Monthly Archives: February 2010

NEW TOURISM

I feel like a tourist guide today. Something I hadn’t expected to happen. My French friends, Odile, independent midwife and beautiful intellectual, plus her 15 year old son, the gentle and philosophical Seirigne have come on a flying, unplanned visit to London from Marseille. I admit it, in the past, we (Marlon is with us too) would have gone to Portobello Road with them but now I realise that Harlesden has its own nitty gritty temptations. In a strange way, it is ready for new tourism.

As we walk down Wrottesley Rd, I explain that Harlesden is one of the top ten most deprived areas in the UK. Odile is shocked. “It doesn’t look poor,” she says, “the streets are clean. In Marseille, a poor area is much more run down and dirty. Poverty for me is when there is not a piece of wall free of tags and the public space is destroyed, here I see that it is respected.” Deprived? The translation? Perhaps deprivation in the UK, is more behind closed doors than in France? Not as visible but still as pervasive in terms of lack of education and work opportunities, healthy parenting, balanced diet, work opportunities, facilities for the elderly and mentally ill? How do we define deprivation?

At the end of Park Parade, I point out the Royal Oak pub because it’s (well, the pub but not this building) been here since 1839 according to the Brent archives and from 1855, an omnibus was running from here into London. “On le croyerait pas,” says Odile startled again.  Today, it’s a noisy (in a good way) Irish pub with all manner of live bands that pop over from the home country to entertain the locals.

We look up – like an observational form of yoga, looking up is becoming a practice on these walks. Of course, I’m working on a deeper, more significant relationship with Harlesden – at the Edwardian facades on the High St and a few of them are sprouting buddleia bushes. Known as incredibly effective butterfly attractors in primary school wildlife gardens, this is obviously not what is happening here. “Ah, I can see that here is poor now,” acknowledges Odile.

Meanwhile Seirigne eyes up the Iceland sign with wonderment in his face. Lost in the idea of the country, he doesn’t realise that this is in fact a mundane frozen food-orientated supermarket. Ah, the joys of being innocently French.

Enjoying the notion of this new tourism, I decide to take their photo (with my deliberately non-digital Canon camera) at the Jubilee clock. A few weeks ago, I have to confess that I was shopping down here when I spotted something completely unexpected. Something never seen before by me in Harlesden.  A couple – maybe Eastern European – were taking each other’s photos at this NW10 Victorian landmark. Somehow before this event, it wasn’t possible for me to put tourists and Harlesden in the same sentence. But actually observing this act of tourism, made it possible to imagine it being true. And so, as if to confirm this newly emergent perspective, I record this Marseille/Harlesden (Odile, Seirigne and Marlon) moment on film.

Seirigne wants to see inside a pub. I haven’t quite understood how much Odile wants this to happen. She has been asking if Marlon is going to take Seirigne out, but I didn’t quite get it. I kept saying that Marlon doesn’t really go to pubs. But that wasn’t the point, I’m being a negligent host. “We have nothing like this in France,” she says, “the atmosphere, the decoration, they are so special.”

It’s only 11 30am but I spot someone who looks like an employee standing outside The Shawl, which is at the entrance to the Shopping Plaza. Obviously, Harlesden had pretensions to a future in shopping heaven, when that sign was put up! The Shawl is another Irish pub – there’s a big Guinness sign outside and it’s housed in what looks like an old chapel. The man outside having a cigarette, turns out to be the barman and he kindly invites us in.

Inside – it’s incredible. An ocean of football scarves, flags (Cork is a clue)  and photos everywhere of the customers in full-on party mode. Mad hats, big smiles, lots of booze. And more photos of Ireland – the land that they’ve never left. “You wouldn’t believe how crazy it gets in here,” says the barman. I would. I would. The gaudily patterned carpet reverberates with the thousands of pints of Guinness that it has absorbed. One jolly elderly customer (there is only one) enquires if I would like to pole dance for him. Ah, my first pole dancing request of the day!

We pass one of the many fish shops – I have an unproven theory that Harlesden has the most fresh fish shops within a square mile in the UK – and there are razor fish piled up, still in those barberesque shells. We stare in amazement. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a live one before, but I remember the shells from childhood holidays at Lytham St Ann’s in Lancashire. And then, (to continue the holiday sidetrack) as if part of a Blackpool sideshow circa 1962, the male assistant gives them a provocative tickle. They wriggle in a most erotic way. Or as Odile put it afterwards in an email – “A young man mocks us in exciting a razor fish leading to a very suggestive movement.” Quite.

