I left Ealing, ‘Queen of the Suburbs’, in 1971 and although I have been back many times, somehow the excellent weather – and the good reception for the talk – put me into an amiable and reflective mood. Ealing has changed enormously since I left, although just like that scene in H G Wells’ Time Machine, where the time traveller moves rapidly forward in time and new buildings spring up all around him, key landmarks remain. Look above the glitzy shops and you see many of the original Edwardian buildings.
I passed the Ealing Centre, built over the old police station where I was run in at the age of 13 or so for trespassing on the building site of the new Ealing Catering College.
A stroll through Walpole Park brought back many memories. The park was purchased for the people in 1901 after Spencer Perceval's last daughter, the lady who had been in residence in the house there, had died. Perceval, an Ealing resident, was Prime Minister when in 1812 he was shot dead in the House of Commons by John Bellingham. Bellingham was hanged seven days later for his trouble, but a grateful nation voted Perceval’s family £50,000, an enormous sum at the time. The money enabled his daughters to live their lives out in comfort. The house, Pitzhanger Manor, became Ealing Public Library although now it is a museum.
I walked past the duck-pond where I fell in at the age of seven wearing my brand new overcoat… I went past the place where there used to be a cage containing an ancient macaw named Laura, long since gathered to her ancestors.
The graveyard at St Mary’s Church is now open; I must have passed it thousands of times in my life but it was always fenced in. I was able to walk around and look at the graves for the first time; sadly, most are now illegible due to acid rain.
I don’t regret leaving Ealing – among other things it’s a nightmare to park a car in – but I always relish coming back. With all of its parks and open spaces and its thoroughly pleasant aspect, it remains for me the Queen of the Suburbs.