The other day I posted some ghost sign pictures near the shop that was fixing my laptop in the unprepossessing west London suburb of Hanwell. What more had the area to offer the lazy historian, I wondered?
So on Sunday we drove a few miles up the road to explore Hanwell. Hanwell was, and is, a village on the Uxbridge Road between Ealing and Southall, although administratively it has been absorbed by Ealing. It’s very much the type of place one passes through. But if one gets out the car, as with most places in greater London, there is treasure. Primarily this takes the form of the Wharncliffe Viaduct, built by Brunel in 1836-37 on the route of the Great Western Railway between London and Bristol. Standing 65 feet above the Brent Valley, it is a wonderful example of magnificent 19C engineering. It is said that Queen Victoria liked to stop the Royal train here to gaze across her realm. Immediately north of the viaduct is some rather lovely park land, ideal for picnicking.
Back on the Uxbridge Road we head east and come across two cemeteries facing each other on either side of the thoroughfare. One is the Westminster Cemetery, the other the Kensington and Chelsea Cemetery, both miles adrift from the eponymous boroughs concerned. They were both established in the 1850s when Central London could no longer cope with its corpses, though one imagines that the prevailing “miasma” theory of cholera transmission (despite Snow), had something to do with it. The Westminster Cemetery was involved in the notorious 15p cemetery sell-off by Westminster Council in the 1980s
I don’t think I’ve purposely visited a cemetery before outside the business of attending a funeral. It is an interesting and peaceful experience, tinged with sadness, obviously. There are no persons of note in these cemeteries, but the stories that the monuments and gravestones tell are often compelling. And misleading. One such said: M Wheeler builder of Notting Hill. Who was this unknown Cubitt of west London, I thought? On finding no information whatsoever about Mr Wheeler, I realised that Lynne Truss may have told me that the inscription should have been punctuated: M Wheeler, builder, of Notting Hill.