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Isleworth is now my second home since my daughter, son-in-law and grandson live here. They started renting a house here seven years ago and are now looking for a place to buy-not an easy task in today's market. I've been visiting more lately and along with the house hunting; the town has opened up its secrets to me in a way I wouldn't have found by normal sightseeing. So I do hope that residents don't mind a welsh woman reviewing their town!
One of the best simple descriptions of the town's history comes from John Bartholomew, who was a nineteenth century cartographer. He called it 'a small town of Saxon origin within the London Borough of Hounslow.'
In fact there are documents pertaining to a much older place here, specifically the name of Gisheresuuyrth, which appears in 695 from a Saxon charter. Excavations around The Syon park estate unearthed evidence of an earlier, possibly Roman settlement.
It's certainly changed it's name and ownership many times over the centuries, giving rise to many stately homes that only now exist in ruins or as part of the Borough of Hounslow, which has reduced the actual town to a much smaller area. I found a lot of this from research in general, but was inspired by the many different names that suggested the town was once much larger. For instance, traveling by bus in one direction towards Richmond, I came across St Margaret's, which is part of both Isleworth and Hounslow. In the other direction lies Brentford, which is classed, like Isleworth, as Middlesex.
Similarly I was intrigued by the many place names suggesting woodlands, there's a whole estate called Woodlands and one of the owners told me it was once an orchard. Researching again I found that much of Isleworth became Orchards in the 18th century, and market gardens started to spring up in the 19th century as more mansions were built in the area. With the town's relative closeness to so many royal residences, then it made sense that the main town area would supply to the gentry. I had found something similar when my younger brother lived in Blackheath- the area respond to the changing times. So it's no surprise to find lovely large houses and listed buildings sharing space with Victorian terraced houses.
Research gives the geographical location as east of the town of Hounslow and West of the River Thames and it's tributary, River Crane. To the north is Osterly, the last surviving great park and estate in London. While Lampton lies to the West. At first I found this very confusing, not knowing which direction I was going in and a bit scared, as London is so busy and I have some mobility problems. Bus drivers in London aren't that keen to give directions, but the destinations are easily spotted on the main bus stops and while traveling each stop is named individually. This helps me to get around, though I know it's more for the use of unsighted and deaf people.
The main town area.
I am quite surprised by the make-up of the town architecturally. It's very much a mixture of Georgian, Victorian and pre-war houses. My daughter lives off London Road in a typical Victorian terraced house. She's been looking at the 1930's houses mainly as there are quite a lot around the central area. I recognize the style from my own home in Newport, South Wales. Prices here are generally about £300,000 at the moment, which is staggering to me. My own 1910-terraced house is worth about £100,000 and it's two-bed roomed. Traffic is busy here, with many main roads leading to the outskirts and many popular attractions. It's so surprising then to find isolated pockets of greenery amongst the built-up areas. Children's play areas are few and far between and I think I know most of them by now. Finding playing fields tucked away in small estates though can still surprise me.
The population of the town is just 20,500 but I imagine that's just the main area. Islweorth beacame a part of Hounslow in the post-war years, but many people say 'Isleworth' as nearby areas. It's sadly right under the Heathrow flight path, but I'm a poor sleeper and I've got used to it.
Parks and Gardens.
Osterley Park is a lovely estate and apart from the manor house that has undergone a lot of rebuilding over the centuries, boasts lakes where birds settle even in the depths of winter. Large acres of grass swoop around so it's difficult to find yourself still in a very busy area. Plenty of events are held here and it's a great family favorite. Once an Elizabethan mansion, it was rebuilt in part by Robert Adams in the 18th century.
Nearby to Brentford is the impressive Syon House, again redesigned by Robert Adams in 1792. The lovely grounds were laid out by Capability Brown in 18th century and include Great Conservatory, butterfly house art and garden center. It's also the home of 'Snakes & Ladders', which I've already reviewed.
Moving on from Syon and still in Brentford is the much more modern Watermans arts center, which I have just reviewed. It's worth a mention here as it stands on the waterfront near to many wharves and bridges and a mere bus ride to Kew Bridge, gardens and mansion house. The Thames makes a loop here and flows past Chiswick, in one direction and splits towards Richmond and it's many other great houses and gardens. In fact you could do a complete circle and still be very near to Isleworth.
It's no wonder then that there are many ruined mansions and great houses, churches, parts of old estates such as Silver hall park, which once housed the estate called Silver Hall after one of it's last inhabitants. This was once the countryseat of George Culvert, secretary to James 1st. All that remains are some brickwork and a park by the same name. This has a small play area for children and a walkway past some of the older stables.
