stop 9: Everyman cinema

Now here is a curiosity. A new two screen cinema – opened in December 2011. Not very attractive and quite an odd location which is just off a main road and nowhere near any centre. It has no history to speak of but I just thought I would include it as it seems so odd to find someone opening a cinema here so recently.

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Go along Sutherland Avenue and at the roundabout take the left hand road (Warrington Crescent)

Stop 10: Number 75 Warrington Crescent

This was the home of David Ben-Gurion (1886 – 1973). He was one of the founding fathers of the modern state of Israel and was its first Prime Minister. He served from 1948 to 1963 except for a brief period in 1954/55. He was actually born in Poland and had the name David Grün. He became a passionate Zionist and adopted the hebrew name Ben-Gurion in around 1912. It is not clear exactly when he lived in this house. The English Heritage website neglects to include this useful information.

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keep walking along Warrington Crescent and our next stop is near the end on the right.

Stop 11: Number 2 Warrington Crescent

This was the birthplace of Alan Turing (1912 – 1954).  He was a mathematician and code breaker. He was a major player in the development of computer science and is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.

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During World War II, Turing worked for the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking centre. After the war, he worked at the National Physical Laboratory and at Manchester University.

Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952, when such acts were still criminalised. He accepted treatment with female hormones as an alternative to prison. Turing died from cyanide poisoning in 1954. An inquest determined his death was suicide but his mother and some others believed it was accidental.

In 2009, following an Internet campaign, the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated.” The Queen gave him a posthumous pardon on 24 December 2013.

There is a curious story that the logo of Apple Computers is a tribute to Alan Turing, with the bite mark a reference to his suicide (he had partly eaten an apple just before his death). The designer of the logo and the company both deny that there is any homage to Turing in the design of the logo.  Stephen Fry apparently asked Apple founder Steve Jobs whether the design was intentional and said that Jobs’ response was, “God, we wish it were.”

Keep walking along Warrington Crescent and soon you will be at the top of Warwick Avenue (and the tube station). There are no dark red tiled buildings at this tube station even though it is the same vintage as Maida Vale station (there are just a couple of subway entrances and a ventilation shaft).

This station was name checked in a song by welsh singer Duffy in 2008. It has the awful rhyming of “Avenue” with “Tube”, at least I think that is supposed to be a rhyme.

Continue along Warwick Avenue until you reach the canal. You are now in the area called Little Venice.

Stop 12: Little Venice

According to one story, this area was named “Little Venice” by the poet Robert Browning (1812 – 1889), who lived in the area from 1862 to 1887.  However, the alternative version is that Lord Byron (1788–1824) humorously coined the name.

Just to the right side of the bridge is to the junction of Regent’s Canal and the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal and this is known as Browning’s Pool after the poet.

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On the Warwick Avenue bridge is a plate showing it was built by Paddington Borough Council. And the crest of the council appears on the bridge.

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Paddington was one of three boroughs that combined in 1965 to form the City of Westminster. And almost the whole area we walked through today was in the Borough of Paddington, which explains why the City of Westminster goes almost all the way to Kilburn.

There are just these odd little reminders of the old borough name. But I have never seen an old Paddington borough street name sign. After 1965, Westminster City Council must have done a thorough job in replacing the street signs with ones with the new borough name, unlike elsewhere in London where you come across old borough names on street signs.

A postscript

The border of W9 with W2 runs down the canal here and although the other side is W2, there are a couple of blue plaques to spot on Maida Avenue which runs off of Warwick Avenue just after the canal bridge

First at Number 30 comes John Masefield, who was Poet Laureate from 1930 until his death in 1967. The only person to hold the office for a longer period was Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who was Poet Laureate for 42 years.

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Keep walking and just before you get back to Maida Vale is Number 2 which was home to the comedy actor Arthur Lowe (1915 – 1982).

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He is best known for playing Captain George Mainwaring in the television sitcom Dad’s Army from 1968 until 1977. When the series ended, fellow Dad’s Army actor Clive Dunn accepted an OBE. It has been said that Arthur Lowe would then only accept an honour if it were rated higher than OBE. Afterall he was a “Captain” and so of a higher rank than Dunn whose character was a Lance Corporal . Lowe never did get an honour.

I should also have mentioned there is a City of Westminster green plaque to Robert Browning which is at 17 Warwick Crescent, W2. This is over the Warwick Avenue bridge and to the right rather than the left.

So that brings s to the end of the W9 walk. This is Maida Hill/Vale but I have to say that I did not notice much in the way of hill or vale. The first part of the walk in Maida Hill was in a fairly run down area but then soon the area changes into a sea of (what must be expensive) mansion flats.

If you have followed the postscript you will now be by the road called Maida Vale where there are plenty of buses for onward travel or else you can retrace your steps back to Warwick Avenue tube. If you ended the walk at the Warwick Avenue bridge then just turn back and you will soon be at Warwick Avenue tube.

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5 thoughts on “W9: Maida force be with you

  1. Up to your usual entertaining standard!
    It’s debateable that Leslie William Green was born in Maida Vale: his birth (February 1875) in registered in Kensington Registration District & Maida Vale was in Paddington RD. However, by the time of his baptism (at St Saviour Paddington) three months later on 13 May 1875 the family were indeed living in Maida Vale at 99 Portsdown Road & were still there in 1898 when his sister was baptised. At the 1901 census they were in Datchet, which was his address when he married in 1902. It’s also of interest that he was just 33 when he died at a TB sanatorium in Norfolk on 31 August 1908.
    Amazing what ten minutes on Ancestry & wiki reveals!

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