Another rude display of fish stops us in our tracks a little further on. Mackerel, barracuda, spine fish  – smoked and wierd. Fascinating but also uninviting. “It looks like a Soutine painting. The fish are flat and exposed without a trace of decency, their interiors are cut open, ” writes Odile. And spices, spices, so many spices. This fish shop manager is layered in sweatshirts against the bitter fridge cold as well as the chilly weather. He is surprisingly keen to enchant us with his fish. Michael Brown tells us he comes from Kenya, but he’s been here for 40 years. I’ll have to come back and find out more.

We look up again this time at the contrasts in architecture – the crazy 60s ugliness of Library Parade with all its linear shop fronts and falling apartness, set against the soon-to-be-re-opened Edwardian Library with all its old curves. I try to blame le Corbusier for the ugliness. Odile agrees that philosophically he is responsible. We laugh.

I point out – back in my tour leader role – that the RBS is housed the Greek revival (those pillars!) former National Bank. There’s even a plaque on the side declaring it opened on 17th July 1882 (just before the Blackpool Tower –continuing the leitmotif, I’ve just come back). Not to mention, the gargoyle type faces in the upper half. It looks out of place here.  Like a gathering of garden gnomes have landed on the Acropolis.

There are hotels in Craven Park Road called things like The Hollingbury Hotel and Helen’s Hotel. This is tourist information that this tour leader is ignorant of. Until now. It’s another new tourism moment. Who stays at them? Why do they come to Harlesden? Marlon has an answer. “People who are coming to Wembley to see the football,” he says. Stupidly, I’d never thought of that.

We stand and look down Hillside, it’s a dramatically changed landscape. We’re looking onto Stonebridge. The notorious Stonebridge estate. Gun crime – between 1999 and 2002, there were 24 people were shot here, 12 died – crack cocaine, and poverty. This is where the area turned into the Bronx. Gangs of young men, mostly young British black men, out of control. Convinced that the ‘easy’ money from selling drugs was the way to go. The escape from deprivation. The worship of Mammon beamed down from the banks and from Parliament to the estates.

In 2009, 26 year old Shawn Callum was shot outside the Stonebridge Primary School, at a private party one Saturday night in February. He was leaving and was shot in the back at 2am.  His friends say he had no direct connection with the gangs or the drugs. He was a beautiful-looking young man who was also a father. His only ‘crime’ may have been to have a cousin who was connected to the drugs and gang world. On such absurdities, turn life and death here. But is this culture changing with the family-friendly new architecture?

“There used to be six tower blocks here,” says Marlon who has taken over as tour leader, “but now almost all of them have been knocked down and replaced with low-rise housing.” It’s been a £225 million project which has happened over the last decade – the go ahead was given early in the New Labour reign and is now almost complete. The deluded idealism of the 60s has been bulldozed by the knowing pragmatism of the noughties.

“I’m amazed,” says Odile, “this is not happening in France in fact. You are ahead of us. We still have high-rise social housing, which is cut off from the rest of society. It’s very bad, very divisive. I am interested to hear whether this new housing has had an effect on the gun, drugs and gang culture?” Me too.

ONE DEFINITION OF DEPRIVATION

According to Longman’s Contemporary English Dictionary, deprivation means the lack of something that you need in order to be healthy, comfortable and happy.

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MIDDLE-AGED WHITE WOMAN OUT AT DAWN

Three walkers today – me, my 23 year old son, Marlon, who’s a filmmaker, and his girlfriend, Tania, who’s also 23 and an animator. They got excited when they heard me talking about my first walk, so they want to come. We leave at 6 am. The sun rises today at 6 58 am.

Why go at this time? To see what’s happening in Harlesden at this time in the morning? Who’s around? What are they up to? Mario, my ex and Marlon’s father, says later. “What you went out before the criminals get up?” It’s teetering on the edge of bad taste, not to mention safari-ism. I can’t help laughing.

It’s still dark, but illuminated. Street lights. The sounds – oh, so loud – are the birds. I think they must be blackbirds and I get irrationally disappointed when I see pigeons later on sitting in a row and making similar sounds. Pigeons – can this be true? Somehow, there’s no romance in a pigeon singing. If a blackbird is Frank Sinatra, then the pigeon is that bloke on X Factor who used to be a dustbin man.  “It reminds me of coming home from nightclubs,” says Tania already seeming to put nightclub in the past tense. Surely not.

