Staines Remains Staines

There is a story I’ve heard several times in Staines that the whole campaign to change the official name of our town started as a drunken bet by a councillor, and it is a story that to me makes more sense than the official story behind the campaign. But then like many who have known Staines for a long time – in my case since I was a child in the 1950s – I don’t have a great deal of respect for Spelthorne Council or many of our councillors.

© 2012, Peter Marshall
The London Stone, an ancient marker (part replica) of the limits of the
City of London’s control over the Thames was ‘unveiled’ close to its
original position in Staines as a more sensible act on the day.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

Spelthorne borough isn’t unique in bringing together several very different areas, but its formation in the re-organisation of London government was unusual, the only part of Middlesex not to be included in Greater London.  Although Staines and Stanwell in the north of the area were clearly linked to London and were largely working class areas with a good deal of industry on the fringe of Heathrow, the south of the area was wealthy surbubia, much more similar to Surrey across the river. The Conservatives from there revolted at the idea of becoming a part of London and despite an ancient history of transfluvial rivalry opted to become under the administration of Surrey as the borough of Spelthorne.

Surrey for many years often failed to acknowledge Spelthorne’s arrival, and it is only recently that we moved from the protection of the Met to policing by Surrey, although rail travellers have for rather longer been confused by finding their trains going between Feltham, Middlesex and Staines, Middlesex occasionally stop at the curiously named station of Ashford (Surrey), somehow having apparently contrived a lateral jump of several miles across the Thames. Fortunately should they walk out of the station they will soon find very clearly they are back in Ashford, Middlesex. Unless like a few unfortunates, mainly foreigners, they are so confused by the whole affair they end up in Ashford, Kent.

Spelthorne Council, although it has its offices in Staines, has never really understood Staines, and perhaps never really cared for it, with other parts of the borough always uppermost in its thoughts. It doesn’t help when even some Staines councillors seem completely ignorant of the town, as when one laughably went on record recently describing it as “a very genteel place“. Even in the Conservative Club that probably had them falling off their bar-stools.  Don’t get me wrong. I like Staines, and we chose to live and buy a house here over 35 years ago and have stayed. If it had been genteel we wouldn’t have felt at home.

But this – and the decision to change the “official” name to Staines-upon-Thames – is all rather parish pump. The main controversy which led to the campaign was around Staines’s best-known ambassador, ‘Ali G’ who has done more to raise the profile of the town than any one else, ever.  Most of Staines rather likes the ‘Ali G’ image – the Staines Town football team supporters refer to themselves as ‘The Massive’ and some dress like him to watch their matches. But Spelthorne and the local conservatives that dominate local politics don’t – and some certainly completely fail to understand his brand of humour. So when I heard that there was a chance that several people might attend dressed as ‘Ali G’ what had been a rather missable local event gained rather more interest.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

In the end only one ‘Ali G’ turned up, although Drew Cameron was a class act, perhaps rather better than Sacha Baron Cohen himself, and many of those at the event were pleased to come and talk to him and have their pictures taken with him. Soon he had a ‘minder’ from Spelthorne Council following him around and reporting his progress on her handset (and I suspect making sure that the Mayor kept out of his way, a pity as I’d have liked a picture of the two guys together in fancy dress.)  After a while a couple of security men pushed a protesting ‘Ali G’ off site, and I fortunately saw it happening and rushed across to take a few pictures.

© 2012, Peter Marshall

A few minutes later he came back into the car park and public grassed area where the event was taking place and I took a few more pictures before going to photograph the official proceedings – and he was apparently thrown out for a second time.

Perhaps surprisingly the main local press hardly reported the story, and failed to make much of the whole event which curiously also got mixed up as some kind of Olympic celebration. One of the more independent local free sheets did use one of my pictures from Demotix and a short note fairly small on the front page.  But for a proper report of the whole day, including the ‘Ali G’ incident, people will have to turn to Council Attempts To Rename Staines in My London Diary.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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