Must-see Middlesex, from Pevsner

Nikolaus Pevsner, 1902-1983. Middlesex (1951) was the first volume he researched in his Buildings of England series, partly because being close to London it helped him conserve his petrol ration

(Pevsner is not interested in the most typical form of building you find in Middlesex: interwar estates put up by speculative builders. On this page there’s the beginning of a list, using local councils’ conservation areas as a starting point)

Alperton. L.T. STATION by Charles Holden, 1933. ‘One of that excellent set of designs produced in 1932 and 1933 which did so much to establish the modern idiom in Britain. Modest, functional, yet not without elegance. Comparisons with such other Piccadilly Line stations as Sudbury Town, Sudbury Hill, Oakwood will repay; the same motifs are every time subtly modified (the right mixture of standardization and variation).’ Postcode: HA0 1JT


Bedford Park: ‘the earliest of planned garden suburbs.’ ‘Outside the church Norman Shaw is at his very best, inexhaustible in his inventiveness. The combination of a Perpendicular ground floor with upper features taken from the C17 and C18 comes off most happily. The red brickwork gable with cross and clock, the charming lantern over the crossing, and the bold white timber balustrate at the foot of the high roof should be specially noticed.’ Postcode W4 1TT

Chiswick. ‘It is a matter of taste whether one regards the grand manner of Chiswick House or the intimate manner of the Mall as the chief attraction of Chiswick. Originally most of the villages around London exhibted both these qualities (cf Kenwood and Church Row at Hampstead, Marble Hill and Montpelier Row at Twickenham, etc.), but few can now vie with Chiswick for aesthetic merits of both kinds. Chiswick House postcode W4 2RP

Enfield. ‘Leaving the City of London by the Roman Ermine Street, that is going straight north, one does not reach the country until one has passed through Enfield. Yet one feels for the first time at Enfield to be in a town not a suburb … It includes even within its soldly built-over quarters several former villages and hamlets.’ Forty Hill is ‘a lane with several exceptionally good houses..’ After mentioning the HERMITAGE ‘a perfect example of its date, 1704’ and of the same date and style WORCESTER LODGE, Pevsner comes to FORTY HALL, built by Sir Nicholas Raynton between 1629 and 1636 whose ‘architectural importance is considerable’.

Hampstead Garden Suburb. ‘The aesthetically most satisfactory and socially most successful of all C20 garden suburbs … In its social character the Hampstead Garden Suburb comes nearest to what Bedford Park was in its beginnings.’   ‘The parish CHURCH OF ST JUDE is one of Lutyens’ most successful buildings. It exhibits all his best qualities and even turns that ‘naughtiness’ or wilful originality which often mars his late buildings into a decided advantage.’ Postcode NW11 7AH

Hampton Court.  The palace complex gets no fewer than 20 out of the 200 or so pages of ‘The Buildings of England: Middlesex.’ Pevsner notes that the earliest palace, built by Henry VIII’s Cardinal Wolsey, was at 300 by 550 feet at that time the grandest house in England and one of the grandest in Europe, and that Wolsey’s west facade was further enlarged by Henry after Wolsey’s fall in 1530 to create; ‘the grandest of its date in Britain. Its perfect symmetry seems to belong wholly to the Renaissance, just then entering England in the learning of Erasmus, More, Grocyn, Colet and in the art of Torriani at Westminster Abbey.’ The facade leads through to Wolsey’s Base Court and Clock Court which ‘delights with its variety of heights and form’. The roof of Henry VIII’s Great Hall is ‘among the proudest descendents of … the roofing type known as hammerbeam roofs … invented at Westminster Hall late in the C14. ‘ Henry VIII’s Chapel Royal was overhauled in the early eighteenth century leaving a reredos with carving by Grinling Gibbons who Pevsner praises for his ‘uncanny skill’.  Hampton Court  was remodelled from 1689 by Christopher Wren on behalf of William and Mary who had ‘decided to make Hampton Court their Versailles’.