I’m surprised at just how many people and cars are around. At the bus stop in Wrottesley Rd, I go up to a woman and ask her where she’s going. She looks alarmed and on the verge of ignoring me. This almost darkness signifies possible ill intent. By me, a middle-aged white woman. This is a new role for me. “I’m a pastry chef,” she says eventually, “ I’m going to Liverpool St.”

I notice how I see differently in this semi-darkness with neon moments. As if my eyes become attuned to the world differently. I see a strange house with a little balcony in Park Parade that I’ve never noticed before. It’s out of keeping with the rest. Is it where a bomb dropped? Further down, the words dollar in red lights circulate round the front of the pawn shop like a poor taste version of the one of the many Tracey Emin look-a-likes that still litter art galleries.

Over the road, Saj’s Supermarket is open but I’m not sure if it’s just opened or has been open all night. I ask one of the young men who is bringing out yams and plantains. “We’re open 24 hours,” he says. A man wearing what looks like a piece of clothe round his waist hurries by. Where are you going? I say to him trying not to be too aggressive. My new pre-dawn etiquette.

“To the mosque,” he says. We guess that he’s Somali. I didn’t realise that there were any mosques here until I spoke to my newsagent, Danny, (he’s anglicised his Pakistani name, Dar) a few weeks ago. He mentioned that he sometimes pops into the mosque on the high street. I couldn’t envisage where it could be. “Shall we follow that man and find out?” says Tania half-jokingly.

A few days ago, Marlon and Tania observed what they thought were Maori women (this is getting a bit far-fetched even for Harlesden) coming out of a boarded up building, Park House, in Manor House Rd.  We go and have a look. There is a tangle of satellite dishes on the second floor and a light at one window. We surmise that someone is squatting there. I wonder who? I’ll have to find out on a different occasion.

“Weren’t you talking about there being a church in the rooms above Iceland?” asks Marlon. I was. I’ve seen a tatty banner declaring its mission. I think Iceland used to be the location for M &S, which was bombed during the Second World War. M&S eventually moved out of Harlesden in the early 80s and they never came back.  The huge rooms above all those frozen burgers and chicken nuggets – get used in eclectic ways.  Ten years ago, there was a club called Dreams, now there’s one called NW10, and a church too. Just recently, I’ve seen a sign for a gym and a karate club go up.

Just round the corner, I can’t help smiling at an unusual sign in a shop window. It announces boldly – Here photos come alive, here legs come to dress – and they do. This is Wrights, the fantastic shop that sells Italian lingerie (Sexy pirate outfits by Donna, not to mention baby doll Santa costumes all year round) and photographic equipment. Oh, it’s such an Irish concept. Except, it’s not Irish. I think the family who own it are from Uganda. But perhaps it’s the powerful influence of  The Shawl nearby, a very Irish pub. I’m recalling the story about Salpetriere Hospital in Paris where a famous neurologist called Jean-Martin Charcot conducted experiments on women suffering from hysteria. At one point they were put in wards near epileptics, and they too started experiencing fits. I’m putting forward a similar theory. The Irish who came over to work here from the 1840s onwards on Willesden Junction, they brought with them the expectancy of their own madly eclectic shops. Not for them the one-dimensional. And lo and behold many years later, Wrights has fulfilled this dream.

As if in harmony with my thoughts, deliveries of Guinness are just arriving at The Shawl. Meanwhile Craven Park Road is heaving with huge lorries carrying waste plastic, and highway maintenance equipment. Unbeknownst to me, this is very much the hour of industrial passage. This secret ritual has obviously been going on for years, as I hunkered down under my duvet.

Suddenly, another man appears in a piece of skirt-like material. We turn off the main road down a back alley. Now, it really is dark for the first time. And quite scary. We could quite easily be in Delhi back street without a map. The buildings are grimy, there are bits of newspaper blowing about and we’re tentatively following this gentleman. Finally, at the end of alleyway, we turn a corner in silence. We’re hiding our anxiety with a blanket of quiet. And there it is. What looks like a garage. There are rows of shoes at the doorway and all we can see are disappearing heads and a row of clocks showing the different times for prayer.

We’ve made our discovery so we scurry back to the main road. A cleaning machine – one with two swirling brushes and an East European man (another guess) in the driving seat – is nudging us off the pavement. Bus stops and cafes are filling up. It’s getting lighter. We realise we’ve missed dawn. The sun rising over Willesden Junction is not our lot today. It’s wet and cloudy and it’s time for us to go back to bed.

