As the credits rolled on the Oscars for another year (and Gravity pulls us all back down to earth eventually), it was a joy for everyone at 20 The Barons to see so many golden statuettes migrating to the trophy cabinets of the West London region’s famous film studios. Gravity, which won 7 Oscars including Best Director for Alfonso Cuáron, was filmed nine miles down the road at Shepperton Studios. Operating as a film lot since 1932, Shepperton’s credits include The Third Man (1949), Dr Strangelove (1964) and previous space odyssey and Academy award winner Alien (1979), and it is now part of the thriving Pinewood group. Pinewood Studios, in Iver Heath, are themselves home to Glenn Freemantle of Sound 24, who won the Academy Award for Gravity’s Sound Editing. Developed as a film studio in 1935, by J Arthur Rank and Charles Boot, Pinewood’s credits include the James Bond movies and its studios feature the world famous 007 Stage. Closer to home, on our doorstep in fact, Twickenham Film Studios’ Foley Mixer Adam Fil Méndez was part of the Gravity Sound team that has also just won the Cinema Audio Society award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing. One need only see the bustle brought to St Margarets by recent productions at Twickenham Studios, such as Frankenstein (starring Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy) and Cuban Fury (starring Nick Frost) to realise the impact of a thriving film industry. Of course, it is not just London’s grand old studios that are in such rude health. The capital’s diverse young talent is breaking new ground in movie-making, with the work of Soho’s Framestore at the forefront. Tim Webber’s team won the Academy Award for Visual Effects for creating Gravity’s stunningly believable and panoramic spacescapes. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney were rigged up and filmed within Framestore’s innovative Lightbox, named one of the best inventions of 2013 by Time Magazine, while the 3D vastness of space, the Earth, 30 million stars, space shuttles, the International Space Station, and the devastating explosions and debris were generated through a combination of innovative filming techniques and cutting-edge CGI. Gravity also won Best Original Score for Steven Price, who recorded at London’s Abbey Road studios and attempted to replicate the sound of the strings on The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby. The other notable Oscar success was, of course, 12 Years A Slave, winner of three Oscars including Best Picture. Its director Steve McQueen grew up in West London, attending Drayton Manor High School, while leading man, Chiwetel Ejiofor, was born in Forest Gate. Over £1 billion was spent on film production in the UK last year, and London has regained its rightful place at the centre of the movie world. A successful film industry, whether in the Sixties or today, is a key player in a vibrant London, and a vibrant London in turn attracts the best film-makers. As Amanda Nevill, chief executive of BFI, noted in the Financial Times: “If you ask the top actors and their families whether they’d like to shoot in London for three months, versus a desert somewhere, it’s not a difficult question to answer.” London has developed its own movie-making ‘gravity’, attracting the biggest stars into its glittering orbit.
People and Places
In this watery winter of drenched discontent The Baron is considering whether we should all commence on the Ark. Counting our lucky stars at The Barons and hoping the skies clear and ground drains for those suffering at the hands of the current flood waters, it is high tide and time to look back on two Twickenham floods in history that overwhelmed areas of Richmond around
In 1774, the manmade lake at Virginia Water burst its banks, and there was flooding along the Thames to Richmond. Horace Walpole reported the discomforts of the deluge on 27 September:
“It has rained this whole month, and we have got another inundation. The Thames is as broad as your Danube, and all my meadows are under water. Lady Browne and I, coming last Sunday night from Lady Blandford’s, were in a piteous plight. The ferry-boat (from Richmond to Twickenham) was turned around by the current, and carried to Isleworth. Then we ran against the piers of our new bridge, and the horses were frightened.”
It is an interesting reference to the historic Richmond ferry, which ceased operating when the Richmond Bridge was completed three years later. You can track down a stone marking the historic flood level in the garden wall at St Mary’s Church, on Church Lane, across from Eel Pie Island, just above the aptly named Flood Lane.
