Where Suburbia Stopped

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In 1924 the London Underground arrived at Edgware. From that point on, everything would change dramatically for this once sleepy part of Middlesex. The electricity that powered this modern form of mass transportation would charge a force of growth that would see the area built over with shopping parades, and huge housing estates. From the 1920’s through to the beginning of World War Two, in 1939, the former fields and meadows were carved up, the roads going in first and then the builders.  However one road was cut short in its tracks, and its name was Edgwarebury Lane.

Edgwarebury Lane is a very old right of way. Starting off at the bottom of Station Road, the main shopping centre of Edgware, it snakes its way through housing , over the busy A41, and on through more ‘thirties housing, its gradient gradually rising, then it the housing stops. The footpath comes to a grinding halt and falls away into a hedgerow. It is as though the march of suburbia was given a red light, and simply didn’t bother to continue its destruction of the Middlesex countryside. Of course, there is a very good reason why the building stopped, and it was called the Green Belt, legislation brought in after the Second World War, to restrict London’s growth into the country.

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When I first discovered this spot, whilst out cycling one day, I was immediately fascinated. It is a scene that almost certainly exists in other parts of London and the UK, but what makes it all the more interesting is that whilst the neat concrete slab footpath stops, the roadway does not. Edgwarebury Lane may have been suburbanised for the first part of its route, but for the rest it was allowed to wind its way through glorious undulating countryside. It is almost like passing through a time portal, it’s fantastic!

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However, before I lose myself, I should state that the road surface is a metalled one, despite being broken up at points. Continuing on , you pass a cemetery entrance, and then a lonely couple of houses. Then on your left is the entrance to Bury farm, its name shortened from Earlsbury Farm. A farm and house has existed on this site since the Fifteenth Century.   In 1735 the farmhouse was robbed by the ‘Essex Gang’ , a member of which was the young Dick Turpin, who became England’s most infamous Highwayman.

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After Bury Farm, the lane takes a sharp left, and then carries on steeply.  Apparently, up until the 1850s when the fields were enclosed, Edgwarebury Lane, would have taken a different route at this point, joining up with Fortune Lane in Elstree.  The diverted route we now use takes us in a northerly direction. As you rise up you are compelled to look back, and it’s then you realise how London has affected the landscape. You can see the increasing number of tall apartment blocks climbing above the built up areas. The Twentieth Century makes an abrupt appearance a little further on. The M1 carved its way through the landscape in the late 1950s, the man made gorge necessitated a bridge to allow Edgwarebury Lane to continue it’s route. The bridge is a typical one of the time, and although purposeful, it takes away the rural feel of ones walk.  Of course, for the motorists on the M1 this part of their route goes past in a blur, they are oblivious to any of the history.

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Once the motorway’s rush has passed we keep climbing, but the openness is over. We are on a rough narrow roadway,  that has become bordered by tress and hedges. We see a mock Tudor mansion put up in the 1930s, that is often mistaken for the old Edgwarebury Manor (more of that shortly). It even has a set of steps down to a tennis court. Further along we pass Penniwell’s, a horseriding facility for disabled people.  We then reach on our right the gates of what is now called The Elstree Manor, which is currently a hotel. This was originally called Edgwarebury Hotel, a Tudor style mansion that  has its origins in the 1540s. The building has made many appearances in British films, due to it’s proximity to the film studios in Elstree.  It’s most notable role was as a country club in the 1960 film, ‘School for Scoundrels’, starring Ian Carmichael and Terry Thomas, but was also seen in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and ‘The Devil Rides Out’.

Edgwarebury Lane then takes a right and comes out onto Barnet Lane, a busy main road.  Our ramble has come to an end. We started off in the North West London suburbs, passed through (almost) unspoilt countryside and reappeared into leafy Hertfordshire. This is a walk, or cycle ride, that I thoroughly recommend, especially if you want to fully understand the impact of London’s inter-war suburban growth. When the Underground railway was pushed out into Middlesex, the big sell was the access to unspoilt countryside, and to own a new home in a rural idyll. Sadly it was this growth which wiped away so much of the countryside. Our start point, Edgware, once a major stopping off point for horse drawn stage coaches plying the old Great North Road, is now just another faded suburb. However thanks to the Green Belt, the rolling countryside is still, just within our grasp.

Text & Photos by Mark Amies,  April 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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