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)

Scenes from the ‘Put It To The People March’ attracted thousands to central London on Saturday. More than a million people hit the streets calling for a second Brexit vote. Here’s some images from the mass gathering. PICTURES: Top and first below – John Briody (licensed under CC BY 2.0); second, third and fourth below (Garry Knight (public domain).

 

 

 

 


We kick of a new series this week looking at islands in the River Thames in Greater London and start with the uninhabited Chiswick Eyot or Ait (a word for a river island).

Located just off Chiswick Mall in London’s west, this 3.2 acre tidal island (one of 42 unbridged tidal islands in England) is the lowest in The Thames (and hence gets submerged at high tide – the island appears in the picture above at low tide).

Historically, the island – which is shaped like the plan of a ship sitting parallel to the Mall – was used as a location for the growing of osiers (basket willows) which were used to make baskets.

Formerly owned by the church, in 1934 ownership passed to the local council, now the London Borough of Hounslow. It declared the island a local nature reserve in 1993. Conservation days are regularly held on the island by river conservation group Thames21 (but otherwise people are requested to stay off the island).

The island is a key point on The Championship Course during the annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge from Putney to Mortlake.

PICTURE: henry… (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/image cropped)

Built by poet Alexander Pope (and something of an obsession during his later life) is the grotto and tunnel that he had constructed at his property on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham.

Pope came to live in what was then the fashionable retreat of Twickenham in 1719 and employed architect James Gibbs to create a small Palladian style villa there, living in it until his death in 1744. He also obtained a licence to tunnel beneath the road known as Cross Deep and leased about five acres of unenclosed land on the other side which he developed as his garden – a project he lavished great attention upon.

His first grotto was established in the cellars which stood at ground level facing the river and then extended along the tunnel from the rear of the cellars, leading to a misapprehension, promoted by no other than Dr Samuel Johnson, that the grotto lay under the road. Pope, who had apparently been delighted to find a spring in his grotto complex, opened his gardens to the public in 1736.

Inspired by what he found when visiting Hotwell Spa at the base of Avon Gorge in 1739, he decided to redesign the grotto as a museum of mineralogy and mining and while much material – including a stalagmite from Wookey Hole in Somerset and hexagonal basalt joints from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland (the latter a gift, apparently, from Sir Hans Sloane) – was put into the walls, the grotto was never completed.

The grotto and tunnel is now all that remains of the villa Pope built which was demolished in 1808. What survives of it is located within the grounds of Radnor House School.

The grotto is generally open only briefly during the year including during the Twickenham Festival. An effort continues to have the grotto restored and public access increased. For more details on the restoration project and when the grotto can be visited, see www.popesgrotto.org.uk.

PICTURE: verdurin (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Be dazzled by more than a million twinkling lights at the enchanted wonderland that is Kew Gardens this Christmas.

The Royal Botanic Gardens in London’s west have once again teamed up with entertainment promoter Raymond Gubbay Ltd to create a brand new illuminated trail. It starts with a path lit by hundreds of illuminated globes winding through trees festooned with silvery shards of light, snowflakes and stars and includes attractions such as an enormous glowing ‘Sledge Tree’ – made from more than 360 wooden Santa sledges, and a chorus of ‘Singing Trees’.

Other artistic installations along the trail include an ultraviolet walkway of thousands of continuously moving bubbles (created by Between Art and Technology (BAT) Studio), an enchanted promenade of hundreds of huge glowing peonies, giant grasses and coloured reeds (the work of French art studio TILT), and a host of giant trees, made from thousands of colourful, sparkling flowers complete with holographic petals (creative studio PITAYA) located along the Great Broad Walk Borders (included in the trail for the first time).

The fire garden has also returned – this year as a corridor of intricate pulsing fire sculptures and rotating lantern-lit Christmas trees – as has the Palm House finale in which the pond and glasshouse spring to life in an explosion of laser beams, jumping jets of light and kaleidoscopic projections playing across a giant water screen.

And, of course, there’s roasted chestnuts, mulled cider and Santa and his elves as well as a festive fairground and other food and drink. Open between 5pm and 10pm (timed entries between 5pm and 7.40pm),  the after dark event runs until 1st January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.kew.org.

PICTURES: Above – A sea of illuminated globes by the Palm House / Below (top to bottom)  – 1. Giant glowing trees along The Great Broad Walk Borders; 2. Animated illuminations at Kew’s lake;  3. Giant peonies; 4.Palm House Grand Finale. ALL PHOTOGRAPHY © Jeff Eden/RBG Kew.

heathrow-garden-gateThe UK’s first airport “garden gate” – featuring some 1,680 plants – has been planted at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 in a six month trial of the concept which could see the garden gates being implemented across the airport. Designed by urban greening specialists Biotecture, the installation at Gate 25 covers seven different sites in the gate room and features plants such as English native ivy and the Peace Lily and provides an “eco-sanctuary”, conveying a sense of calm to passengers as they embark on their journey.

Syon-Park

Yes, we’re a bit out of order here given we looked at the subsequent Battle of Turnham Green last week, but today we’re taking a look at the Civil War fight known as the Battle of Brentford.

As recounted last week, having taken Banbury and Oxford in the aftermath of the Battle of Edgehill, the Royalist army marched along the Thames Valley toward London where a Parliamentarian army under the Earl of Essex waited.

Battle-of-BrentfordHaving arrived at Reading to the west of London, King Charles I, apparently unconvinced peace talks were heading in the right direction, ordered Prince Rupert to take Brentford in order to put pressure on the Parliamentarians in London.

On 12th November, 1642, up to 4,600 Royalists under the command of the prince engaged with two Parliamentarian infantry regiments at Brentford, one of the key approaches the City of London. The Parliamentarians were under the command of Denzil Hollis (who wasn’t present) and Lord Brooke – various estimates put their number at between 1,300 and 2,000 men.

Prince Rupert’s men – consisting of cavalry and dragoons – attacked at dawn under the cover of a mist. An initial venture to take a Parliamentarian outpost at the house of Royalist Sir Richard Wynne was repulsed by cannon fire but Sir Rupert ordered a Welsh foot regiment to join the fight and the outpost was quickly taken.

The Cavaliers then pushed forward across the bridge over the River Brent (which divided the town) and eventually drove the Parliamentarians from the town and into the surrounding fields (part of the battle was apparently fought on the grounds of Syon House – pictured at top).

Fighting continued into the late afternoon before the arrival of a Parliamentarian infantry brigade under the command of John Hampden allowed the Roundheads to withdraw.

About 170 are believed to have died in the battle (including a number who drowned fleeing the fighting). Followed by the sack of the town, the battle was a success for the Royalists who apparently captured some 15 guns and about 400 prisoners. The captured apparently included Leveller John Lilburne, a captain in Brooke’s regiment.

The Royalists and Parliamentarians met again only a few days later – this time at Turnham Green (for more on that, see last week’s post).

Incidentally, this wasn’t the first battle to be fought at Brentford. Some time over the summer of 1016, English led by Edmund Ironside clashed with the Danes under the soon-to-be-English king Canute. Edmund was victorious on the day, one of a series of battles he fought with Canute.

Meanwhile, more than 1000 years earlier, it was apparently at Brentford that the British under the King Cassivellaunus fought with Julius Caesar’s men in 54 BC on their approach to St Albans (Verulamium).

A pillar stands High Street in Brentford commemorating all three battles while there is an explanatory plaque about the battle in the grounds of Syon Park.

For more the Battles of Brentford and Turnham Green, see www.battlefieldstrust.com/brentfordandturnhamgreen.