SW13: A white swan … and other birds

NOTE: Sorry for the delay in continuing the London Postcodes Walk blog. This was because I went on holiday (a trip across the US by train) and decided to blog about that. If you would like to read about my american journey, follow the link:


If you want to stay in south west London, read on with this post about SW13.

We start our SW13 walk at the Post Office in Church Road which is near the Red Lion pub, a little bus ride from Hammersmith.


Turning right out of the Post Office we walk down Church Road and at the traffic lights by the Red Lion pub, we continue straight. This is Queen Elizabeth Walk and soon on the left is our first stop

Stop 1: London Wetland Centre

This is a wetland reserve managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. It was formed out of four disused Victorian reservoirs.


The centre first opened in 2000 and covers more than 100 acres. Apparently many birds which have now made their home in the Centre cannot be found anywhere else in London, Unfortunately this is also on the flight path to Heathrow, so you get one of those big shiny metal birds flying over every 90 seconds when they are landing from the east!

The Wetland Centre is well worth a proper visit, but sadly not today as we have the rest of Barnes to see. More info at: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/london/

Keep walking down Queen Elizabeth Walk and on your right are the Barn Elms Playing fields

Stop 2: Barn Elms

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It may not look much now, but somewhere on the land over there on the right of the path was the manor house of Barnes, known as Barn Elms. Before the reformation, the manor house was in the ownership of the Archbishop of Canterbury. During the reign of Elizabeth I, it was home to Sir Francis Walsingham – known as “Elizabeth’s Spymaster”. By the 1660s Barn Elms had become a fashionable destination for picnics and Samuel Pepys arranged boating parties here. The house was remodelled in the 1770s by Sir Richard Hoare (whose great grandfather founded the private bank C Hoare & Co), and his son Richard Colt Hoare extended it in the early 19th century. Sadly the house became derelict in the 20th century and was burnt out then demolished in 1954. And now it is just playing fields, although somewhere there is an ice house, an ornamental pond and a lodge. But it not anywhere near here.

Keep walking down the path until you reach the river.

Stop 3: Riverside walk

On this side is a tranquil pathway and it is hard to believe you are actually in London. Across the river (in SW6) is Craven Cottage, home of Fulham FC.

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Retrace your steps back along Queen Elizabeth Walk to the Red Lion, cross over and go down Church Road. Almost immediately on the right is our next stop.

Stop 4: Olympic Building

This building started life in 1906 as the Byfield Hall, a theatre for the Barnes Repertory Company. It became a cinema with various names (none of which were “Olympic”) and then in 1966, it became Olympic Studios. This was the name the studios had had in the previous locations and so the name came along with the studios. Many famous rock and pop stars have recorded here including the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Queen and U2. It was closed down by the then owners EMI in 2009 and has been converted back to being a cinema.

(Note: since I researched this postcode the Cinema and Cafe have now opened. More info at:

http://www.olympiccinema.co.uk/?page=8 )

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Just a little further along Church Road on the same side is the Homestead.

Stop 5: The Homestead house


This is a delightful 18th century house with a lovely garden. Sadly we can’t pop in for tea.

Keep walking down Church Road, and not surprisingly you get to the Church, which is on the right.

Stop 6: St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s is an old church, with bits dating back to medieval times. But it suffered a major fire in 1978. The Victorian and Edwardian additions were lost but the Tudor tower and much of the original Norman chapel survived. It has been substantially rebuilt, not that this is obvious from the road. It has a great sundial on the clock tower with the motto “Abide with us for the day is far spent”. Not entirely sure what this means! Perhaps the word “from” should be in there between “far” and “spent”?

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Keep walking along Church Road and on the right we get to the Grange.

Stop 7: The Grange

This is another lovely house. It is described by architectural historian, Pevsner, as early 18th century but altered and added to. He goes on to say it has good early 19th Century railings and overthrow. The overthrow, I deduce from the glossary in Pevsner, is the bit over the gate – in this case where the name of the house is spelled out.

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We continue along Church road to a pub and opposite is Barnes Green

Stop 8: Barnes Green

Barnes Green has what I guess might be described as the village pond – with ducks. It is all very pretty and makes you feel like you are in a village. Indeed there is a very enthusiatic website about the “village”:  http://www.barnesvillage.com/ which tells of all sort of open-air and covered markets each month. Barnes Green is also the site of the Barnes Fair, held each year on the second Saturday of July.