Just on the corner of St John's Road is the park of the same name, which has another, play area and some gardens. Other parks can be found nearby within small estates and sometimes tucked away near to the river, which springs from the Thames in parts and often passes around the backs of houses. Another popular park is one called Redlees, which is near to Isleworth library, swimming baths and playing fields.
Apart from the above there is another larger swimming pool and recreation center in Richmond, although the Isleworth center has a gym, and playing fields as well. There are plenty of local shops and a few supermarkets including a Tesco express. I love the many small shops just near to the main train station as I find them quite familiar with places similar to Spar shops and even one greengrocer whose fruit and vegetables are nicely displayed outside the front of the shop. For larger shops, St Margaret's is not far away, or try Richmond with its larger department stores.
There are many churches with good, local roots and we usually attend on high days, especially the early Christmas Eve family service where the children both in the nativity play and audience both dress up. The best for both services and looking around is the All Saint's Church, dating back to the 1700's and very near to the river.
Restaurants are not a strong point in the town. It's good for local pubs but you need to go a little further affield for gourmet dining. We often have a meal at the Apprentice Arms on the riverside a short walk or drive away. It's reasonably priced, with a good choice of both pub and restaurant food and it's lovely to sit outside in the summer.
One strong point is the many Indian takeaways that are no more expensive than my own city and are very authentic in style. In fact I would recommend the little shopping area on St John's Road as it has a little bit of everything, including a lovely fish & chip shop.
Throughout it's history Isleworth has been home to some very famous people and you can often find plaques on the sides of old houses saying who either lived or spent a long time here. I knew about William Turner, it was one of his favorite places to paint. I was more surprised that Vincent Van Gogh both lived and worked in Isleworth as a teacher and lay preacher.
I've already mentioned Robert Adams who did a lot of work restoring mansions to their former glory or adding to the beauty of others. Sadly so many of these wonderful old houses are no longer what they used to be. On a happier note, the Brentford Workhouse changed to the West Middlesex Hospital and now is a teaching hospital.
The Thames and environs have always attracted painters, but I was surprised to know that a few famous battles were held here and still have the name of the event on local maps. Some of Henry V111's wives spent some time sequested in nearby royal residences and I also know that there was once a film studio in Worton Road and one of it's most memorable films produced here was 'The African Queen' starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. It is now an industrial estate.
There is only one station in Isleworth. It consists of a loop line branching off the main line to and from London central and Reading. This is the train line I use to travel on from Reading across country. The bus service is excellent though and the buses are very frequent. Most people use the Oyster cards rather than cash, though I have never been charged anything else except £2.20 for any local journey.
I love looking into the history of places and I do like painting and sketching, so I often spot things maybe others would overlook, like old boundary walls next to shopping areas, little buildings housing antiques, old jetties where once I imagine the Gentry taking lazy boat trips down the river with hampers of rich food. Of course I love the river and it's never far away here. I once strolled by a canal that was tucked away between a parks, a flyover and some high rise buildings. It's that contrast of subjects that have changed my mind about London. Once I hated it, it's so impersonal and bleak but now I know a few of it's hidden treasures I approach each new town or area with much more interest.
I am sure I've missed loads out, but I've tried to give you a flavor of the town's history while putting in enough about the modern town I am getting so fond of. My daughter also feels the same way and prefers to stay around this area, even at the expense of paying more for housing. Jack's school is a very short walk from the house they rent and there's so much nearby to do, even on a rainy day.
So even in a London suburb I have found little streams, parks where I play traditional children's games with Jack. Bus rides to cinemas and art galleries. And at the end of the day, an ice cream in summer and hot chocolate in Winter. Some things never change.
As always, thanks for reading.
©Lisa Fuller 2011.
Now I shall write something different from a camera review which may be a relief to some of you. Isleworth is a suggestion that I made over a month ago and why did I suggest it? It's my home town.
Isleworth is a town located along the banks of the river Thames, the county of Middlesex, Greater London.
The town has existed for a great many hundreds of years and is actually Saxon in origin. Of course the town has expanded a great deal since then and the original settlement area - that which is next to the river, is now known as Old Isleworth.
Throughout it's existance, like many places in this country, Isleworth has undergone a number of different spellings and pronounciations of its name - on some of the old maps you might come across it is known as 'Istleworth' which is something I still affectionately call it from time to time.
Up until the 20th century Isleworth was very much an agricultural town and had a great number of orchards - in fact my old road 'Amhurst Gardens' used to be an orchard until the houses were built on it in the 1930's. Unfortunately this is a similar story the whole town over and what green spaces there were have continued to diminish - I remember as a child (and saying this makes me feel old) that there used to be a huge field opposite my primary school where there would be a carboot sale every weekend, it's now a council estate, and the same story (minus the carboot sale) behind my own road.
