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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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A look at the work to preserve Harrow on the Hill’s gantry

Harrow has more than its fair share of landmarks but maybe none quite as quirky as the Harrow on the Hill gantry. In this article, we’ll explore the history of this eye-catching landmark – as well as the work that has gone into preserving it.

Open for business

These days, British pubs can announce their presence any way that they choose – including bright signage, outdoor blackboards, promo staff and more but, back in the olden days things were a little more restricted.

In 1393, King Richard made public houses his business when he decreed that all pubs must feature a hanging sign or gantry (a frame type of structure with a sign suspended from it). The monarch told publicans that “Whosoever shall brew ale in the town with the intention of selling it must hang out a sign; otherwise he shall forfeit his ale”.

The Harrow Hill gantry

Harrow’s oldest building – by quite a margin – is the Kings Head Hotel on Harrow on the Hill. The building is dated to around 1535 and the general consensus is that a tavern or public bar stood on that site, in various guises, from that date. Local legend will have it that the site originally housed Henry VIII’s hunting lodge – hence the pub’s royal name.

A look at the work to preserve Harrow on the Hill's gantry Harrow Online
Image: Nicci Rae

In the early 1980s, the building ceased trading as a pub – much to the dismay of many locals – and, today, the impressive white facade protects private apartments, however the pub signage at the top of the building is still visible.

While the building itself has gone through a number of incarnations over the centuries, one feature has been constant – the gantry on the small, grassy island outside. Older Harrow residents still recall that in times gone by, goats would be tethered to the frame of the gantry, allowing them to graze on the grass.

The gantry which stands in this location today is not, however, the original item – the sign was replaced at times – particularly throughout the 18th Century. The sign was updated once again in the 1980s when evidence from the original gantry was recovered including wooden planks and brick foundations. When the pub was bought by property developers in 2001 the gantry was, however, overlooked and began to run into disrepair.

Saving the gantry

In 2010, a dream team was created between the Harrow Hill Trust, Harrow Council, Harrow School, the Harrow Heritage Trust and Kenneth Reed & Associates in a bid to give the Harrow Hill gantry a new lease of life. It was discovered that the Victorian foundations of the gantry were rotted and weak and so Harrow School generously offered the services of its works department to build new, more sturdy foundations.

A new framework was created by Carpenters Oak and a refurbished sign installed. On the 4th of March 2013, the new gantry was celebrated with the burying of a time capsule by the Kids Committee of the Harrow Hill Trust.

A look at the work to preserve Harrow on the Hill's gantry Harrow Online
Image: Nicci Rae

An enduring legacy

Thanks to the work completed in 2013, visitors to Harrow on the Hill can enjoy the gantry in all its glory as they enjoy a cocktail or coffee at Coffee & Cocktails across the road. Those, however, hoping to spot a grazing goat on the site will sadly be disappointed in 2024.