Between the Welsh Harp and Grand Union Canal is an area of mainly suburban housing, which has several parks. I have made these into a couple of walks. The first begins at Alperton and our first stop is the well-maintained Alperton Cemetery, opened in 1917. It gained a chapel of red brick and Portland stone in 1937. There is ornamental planting at the entrance and by the chapel; the paths are laid out in a grid pattern. War graves and a war memorial are placed in a prominent position in this grid. Over the road is One Tree Hill open space, which was put together with three purchases of land in the twenties and thirties. It now has many more trees than 'one', including poplars along the railway line and as an avenue across the park. The hill is 53 metres high giving good views to Barn Hill and Wembley and towards London; at the top there is a triangulation point, a reminder of the days before GPS. The northern part is given over to grass and play equipment and a small area to the south is a nature reserve.
A walk through the suburbs brings us to Barham Park, once the grounds of a private house. Much remains of the garden features, some of which date back to the eighteenth century. There is a fine series of raised terraces with steps and balustrades; a pergola winds its way behind the terraces. Close to the buildings is a formal garden in a walled area. A more recent addition is the Silver Jubilee courtyard, now in need of restoration, located behind what remains of the nineteenth- century buildings. These buildings, a mixture of mock Tudor and red brick, house various functions including a volunteer-run library.
The historic core is surrounded by more typical parkland with many small copses of trees. Along the railway it is managed for nature conservation with dead trees amongst the scrubbier living bushes. There is a civilian war memorial dedicated in 1994 and a long disused greenhouse, devoid of glass, stands as a relic of the days when parks departments had their own nurseries. Now heavily overgrown with climbing plants and various shrubs, it is a dark and secret place.
Butler's Green is, at one and a half hectares, all that remains of the nearly 100 hectares of Sudbury Common. It was bought by the local authority in 1920 and named after a local grocer who campaigned for the park to be made. It has play equipment at the west end and at the east two disused buildings. The nearest Underground is Sudbury Town station (Grade II) built in 1931 and designed by Charles Holden, it formed the template for many other new stations that followed.
Our second walk starts at Wembley Park. One change since my last Brent 'walk' is that the land around the stadium has become full of tall buildings so the view is not as good. Near the station is a huge steel sculpture of a man catching a star, created by Danny Lane, an American artist who lives and works in London. A walk through the suburbs brings us to King Edward VII Park, opened in 1917 as a memorial to the late King. Titus Barham, who bequeathed Barham Park to the Borough on his death, gave the opening address. The park retains its original bandstand and refreshment pavilion, and although the layout is much simpler now, the grand entrance steps and balconies remain, as does the mock-Tudor keeper's house.
The walk to Sherrans Farm Open Space takes us through a 'garden city' development by Sir Audley Neeld, started in 1913 and continued after the war. In 1932 Neeld extended the estate and gave the Council the manor house and land to be a public park. The idea of turning the manor into a library was rejected and the building was blown up in 1939 as a practice for bombing raids!
Our last open space is Brent River Park: a new park made up of Tokyngton Recreation Ground on the west of the river, opened in the eighties when the North Circular was widened, and on the east by St Raphael's Open Space, made at the end of the Second World War when the first housing on the estate was built. To these parks has been added a river path to the north. The entrance from Sherrans Farm brings us into Tokyngton Park, but we turn north and cross the river and climb a flight of steps that brings us to the north end of St Raphael's housing estate.
Taking the path to the west we follow the River Brent. The river is in parts contained by high walls, but in this section and in other areas it has been restructured to a more natural shape. There are street lights along the route, allowing it to be used as a route into Wembley. An exit onto Great Central Way lies just beyond the railway bridge; the path continues until the river becomes inaccessible in an industrial estate. If you return to the steps, you can either go through Tokyngton Park or St Raphael's Open Space. We'll go through Tokyngton, whose top area is given over to informal team games; the park also has fitness equipment, Street Workout and a good concrete climbing boulder at beginners' level. The Climate Pavilion is an outdoor classroom designed by Mark Smith and opened in 2012 as part of a re-greening of the park. It has four overlapping roof sections that symbolise the damage done to buildings by flooding. Beneath it are underground ponds, which are part of the flood retention system. There are information panels — one about the Pavilion and the other, by the pupils of Oakington Manor School, about climate change. Look out for the wall on the western edge of the park which is part of the flood protection scheme; it runs the full length of the park but is most obvious here, where there is an entrance to the park.
The St Raphael route from the bridge starts with grass and trees. Much of the grass in this part of the park is allowed to grow to meadow height; yarrow was in flower when I visited. There are areas of flood retention where the ground is only about a metre above usual water level, which when dry provide picnic areas. An interesting feature is a flagpole base from the old Wembley stadium's twin towers and, at the main entrance, there is a blue wind sculpture standing four metres high. Just before the river Brent goes into a culvert under the North Circular, near Stonebridge Park railway, there is a rubbish trap in the river called the Monks Park Labyrinth Screen. Monks Park is an earlier name for Tokyngton Park and recalls the Neeld's country estate near Bath. The Brent River Park is of particular interest as it is a Sustainable Drainage scheme.
These two walks have unearthed a number of historic links between the park and several connections to the wider community.
All photos by Sally Williams