My exploration of suburban west London begins on the 207 bus. The Trust has been to the great parks of west London, Osterley and Syon, but this is a journey to ordinary local authority parks where one can find a mixture of common land turned park and the remains of gardens of large houses.
Acton Park is our first stop. This was once one of the open fields of Acton; it became a park in 1888 as part of Queen Victoria's Jubilee. It lies behind some houses on the Uxbridge Road and seems much bigger once you get into it. The ground is undulating as it was once used as a brickfield and was also bombed. The Lodge is now the Ranger's office and the garden has been laid out as a low-water requirement garden. There are many mature trees, some of which pre-date the park. The last elm to die in Ealing has been carved by Dennis Heath to form the 'Twilight Tree'. There is a small rain-fed pond. To the north is a more formal area which has been planted with perennials, including tall grasses. This is very successful way of retaining formality while reducing maintenance work. Sports areas are limited, but nearby Springfield and Southfield Parks provide playing fields. There is a memorial to the Earl of Derwentwater, executed for his involvement in the 1715 uprising. Originally erected by his widow in the gardens of her house it was moved to Acton Park in 1904. Leaving from the north of the park opposite the Goldsmiths' Alms Houses takes us to Churchfield Road. The old burial ground of St Mary's is now a small park that retains many gravestones. Springs used to rise in it and the water was taken down to troughs on the High Street. It became a graveyard in 1864. Next to this is a sculpture 'Oak Screen' (2004) by Mamily Sheibani, an Iranian refugee.
Across the High Street we come to The Woodlands. This was the garden of a house purchased in 1903 by the Council as an educational building. Part of the garden was retained as a park. There are many fine trees. In 2006 the Ice House was restored and the formal circular pond was re-created. Twyford Crescent Gardens was originally laid out in 1903 on either side of Twyford Avenue as an approach to an area being developed for housing. There are many flower beds and some trees, it has recently been replanted to give year-round interest.
Ealing Common is a wide expanse of flat open land, which was purchased in 1863 by the local authority - the horse chestnuts were planted at that time. The Common is dissected by busy roads and is therefore split into several parts and includes a small strip going north on Hanger Lane, which crosses over Hanger Lane just before the new railway bridge. A sculpture of the 'Iron Duke', a broad-gauge railway engine by Michael Sinclair and constructed by Julian Raffe was unveiled in November 2013. Around the Common there are several small features worth noting, including a metal milestone of 1832. At the southern end of the Common is Warwick Dene, once part of the Rothschild Estates; it is designated a rest park for the elderly and also has play equipment for the very young. The Grange public house is significant as it is just outside the Rothschild estate, where public houses and off-licences were not permitted. All Saints Church by W A Pite (1905) is a memorial to Spencer Perceval. The Common is still used by fairs and circuses.
In the centre of Ealing there is more common land, Ealing Green. The Green lies in front of and Walpole Park. It is mainly grass and trees but there are some interesting buildings; the Girls' School of 1861 is particularly good. We have visited Pitzhanger several times and we may have another visit once the new planting has matured; so just a quick update. The War Memorial gates are open as an entrance to the park and look suitably solemn with poppy wreathes recently laid when I visited in late November. The walled garden is partly given over to community gardening. The rocky 'stream' by the house has been cleared of the vegetation it was once choked by. A new entrance goes through the College and the canal and two fountains have been restored. Small interpretation plaques recall the history of the park and there are also tree information plaques. To the south of Walpole is Lammas Park. This was common grazing land and was bought in 1883 with the intention of keeping it as open land. Originally it was laid out with numerous flowerbeds, but these had gone by 1960 and it is now trees and grass. The two parks provide a green walk from Ealing to Northolt.
Another area of common land is Haven Green to the north of the Uxbridge Road. It was purchased in 1863 and planted with horse chestnuts. Like other areas of Ealing open space the bedding has been simplified by the use of well-managed shrubs. The mainline and tube railways have a combined station and the roads by the common are used for bus interchange; there is a taxi rank, originally for horse-drawn vehicles.