More recently, St Margarets flooded on 7 January 1928, after a ‘perfect storm’ of combined events reminiscent of recent times. Heavy Christmas snows in the Cotswolds at the source of the Thames, combined with a sudden thaw and heavy rain at New Year to double the amount of water rushing down the river. Meantime, a high spring tide combined with a storm surge in the North Sea to funnel a wave of water up the river. Water levels reached their highest point on record, and overflowed the embankments. Fourteen people drowned in Lambeth, and thousands were made homeless. The House of Commons and the Tate Gallery were flooded and the Tower of London moat was filled for the first time in 80 years. Both the Thames and the Crane flooded in St Margarets, and the Richmond and Twickenham Times reported:
“The water… encroached upon the gardens of houses in St Margarets Grove and reached the bottom of South Western Road through the passage. In some places it was nearly three feet deep… and the water was only a few inches from the top of the arches of the bridge near Hill View Road.”
Looking at those streets on a map offers a sense of the flood, and you can track down markers recording the 1928 flood level at Richmond Lock and Footbridge and at the Slug and Lettuce pub in Water Lane, Richmond.
Despite global warming and rising sea levels, the Thames Barrier that began operating in 1982 today presents a powerful sea-wall. Spanning 520 metres across the Thames at Woolwich, it is one of the largest moveable flood barriers in the world, standing as high as a five-storey building. It has been raised over 100 times to defend London.
After the 1928 floods, Lord Desborough, chairman of the Thames Conservancy Board, wrote prophetically in the Richmond Herald: “Not even the Thames Conservancy, or the Port of London Authority, can stop the water coming in from the North Sea. The only way I can see is the one that was suggested, and which I recommended 21 years ago. That is, to put a barrage from Tilbury to Gravesend, with locks in it.”
The Thames, Fair River
“Glide gently, thus forever glide,
O Thames! That other bards may see,
As lovely visions by thy side
As now, fair river, come to me.”
‘Lines written near Richmond, upon the Thames, at Evening’
—William Wordsworth, 1798
What would St Margarets, Twickenham and Richmond be without the seductive curves of the River Thames to shape them? Water carrier, flowing transport, drain and floodplain, bringer of food and goods, home to birds, beasts and fishes, playground to sailors and anglers, the bearded god Old Father Thames is rightly worshipped by Londoners as the patriarch of the settlements on its fertile banks. It is the artery that feeds London’s heart, with millennia of what politician John Burns in 1929 called “liquid history” in its wake. To Londoners, it is simply ‘The River’.
Starting as a trickle in the Cotswolds, at Thames Head, near Cirencester, the Thames travels for 215 miles, east into the heart of London, on through the North Kent Marshes, and out into the North Sea. The Thames Path follows it for 184 miles from its source to Greenwich, the longest riverside walk in Europe. Downriver from Teddington Lock, the river is tidal as it passes Twickenham, part of the Tideway that has a rise and fall of 7 metres. Its majestic sweep through Richmond-upon-Thames inspired Wordsworth and beguiled Turner.
The river has ebbed and flowed over the centuries. Old maps show many more islands or ‘aits’, than today, in what was a wider, shallower, slower river. There was a settlement at Twickenham, alongside Twickenham Ait (today’s Eel Pie Island), in 704. By medieval times, the river was dotted with water-mills, eel traps, and fish-weirs constructed from stakes and brushwood. There also began a dirtier tale from the riverside. In 1357, Edward III wrote: “Dung and other filth had accumulated in diverse places upon the banks of the river with… fumes and other abominable stenches.”
Before turnpike roads and railways, the river was the main highway. Stood on the Richmond riverbank in the sixteenth century, you might have seen Elizabeth I (1533–1603) making her royal “progresses” along the river between palaces at Greenwich, Westminster, Whitehall, Richmond and Hampton Court, each with its own wharf. Records show the relevant expenses: “To Louis Walter, bargeman, for conveying the Queen’s Grace from Richmond to Greenwich… in her barge with twenty-one rowers, every rower taking eightpence, fourteen shillings.” Over the centuries, those who wished to ride the river were frequently hampered by the weirs of those who wished to harvest its trout, salmon and eels. The river slowed to a dawdle with the completion of Old London Bridge (1209), and froze over completely in 1607 when the first Frost Fair was held. A tented city rose up on the ice, people played ice-bowling, and an elephant was walked across the river! In less severe times, commercial barges carried timber, wool, food and livestock from Oxford past Richmond to London. They used sails, but had to be hauled upstream by men and horses. Moses Glover’s 1635 map depicts two horses pulling a barge past Twickenham Ait. In Peter Tillemans’ ‘A Prospect of Twickenham’ (1725), which you can view in Orleans House, a barge is hauled by five labourers known as ‘scufflehunters’. It was not until the Thames Commissioners were established in 1770 that work began removing obstructions and adding locks, creating a deeper, more clearly defined river. The towpath at Richmond was established in 1789.
