Posts Tagged ‘Middlesex’

Staines, Always Just Staines

Friday, May 20th, 2022

Staines, Always Just Staines – Staines-upon-Thames Day, Sunday 20th May 2012.

Staines, Always Just Staines
Councillors ordered ‘Ali G’ look-alike Drew Cameron to be escorted off the site

I’ve lived in Staines since 1974, but it was a place I knew years earlier, growing up seven miles to the east in Hounslow, now a part of Greater London, but then, along with Staines in Middlesex. Staines was out in the country, and I remember watching a herd of cows being driven along one of its main roads. A few boys from there came to my school, and we would sometimes laugh at their country yokel accents.

Staines then was a place we would sometimes come to on Bank Holidays, taking a 116 or 117 bus ride and then walking to the Lammas, a park beside the Thames, with paddling pools and a diving pool into the river. It was here I learnt to swim, though now anyone foolish enough to get in the river here probably gets first-aid treatment.

Staines, Always Just Staines
Staines was a Roman town, Ad Pontes

Staines had its own smell, or rather stink of linseed oil from the lino – Staines’s largest industry occupying a large site to the north of the High Street – but now long-closed and a large shopping centre. The smell hung on for a few years, but I think has now gone. And that High Street had a notorious and ever-present traffic jam, taking the A30, the main route to the south-west, though the centre of the town. That was alleviated by the opening of the Staines Bypass, and later the M3 and M4 which run a few miles to the south and north of the town, but Staines Bridge, despite widening, continues to be a traffic bottleneck.

Staines, Always Just Staines
Drew Cameron as Ali G

Politically, Staines has long been true-blue Tory, one of the safer Conservative seats, and its current MP is Kwasi Kwarteng, though he spends little time in the constituency. In 1965 when almost all Middlesex became part of London, a rebellion by backwoods Tories in the posher areas of Sunbury and Shepperton led to the formation of a new borough, Spelthorne, which broke away to become a part of Surrey, the ancient enemy county across the Thames.

Staines, Always Just Staines
Lord-Lieutenant of Surrey, Dame Sarah Goad cuts a ribbon

While the Thames was the major factor in the development of Staines – a Roman bridging point, Ad Pontes – more recently its proximity to London’s Heathrow airport and three motorways – M25, M3 and M4 have been significantly more important in persuading major companies to set up offices in the area. So it was something of an anachronism when Tory councillor Colin Davis, over a Magnum of Champagne proposed changing its name to Staines-upon-Thames – more appropriate would have been Staines-by-Heathrow.

Staines, Always Just Staines
Kwasi Kwarteng MP at the event

Few if any actual Staines residents backed the change, though it was popular with estate agents and the like. Many voted against it in the local referendum, but most of these votes were disqualified as they came in via the local football club, enabling the Tories to forge a majority. The whole campaign, fired by the anger of a few at the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen whose character Ali G claimed a gangster upbringing in the ‘Staines Ghetto‘ and to be the leader of ‘Da West Staines Massiv‘ showed a massive sense of humour deficit, as well as a whiff of anti-semitism. Ali G had been a huge publicity boost for Staines, and the campaign for the name change attracted more world-wide publicity – and even an article in Vanity Fair.

The London Stone (replica)

Colin Davis won his bet, and the name change was officially made and celebrated at an event in Staines on Sunday 20th May 2012. Since it was taking place a short walk from my home I went to photograph it. As I comment in My London Diary, “An Ali G lookalike who turned up to a Staines event marking the local council’s decision to change the name of the town because of the publicity given it by Ali G was escorted off the site by security. It was further proof that some Spelthorne councillors lack a sense of humour but need to make an ass of themselves.”

Colin Davis is no longer a Spelthorne Councillor, and was more recently chair of the Enfield Southgate Conservative Association in north London. He was this year suspended from the Conservative Party and subsequently “resigned after after a photo allegedly showing him wearing a Nazi uniform at a social event several years ago emerged.”

Waiting for ducks to arrive in the Duck Race

Spelthorne Council has featured in Private Eye and elsewhere on numerous occasions over recent years for its huge borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board to buy office and retail space, much of it outside the Borough, though it does include £385m for the large BP site in Sunbury. The man behind the policy – which the Treasury has said it would ban other local authorities following was deposed as Tory group leader in 2020, after which he and 5 other councillors left the Tory Party to form the United Spelthorne Group.

Their resignations left the Conservatives in a minority on Spelthorne Council, which is not in a position of ‘no overall control’ for the first time since its formation – which is perhaps how local councils should be. Two Labour councillors have also left for the Breakthrough Party, and the council now has a minority administration of Liberal Democrats, Green Party and the Independent Spelthorne Group.

