Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Gunnersbury Park

1st September 2019

Gunnersbury Park lies in the London Borough of Hounslow, only about 5 miles from where I was born but I'd never been there (at least not as far as I remember) so it was a good place for a random Sunday afternoon excursion.

The house and grounds were purchased for the nation from the Rothschild family, it was opened to the public by Neville Chamberlain, then Minister of Health and later appeaser of right-wing dictators, on 21 May 1926. The park is currently jointly managed by Hounslow and Ealing borough councils.

I'd parked at Osterley and got the tube to Acton Town, having intended to go into town afterwards but in the event didn't do so. From Acton Town it's only a 10 minute walk to the museum and cafe at the mansion in Gunnersbury Park.

The museum is located in the larger of the two mansions, which were built at the beginning of the 19th century, replacing the original 1663 Paladian mansion, Gunnersbury House. The large mansion becoming Gunnersbury Park and the small mansion Gunnersbury House.
In 1835, the merchant and financier Nathan Mayer Rothschild purchased the Large Mansion and park shortly before he died. The Small Mansion and its grounds were acquired in 1889 by the Rothschilds, reuniting the original estate. The Rothschilds extended Gunnersbury further, acquiring most of the Old Brentford Common Field to the west, as well as land to the north.

Downstairs the drawing room, long gallery, and dining room have been restored to how they were when the Rothschilds lived, schemed, and entertained in them whilst finacing the British gonvernment's wars and the expansion of the British Empire, and investing in  various industries across the globe. 

The historic kitchen was closed while I was there although the Butler's Pantry was open for a comparison of conditions 'above' and 'below' stairs. 

Other publicly accessible rooms in the house are used as galleries to showcase an extensive and varied collection of objects connected to the local area and which I found very interesting, also being connected to the local area. (Despite having moved away when I was 8 if asked where I'm from I still say "Heston originally".)

I particularly liked the second floor Industry Gallery with it's collection of goods and artefacts from the many companies that established factories in the 1920s and 1930s along the "Golden Mile" of the Great West Road to the north of Brentford.

There are also galleries devoted to People and Place, Home, Toys and Games, and Entertainment. All linked to the local area - the Leisure Gallery includes a video installation covering the contribution of Ealing Studios and other nearby locations to Film and TV and includes some films I never knew had been partially made "round here".

In the middle of the house is the double-height Skylight Gallery which contains part of the Lucozade sign that I remember used to be on the side of the factory and visible from the M4 motorway. The sign was an example of “kinetic sculpture” in advertising, it lit up to make the Lucozade appear to pour from the bottle to the glass. It was installed in 1954, on the side of what was then known as the “Lucozade Annex” which was knocked down in 2004. The sign originally said "Lucozade aids recovery" but this was changed in the 1980s to "Lucozade replaces lost energy" as the powers that be decided it might be offensive to sufferers from HIV.

Back outside I decided to head south across the 200 acre park but that plan was thwarted as much of the centre is cordoned off by barriers where a huge new outdoor sports facility is being built. So instead I had to make my way around the edge of the park, passing the small mansion (also behind barriers) and Priness Amelia's Bath House. Princess Amelia was the favourite daughter of George II. Plans for her to marry Frederic (who later became Frederic the Great of Prussia) had come to nothing, and when her father died, Amelia lost her apartments at St James's Palace. She took a house in Hanover Square and used Gunnersbury House (the original one not the present one) and estate as a country summer retreat. It was she who landscaped the park in the 18th-century landscape style and made Gunnersbury famous with her parties and political intrigues.

I walked down to the southern tip of the park past the Potomac Lake (private fishing and almost unseen behind its spiked railings and surrounding trees) and exited into Lionel Road North, passed under the M4 on its concrete flyover and continued down to the River Thames at Kew Bridge where I got refreshments and then followed the north bank along the Thames Path to Brentford. But that's (possibly) a subject for a separate blog entry.

Until then here's a Flickr Album of photographs from Gunnersbury Park.

Gunnersbury Park

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