As the temperatures plummet, it is possible to embark on a historical journey without leaving the warmth of 20 The Barons. One needs merely to consider the address to venture beyond the building’s façade into the hidden story of its environs. The Barons derives its name from a key moment in the chronology of England and English democracy that occurred a few hundred metres away. On 29 June 1263, the parched fields of the 200-acre Manor of Isleworth (later Twickenham Park), were ablaze with the tents and fluttering standards of rebellious barons, the noblemen who held the key to the King’s power. The reign of King Henry III (1207–72) had been one of failed campaigns, famine, misrule and rebellion. Five years earlier, an uprising in London had imposed the Provisions of Oxford on Henry, requiring him to govern through an advisory council selected by the most powerful barons. By the summer of 1263, the King had overturned the Provisions through an appeal to the Pope, but his authority was hollow. In June, the historic Encampment of the Barons gathered under Simon de Montfort, Duke of Leicester, a French nobleman married to the King’s sister. Henry was holed up in his brother Richard’s nearby manor house. For a fortnight, the two sides parleyed as De Montfort sought to temper royal power with civil government. There was to be no peaceful solution. In the spring, the Manor of Isleworth and its watermills were sacked as civil war broke out, leading to the defeat and imprisonment of the King at the Battle of Lewes. De Montfort now called to Westminster Hall not just barons and church leaders, but two knights from each shire, and two citizens from every important town. This established England’s first true Parliament. Sadly, de Montfort did not live long enough to enjoy his revolutionary achievement. He was defeated and killed at Evesham by Henry’s son Edward, his head paraded around the country on a pole. But the noble gathering is commemorated at The Barons; the Manor of Isleworth would become the streets of St Margarets; and the principle of royal rule through parliamentary government was here to stay.
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The wonderful phrase “The Lungs of London,” describing the green spaces that offer breathing space among the city’s urban sprawl, is attributed to William Pitt the Elder in the 18th Century. It is an evocative expression that has, over the centuries, been used to defend the life-giving green parks and squares against the creep of grey development. One look at the map reveals how splendidly 20 The Barons and Twickenham Bridge are situated between two of the greatest and greenest of those lungs, which open up like butterfly wings to the east and north-east. A brisk 20-minute walk, crossing the Thames at Richmond Bridge, takes you to the fringes of vast green acres that have no equal in London. Walk south-east from the bridge, and Richmond Hill offers you views of the Thames painted by Turner and now preserved by an Act of Parliament. Your path encompasses the award-winning Terrace Gardens and the bucolic serenity of Petersham Meadows before reaching Richmond Gate. Beyond this stretch the 1,000-hectares of Richmond Park. The oldest and largest royal park, this vast wonderland of ancient oaks, deer and scattered ponds was named by Henry VII in the 16th Century and is little changed since Charles I fenced its boundaries in 1637. Alternatively, walk north from Richmond Bridge to reach Richmond Green, regarded by some as the most beautiful urban green in England. It was originally a Tudor jousting ground, before cricket became the sport of choice in 1650, and it is fringed with labyrinthine passages that hide such delights as the Old Palace Yard. Continue north, and you reach the Old Deer Park, where the acres designed by Capability Brown include footpaths, tow-path, the Royal Mid Surrey Golf Course and the King’s Observatory, stretching all the way to the botanical wonders of Kew Gardens.
Staying at 20 The Barons, one feels instantly part of a vibrant community. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the crackling atmosphere surrounding the local sporting events on any given Saturday. Last Saturday was a case in point. Setting off from the tranquil surroundings of St Margarets, The Baron could hear the roar of the crowd from nearby Twickenham (a brisk 20-minute walk away) as England’s Rugby Union team battled back to beat the Wallabies 20-13 in the first of three November internationals. He considered taking a 20-minute taxi ride north-east to Craven Cottage to indulge in some Premier League football, but anticipated Fulham’s resounding 1-3 defeat by Manchester United. Instead, The Baron took a 40-minute bus ride south-west to Rectory Meadow to support his favourite local football team. Hanworth Villa were formed in 1976 and have since scaled the league ladder to compete at the top of the Combined Counties Premier Division. At a time when another local club, Chelsea, failed to field a single English player under the age of 21 last season and pays its players a weekly salary far exceeding most supporters’ annual income, The Baron enjoys getting back to the traditional values of non-league football. Kick-off at 3 o’clock, tickets a pensioner can afford, standing up to cheer on local players, it’s like travelling back in time. Hanworth Villa’s clubhouse, The Ranch, is a focal point for the community when many public houses are closing down. There is an academy scholarship scheme, a Ladies team, and first-team goalkeeper Terry Buss has just made his 500th appearance. There’s also no lack of drama. Yesterday, Hanworth played Epsom & Ewell (“The Villains” versus “The Salts”), scoring twice in injury time to salvage a 3-3 draw. As FA chairman Greg Dyke’s new commission explores ways to create more players for the England team, he could do worse than to join The Baron at Rectory Meadow and discuss the club’s aim of: “Providing facilities for all local people, regardless of gender and age, to be able to play football at whatever level.”