We follow the path as the road veers to the right and becomes Barnes High Street. This has a higgledy piggledy range of buildings which do not quite come together as a satisfactory whole. We are going to walk down the whole of the High Street, avoiding the temptations of coffee shops (or pubs) until we come to the river again.

Stop 9: Barnes Riverside

The river of course does a huge loop around Barnes and we have cut across from one side of the loop to the other. The view along the river here is also lovely here. It is so undeveloped – particularly on the other side, where there are playing fields.


On the right is the Bull’s head pub, for many years a famous Jazz venue. Unfortunately it is now closed but said to be undergoing a major refurbishment. Not yet clear though whether it will continue the live jazz tradition.


Walk back along the river walk towards the railway bridge (which is listed and dates from the 1840s). On the left, are two famous people’s houses. First comes Gustav Holst who lived here from 1908 to 1913, but apparently the river air, frequently foggy, affected his breathing. So he and his family moved.

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And just a little way along at No 14 is the house lived in by the dancer Dame Ninette de Valoise from 1962 to 1982. She was named Edris Stannus by her parents  which is unusual enough but she changed her name to Ninette de Valoise when she was about 13. Clearly this was deemed a more suitable name for a ballet dancer. She went on to have an illustrious career. Most notably, she danced professionally with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and later established The Royal Ballet. And she lived to be 102!

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Return back along the riverside and turn back down Barnes High street. At Barnes Green take the right hand road (Station Road) and follow this. The traffic veers off to the left but you keep walking along Station Road, which not surprisingly leads you to Barnes Station.

(if you want to short circuit this, you can get the train from Barnes Bridge Station which is just along from Dame Ninnette’s old house)

Stop 10: Barnes Railway station

Amazingly Barnes Station has one of the oldest surviving station buildings in London. It dates from 1846 and is the only one of the Tudor style buildings constructed for the Richmond line stations which still stands. It was designed by William Tite, who was responsible for a number of the early London and South Western Railway stations. This of course is the man after whom the Metropolitan Board of Works named a new street in Chelsea after his death in the 1870s. (Tite Street is where Oscar Wilde and John Singer Sergeant lived – see my SW3 walk)

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Sadly the building is no longer part of the working station, but at least it is still here.

Go up the steps to Rocks Lane which is the road that passes over the station. Go down Rocks Lane away from Barnes, until you reach the major road junction.

Stop 11: The Red Rover

This junction where the A306 (Rocks Lane/Roehampton Lane) crosses the South Circular is called the Red Rover, for no obvious reason today.


But until about 20 years ago I would guess there was a pub on the corner called “The Red Rover”. It was demolished and replaced by this block of flats, And all there is to remind us now is the name over the road sign.


Turn back on yourself and go along the road called Queen’s Ride. Stay on the left hand pavement for now and go up the slope towards the railway bridge. Across the road you will see the shrine to Marc Bolan.

Stop 12: Marc Bolan

This is the location of the car crash which killed glam rock star Marc Bolan in 1977.  In 2007, this site was recognised by the English Tourist Board as a “Site of Rock ‘n’ Roll Importance” in its guide “England Rocks”.


To see the shrime more closely retrace your steps and you will see over the road how the right hand path leaves the side of the road. It should be possible to cross Queen’s Ride at this point. Do this and go down this path to see the shrine in detail.

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It is a remarkable collection of stuff. There are a couple of formal memorials. There is a small plaque and nearby is a (rather ugly) bronze bust of Bolan installed in 1997  to mark the twentieth anniversary of his death.

And then there is the informal stuff – the flowers, ornaments, messages, poems. There were at least three white swans when I visited – a reminder of his first hit: “Ride a White Swan” from 1970.

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We are now at the end of our SW13 walk. At first SW13 appears just a bit suburban. But it does have the historic connection with Barn Elms, there is also one of London’s oldest railway station buildings, the wonderful Wetlands Centre and music connections: Gustav Holst, Olympic Studios and the Bolan shrine. Not bad for what looks like a bit of a backwater. A shame this lovely area is so blighted by aircraft noise.

For onward travel, return to Barnes Station, or else there are buses at the Red Rover to Putney or Richmond.