Chiswick in 50 buildings

Images above: Cover of Chiswick in 50 Buildings by Lucy McMurdo; Christ Church, Turnham Green, photograph A. McMurdo

There’s a new book published this week (Monday 1 February, 2021) which features Chiswick in 50 buildings. Author Lucy McMurdo is a modern history graduate and native Londoner who qualified as a London Blue Badge Tourist Guide in 2003, combining two of her major loves – history and London. As there’s not much call for tour guiding at the moment, she is focused instead on producing a series about different parts of London whose history and character is described through 50 of its buildings.

Her first book featured the buildings of Bloomsbury. For her second, given a choice of Chiswick, Twickenham or Chiswick by her publisher Amberley Books, she chose Chiswick. Why? “It has everything that makes London quite perfect, from leafy rural green, to fantastic architecture and the river”. (She knows how to butter up a resident).

“It feels like a village despite the A4” she says, but the clincher was the variety – from the oldest buildings at Chiswick Mall to the Business Park opposite Gunnersbury station, with all ages and styles of architecture in between. The book is presented chronologically, starting with Old Burlington, numbers 1 – 2 Church St, thought to be the oldest building in Chiswick, dating back to ‘around the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries (an Elizabethan sixpence was discovered under the floorboards) and it is said to have its own resident ghost, Percy, identified by his wide brimmed hat.’

Images above: Old Burlington, 1-2 Church Street; Chiswick Business Park, photographs A. McMurdo

It ends with Chiswick Park, No. 566 Chiswick High Rd, home to some of the world’s leading companies.

‘Ever since redevelopment of this brownfield site began in 1999, the park has won continuous accolades for its construction and architecture … In many respects it has the appearance of a university campus, with its twelve modern blocks encircling a lake, pond, public space and beautifully landscaped parkland’.

So she chose Chiswick’s oldest building and one of the most recent. How did she pick the other 48? With difficulty it seems.

“It was quite difficult to choose which to keep in and which to leave out. There are so many that have captured my interest, as nearly all of the 50 Buildings have wonderful architectural features, and many have a story to relate.

Images above: St Michael & All Angels Church; the Russian Orthodox Cathedral; photographs A. McMurdo

“Although I have a passion for architecture (eg: St Michael’s & All Angels Church, Chiswick House, many pubs, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and Chiswick Park) my preference tends to be for a building that has something apart from its architecture for me to remember it by.

Images above: Harold Pinter’s lodgings at 373 Chiswick High Rd; the house where John Thaw and Sheila Hancock lived in Grove Park Road; photographs A.McMurdo

“So, buildings associated with people eg Harold Pinter, WB Yeats, and John Thaw / Sheila Hancock all stand out. Also, former industrial buildings that have been re-purposed eg British Grove Studios (former Royal Chiswick Laundry), Barley Mow Centre (former Sanderson’s factory), Pier House (former Pier House Laundry).

Images above: British Grove Studios; Pier House; photographs A. McMurdo

“I also appreciate houses that through their occupants have a relationship with a particular industry or profession eg: Zachary House on Strand on the Green for its association with music and musicians (The Beatles, Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof, and Alan Smith of NME), and a rather less well-known property, Bedford House, The Avenue in Bedford Park because it was home to the botanist/horticulturalist John Lindley responsible for writing the report that resulted in Kew Gardens becoming a public scientific resource and led to the founding of the Botanical Gardens.

Images above: Zachary House; Bedford House; photographs A.McMurdo

“Arthur Sanderson’s gift to the council of his substantial house at 1 Duke Avenue for use as Chiswick’s public library (in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1897), is yet another of the stories I like”.

Images above: Barley Mow Centre; Voysey House; photographs A. McMurdo

Arthur Sanderson set up his wallpaper factory in Chiswick in 1879 on what had once been the site of a militia barracks and is now the Barley Mow Centre.

‘So successful was the business that by the end of the 1800s the firm had expanded into several new buildings in and around Barley Mow Passage’. Voysey House, opposite, was built in 1902-3 ‘as a new extension to Sanderson’s factory and linked to the works via a footbridge. Its architect, local Bedford Park resident C.F.A Voysey (1857 – 1941), was a proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement and took inspiration from William Morris’.

Image above: Chiswick Public Library; photograph A. McMurdo

Chiswick’s first public library was opened in 1890 in ‘a modest house’ on the corner of Duke Road and Bourne Place. ‘It received instant acclaim and was hailed as a great asset for the local community. So successful was it that it soon became overcrowded and the local authority was on the look out for bigger premises.

‘Quite unexpectedly the problem was solved in 1897 when local businessman and wallpaper manufacturer Arthur Sanderson philanthropically gifted his family home at No. 1 Duke’s Avenue’.

Lucy’s book, an A5 paperback of about 100 pages, is beautifully illustrated with her husband Alex’s photographs and has just about the right about of information about each building to be keep the interest, with an well chosen variety of buildings, changing it up between stand out architecture and interesting historical gossip, such as:

‘In the 1980s Zachary House was bought by Midge Ure, front man for the rock band Ultravox. While living here he co-wrote the hit tune Do they know it’s Christmas? (Feed the World) with Sir Bob Geldof, so heralding Zachary House as the birthplace of Band Aid’.

You can buy Chiswick in 50 Buildings direct from Amberley Books online for £14.39.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Johann Zoffany: 18th century high society painter who lived at Strand on the Green

See also: EM Forster: Edwardian novelist who lived in Arlington Park Mansions, overlooking Turnham Green

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