Over­looked Bri­tain Lucinda Lambton

The Oldie - - NEWS - lucinda lambton

‘To be in Heathrow is to be in the his­toric bo­som of the Bri­tish Isles’ is a mantra I in­tone daily and with de­light. ‘With its pure sweet air of an­tiq­uity, in in­ter­est it is un­ap­proach­able in the land.’

Th­ese words were writ­ten in the 1930s, about the spot where Heathrow Air­port is now, by his­to­rian James George Joseph Pen­derel-brod­hurst, when Houn­slow Heath was beau­ti­ful and in­ter­est­ing.

Nor is it bereft of such qual­i­ties to­day. Ru­ral and ar­chi­tec­tural mir­a­cles of sur­vival re­main around the en­tire perime­ter of the air­port.

One is bang in its midst. Mere yards from the run­ways, hard by a gal­vanised, chicken-wire fence, you find a George III can­non, mark­ing the first inch mea­sured for the Ord­nance Survey map, on 17th Au­gust, 1784. The in­au­gu­ral cer­e­mony, with the king him­self

com­ing to marvel, was one of the great spec­ta­cles of the day.

Within spit­ting dis­tance of the world’s busiest in­ter­na­tional air­port, there are five vil­lages, with 15th to 19th cen­tury build­ings, all of them com­plete with their an­cient churches.

Har­ling­ton’s St Peter and St Paul has a humdinger of a Nor­man door­way, with zigzags em­bla­zoned with cats’ heads. They are all also peo­pled, as is the air­port it­self, with a rich roll-call of ghosts. What a sight and a half it would make if they were all to as­sem­ble to­gether on the tar­mac.

It was here that Jonathan Swift first read Gul­liver’s Trav­els to his friends Alexan­der Pope, John Dry­den and John Gay; a pleas­ing scene that took place in Lord Bol­ing­broke’s Daw­ley Farm, which stood only yards away from the run­way.

The house, re­mod­elled in the early 1700s by James Gibbs, was a pretty, red-brick build­ing, where Bol­ing­broke was ‘os­ten­ta­tiously en­grossed in rus­tic pur­suits’. The hall’s walls were painted with rakes and spades, and ‘prongs and other im­ple­ments of hus­bandry, as one might see arms in a gen­eral’s hall’.

Ni­cholas Hil­liard, the great 17th cen­tury minia­tur­ist, could also mag­i­cally join the party. He lived to the west, at Poyle Manor, with lawns of ‘liv­ing vel­vet’. To the north at Har­mondsworth, Richard Cox, who prop­a­gated the first Or­ange Pip­pin, lies buried. His pot­ting shed sur­vives to this day, in a car park be­hind a block of flats. What, too, about Sir John Suck­ling, who in­vented crib­bage and who lived on Houn­slow Heath?

Eus­tace Burn­aby, who patented the first white writ­ing pa­per in 1675, lived at Stan­well; Isam­bard King­dom Brunel lived at Cran­ford.

The ghostly as­sem­bly grows to many thou­sands, in­clud­ing le­gions of Ro­mans who set­tled on the heath and built a tem­ple on what is now the main run­way.

What, too, about Oliver Cromwell, with his 20,000 men, who waited on Houn­slow Heath be­fore march­ing to London to take over the King, Par­lia­ment and coun­try?

As a fi­nal huz­zah, Lord Knyvett, who foiled the Gun­pow­der Plot, lies in St Mary the Vir­gin, Stan­well, be­neath a mar­ble mon­u­ment, con­ceived in 1619 by the sculp­tor Ni­cholas Stone. Its al­abaster skulls with primrose wreathes (pic­tured) have great charm.

The 14th-cen­tury church, with its twisted-with-time, wooden, tiled spire, can be spot­ted and rel­ished as a bea­con of th­ese en­tic­ing sur­vivals when­ever you fly in and out of Heathrow.

The memo­rial to Lord and Lady Knyvett (de­tail below), at Stan­well Church. Thomas Knyvett helped foil the Gun­pow­der Plot

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