Tempted by the views that so inspired Wordsworth, the great and the good built their houses along Twickenham’s riverside. Twickenham Park (1609), Cambridge House (1610), York House (1635), Orleans House (1710), Marble Hill (1728) and Richmond House (1816) combined to present “an idea of luxury which the utmost labours of the pen would vainly endeavour to impart.” Word of the splendid views also travelled abroad. In 1737, William Byrd, gazing along the James River in Virginia, USA, and recalling similar vistas along the Thames, gave his new city the name of Richmond.
Through the nineteenth century, the Thames glided beneath a coat of filth into the industrial world. In 1811, the lock was built at Teddington, to improve navigability upstream. The new London Bridge of 1825, with fewer piers, increased the flow of water, and the building of the new Thames embankments between 1864 and 1870 created today’s narrower, deeper, faster river. But pollution from industrial waste and raw sewage from cesspits, flush toilets and drains overwhelmed the river and all but obliterated fish stocks. In the hot summer of 1858, London’s infamous Great Stink saw Parliament suspended because its members could bear the stench no longer. Old Father Thames began to clean up his act thereafter with Joseph Bazalgette’s massive sewage system. Twickenham’s drainage was complete in 1882, and in 1894 Richmond Lock and Footbridge was unveiled.
Today, a far cleaner Thames is home to abundant wildlife, from mute swans to kingfishers, from salmon to seahorses. Dolphins and porpoises progress up the river, and gray seals have been seen as far as Richmond. Setting out from 20 The Barons, you can trace the ‘S’ of the Thames as it winds around St Margarets, from Eel Pie Island up to the south-west corner of Kew Gardens, following the Thames Path on either side of the river. You might prefer to catch the historic Hammertons Ferry from below Orleans House across to Ham House. Or you can cross the river at Richmond Bridge and stroll to Richmond Landing Stage, where a river bus will carry you along the Thames upriver to Hampton Court, or all the way down to Westminster. What better way to gently glide!
The story of St Margarets and the Beatles can be told in three movies with St Margarets at their heart. Filmed at Twickenham Studios, a minute’s walk from 20 The Barons, they also featured location shoots that stamped the area with the Fab Four’s historic boot-prints.
In March 1964, the fresh-faced, mop-topped Beatles returned from a triumphant US tour, with ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ topping the charts, to film A Hard Day’s Night in Twickenham Studios. With Beatlemania in full, screaming frenzy, fans stormed the gates, broke into the studios and hid out in workshops. On 10 March, Ringo filmed at The Turk’s Head pub, one of our best local pubs which you can visit on the corner of Winchester Road and St Margarets Grove. In the scene, he buys a limp sandwich, spills his change on a game of shove ha’penny, breaks a glass and throws some darts that nearly skewer the pub parrot before being ejected. For the ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ section, all four Beatles ran around Thornbury Playing Fields in nearby Isleworth. A Hard Day’s Night is a fictionalized portrayal of a day in the life (two, in fact) of a Beatle, and captures their youthful exuberance and sardonic humour, as well as satirising the constricting noose of fame. Filmed by Richard Lester in black and white with handheld cameras and machine-gun editing, it was a pioneering movie and remains one of the great music films.
Four very different young men had a ticket to ride back to Twickenham a year later. So tired from their tour schedule, and often stoned, they said that making Help! with Richard Lester was like being extras in their own film. On 14 April 1965, they completed filming at Ailsa Avenue, west of St Margaret’s Road. The Beatles arrive in a black Rolls-Royce and enter four terraced houses, numbers 5, 7, 9 and 11, through separate blue, red, white and green front doors. In the movie, these converge on a single interior, a fictional Beatles mansion that was in fact a set at Twickenham Studios, where a grass carpet is cut by a gardener using toy false teeth and Paul plays a Wurlitzer organ. Fans gathered at The Barons once more to witness such seminal Sixties scenes as Paul arriving in his Mini with girlfriend Jane Asher. The Goon-inspired plot, in which a religious cult pursues Ringo in a madcap chase, offered the Beatles greater acting opportunities, while the kaleidoscopic imagery set the template for the Monkees’ television shows and led to Lester being dubbed the father of the pop video.
