“Life’s not Hollywood, it’s Cricklewood” is a quote from comedian Eric Morecambe and was used as the subtitle of a 2004 biography of Eric Morecambe by his son Gary. It kind of sums up the ordinariness of Cricklewood, NW2.
It is a very workaday kind of place which interestingly has two famous companies called Smith associated with it. What else could they be called?
Smith’s Crisps started life in Cricklewood as we shall see and Smiths Instruments had a major factory here which I believe was on Edgware Road near the bus garage. They started life in clocks and moved on to all sorts of bits and pieces for cars and then on to medical devises and much more. Sadly though they no longer seem to have a connection with NW2.
We start our walk at the Post Office at 193 Cricklewood Broadway, right in what passes for the centre of Cricklewood. Turn left out of the Post Office and cross when convenient. Our first stop is a little way along on the right where just past Kara Way there is a little undeveloped strip by the main road, with a milepost.
Stop 1: Cricklewood Milepost
This says London is 4 miles away.
And yet it feels further. So I did a quick check and found that if you measure from Charing Cross (which is usually used as the centre of London for measurement) it is about 6 miles from there. And if you were to measure from the City – eg the Royal Exchange, you would be looking at about 8 miles. So where is 4 miles away. Well head down the main road (which is in effect the route of an old roman road – Watling Street) and you find that after 4 miles you would be at Marble Arch (or Tyburn Tree), which is not exactly the centre of London.
The other way it says Watford is 10 miles away, which even in a straight line is stretching it a bit. So the weary travellers of yesteryear were perhaps somewhat mislead by this particular mile post.
Walk past the row of shops and then another section of green. Opposite Temple Road you will see some steps on your right. Go up these.
Stop 2: The Railway Terraces
You first come to Gratton Terrace running at right angles to the steps. At first glance you could be in an industrial midland or northern town. Unusually for London these houses go straight onto the street with not even the tiniest strip of garden in front.
The street ahead of you is Needham Terrace and walking along this you will see there is an alleyway parallel to Gratton Terrace. This looks even more like the industrial north, with tiny yards and little outbuildings which originally housed toilets.
This alley is called Midland Terrace which kind of gives the game away.
We are directly south of the Midland Railway who had their main London depot at Cricklewood. They built these terraces as housing for railway workers starting in the late 1860s. There are five terraces in all; Gratton Terrace, facing Edgware Road, and Midland, Johnston, Needham and Campion Terraces behind. The streets, other than Midland, were named after prominent railway officials of the time.
According to Barnet Council, it would appear that Gratton, Midland and Needham Terraces were the first to be built with Johnstone Terrace being added by the 1890s and Campian Terrace being built at a later date. There are gradations of house size as well with Gratton having the largest houses. They were apparently allocated according to job, so the drivers and firemen got bigger houses than the porters.
Keep walking and you find the houses that back on to Midland Terrace do not have their fronts facing a street. No they face a communal garden.
Then there is another row of houses and another alley (Johnstone Terrace), which is presumably the address of the houses on the north side of the gardens, whilst Midland Terrace is the address for the other side of the garden.
Again according to Barnet Council at some time before 1962 the green between Midland and Johnston Terrace was divided into individual garden plots, possibly during the Second World War as part of the war effort to grow food. In 1969 the Terraces were sold to Bradford Property Trust and residents voted on whether or not to keep the individual garden spaces. As a result a communal garden was established.
This knot of street is is now a conservation area.
Now return to the main road and turn right, going past Wickes and under the railway.
Stop 3: Cricklewood Bus Garage
Ahead on the left is a bus garage which although modern has a long history.
Cricklewood Bus Garage opened for service in May 1905 and was originally called Dollis Hill. It was an early motorised bus depot of the London General Omnibus Company but what we see today dates from 2009/2010. It is now a depot for Metroline Buses.
Metroline was one of 12 operating subsidiaries created in 1998 by London Buses which were then sold off. In October 1994 Metroline was sold again to MTL and in March 2000 to ComfortDelGro – a company based in Singapore and operating over 46,000 vehicles in seven countries. (note I got this slightly wrong – see comment from Stephen Bird below. Thanks, Stephen for the correction)
Fascinating fact: ComfortDelGro also owns Computer Cab which is one of the largest (if not the largest) Black Cab company in London
Now retrace your steps along Edgware Road (Cricklewood Broadway) past the post office and stopping just beyond Cricklewood Lane, where you will see our next stop on the left.
Stop 4: The Crown
The Crown Pub is an impressive solid looking late Victorian building – built in 1899.