The next park is Dean Gardens. At one time this was common land, but was later used for horse and donkey racing and later as allotments. In 1909 part of it was taken over by the Council and turned into a park. In recent years, it has been redesigned to include a series of pergolas at the entrances along Uxbridge Road. These provide formal entrances but there are no gates. The park is laid out with trees, shrubs and grass and there are some play facilities. The road junction where Uxbridge Road meets Northfield Avenue and Drayton Green Road is known as Lido Junction. It has been speculated that there was once a swimming pool; there wasn't, but there was a cinema called the Lido.
We now come to two Hanwell cemeteries, neither of which is owned by Ealing. The one to the north of the Uxbridge Road is owned by Kensington and Chelsea and was opened in 1855. It has a splendid, if rather large, entrance arch. Originally it had two chapels, but the Dissenters' chapel went long ago and the Anglican chapel was partially demolished in 1972. The architect was Thomas Allom. It is well maintained with a variety of graves. The other cemetery, owned by Westminster, was opened in 1854 and its architect was Robert Gerrard. The Lodge is a very large building with an avenue of fine cedars; there is a wide range of grave styles.
Before we get to the next major site, we take a short detour down Lower Boston Road to a small green with plane trees and white-painted iron railings, overlooked by two Victorian terraces and a modern terrace. Poor's Piece was common land, but in 1807 it was leased at £12 a year to provide coal for the poor. It became a George V playing field in 1951. It has a modern area for adults with seats and trim gym. Two pairs of stones make goals for a small kick-about area and at the west end there is a good natural play area with various features including a tunnel and some mini-trampolines.
Back to the Uxbridge Road and we are in the valley of the River Brent. Soon after crossing the Brent, we go through a gap in the fence into Brent Meadow. This is an area of rough grassland of value as wildlife habitat. Ahead of us is the Wharncliffe Viaduct designed by Brunel in 1836 to carry the Great Western Railway. The path crosses the Brent and we follow the yellow path along the River until we come to a fenced enclosure. We are now in the heart of Brent Lodge Park, whose gardens were originally laid out by the Rector of Hanwell in 1795. Later owners added to the site, building a walled garden, stable block, greenhouses and other outbuildings. The Grade II listed stable block is all that remains of the old manor house, which burned down in the 1930s. In 1931 the estate was sold to Ealing Council. A major feature is the Millennium Maze planted in 2000 and now well matured. The hedges are of yew, which one normally thinks of as large old trees, but it grows well when managed as hedge - I have even seen it used as edging in a parterre garden. The fenced area is an animal centre and has a wide range of creatures, some exotic species and some domestic animals. Meerkats have recently joined the cast. Opposite the enclosure is the old animal centre where more creatures can be found. There is a pond that has recently been re-dug by volunteers, a range of exercise and play equipment and a café. The park leads to St Mary's Church of 1841; there has been a church here for a thousand years. The grey path leading back across the grass marks the border between Brent Lodge and Churchfields. Churchfields provides an area for team games and tennis courts. There is a path round the park; look out for the thatched bungalow in Church Street. Just beyond the tennis courts is a more formal garden with rose beds and shrubs. These open spaces are part of an extensive area of open land, including two golf courses. It is part of the Capital Ring and also part of the Brent River Park Walk, which now runs from the confluence of the Brent and the Thames to Hanger Lane.
On the south side of the viaduct in Conolly Road is Conolly Dell, part of the gardens of Dr John Conolly's asylum. It was made into a public park in 1911 and in recent years has been restored. The memorial to Dr Conolly is soon to get a replacement eagle. The park is designated as a rest area for the elderly and disabled.
Back on the bus to continue our exploration: there are large areas of grass in front of the hospital and in the central reservations on the road and the trees surrounding a golf course can be seen - a mix of rural look with modern functional buildings. Our last park is Southall Park, opened in 1909. The land was once part of the estate of Christopher Merrick and Sir Christopher Wren reputedly designed the house. It eventually became an asylum that tragically burnt down in 1883. The park had a major make-over in 2002 funded by British Airport Authority. BAA and Free Form Arts Trust commissioned a mosaic globe designed by Rachael Silver and pupils from local schools to commemorate this. There are tree-lined paths and the circular bed at the confluence of these is planted with palms. There is a formal area marked by hedges that surround flowerbeds and a mixture of play equipment for all ages. At the time I was visiting these parks, the 207 went no further because Southall was undergoing road works, so we will leave Hayes and Uxbridge for another day.