Tourist Middlesex

At Home He Feels Like a Tourist

It was during my time on the Wembley Observer that I went on ‘suburban hikes’. This institution may have been created  by Andy Corrigan, the lead singer of The Mekons (‘I’ve Never Been In A Riot’ etc), though others lay claim to it. Andy anyway didn’t organise the ones I went on. A group of 20 or more was invited to a pub – usually the Champion, just north of Oxford Street – split up into smaller groups and got given destinations. They would take a tube to the end of various lines, wander about, hope to get into adventures, but probably just go to a pub, then return to the Champion and compare notes on Gants Hill, Merton or wherever.

This followed a tradition of Londoners using the rural parts of Middlesex for outings, day trips and pub visits. The county, with its banks where the wild flowers grow, was Londoners’ first playground. It has no true country houses in the sense of agricultural estates: instead Osterley Park, Chiswick House, Syon Park and Kenwood were built as the country retreats of wealthy families and continue to be tourist destinations for Londoners. On a humbler level the whole county has been a playground. Many villages were places of pilgrimage, such as Muswell Hill, named after its holy well, now in a suburban front garden. After Bath became a fashionable place for the rich and fashionable to take the waters, entrepreneurs discovered that the Middlesex streams were also health-giving. So 18thcentury Londoners were offered a choice of Sadlers Wells, Acton Wells, Powis Wells, Islington Spa, and also countless tea houses such as the Spaniards on Hampstead Heath. Meanwhile the pleasure gardens – Ranelagh and later Cremorne, both in Chelsea, owed their part of their appeal to their out-of-town location; all were up-river on the Thames and often reached by boat.

'The Tea Garden' by George Morland, 1790, showing Ranelagh Gardens in Chelsea

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