It was fully restored in 2003, and reopened as The Crown Moran Hotel and with the addition of a 152 room 4 star hotel and restaurant. Moran Hotels is a small Irish Hotel company. We are not a million miles away from Kilburn which is of course known for its Irish connections.
I am told that Smith’s Crisps started off life in a yard behind the Crown, before moving to a factory in Brentford in 1927. So to celebrate, I had a pint and a packet of crisps in the Crown.
Sadly the brand of Smith’s no longer exists in the UK for crisps so I had to make do with what they had, which was an Irish brand called Tayto. (Well, the pub is run by an Irish hotel chain)
This is a comfortable pub with some original features, and I guess having the modern hotel alongside gives it some purpose (and business) which it might not otherwise have.
Return back up the main road and turn right into Cricklewood Lane. Our next stop is almost immediately on your left.
Stop 5: Number 3 Cricklewood Lane (site of the Gaumont Cricklewood)
Today there is a Co-operative food store but once there was a cinema here.
This was initially called the Queen’s Hall Cinema. It was opened in December 1920 by an independent company but was taken over by Gaumont in 1928. It seems to have had a fairly uneventful life. It was renamed Gaumont in 1949, and had CinemaScope fitted in 1955. It finally closed in January 1960 and was demolished to be replaced by a supermarket, which has gone through a number of owners including Kwiksave and Somerfield.
Walk along Cricklewood Lane going under the railway, our next stop is past Claremont Road on the right.
Stop 6: Number 110, Cricklewood Lane
The Handley Page Aircraft Company had a factory here from 1912 until 1917. Then they moved to Claremont Road, which is the road we just passed running off Cricklewood Lane on the left just after the railway. The Cricklewood Aerodrome was adjacent to their factory. The aerodrome closed in 1929 and the Golders Green Estate was built by John Laing & Co on the site of the Handley Page factory and aerodrome. This private housing development is a little way up Claremont Road bounded by Cotswold Gardens and Cheviot Gardens.
Back to Number 110, this was Clang’s electrical from 1929 to the mid 1970s. It then became something called the Production Village, a mini film studios owned by Samuelsons, which apparently included a pub and village green (!).
Here is a fascinating link which includes an advert from 1979 explaining the facilities.
Production Village was demolished in 2000, and is now a Virgin Active gym.
A little further up the hill was the factory that manufactured the revolutionary Stylophone handheld “music” device of the late 1960s to early 1970s – as demonstrated by Rolf Harris. Not exactly sure which building that was or even if it still stands. But could well be this one.
Now retrace your steps back down Cricklewood Lane and take a left into Lichfield Road. After some victorian terraces, you will see a housing estate on the left.
Stop 7: Westcroft Estate
Now at first glance this looks a typical housing development of the 1950s, but no, it turns out to be much earlier. 1934 in fact.
And there are two stone plaques to prove it. The first says
“Hampstead Boro (sic) Council Westcroft Estate 1934”
The second says:
“Metropolitan Borough of Hampstead Westcroft Housing Estate Declared open by HRH the Duke of Kent KG GCMG GCVO Tuesday 29th October 1935
The Duke of Kent was the fourth son of King George V. Confusingly he was called Prince George until the Dukedom of Kent was recreated in October 1934. I guess this was convenient later when his brother (Albert Frederick Arthur George) unexpectedly took the throne in 1936. It would have been a bit odd for him to take the name George as king if his brother was still known as Prince George.
This first Duke of Kent died in 1942 and his son inherited the title. He was only about 7 at the time. He was called Prince Edward but then became the second Duke of Kent (and he still is).
Continue a little further along the road which has now become Westbere Road.
Stop 8: Hampstead School
Just here on the left is our next stop – a substantial school, today called rather confusingly Hampstead School. This is nowhere near Hampstead – it is not even West Hampstead!
And here on the main building is an interesting stone plaque.
This explains that this was Haberdashers Aske’s Boys school founded by Robert Aske in 1692. The stone was moved here in 1902 when the school itself moved from Hoxton.
Now I had always wondered about the name Haberdashers Aske’s as it seemed an odd combination of a trade with a person’s name. The Haberdasher’s Company is one of the oldest livery companies in the City of London. It received a Royal Charter in 1448 and has records dating back to 1371. Robert Aske left the Company £20,000 in 1690 to set up a hospital and home for 20 elderly men and a school for 20 boys at Hoxton. So that is why the names are linked.
The school really took off in the 19th century. There was reorganisation in 1873 and separate boys and girls schools were established at Hoxton and at Hatcham, New Cross in south east London.
