|Harrow Garden Village, including Rayners Mead||Harrow|
Harrow Garden Village was one of a number of residential estates developed in the 1920s and '30s along the Metropolitan Railway running north-west out of London that came to be known as Metro-land. Prior to this the area was rural, Rayners Lane once an old roadway through medieval fields. From the outset Harrow Garden Village was laid out with attention to landscaping and much of this remains in evidence. Rayner’s Lane, originally lined with elm trees, still has a number of fine mature oak trees. There are communal gardens, grass verges and street trees, as well as a recreation ground with tennis courts.
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Harrow Garden Village was undertaken under the auspices of the Metropolitan Railway Company (MRC), which instigated a number of residential estates along its route running north-west out of London. As a result, it can be counted among the many other speculative developers in the interwar housing boom who contributed to the utter transformation of London’s outlying areas, in particular the county of Middlesex, which up till then was undeveloped and largely rural, with scattered villages. The MRC had opened its first underground line in 1863 between Bayswater and Holborn, which was extended north-west from Baker Street from the late 1860s, reaching Harrow-on-the-Hill in 1880, Pinner in 1885 and later Chesham and beyond in order to link up with the railway network in the Midlands. The MRC purchased considerable tracts of land along its intended route, as this was more economical than buying land piecemeal, but this was over and above what was needed for the track and other railway operations and this ‘surplus’ land is significant in the creation of what became known as Metro-land. The initial impetus for house-building arose in the early 1880s when the MRC needed to provide for its employees working in the then rural area around Neasden and the land surplus to railway requirements was used to build housing and other amenities for the workers.
The MRC had got round the Land Clauses Act of 1845, which stipulated that the railway company could not hold onto land it did not require for railway use for more than 10 years, by separating its ordinary stock into railway stock and surplus stock, which was authorised by an Act of 1885. The Metropolitan Railway Act of 1898 then enabled the MRC’s Surplus Lands Committee ‘to improve, develop and lay out for building any of its lands, including those acquired ‘hereafter’'. Housing estates built under the auspices of the Surplus Lands Committee included those at Pinner and Willesden Green, and as house-building proved to be a successful venture further land was purchased. From the early years of the C20th, landowners and developers had begun to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new railway line and to build over the rural areas it served, in some cases adopting ‘Garden City’ principles for their estates. In 1919, the MRC set up Metropolitan Railway Country Estates Ltd (MRCE) to focus exclusively on this lucrative element of its business. Although a separate entity, the new company maintained close ties with the MRC until the latter’s demise in 1933, after which MRCE continued to operate as a land-developer. A key figure in the venture was Robert H. Selbie (1868-1930), who became a Director of MRCE in 1919 but who, as General Manager of MRC from 1908, had been responsible for steering the company’s new direction into house-building.
From the 1900s onwards, the MRC had increasingly produced illustrated guides and booklets, as well as posters and postcards, to promote its line and the delights of the countryside encountered. Such methods of publicity were to prove invaluable for promoting the MRCE’s residential developments. ‘Metro-land’ was first used as the title for the annual railway guide in 1915, which continued publication until 1932. As well as providing practical information on trains and timetables, Metro-land soon specifically aimed at attracting potential house-buyers to the new estates. The MRC also offered free first class tickets to prospective purchasers until 1933 when London Transport superseded the Metropolitan Railway Company.
In 1928 the MRCE began to plan what was to become Harrow Garden Village near Rayners Lane, which became a flagship residential development. Rayner’s Lane was an old roadway through medieval fields to Pinner, once called Bourne Lane but renamed after the C19th Rayner family whose house was on the corner of what became Farm Avenue. There had been a Halt at Rayners Lane since 1906, but in the 1920s it was still described as a quiet spot. The MRCE initially bought 187 acres for its new estate with a loan from the MRC in recognition of the benefits that would accrue to the railway, purchasing more land subsequently; in 1932 the estate covered 213 acres and by the time it was completed in 1934 it was some 230 acres. The name it was given indicates the company’s aspirations; a poster in 1929 proclaimed: ‘A Good Move to Harrow Garden Village. 21 minutes from Baker Street. Houses of varying type built by well-known builders available at popular prices. Liberal open spaces, tennis courts, etc. Excellent sites for houses and shop plots in commanding positions.’ The MRC had tried to get the local station renamed Harrow Garden Village in 1928 but Hendon Rural District Council did not consider this to be appropriate so Rayners Lane Station it remained.