Personally I still live in Staines. If I can be bothered when web sites fill in my address as Staines-upon-Thames I correct it. It’s not really a big deal, unlike Brexit, but it would be nice to go back officially to the old name.

More on My London Diary at Council Attempts To Rename Staines.


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Harmondsworth – A Middlesex Village

Tuesday, April 12th, 2022

Harmondsworth – A Middlesex Village

Harmondsworth - A Middlesex Village

Going back to Harmondsworth feels very much like going back to my childhood as I grew up only a few miles away and lived for years on a bicycle cycling out from Hounslow and along country lanes through villages like this on the edges of London, before the M25 and M4 chopped up the country around here and the growing airport at Heathrow produced both sprawling new housing estates and a huge increase in traffic in the area.

Harmondsworth - A Middlesex Village

From 2003 to 2009 I took part in the protests against the plans to build another huge runway for Heathrow, which now only uses two though it was built with more on its existing site. The shorter runways were abandoned partly because planes grew larger. I was very pleased when one closed as on the few days a year when there were strong cross-winds it brought planes at low heights over my current home a couple of miles away, sometimes low enough to shake the whole building. I think building Terminal 4 which opened in 1986 put an end to its use.

Harmondsworth - A Middlesex Village
A mural across where the airport would end

We celebrated in 2009 when plans for a third runway were dropped, but the lobbyists for Heathrow expansion didn’t take no for an answer and persuaded the coalition government to set up the Davis Commission to put the plans back on the table again. The protest in Harmondsworth on Sunday 12th April 2015 was before the report came out, but its conclusion was predictable – and the one it had been set up to come to.

John Stewart of HACAN

Since then and the government’s acceptance of the case it made for expanding Heathrow, the world has changed, or at least our understanding of the future has. The case for airport expansion has disappeared and we now know that we have to have rapid decarbonisation of the economy to survive. Instead of looking forward to exponential growth we need to find ways to stabilise and reduce demand and aviation is one of the most climate-damaging sectors.

While Davis took as its basis that expansion is necessary to continue growth, it is now clear that expansion would be a disaster. At last I think that message is beginning to get through to our government, though too often it is still thinking in terms of short-term financial benefits to the pockets of its members and their friends.

Harmondsworth - A Middlesex Village

Harmondsworth is still one of the most interesting of the small villages on the fringes of London, with a fine church in its churchyard, and although its village green is a pocket handkerchief compared to many it still has a couple of pubs and some picturesque cottages along its north side. But the real gem of the village is tucked away immediately to the left, its magnificent Grade 1 listed Great Barn, built in 1426 , the largest surviving example all-timber barn which Sir John Betjeman called ‘the Cathedral of Middlesex’.

Harmondsworth - A Middlesex Village

In agricultural use until the 1980s, it was then allowed to decay until a public campaign strongly supported by the local MP John McDonnell persuaded English Heritage to take it over in 2012. They carried out a substantial restoration leading to it being re-opened to the public free of charge on selected days and it is managed by the Friends of the Great Barn at Harmondsworth. My pictures of the barn are not available for any editorial or commercial use.

On the 12th April 2015, the Datchet Border Morris were dancing inside the barn and around the village green during the day. The campaign to save the village (again!) was launched with a huge mural and speeches from all but one of the candidates standing for the area in the general election the following month. The Lib-Dem candidate also supported the campaign but had been sent the wrong date for the rally. Also present were campaigner John Stewart of HACAN, and five polar bears who had held a protest a few weeks earlier with the banner ‘Any New Runway Is Plane Stupid‘.

Harmondsworth - A Middlesex Village

The weather was fine and it was an interesting day – and warm enough for me to sit outside and eat a quick lunch in the garden of the Five Bells, before rushing to photograph the Morris performing again outside The Crown. And before leaving for home I went to take another look around the interior of the parish church, parts of which date from the 12th century.

More at Heathrow Villages fight for survival.


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Boxing Day Pictures

Sunday, December 26th, 2021

Boxing Day Pictures I took in earlier years – mainly on our normal annual walks from Staines to Old Windsor. It’s a family tradition, a walk we’ve made most yearssince we moved here in 1974, though not always taking the same route. This year is one of the few years we won’t be making it.

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

There are more pictures from all of these walks – except that in 2020 – on My London Diary. Click on the picture for any of the other years to go to more about the walks and more pictures.


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All photographs on this page are copyright © Peter Marshall. Contact me to buy prints or licence to reproduce.