What’s in a name?…Gunnersbury…

September 14, 2020

There is a tradition which holds that this tiny district in west London was named after Gunhilda, a niece of King Canute.

While that story may be merely apocryphal, the name Gunnersbury does apparently mean the ‘manor of Gunhilda’, so it follows there was a Gunhilda who once lived here.

The manor – said to have been held by Alice Perrers, mistress to King Edward III, for a time as well as by the bishops of London – was located in what is now Gunnersbury Park.

It was rebuilt in the Palladian-style in the mid 17th century for Sir John Maynard, legal advisor to King Charles II, and a century later was used by Princess Amelia, the daughter of King George II as a summer residence (during which time William Kent is said to have improved the gardens; a ‘Temple’ built in the gardens during that time survives today).

The house was demolished in 1801 and the estate divided into two with two new properties built – Gunnersbury Park and Gunnersbury House. Both properties subsequently passed into the hands of the Rothschild banking family and, after part of the estate was sold off for housing, the houses and surviving estates were acquired by local municipalities.

These days 185 acres, the park – jointly run by the Boroughs of Houslow and Ealing – is now open to the public and since 1929, the Grade II-listed house, Gunnersbury Park, has contained a museum dedicated to local history.

The area also lends its name to the Gunnersbury Triangle, a three hectare nature reserve which was saved from development in the early 1980s.

Gunnersbury previously had its own Church of England parish church – built in 1886, St James’s was located on Chiswick High Road until it was demolished in the late 1980s (another church, Gunnersbury Baptist Church stands in Wellesley Road and a Russian Orthodox Cathedral stands on Harvard Road).

There is also a Gunnersbury Tube station which offers a link to both the Underground and Overground. Located on the District Line, it sits under the 18 story high British Standards Institution building.

PICTURE: The large mansion in Gunnersbury Park in 2006 (Lancey/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

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