Additional information – a few days later, I’m reading the Daily Mail, my excuse is that I’m a journalist – and it mentions that The Likely Lads, incredibly feted 1960s comedy with James Bolam and Rodney Bewes was filmed at Willesden Junction.

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AN OFF-DUTY POLICEMAN & THE MISSING HIPPODROME

This was going to be a search for air raid shelters with novelist, Nick Barlay. He flunked out – a water pipe problem. Anyway, I was pissed off because he cancelled twice. Sunday, as well. I hate people who cancel. He walked the London section of the A5 for Time Out, I thought I’d get a few tips from him. Sod him, I’ll go on my own.

In the meantime, I’d been looking at an 1830s map of Harlesden, which had various more recent buildings added on. I tried to imagine where the Willesden Hippodrome – Theatre which opened grandly in 1907 – would have been. I knew it wasn’t there anymore but where had it been? I decided to refrain from consulting the internet, and try to find someone who knew. By talking to them. Novel, I know.

The Willesden/Harlesden thang is going to be eternally confusing. Harlesden used to be in the borough of Willesden (before Brent was created in 1965 and absorbed them both) hence a variety of theatre and station location confusions endure. Willesden Junction – you may not realise – is actually in Harlesden. The same with the Willesden Hippodrome. Except it doesn’t actually exist anymore. However, when it did – it was in Willesden, but now it doesn’t, its absence is in Harlesden.

Outside, the puddles have iced over, a light glaze. The skies are grey-feathered. I stand at the end of my road (is it in Kensal Green or Harlesden or Willesden?) and mull over the idea of hanging out there one day and just chatting to people about Harlesden. Three gangly young men pass me talking animatedly in Arabic.

I cross over Wrottesley Rd (on that 1830s map, it’s a marginal presence in one corner, but you can see the trees lining it, and I know it was the leafy, muddy, privately owned Green Lane at the time) and pass Leah’s flat. Before Xmas, I went on a search for Leah and found her – on Valentine’s 2009, her boyfriend stencilled our pavements with amazing heart words to her, like concrete poetry – by putting a poster up on nearby trees. Who is Leah? A writer wants to know. The wrong Leah rang, but eventually the right one rang too. Sadly, we’ve yet to meet up. I want to hear her love story. In the last text, she said she’d had a tough Xmas. I hope to get hold of her soon.

On my way to find the site of Willesden Hippodrome, I suddenly decide that I’m going to talk to people. Have conversations. Interact with strangers. I want these walks to be happenings too! Ask them what they think of Harlesden. I’m on Ancona Rd and a young man is approaching me with headphones. I ask him if I can ask him a few questions. He’s very willing. Turns out he lives in Doyle Gardens with his parents. Doyle Gardens is in Willesden postcode-wise, Kensal Green if you’re flat-hunting, and Harlesden, if you live there.  He’s 24 and a police officer. The first person I encounter is a young, out of uniform policeman! In Hillingdon, he says, where it’s more affluent and easier than here. He smiles a lot. An easy smile. “My mum came over from Kenya when she was three,” he says, “my dad is Indian.”

Rav did a degree in politics and joined the police when he was 21. Loves it. How strange, I think, I would never have imagined students of politics joining the police. More the opposite. More the protesters. Maybe that says something about the contents and lecturers of politics these days. He says in the reserve TSG – the territorial support group or riot police. He seems quite liberal though, he claims he would like to see them open up their methods to public debate. “We’ve been issued with embroidered numbers now for our epaulettes,” he says innocently revealing the results of the furore around Ian Tomlinson’s death during the G20 protests, the officer who pushed him over was not wearing an identification number. The video footage filmed by an American hedge fund investor visiting London – showed this state of police undress very clearly. And apparently the ensuing publicity has had an effect. Embroidered numbers, which can’t ‘fall off’. I check later with the Met press office and it’s true.

What does he think of Harlesden? “I think it still needs more money investing here. My police friends who work here have to deal with gun crime all the time and even talking to someone at night is difficult, they have to have a few cars come out together because the threat of possible aggression is so great.”