At 20 The Barons, if it’s Halloween, it’s all about the pumpkins. While The Baron favours a traditional diamond-toothed interior decoration (dimly lit, so as not to attract the trick or treaters), St. Margaret sees All Hallows as the ideal time to display her artistic nature.
Whether you have children or not, there are all manner of pumpkin attractions in the local patch. Kew Gardens is the leading light, with master vegetable grower Tony Finch demonstrating his pumpkin-carving skills; carved and uncarved pumpkins for sale; plus the magnificent Pumpkin Pyramid in the Waterlily House. This tower of squash rises 4 metres out of the pond and features 75 varieties in an awe-inspiring autumnal display from blacks and greys to oranges and yellows.
At the National Trust’s Osterley House, where the autumn colours are even more dazzling than around the Barons, there is a Pumpkin Festival on 26-27 October, with giant pumpkins and pumpkin carving.
If you prefer to choose your own pumpkins, you can head south-west to Garsons Farm, Esher, or to Crockford Bridge, near Weybridge. For Halloween decorations on a smaller, sweeter scale, you can pop down to Sweetie Pies Boutique Bakery, on Church Street, Twickenham, for a box of cupcakes with perfect pumpkin decorations. You may wish to offer these to visiting trick or treaters, or follow The Baron’s lead by turning off the lights, opening the cupcake box, and indulging in your Halloween celebrations undisturbed.
Halloween is the perfect night to draw the curtains, dim the lights and watch your horror movie of choice in glorious HD goriness. The Baron has selected a suitable Top 20 list of monocle-dropping thrillers and chillers, all of which feature production or post-production work from Twickenham Film Studios. TW1 Studios, as they are known today, are The Baron’s most famous neighbours. Turn left out of the front door, and they are a minute’s walk away, or 20 seconds if you’re a runner. Founded in 1913 on the site of the old ice-rink, the sound stages have played a long and glorious role in the history of cinema. In the 1960s, key productions included Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Alfie, The Italian Job and A Hard Day’s Night. For a hair-raising Halloween night in, The Baron’s personal selection is Repulsion, the first in Roman Polanski’s apartment trilogy.
1. Repulsion (1965)
2. Cul-de-Sac (1966)
3. An American Werewolf In London (1981)
4. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
5. Interview With The Vampire (1994)
6. The Crucible (1996)
7. Hellraiser (1987)
8. The Others (2001)
9. World War Z (2013)
10. The Witches (1990)
11. Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
12. The Mummy (1999)
13. To What Red Hell (1929)
14. Gallow Walkers (2012)
15. The Believers (1987)
16. Copycat (1995)
17. Dracula (1974)
18. High Spirits (1988)
19. Mindhunters (2004)
20. The Disappeared (2008)
Behind St Margarets’ genteel and gentrified façade, there beats a rock ’n’ roll heart. Richmond was the cradle where the jazz baby of the ’50s grew into the rebellious rhythm and blues child of the ’60s, a fact currently being celebrated at the Stables Gallery, Orleans House. The gallery is set in tranquil wooded gardens across the river from the eastern point of Eel Pie Island, and thus a Rolling Stones’ throw away from the island’s legendary R&B venue, the Eel Pie Hotel. This iconic setting, with a wooden floor that bounced beneath the dancing crowds, played a key part in the cultural history not just of Richmond and Twickenham, but of the world. The nineteenth-century building had hosted ballroom dancing in the Roaring ’20s, and in the ’50s local trumpeter Brian Rutland began running jazz sessions there. These laid the foundations for the R&B gigs of the next decade, which are still spoken of in reverential tones. Bowie, Clapton, The Who, Pink Floyd, The Kinks and the Rolling Stones all performed at the Eel Pie Hotel before it closed its doors in 1967, unable to meet a £200,000 bill for improvements demanded by the police. It finally left the stage in suitably rock ’n’ roll style in 1971, consumed by a mystery fire. The Stables Gallery exhibition features photographs, artwork and memorabilia from the hotel’s heyday, and is curated by island resident and author of the book Eel Pie Island, Michelle Whitby. It includes first-hand accounts from musicians and concert-goers, original passports to what was known as “Eelpiland”, and the earliest known colour photographs of the island. Documentary movies narrate a truly unique time and place in London’s history, and you can select your own musical memories on an original record player. Photographs include Cyril Davies, The Yardbirds, Rod Stewart; plus the impossibly youthful-looking Rolling Stones who back then had a Wednesday residency and this summer, 50 years later, were still raising a Crossfire Hurricane in Hyde Park.
This weekend is your last chance to see the exhibition The Birth of Rhythm and Blues. Orleans House is less than a 20-minute walk from 20 The Barons. Just head south to the banks of the Thames to taste a historic slice of Eel Pie. Entry is free.