Histories of Harrow Weald Highways - Volume 3
Ronald S Brown, 1975,

 

pages 20, 21 22 and 24

Old Church Lane, Stanmore

 

Included in Volume I of our series is a narrative about Gordon Avenue, Stanmore.  At its eastern end this pleasant highway forms a 'T' junction with one of the oldest and most historical thoroughfares in the district, namely Old Church Lane, the existence of which can be traced back to medieval times. The Saxons built a small wooden church in Stanmore but this was replaced by a later building, probably dating from the 14th century, which stood beside the left bank of the Stanburn stream  in the vicinity of which Wolverton Road is now located. The only remaining relic of the second church is the solitary grave of a certain Baptist Willoughby (now in a private garden in Old Church Lane) who was a rector in the reign of Queen Elizabeth from 1563 to 1610.

In 1235 a manor house was built by Abbot John of St. Albans near to the church and it was around this area in the midst of open fields that the peasants - the earliest residents of Stanmore - built their modest shacks.  With the passage of time this community moved in closer proximity to the main thoroughfare which traversed the Common before descending Stanmore Hill and continuing via Marsh Lane to Edgware.  When the old place of worship and the first manor house were finally abandoned, Archbishop Laud consecrated a new red-bricked church in 163x which was built by Sir John Woolstonholme, the ruins of which still stand behind the present Parish Church at the crossroads in Great Stanmore (see photograph on page 28).

A second manor house was built opposite the red-bricked church but this was demolished in 1930, when several beautiful old oak trees were also uprooted, to improve the layout of the corner site (see photograph on page 29).  This house, which was built about 1680, was an ugly stucco building and few local people regretted its removal.  The nominal title of Manor House was then transferred to another large dwelling, known as 'The Croft' and a wealthy financier called Samuel Wallrock spent £100,000 on the house and grounds, giving it a Tudor image.  Wallrock engaged about fifty men to landscape the gardens covering much of the 4½ acre manor house site; these were to prove to be among the most beautiful in the country.  They were later maintained by a staff of twelve with four chargehands.

A prominent feature was the rose garden surrounded by metal-framed arbours over which grew a variety of shrubs; wide pathways of York stone paving wound between the beds which were sometimes arranged in the shape of 'My Lady's' name (Wallrock's wife).  At night, concealed lighting, controlled by a master switch from the house, enhanced the beauty of the gardens.

Another area was devoted to rockeries and waterways, in the centre of which was a substantial guest house.  There was a large kitchen garden in the section now bounded by The Ridgeway (on which stand the buildings formerly known as Stanmore High School*).  The vegetable plots were negotiated by using wide paths which were flanked with a variety of espalier and cordon type fruit trees.

It can truly be said that no expense was spared on the gardens and various other 'extras' included several large greenhouses, a grotto and a fruithouse in which there was special provision for the storage of grapes.  Measuring about 20 feet by 12 feet, this house was lined internally with match-boarding, while roughboards provided the external cladding.  The cavity was filled with sawdust and the whole outer area was covered with thatch and wire netting to insulate the interior and exclude vermin.

Wallrock also had a large orchard and about one hundred head of light Sussex hens, complete with store shed and incubator house.  He made provision for his gardeners and chargehands by building cottages in what is now Bernay's Close.

Other buildings which Wallrock added to the manor house estate included the attractive lodge with its arched entrance to the grounds - which bears the inscription "Welcome ever smiles and farewell goes out sighing" - and also the long, red-bricked building which dominates the narrow pavement in Old Church Lane from Bernay's Gardens, called Church House.

Church House has the appearance of being a very ancient building but in fact it was not built until 1923.  Wallrock collected old timber and other materials from various ancient properties and had them made up into this remarkable baronial hall: it was erected by a builder named Douglas Wood who lived in Gordon Avenue and, subsequently, Wallrock entertained royalty in these imposing surroundings.  Before the 1920's there was a field on the site of Church House; the hall is now used for wedding receptions and church functions.

In the early 1930s Wallrock moved out of the Manor House when he encountered serious financial difficulties: he left owing his bank a great deal of money but successfully removed valuable tapestries and panelling before the bailiffs arrived.  After his departure the Manor House took on a desolate appearance but the estate was later taken over by the Air Ministry and the officer commanding Bentley Priory now resides there; other personnel are the occupants of purpose-built houses in the grounds.

Between Church House and the Manor House - in a turning now called Tudor Well Close - was Manor House Cottage, once the residence of Wallrock's head gardener: this has been demolished and replaced by modern Regency-style town houses.

(* Under the comprehensive education scheme it has been re-named Stanmore Junior College and the premises are being extended in order to make places available for former, local Middle School students).