Who will he vote for in the election? “I think I’ll be voting for Cameron,” he mutters, ”we need a change. People are worried about immigration and I think that will come out as we get nearer to the election date. The BNP have already started the debate.” Did he watch Nick Griffin on Question Time? “Yes, he was awful,” he says. It’s a relief to hear him say that. “Did you know they’re changing the boundaries in Brent, basically it will be the Labour MP, Dawn Butler who is at present in Brent South, up against the Lib Dem MP, Sarah Teather who is in Brent East at present.” I didn’t know this. I like Sarah Teather, I say. Because every time I see her on Question Time, she is so well informed and sensible. He agrees. “Yes, she’s a great local MP, she comes and talks at the Willesden HinduTemple. She even knows some Gujerati. I like her because she travels by bus too and walks around the constituency.”

“Oh, I think I will vote for Sarah,” he says finally. Phew, that was a turn-around. Lib Dems – you need me on the streets.

Ah, I pass the wall that still has ‘I love u Leah. With all my heart.’ stencilled on it. I’m envious. When’s someone going to do that for me. And then, The Rebirth Tabernacle. I’m determined to visit one of their services at a later date. As part of my church visiting. Then, there’s the green, very green Max’s Barber shop where Rav had just had his hair cut.

Before I know it, I’m walking next to a woman who is wearing a cream scarf over her head and limping. I ask her if she lives in Harlesden?  She has got an incredibly open, gorgeous face. “I do,” she answers. “I’m in Ridley Rd with my two daughters. My son has left home for University.” Amran is from Somalia and has been here for 15 years.

What does she think of Harlesden? “When I was first here, my sister lived in central Harlesden,” she says, “and you didn’t dare go out at night. It was violent. But now I go out at 1am sometimes on a Saturday. I’ll go down to Sam’s on the high street and have some chicken. It feels safe. There are more police out on foot now.” At this moment, I’m amazed – I can’t imagine Amran in Sam’s chicken shop at one o’clock in the morning. To be honest, it does seem like a weird place to want to go. All strip lighting and harshness. But now I’m showing just how Kensal Green, I am.

Does she feel welcomed by us, the British? “Yes, I do. My husband was killed in Somalia when my youngest daughter was only 2, she’s 17 now, and I’m 44.” Here we are standing in Harlesden High Street and I can’t help myself asking – what about other Somali men? Fortunately, she laughs (she’s got a robust one) and responds: “It’s difficult. They might go back and get killed. And if I ask which tribe they’re from, it sounds as though I want to marry them. It’s worse in Somalia now than it was 15 years ago. It is a country that is being torn apart. I have family there who are just waiting to die. We women are strong, we’re the ones who are left to suffer, but we’re also the ones who stand up and say ‘No More.’ ”

Oh, she is so warm and open. I can’t believe how trusting she is. We’ve walked up to Harlesden House now, which is where the Job Centre is, and a number 18 bus approaches. ‘I have to get it, she says. Do you work? I ask. “I can’t,” she replies, “I have kidney failure. I’m on my way to an appointment now.”

At this juncture, I decide to walk back down the road again and see if I can find anyone who’s heard of the Willesden Hippodrome as I know it used to be somewhere near here. I see a man with grey hair who has the inherently exhausted look of someone who’s worked at this Furniture Contractor’s for a long time. “I’ve been here for 20 years,” he sighs in an Irish accent, “but I don’t know it. Let’s ask my colleagues.” It was built in 1907, I say. No, nobody has a clue about it here.

I cross the road, wander over to the top of the stairs that run down to the long walkway leading to Willesden Junction which opened in 1866. It’s one of those urban moments. I stand  – I never stop here ever because I’m always in the momentum of being on my way to somewhere – and gaze across the vast tangle of railway lines, and the open skyline marked with cooling towers, and now clichéd graffiti tags. Fresh, Snag. I feel a tap on my back and look round to see Sue, a parent who has a daughter, Eileen who went to the same schools, primary and secondary, as my son, Marlon. I haven’t seen her for years. In fact, she’s a poet, who’s wonderfully eccentric and the last time I saw her she was pasting pages of Mrs Beeton’s cookbook on her ceiling. So what is she doing is this uber-normal blankety green jacket, wielding a strange machine with numbers on it?

“I’ve become a gas-meter reader,” she exclaims, “in fact, I was just reading the meter at the used car lot when I heard a woman’s voice politely asked about the availability of Somali men in this area. I didn’t realise it was you, but then I recognised your style.” We discuss the rather wonderful view from these steps at Willesden Junction. The sheer industrial openness of it. Of course, her daughter, aged 21, Eileen, has just bought a puppy – they went to the Isle of Sheppey (yes, the isle of Sheppey) last night to get it – spent all night in bed with it, so she hasn’t slept. I tell her what I’m doing with this project, and she says how much she loves beachcombing.