The long and winding road wound back to Twickenham Studios on 2 January 1969, when internal tensions were pulling the band apart. The Beatles had dominated the second half of the decade, leaving Sergeant Pepper, the Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album in their considerable wake. But the filming at Twickenham of intensive rehearsal sessions for a proposed one-hour television special pointed an unhelpful lens at the band’s internal discord. George walked out and eventually called a halt to the rehearsals, later referring to the “winter of discontent in Twickenham”. In April 1970 the band broke up, but locals still remember the Beatles at The Barons as if it were yesterday, and Let It Be (1970) presents the best of the sessions and a fascinating glimpse into the world of the Beatles at Twickenham Film Studios.
Residents at 20 The Barons are fortunate enough to find themselves at the centre of St Margarets Village, an area that combines the best of two worlds. It has a mainline railway station only 9 miles west of central London, yet retains the local atmosphere, community spirit, independent shops, and friendly pubs and restaurants of an old-fashioned village. Here we take a tour of St Margarets Village.
Tucked into an eastward curve of the Thames as the river progresses south to north, St Margarets is a parish of the London Borough of Richmond Upon Thames. Developed around the railway station that opened in 1876, its tree-lined streets see Victorian and Edwardian villas mingle with houses built between the wars. Covering a pear-shaped area, it is bordered to the north and west by the River Crane, to the east by the River Thames, and to the south by the Richmond Road, beyond which spread the riverside parks and stately homes of East Twickenham. Isleworth lies to the north, Twickenham to the south and west, Richmond across the river to the east.
Our tour begins with a short stroll from the train station to The Barons, where you will find Twickenham (TW1) Film Studios. The beating heart of St Margarets, and still thriving today, the studios date back a century to 1913 when they were built on the site of an old ice-rink. They played host to The Beatles for A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Help! (1965) and Let It Be (1970), and the Fab Four filmed several scenes around local streets such as Ailsa Road. The studios’ many film credits include Zulu (1963), Alfie (1965), The Eagle Has Landed (1976) and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981).
A few strides from TW1 Studios you can enjoy a pint at St Margarets Pub and Tavern, a spacious and welcoming gastro-pub that stands at the junction of two prime shopping streets. Pointing south is Crown Road, whose delights include Vintage & Velvet, a treasure trove of vintage homeware; The Secret Wardrobe, a designer dress agency; Birkett Bespoke Tailoring; the exclusive styling of Dolly Rock; GAIA Wholefoods’ organic produce; the fresh bread and patisserie of La Boulangerie; and Zoran’s Delicatessan, with its legendary breakfasts and charming host. At the end of Crown Road is the newly re-vamped Crown pub serving fabulous pub food and wonderful evening meals in its beautiful restaurant. Pointing east to Richmond Bridge (and Richmond’s many wonders beyond), St Margaret’s Road is host to excellent independent shops including Armstrong’s Family Butchers and Streets Florist & Greengrocers, plus the local Post Office without which no proper village would be complete.
Tear yourself away from the shops in search of some history by heading south off St Margaret’s Road, and down Sandycombe Road to spot the blue plaque on Sandycombe Lodge. This was built in 1814 for J.M.W Turner, who painted many of the panoramic views that make any walking tour of St Margarets a delight. Turn left at the end of Sandycombe Road and head along Richmond Road to reach St Stephen’s Church, built in 1875 beside St Stephen’s Passage on a piece of land whose triangular shape explains why the church faces north rather than the traditional east. Look for fine Victorian stained-glass, and stone columns carved in the shapes of flowers from the garden of Henry Little, the first People’s Churchwarden.
South of Richmond Road, which forms the notional border between St Margarets and East Twickenham, glorious historic parks and houses adorn the north bank of the Thames. Walk south from St Stephen’s to Marble Hill House, a Georgian villa set within the 66 acres of Marble Hill Park. The magnificently proportioned house was built in 1729 in the Palladian style for Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, mistress of King George II, and friend to Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, John Gay and Horace Walpole.