Wren's Fountain Court

On Wren’s Fountain Court: ‘With its brick on the stone arcade and with stone trim to the windows it is cheerful, a little busy, and anything but grand and courtly … no firm subordination of anything to one ruling effect, a comfortable spreading out of little effects instead.’  He is not convinced by Wren’s East Front: ‘from the point of view of the Grand Manner Hampton Court is infinitely inferior to Versailles or the Louvre Colonnade. The English have never been able to carry off that autocratic grandeur, and William III could do it less and wanted less to do it than almost any other British monarch. Postcode KT8 9AU

Harefield. ‘Coming from London it is only at Harefield close to the border between Middlesex, Herts, and Bucks that one reaches the open country and can forget about the outer dormitory ring of the metropolis.’ And in the medieval parish church of St Mary ‘the chancel especially is as cram-full of curious objects as the rooms of the Soane Museum’ . Postcode UB9 6DU

Harmondsworth Barn: 'The Cathedral of Middlesex', according to John Betjeman

Harmondsworth  ‘Its first claim to remembrance is its tithe-barn, but the doorway of the church also ranks among the chief monuments of Middlesex .. next to that of Harlington the most elaborate piece of Norman decoration in the county: of three orders, the inner with rosettes and knots of square shapes running uninterrupted through jambs and voussoirs; the middle one with plain shafts and primitive beakheads in the voussoirs, and the outer again with uninterrupted zigzag.’ ‘The village lies in yet undisturbed peace surrounded on all sides by arterial and sub-arterial roads’. Pevsner was writing before Heathrow was fully operational, but this description is especially ironic given the recent threat from the third runway proposal. While this would have meant the complete destruction of Sipson, one mile to the east, the British Airports Authority has ‘no intention of selling’ the majority of houses that it acquired in the village to further its expansion plans, and the owners of the barn are in a legal battle with English Heritage. It’s currently only open once a year. Harmondsworth chuch/barn postcode UB7 0AQ

Harrow Weald ‘The Italian and Gothic Revivals were followed by what the time itself called the Domestic Revival, that is a free adaptation of Tudor forms with picturesque many-gabled compositions and the warm and rich effects of much ornamental tile-hanging and half-timbering. Harrow Weald possesses a gem of that style: Norman Shaw’s GRIMS DYKE, 1872, originally built for a popular R.A. genre painter, Goodall, and later the home of W. S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan).’ Gilbert in fact died in the lake of Grims Dyke on 29 May 1911 when he suffered a heart attack while giving a swimming lesson to two local girls. Now a hotel. Postcode HA3 6SH

Highgate KEN WOOD HOUSE. This doesn’t belong here strictly, but has migrated across from London Volume 2 in response for public demand for something to complement the following entry on Syon House (below), Robert Adam’s other major remodelling of what was then a country house with a view of London in around 1766, with a West Garden in 1797 by Humphry Repton. Pevsner praises ‘several good Adam fireplaces’ and maintains that ‘of the interiors infinitely the most important is the Library, a large apartment with a segmental tunnel vault and apses at both ends, screened off in the typical Adam manner by giant columns supporting a beam-like entabulature. The tympanum above is left open. The bookcases are recessed, the decoration is of exquisite delicacy, with panels by Zucchi set in.

Isleworth SYON HOUSE. A former convent, hence the ‘Zion’ reference in the name, given after the dissolution of the monasteries first to the Duke of Somerset, in 1546, and after his execution to John Dudley, Earl of Northumberland. ‘To the mid C16 belongs the general appearance of the house today, a square block of about 100 by 100 ft with square corner turrets. The exterior was entirely refaced about 1825 and now appears to be wholly C19…’ ‘In the C18 the property went to Sir Hugh Smithson, afterwards 1st Duke of Northumbersland. He commissioned Robert Adam in 1761 to carry out extensive alterations in the antique style. Adam in his Works calls him ‘a person of extensive knowledge and correct taste’. The GREAT GALLERY is 136 ft long all along the E front and only 14 ft wide. ‘Adam overcame these difficult proportions by keeping the room low, subdividing the walls into many parts and by a decoration of ‘great variety and amusement,’ as he says of it. The colour scheme is predominantly mauve and pale green. From the point of view of correct Classical Revival the detail is most objectionable, but it has much charm and lightness’. Postcode TW8 8JG

Kingsbury  The population of this village, listed in the Domesday book, boomed in the 20th century to the extent that it was decided to dismantle a church from Wells St, just north of Oxford St, and rebuild it here, next to an tiny Norman church, in 1933. ‘It was a famous monument of Early Victorian Anglo-Catholicism, built in 1847 by S. W. Dawkes and Hamilton. Its Perp front with NW tower and spire is big and earnest (and the spire succeeds in giving Kingsbury a genuine, not suburban look …) .. There is nothing left of the thinness of the Commissioners’ style; solid, knowledgeable, and a little stodgy, the church is one of the first to deserve the description Neo-Gothic and not Gothick.’ St Andrew’s church postcode NW9 8RZ. The little Norman church (‘sometimes supposed to incorporate pre-conquest work’) has been taken over by a Romanian Orthodox congregation and is regularly packed to the rafters (thanks to Michael the organist at St Andrews and landlord of the Beehive in Englefield Green for this information.)