Bernay's Gardens, which were mentioned earlier, are screened behind a high wall at Church Corner and commemorate the name of the Reverend Leopold Bernay, Rector of St. John's from 1860 to 1883.  The gardens are open daily to the public.  The Bernay family have long, ecclesiastical connections with Stanmore Parish Church.  On the other side of Old Church Lane is Rectory Close, a pleasant little lane which runs beside the Rectory, built in 1960, replacing an earlier house dating back to 1720 (see photograph on page 29).

Also on this side was an ancient tithe barn where, in far-off days, tithes of corn, hay and cattle were surrendered by the local populace.  Its solid oak beams dated back to the 15th century but it was largely reconstructed in 1730 by the Duke of Chandos.  Before the last war a Mr Fred Cane took over the barn and other buildings and rebuilt them as three separate houses: nearer to Gordon Avenue are more modern houses occupied by R.A.F. personnel.  Opposite the Manor House site is an old lych gate which now appears to serve little purpose but once gave access to a field.

When the old red-bricked church had seriously deteriorated, the foundation stone for a fourth place of worship was laid in 1849 by the Earl of Aberdeen and the new edifice was finally erected at a cost of £7,855: consecration was effected by the Bishop of London in 1850.  Its full title is 'The Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Great Stanmore'.  Incidentally, an effigy of Sir John Wolstenholme, who paid for the building of the previous church, can be found in a recessed arch in the northern aisle of St. John's.

Walking around this end of Old Church Lane, with its charming, mellow old buildings and gardens, set against the background of the Parish Church, one is acutely aware of a prevailing atmosphere of history and tradition, an impression which is unlikely to be surpassed anywhere else in the Borough.

At the turn of the century there were few habitations in this area; a large barn anda couple of cottages (one of which housed the Parish Clerk) stood opposite the Manor House and on the corner of the junction with Old Church Lane and its southern extension (which turns off at right-angles towards Marsh Lane) was an old farm. This extension (about which more will be said later) was known as Watery Lane.  The fields around this lane had intriguing names like 'Thrift and Pightie', 'Calves Close' and 'Late Glebe.Land'.  The field on the corner of Old Church Lane and Watery Lane was aptly named 'Old Church Home Close'.

Mr Frederick Gordon** who built the Gordon Cottages in Old Church Lane (several of which still exist in the form of semi-detached villas) to house railway clerks, brought the sound and smell of steam engines to this ancient area when he financed an extension of what was to become a branch line of the London and North Western Railway from Harrow and Wealdstone station.  Designed by W. Beswick Myers and constructed by Braddocks of Wigan, the line was opened on 18th December, 1890.

(** See Gordon Avenue narrative and picture in Volume I)

A railway station was built at the junction of Gordon Avenue and Old Church Lane and in an attempt to harmonise with local surroundings it was designed in pseudo-gothic style (see page 25 of Volume II).  It is interesting to note that at this time part of Old Church Lane was known as Station Road.  Initially the station had been manned by a full staff, including a station master, but as support for the line diminished, service was eventually supplied by one railwayman who was both booking clerk and porter.  Finally, Stanmore Village station (as it was known latterly) came under the 'Beeching Axe' and was closed on 13th September, 1952.

In the meantime, an intermediate station had been built at Belmont in 1932, but more details about this appear in the Belmont narrative in earlier pages of this volume.

The Stanmore terminus (which covered an area of nearly 4½ acres) originally consisted of the station, a goods shed, various outbuildings, four sidings and coal wharves, one of which provided a coal depot for Franklin, the coal merchant, all this was demolished in 1970.  The site was sold to developers for a price in excess of £100,000 and a new housing estate now sprawls across it: the access road is called 'September Way', recalling the month in 1952 when the old station ceased to be operative.

As we proceed down the decline of Old Church Lane beyond the former station site, the highway is flanked by a pleasant assortment of detached houses; some of those on the right were built at the turn of the century by Frederick Gordon but on the left are several fine detached houses built in the late 1930's by H. J. Clare.  They are a superior type of dwelling in various designs, complete with garages.  Despite the fact that by modern standards they would be regarded as remarkably inexpensive, the price tag of £1,200 per house did not enable the builder to find a ready market in those stringent pre-war conditions.  Currently, these houses are fetching over £25,000 each.

Apart from a cottage hospital, now an old people's home, a horticultural nursery (Courtens) and a few town houses and flats (which have replaced older properties), we have probably mentioned the main items of interest - apart from the fact that prior to the 1930's this thoroughfare was more familiarly known as 'Twisty Lane' because of the circuitous route which it followed.  The title of 'Old Church Lane' is thought to be a reference to the old Saxon church.

Space is devoted to some of the roads adjoining Old Church Lane under the Ideal Homes Estate heading.