Continue to the south-west corner of Marble Hill Park to discover Orleans House and Gardens. This Palladian villa was built in 1710 for the politician James Johnston, and named after the visiting Duke of Orleans. Much of the house was demolished in 1926, but the outbuildings and baroque Octagon Room survived and now house the excellent Orleans House Gallery and Stables Gallery. From the woodland gardens, you have the option of catching a ferry across the Thames to the National Trust’s Ham House, a seventeenth-century mansion built in 1610 and said to be haunted by the ghosts of the Duchess of Lauderdale and her dog. You could alternatively continue west to nearby and beautiful York House Gardens and the unique community at Eel Pie Island.
To continue our tour, follow a two-mile riverside walk east across Marble Hill Park; through Meadowbank and past Glover’s Island; through Cambridge Park Gardens and Cambridge Gardens; up to Richmond Bridge, built in 1777 on the site of the old ferry; up Ducks Walk to Twickenham Road bridge, and on up Ranelagh Drive, all the while enjoying the views across the Thames. You will eventually reach Richmond Lock and Footbridge. It was near here that Sir Archibald Kennedy, Lord Cassilis, 1st Marquis of Ailsa, built a new house in 1830 on the site of Lacey House. He called it St Margaret’s House, after the patron saint of Scotland, which is the source of the parish’s name. The house was itself demolished and replaced in 1851 by Kilmorey House, the residence of Jack Needham, 2nd Earl of Kilmorey, which itself no longer stands.
Ranelagh Drive joins St Margaret’s Drive which you can follow to the junction with St Margaret’s Road to enjoy a well-earned drink at the Ailsa Tavern. Just north of here on St Margaret’s Road is a hidden gem. An old, black door leads through a brick wall to Kilmorey Mausoleum. This grade II building, in the style of an Egyptian shrine, was built in 1854 by Jack Needham, 2nd Earl of Kilmorey, for his mistress Priscilla Hoste. It was once connected to nearby Gordon House by a secret tunnel, through which the Earl’s servant pushed him on a trolley, dressed in white and laying in the coffin that in 1880 became his eternal resting place. Well, St Margarets has never been short of eccentric local colour!
Head south along St Margaret’s Road to return to the railway station, and consider the street names—Kilmorey Gardens, Gordon Avenue, Ailsa Avenue—that commemorate the 19th-century landowners whose houses and estates grew into the unique community that is today’s St Margarets.
For further local information, check out the St Margarets Community Website:
On 20 December, 20 The Barons celebrated its first birthday. So, how did The Baron and St Margaret mark the occasion? Well, they find nothing more festive than curling up with a glass of Champagne in front of the classic Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life, which shares our birthday, having premiered in New York on 20 December 1946. It is also showing at the Richmond Curzon on Water Lane on the 22nd, 24th and 26th December, a mere 20-minute walk across the Richmond Bridge. It’s A Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), who contemplates jumping from a snowy bridge on Christmas Eve but is redeemed by his Guardian Angel, Second Class, Clarence Odbody, who shows him what life would have been like had he never existed. The screenplay was based on a 1943 short story ‘The Greatest Gift’ by Philip Van Doren Stern. Reminiscent of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, It's A Wonderful Life first appeared as a Christmas card sent to 200 friends by the author after he had failed to find a publisher. Directed by Frank Capra, the film’s satirical take on the greed of bankers (which attracted the interest of the FBI in 1947) makes it very topical viewing for today’s London. It also features Capra’s trademark raven (the bird appears in all his movies after You Can’t Take It With You (1938)), a reminder of one of the local stories of 2013: the killing by foxes of two ravens at the Tower of London, where a 350-year-old myth prophecies the fall of the monarchy should the famous birds disappear. If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, you might note that It’s A Wonderful Life’s only Oscar was for Technical Achievement. This was won for the invention of a new form of artificial snow made from soap flakes, sugar and water. Previous films had used cornflakes painted white, which were so crunchy underfoot that the dialogue had to be dubbed! We’d like to thank all those guests and contributors who made our first year such a wonderful one, and recall the inscription written to George by his guardian angel: “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”