Pinner. ‘Still a compact little country town, though surrounded and overlaid by recent building in the outer-suburban style. Up the HIGH STREET with several pretty half-timbered houses (especially No 4 with the modern date 1580, a tea-room opposite, and the Queen’s Head and its neighbour) and Georgian brick houses one approaches the church. The vista is remarkably successful in an intimate way.’ Why not jump on the Metropolitan line for a country-pub experience at the Queens Head? Postcode HA5 5PJ

Rusilip village, c1910

Ruislip.   ‘The village with its church, almshouses and moated farm is now so closely surrounded on all sides by suburban developments that the small and fairly completely preserved nucleus of old buildings comes as a surprise from whatever direction is is approached.’ There’s also Ruislip ‘lido’ and the woods and not far from the church two impressive barns especially worth a visit while the county’s top example in Harmondsworth remains closed and subject to a legal wrangle. St Martin’s church postcode HA4 8DG

Shepperton Church Square

Shepperton: ‘The view of the little square at Shepperton towards SE, if one places oneself so that the dolled-up inn in the N and the filling station are concealed, is one of the most perfect pictures Middlesex has to offer … The village square has a delightful row of houses opposite the church on the S side, chiefly the KINGS HEAD and WARREN LODGE.  The village street leading the the N out of the square is also uncommonly complete in its cottages (with nothing yet to jar at all). Postcode TW17 9JY

Staines: ‘the development of the last twenty or thirty years which raised the population of Staines from 6,000 in 1901 to 21,000 in 1931 and 39,000 in 1949 has fortunately by-passed the church and its neighbourhood completely. To an exceptional degree this area has preserved its character of a hundred years ago.’ Postcode TW18 4YF

Strawberry Hill, Twickenham (1776)  ‘of all the early Gothic Revival buildings of Britain the most influential and appears still as charming and convincing now as it must have been when it was new … Horace Walpole could indeed be proud of his castle, a place equally suited to writing The Castle of Otranto and the catty letters which poured forth from it  in such unparalleled numbers, a place that is both amusing and awful, both Rococo and romantic.’ Postcode TW1 4ST

Bruce Castle

Tottenham  ‘The village church .. forms, with the Vicarage and Bruce Castle and its part, a deliciously rural oasis in a borough otherwise virtually all suburbia, Victorian and post-Victorian.’ ‘BRUCE CASTLE S of the church, in its own grounds, a late Elizabethan manor house of the typical E-shape, with late C17 additions and alterations.’ ‘Of farms in the Lea Valley, of which there must once have been quite a number, the only survival is ASPLIN’S FARM, just E of Northumberland Park railway station, a modest neglected front of c. 1750 with early C17 parts behind.’ Bruce Castle postcode N17 8NU

Twickenham ‘What matters at Twickkenham is the church and the streets close to the church. Beyond this minute nucleus the rash of suburban shopping parades and suburban houses has spread in the late C19 and chiefly in the last forty or fifty year’. Just over half a mile from St Mary’s Church, whose ‘rubbed and guaged brickwork is superb’ is ‘MONTPELIER ROW, 1720, one of the best examples near London of well-mannered, well-proportioned terrrace development… 1-15 survive, then some Victorian interlopers, then again house of 1720 ending in Montpelier House and SOUTH END HOUSE, the latter with a very pretty Early Gothic Revival in the SW. All the houses are of yellow brick with rubbed red brick dresings, absolutely flat except for the doors. These also without porches or even pilasters. The various motifs of the surrounds are a good study in 1720 detail.

Now Brent, not Wembley Town Hall

Wembley TOWN HALL  1935-40 by Clifford Strange, the best of the modern town  halls around London, neither fanciful nor drab. The long-stretching front has no conspicuous climax but not one detail either that could jar. The main staircase is also far from spectacular, but airy and sensible, and the Great Hall at the back shares this character.’ Postcode HA9 9HD


2 Responses to Must-see Middlesex, from Pevsner

  1. Susie Harries says:

    Preparing a lecture on Pevsner in Harrow for the local NADFAS branch, delighted to come across this really fascinating site. Makes me wish Pevsner had tackled Middlesex later, when he had more time, space, research material (and petrol) and might have included far more about the buildings and types of buildings you mention. Thanks for all this.

    • patrick says:

      Hi Susie you’re very welcome and you inspire me to update it a bit. Current wish is to know a bit more about the history of Park Royal … Could you let me know when your lecture on Pevsner is happening and if general public are let in ?

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