The 1929 issue of Metro-land made first mention of the MRCE’s plans for Harrow Garden Village, referring to the 1,000 houses and 240 shops to be built on a layout of ‘wide avenues, generous circles, closes and open spaces’. The 1930 issue updated this, describing ‘this beautifully laid out and well timbered Estate of over 213 acres, with 16 acres of permanent open spaces, recreation grounds and tennis courts’; a sketch map showed the layout of the ‘5 miles of Roads’ mainly north of the railway line, and sites were marked for open spaces, 2 churches and a school. Built ‘on the latest principles’, another publication commented that ‘Every care is being bestowed on the development to permanently assure its natural beauty and to render it delightful for all time from all aspects'.
Although eventually some 25 builders provided houses, the principal builder was E S Reid, who had worked for Harrow Council as Deputy Engineer until 1928. The 1929 Metro-land carried advertisements for his ‘Fresh and Refreshing’ houses at both North Harrow and Harrow Garden Village, and the 1930 issue had 4 pages advertising six Types of Reid House at Harrow Garden Village, both detached and semi-detached. By 1932, Metro-land had 6 pages of Reid ads with 16 Types of house to choose from as well as a personal statement from Mr Reid, which conveys succinctly the aspirations for Harrow Garden Village and the type of house-holder it sought: 'The first object has been to produce an area which will not be a blot on the landscape and a district where purchasers may feel proud of their own Estate. [. . . ] On this Estate proof is offered of cases where houses are moved to retain trees and hedges not as is usually the case trees and hedges moved to make room for a few extra houses.' Reid lived on the estate in one of his own houses on Oakington Avenue. Although the layout of roads is not of his making, there is some justification in its description as ‘E. S. Reid’s Estate’. While he was building here he paid the MRC to provide a private siding so that his building materials could be transported more easily, without disrupting the roads, and the ‘exclusive yet accessible’ estate is described in his book in words echoing Metro-land’s own copywriters: ‘On all sides are green fields and rural lanes; the air clean and refreshing’.
By 1930 the first residents had moved into what have been dubbed the ‘Tudorbethan semis’, some of which had names inspired by its rural heritage, such as Two Acres and Elm Close. The estate soon had a shopping parade, Station Parade, and a new arterial road, Imperial Drive, was completed in 1934, linking Rayners Lane station to North Harrow and other suburban development. As the estate grew up, there was less emphasis on the rural ambiance and more on ‘the rise of a township’ that ‘has every promise of developing into a popular and pleasant suburb’, where ‘there will be no occasion here to lament in future a failure of foresight in town planning’. While photographs of country lanes still illustrated the environs of Rayners Lane, there were also pictures of the new houses and their flower-filled gardens: ‘If the quiet rustic beauty of Rayners Lane is now a memory of the past, like the picturesque farmhouse, the broad streets of the new suburb are being beautified by the planting of trees.’ By 1935 Longfield School on Dukes Avenue served children of Harrow Garden Village, while not actually situated on the estate, and Rayners Lane Baptist Church was built on one of the plots designated for a church on the original estate plan.
Harrow Garden Village was laid out with attention to landscaping and much of this remains in evidence. Rayner’s Lane, originally lined with elm trees, still has a number of fine mature oak trees, and as it progresses towards Pinner there are a number of shallow crescents of houses set back behind communal gardens, planted with shrubs, trees and ornamental conifers: The Gardens, The Greenway, The Croft and The Close, the latter described in 2004 as ‘reminiscent of an idealised village green with its picture-perfect village hall, missing only a weeping willow and a duck pond’. Some of the grass verges remain on roadside borders, and a proportion of houses retain their low boundary walls and neat gardens. At the angle of Whittington Way and Rayners Lane is an area of landscaping through which the Yeading Brook runs, and off Park Drive and Imperial Drive is a small recreation ground evocatively called Rayners Mead, with landscaping in the same style as the communal gardens with shrubberies, winding paths, formal beds and tennis courts, but in recent years becoming neglected.
Harrow Garden Village was soon part of a more or less continuously built-up area. To the south of the railway line another large residential estate, the 250-acre Tithe Farm Estate, was developed from 1932-38 by T. F. Nash Ltd of Harrow, whose first residential scheme had been at Kenton in 1925. Nash’s estate is within a Conservation Area, while Harrow Garden Village is not, although this has been considered by Harrow Council in recent years.
A A Jackson, Semi-Detached London, 1991, passim; Sally Williams, ''Some Appendages to the City': A look at three of London's less well known Garden Suburbs', The London Gardener, vol.14, 2008-09.