The schools north and south of the river went on different paths with the boys school at Hoxton moving here at the turn of the twentieth century. Then in 1961 it moved again to Elstree, Hertfordshire and became an independent school. The south London ones stayed as local schools, then became a City Technology College and there is now an academy group, although still it seems with connections to the Haberdashers Company.
More of the history at http://www.haberdashers.co.uk/index.php?p=schoolsElstree
But now these buildings house Hampstead School.
One of the school’s most famous alumni is the writer Zadie Smith, who grew up a little further south from here and apparently still has a house in the Queen’s Park area. Another Smith!
We could not really come to north west London without mentioning her as she is so associated with this quadrant of London. Her last novel was even called NW.
Apparently she was known as Sadie Smith as a child but at age 14 decided to be called Zadie. As a name, Sadie is a bit unusual but Zadie really stands out. Brilliant as only a fourteen year old can be!
Now the next final stops are a bit of a trek. Go past the school buildings and take a left into Menelik Road. Just opposite Somali Road is a little footpath. Take this. Hampstead School is on your left hidden away behind a fence and hedge. But on your right is a playing field, not surprisingly part of Hampstead School but belonging to another school – University College School.
Stop 9: University College School Playing fields
University College School is an independent fee paying school originally set up by University College London in 1830. The school itself is in Frognal in Hampstead, so over the border in NW3. But the playing fields with its pavilion are accessed from the other side from where you are standing, in Ranulf Road which is in NW2.
This field is used for Rugby, Football, Cricket, Athletics, Tennis and Hockey. There are some really well known alumni of the school including the runner Sir Roger Bannister, who in 1954 was first to be recorded as running run a mile in under 4 minutes. I guess he must have spent a bit of time on these fields whilst at school. Other famous old boys include Dirk Bogarde, Hugh Dennis and Will Self – I imagine the latter might have been more at home lurking behind the pavilion smoking.
Keep walking to the end of the path. At the end turn left into Farm Avenue, and then left again into Harman Drive
Stop 10: Number 38, Harman Drive
This was clearly an up market inter-war development, with large semi-detached houses – most with garages. Quite a change from Cricklewood proper.
Number 38 has a blue plaque to the dance band leader, Henry Hall (1898 – 1989).
Henry Hall was a dance band leader who performed regularly on BBC Radio during the 1920s and 1930s. He was still performing into the 1960s. He lived in this house from 1932 to 1959. As it happens 1932 was the year his career really took off when he became leader of the BBC Dance Orchestra.
Now retrace your steps to Farm Avenue and turn right follow this road as it turns left and becomes Hocroft Road. At the end of Hocroft Avenue you will find a busy dual carriageway – the A41 Hendon Way. Turn right here and soon on your right you will find our next stop.
Stop 11: Vernon Court
This is a substantial block of flats. To get the scale of the place, you really have to be on the other side of the road.
And the interest here is that this was the home of the pioneer aviator, Amy Johnson
Amy Johnson set numerous long-distance aviation records during the 1930s either flying solo or with her husband Jim Mollison. She flew in the Second World War as a part of the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). She died during an ATA flight from Blackpool to Oxfordshire. The weather conditions were poor and she ended up over the Thames estuary, where she went down.
There is some mystery about the accident. The exact reason for the flight is still a government secret. And it has been said that her plane was actually shot down by British forces.
According to Wikipedia, in 1999 it was reported that Tom Mitchell, from Crowborough, Sussex, claimed to have shot Johnson down when she twice failed to give the correct identification code during the flight. He said: “The reason Amy was shot down was because she gave the wrong colour of the day [a signal to identify aircraft known by all British forces] over radio.” Mr. Mitchell explained how the aircraft was sighted and contacted by radio. A request was made for the signal. She gave the wrong one twice. “Sixteen rounds of shells were fired and the plane dived into the Thames Estuary. We all thought it was an enemy plane until the next day when we read the papers and discovered it was Amy. The officers told us never to tell anyone what happened.
Well that brings us to the end of our NW2 walk. Starting in workaday Cricklewood with its Smiths connections, passing a mini film studios, two school premises with famous ex pupils and ending up in real suburbia with the homes of a radio dance band leader and a pioneer aviator. So I guess there is a tiny bit of “Hollywood” stardust even in little old Cricklewood.
Now we are a bit in between places here. But you can get buses to Golders Green (nos 13, 82 and 328), Finchley Road (nos 13, 82 and 113) or West Hampstead (no 328) stations from here.