The Airport Commission’s Interim Report on expanding the UK’s airport capacity proposes, as one of its three shortlisted options, creating a new runway (pictured above) to the northwest of Heathrow on the site of the village of Harmondsworth. The other proposals are enlarging the existing northern runway and a second runway for Gatwick.
Harmondsworth is a village of exceptional historic interest, as the report acknowledges, and is home to one of the most exceptional medieval structures in Britain, the Harmondsworth barn, hailed by Sir John Betjeman as ‘the cathedral of Middlesex’. It says its proposal would ‘require a significant number of demolitions, totalling approximately 1,500 houses and including the loss of the village of Harmondsworth, much of which is a conservation area. A second conservation area in Longworth would also lose listed buildings. Around 30 listed buildings would be lost, including the Grade I listed Great Tithe Barn and the Grade II* listed St Mary’s Church. While Heathrow Airport Ltd has indicated that it will continue to examine the potential to avoid the most severe of these heritage impacts, it is difficult to see currently how this may be achieved other than by relocating the barn and church.’
Harmondsworth is a landmark too in the history of British publishing. Between 1937 and the 1990s all Penguin books paid tribute to the village giving as their publishing location ‘Harmondsworth, Middlesex’ rather than London. The village helped inspire the naturalist Richard Mabey, an editor at Penguin in the early 1970s, who created a classic account of his walks around the fringes of London in ‘The Unofficial Countryside’. Whatever future is found for the Harmondsworth barn the core of the village (below) would be lost under tarmac should the third North West Heathrow runway go ahead.