A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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Brighton Cross

Kip Fenn
A novel about
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80 - A friend of poets, a lethal martial art, neuro-rehabilitation and rugby wisdom

I go north for several hundred yards north along High Street, before reaching two quarter-circular parades of shops in simple Art Deco one-storey buildings which are a mirror image of each other. Today, there are estate agents on both sides of the parade, but, in the 1960s, there was a bookseller on one corner and an art and craft store on the other. Behind the north parade is Meadway Garage, established in 1933 - before then it was a dairy.

Just beyond the parade, on the east side High Street are some rustic brick cottages, and the Woolpack pub. Opposite, on the west side, are Southgate Auction Rooms and a derelict plot of land where a Jewish synagogue stood until it was demolished recently. A planning dispute has delayed the start of any new building on the empty plot, but, long before the synagogue, in 1784, James Henry Leigh Hunt was born in a house on this spot. Hunt was an influential poet and writer. In 1808, he and his brother John launched 'The Examiner', a weekly magazine which called for the abolition of slavery. Between 1913 and 1915, Hunt was imprisoned for political attacks on the Prince Regent. Once released, he moved to Hampstead village, where his new friend Keats also lived. Indeed, Hunt was instrumental in introducing Keats to another friend of his, Shelley; and in publicising the works of both poets through the 'The Examiner'. Hunt wrote regularly on poetry and painting for magazines such as 'Indicator', 'The Companion' and 'Tatler'. Among other books of prose he wrote 'Imagination and Fancy', 'Wit and Humour' and 'The Old Court Suburb'. He died in 1853.

I turn right, between the shop parades, into a road called Meadway. It is lined with large semi-detached houses, most of them adorned with attractive detail: tile-hung bays, half-timbering, cute loggias, herringbone brickwork, leaded lights. At a triangular green with a tall oak at each corner, I veer left into Bourne Avenue which, like the Meadway, was built up in the 1920s. If anything, the houses along here are even more attractive, all very well cared for, with carefully-tended front gardens. Even the road itself is lined with flower beds, full of mature and tidily clipped shrubs such as Forsythia and Ribes. I can't be sure, but I suspect this is the prettiest suburban road I've encountered along the whole of the 300 easting walk.

Bourne Avenue brings me out onto The Bourne (A111), opposite some fencing and a wooded area of Grovelands Park. I turn left (toward Southgate tube station) and pass Leigh Hunt Drive on my left. For a few yards, I follow a continuous tall brick wall, with arches for pedestrian and car access to the houses behind. The wall starts at number 38, but is broken at number 42 (no arch). From Selworthy (number 44) through to number 50, the wall is Grade II listed. At this point I turn right into Queen Elizabeth's Drive past Bourne Methodist church, with its square tower and elaborate windows (but dating only from the late 1920s). An oval pink sign carries a command: 'One church, one lord, worship him in here.' Services take place on Sundays at 10:30. A range of activities take place in the church hall, to the west of the church itself. On Monday evenings, for example, the Farside youth group meets here. On Thursdays, S.A.S. Martial Arts Academy runs Kung Fu classes. They start with 'a 3,000 year old stretch programme', and then concentrate on wing chun, a 'fast, exciting, and explosive martial art'. Everyone wants to be practicing it, the club's blurb says, since it is 'very lethal on the streets and effective in dealing with street situations in seconds'.

As the 300 easting only clips the very corner of Grovelands Park, I have no reason to enter. But I do pass the western gate where Priory Hospital North London and Old Ashmolean RFC are advertised. Priory says it is Europe's leading independent provider of specialist mental health, neuro-rehabilitation and special education services, working in partnership with both the public and private sectors. The group, which dates back to 1980, has been jointly owned by institutions and senior management since a buy-out in 2002. It has 35 locations, more than 1,300 beds and nearly 4,000 staff. Annual revenues exceed £120m. This particular hospital can accommodate 28 acute admissions, 10 addictions, and 14 adolescents. The main building is Grovelands House, once called Southgate Grove, built in the neoclassical style at the end of the 18th century by John Nash. Some of the house's grounds, once landscaped by Humphry Repton, were turned into Grovelands Park just prior to World War One. The park's boating lake, serpentine in shape, is also considered to be Repton's work.

The Old Ashmolean Rugby Football Club was formed in 1962 by 12 former pupils of Ashmole Secondary School. For 20 year, local pubs were the club's homes. Then, in the early 1980s, Woodlands Lawn Tennis Club agreed to share its clubhouse in the grounds of Priory Hospital. Ashmolean's most successful year was in 1994-95 when it reached the quarter finals of the Pilkington Shield. Subsequently, it moved to a larger clubhouse, still in the familiar grounds of the hospital. Here is some rugby wisdom found on the club's website: 'A herd of buffalo can only move as fast as the slowest buffalo. And when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular killing of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we all know, kills brain cells, but naturally it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of beer eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine. That's why you always feel smarter after a few beers.'

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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