Despite it’s relatively small size, Harrow has always been a haven for the artistic and the venerable, some of whom gained inspiration from attending the prestigious school and others, such as Sir John Betjeman who only wish that they had. In his 1954 poem, “Harrow-on-The-Hill”, Betjeman wrote “Then Harrow-on-the-Hill’s a rocky island and Harrow churchyard full of sailor’s graves. And the constant click and kissing of the trolley buses hissing is the level to the Wealdstone turned to waves.” Just one of many references to Harrow made by the late Poet Laureate who, although never a Harrow resident, retained a fondness for the borough until his death in 1984.
Harrow’s unique and diverse heritage can be mapped by the collection of prestigious blue plaques within the borough. Presented by English Heritage to mark the birthplaces or former homes of people of note, the blue plaque is the round permanent sign seen on buildings detailing its former resident’s credentials.
Appropriately, our journey begins in Old Redding at the building now known as The Grims Dyke Hotel. With its rich history and famous residents, much could be written about this stunning building, from filming of Hammer Horror films to its brief service as a TB hospital but, the blue plaque presented by English Heritage celebrates three of its most prominent residents. R Norman Shaw, Architect and Frederick Goodall, Painter are the two men whose vision went to the beautiful design and building of Grims Dyke in 1870 and, W.S. Gilbert, was a writer and librettist – more famously known as one half of Gilbert and Sullivan, creators and composers of operettas such as HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance which are still hugely popular today. W.S. GIlbert lived at the Grade II listed Grims Dyke for the last two decades of his life and his wife stayed on at the property until her own death in 1911. The blue plaque was presented in 1976 and can be found just to the left of the main entrance of the hotel.
Travelling just over three miles to the west, we reach Moss Lane in Pinner, a leafy suburb with not one but two addresses of note. The first blue plaque we come to is at number 75 and is the former residence of Heath Robinson, illustrator and comic artist. Famous for his drawings of fantastically complicated contraptions designed to perform the simplest of tasks, Robinson lived at the address between 1913 and 1918 and the plaque can be seen clearly from the street, situated just to the left of the top right hand window. Moving down the street to The Fives Court on Moss Lane, we find a blue plaque dedicated to furniture designer and retailer, Sir Ambrose Heal who lived at the property between 1901 and 1917. Known for his simple no frills designs, Heal was knighted in 1933 for his services in raising standards of design and, in 1954, he was awarded the Albert Gold Medal for services to industrial design.
The final leg of our journey takes us into Central Harrow to Mount Park Road and, in particular, Duneaves, a striking tudor style house which was once home to author R.M Ballantyne. Ballantyne, who was of Scottish origin, wrote over 100 books but is particularly known for his pirate adventures and tales of the sea and he lived at the Harrow address in his later years before moving to Italy for his health. Ballantyne’s blue plaque, which was erected in 1979 is situated to the left of the striking blue door of the property and can be seen easily from the street.
Harrow has never been short of its celebrity natives and residents and, with notables such as Claire Rayner, Dev Patel and David Baddiel all having lived in the borough, we can be sure to see more blue plaques on our streets in the future.
By Nicci Rae
Image Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/