If you want more on the history of Isleworth, then you can find a very useful wikipedia page on it - I haven't gone too indepth here because it would make the review far too long.
What is there to see and do in Isleworth?
I was going to say not much, but now that I think about it there are quite a few things of interest (although it shouldn't take you more than a day to exhaust all that Isleworth has to offer).
An absolutely stunning example of a stately home and grounds. You can walk around some of the grounds for free (people often come to walk their dogs here) and a long driveway leads you past the house and towards an expansive garden centre which sells all the usual garden bits and bobs, gifts, an aquatic section and there's the 'refectory cafe'.
Also on site is a reptile centre which I haven't been to since I was a child - I remember it being quite small but interesting with a number of snakes, frogs, piranahs etc. The London butterfly house used to be situated next to it which was a great place to visit but unfortunately this was demolished a few years ago.
The house itself requires payment to get in (it's not a national trust property), as do the extensive and very beautiful gardens - payment details can be found on their website: www.syonpark.co.uk I would certainly recommend visiting during their enchanted woodland event - this is when they light up the gardens and create little scenes to be viewed at night, it's stunning and they actively encourage photography.
This area of the town has retained much of the charm that the rest of Isleworth has lost in recent years. Situated by the river this section of Isleworth is dominated by beautiful old architecture and a lovely pub (the only nice pub in Isleworth despite there being quite a number of pubs overall) called the 'London Apprentice' which has gardens over looking the river. There is also All Saints church - half of the building is quite modern (and in my eyes ugly) however there is a lovely old church tower with a clock at the top. The whole church was beautiful until some school boys burnt the majority of it down in 1943 (who says children are worse now than they were?)
Silver Hall park:
There was once a grand house on this site (surprisingly enough named Silver Hall) but unfortunately, like so many of the great houses that once stood in Isleworth, it has long since been demolished. In it's place stands Silver Hall park. As a park it is relatively small but has a couple of lawns, some beautiful old trees, a childrens play area and most interesting of all there is a brick mound. Why is this so interesting? Because it is all that remains of the house - it used to be their 'fridge' and has managed to stand the test of time by staying largely intact. When I was young you used to be able to go inside it, however since then a gate has been put across the entrance. There is an information board in the park which tells you all about its history.
Modern day Isleworth has a few things to offer, albeit not much of interest. There is West Middlesex hospital which has been greately explanded over the years but still has a poor repuation (one which is entirely deserved as my nan died after a heart attack there when the doctors and nurses failed to notice her dentures had slipped down her throat thus starving her brain of oxygen), it may be of interest to some that this is also the place where the actor who played Father Ted, died after a heart attack.
Further to the hospital there are a small selection of shops scattered across the town (there's no real main shopping area) which includes a few cafes, newagents and a uniform shop in the South Street area and more newsagents, a post office and Barclay's bank on London Road (a good half mile walk from each other).
As far as transportation is concerned this is actually quite good - there are regular trains to London Waterloo (takes just shy of half an hour, would be quicker but only slow trains pass through Isleworth) and a large number of buses which go into central London, Hounslow, Brentford, Hammersmith, Richmond etc. The buses tend to be very regular and there is even a night bus service.
Overall I'd say Isleworth is a mixed bag - the town has a fascinating history, although unfortunately so much of what made it beautiful has long since been lost. As a tourist attraction I'd say only visit if you are near anyway - it's not worth making a special trip from a long distance and you'd probably end up disappointed, however if you are quite close by it could make an interesting day out provided that you are interested in Stately Homes and the like!
From the perspective of somewhere to live it also has it's pros and cons - property is slightly more expensive than in Hounslow, but it's a nicer place to live and it has good transport links into the city. The town has gone 'down hill' in recent years and unfortunately this seems to have started when the council estates were constructed - there has certainly been a greater level of crime with more car and house break in's. Furthermore I would not live here if you like a quiet life - Isleworth is directly under Heathrow's flight path and planes go over heard literally every couple of minutes. Depending on what part of Isleworth you are in, you may also be subject to the very regular sound of ambulance sirens as they rush their way to and from the hospital. All this makes Isleworth sound like a terrible place to live, but it isn't - many of the residents are easy to get along with and there are some good local schools. I spent about 11 years of my life here and wasn't in a hurry to leave and it wouldn't bother me to move back. If you have enough money though and are interested in the area, I would suggest buying a property in Old Isleworth (much more expensive than the rest of town).