Beachcombing? I realise she’s talking about streetcombing. Which includes going down into strange little basements. That’s it, I’m convinced that she will be a fantastic person to walk with in Harlesden. I promise to ring her very soon.

I walk back up Harlesden High St, past Jet Set, a nightclub that is presently moribund. Except for Friday and Saturday at 2am when incredible queues snake down the road. In 2008, a Portuguese DJ was shot trying to sort out an argument. By a 17 year old. The DJ still needs round-the-clock care. It’s the kind of tragedy that Harlesden is too known for.

I walk past the Café Brazil, and closed down nightclub, The Lodge. It was groovy for a year a two, but couldn’t keep going. It’s looking very abandoned now with a closure notice pinned to the door. I have recently realised it must have been called The Lodge because in the 19th century, The Grange Lodge was nearby. A little further up, I look across the road, and there is Harlesden House, an ugly1960s brick building. It’s a Job Centre Plus now, but I can imagine the Edwardian Willesden Hippodrome being there. Was it, I wonder?

Now I’m looking for some more people to ask. I see a couple of older men, but they start speaking what sounds like Polish. Then, I see a grey-haired, bespectacled woman coming towards me. She could have lived here a long time? I ask her. “I came here, she indicates a flat at 150 Harlesden High St, just after I got married in 1969 and have been here ever since. My husband was Irish, he used to get up at 5am and travel around.”

Perfect. Does she know where Willesden Hippodrome was? “Yes,” she says faltering, “it was down there on the left, next to the bus stop. It’s a block of flats now.” That’s strange, I think, because that’s not the side of the road I’ve seen it marked on a map. But she is certain, so I try to believe her. I walk down and there is Paddy Power, the bookmaker’s with what turns out to be newbuild block of flats above it. Deeply unattractive and too small, I would have thought for such a big theatre. However, I’ve never been into a betting shop. I push open the door. All men.

I go up to the bloke in the green clothes (yes, it’s all part of Paddy’s Power) and ask him. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t know. He tells me to go and ask some of the old-time locals. A big man with a grey beard and a Rasta hat, another more Chinese-looking Jamaican and their friends. “No, I think it used to be a wine bar,” says the Chinese-looking Jamaican.

“Why do you want to know,” says the big man with the Rasta hat who turns out to be called Charlie, he’s rather good-looking with a lot of flirty sparkle. Forget, the Hippodrome. I think he might be a good lead for one of my future walks. What does he know about dancehall? Harlesden has always been big on reggae. “We used to go to Burtons in Cricklewood,” he says, “but mostly to private shabeens. I know who can help you, Roy at Hawkeye Records up the road, tell him I sent you.”

I say it’s the first time I’ve been inside a betting shop. “You’d better leave,” he roars with several twinkles, “you might get tempted.”

At home afterwards

Internet research – I look up the address of the old Willesden Hippodrome, it’s 161-163 High Street Harlesden. Ah ha, Paddy Power is at 120. My hunch was right, it’s not same place. There’s a piece in Cinema Treasures that has a picture of it – it’s huge and so grand. Wow, the photo (used at the beginning of this post) shows a different Harlesden – lots of ladies and gentlemen in their finery. It had 3,000 seats. It was when Harlesden was posh at the turn of the 19th century. Built in 1907, it was where Harlesden House is now, the home of e Job Centre Plus. The Willesden Hippodrome was opened by one Walter Gibbons as a music hall/variety theatre. Designed by the most prolific turn of the century theatre architect, Frank Matcham, (I just went to Blackpool and he designed the Grand Theatre and the Tower ballroom) it had a 30 feet stage and 8 dressing rooms! In1927 became a cine/variety theatre. It was closed in 1930 and taken over by ABC and opened as a cinema until 1938. Then it finally re-opened as music hall/variety theatre but was bombed and destroyed in 1940 by German bombs.

For many years, it was a bombsite. Former resident, Roger Hooton remembers “As a kid I broke my arm when I swung from a rope on this bombsite.”

And what was on the site of Paddy Power? Harlesden Cinema Theatre opened in 1911, turned into Grand Cinema in 1928, and re-opened with an art deco façade. It closed in 1957 and was converted into an Irish dancehall. Later it became a nightclub called Top 32 Club, then Angies. Lastly, it was a snooker club. Finally, it was demolished in 2003 and rebuilt in 2008 to contain Paddy Power and those flats!

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