Sunday, 8 October 2017

Follies and Cake

I've been inside quite a bit the last few weeks but have forced myself out of the house now and then,  and it's been well worth it.   My favourite trip was just across London to the suburb of Acton. 

If you know London, you might find the idea of going to Acton a little surprising.... and so did I, at first.   I was actually heading for a bookbinders to re-cover this disintegrating 1870s volume of the "Illustrated London News"  

Then T noticed that very near the bindery, at Acton Town, was Gunnersbury Park.  

Gunnersbury has never been on my radar.  It consists of a pair of large mansions standing in grounds of about 200 acres,  right next to a main route into London.  Although its surroundings are now heavily built up, it was once a country retreat for Princess Amelia, daughter of King George II. When suburbs began encroaching, its owner, one of the immensely rich de Rothschild family, sold the park and its two mansions for a very low price to the local council. 

As is often the way with local councils, they didn't have the money to look after it that well.  They let the houses and ancillary buildings deteriorate, although they kept up the park, which was famed for its cedar trees. Sadly, they also neglected the once-famous gardens, the stables, orangery, numerous follies, lakes and a Japanese garden.  

 To cut a long story short, a dedicated group has secured a National Heritage Lottery Fund grant and one of the park's mansions is now being restored, together with some of the follies and garden buildings.  The mansion will once more be a museum, and will also be used for weddings, events and children's projects.  Work isn't finished, but some parts are already looking good.  Here's one of the lakes, complete with temple from 1760.

A lovely children's centre is taking shape in some woodland.  (I'd have loved this boat, one of several bits of child sized imaginative play equipment.) 

This is the "big mansion" - looks to be coming along well. 

The newly restored early 19th century Gothic gatehouse caught my eye.  I don't like the colour but I suppose it's authentic. 

But although this is all very nice, I fell in love with the park itself, and particularly the unrestored follies.  Follies are basically buildings with no purpose (or a different purpose from what they seem to have) and their main role is to look interesting. 

So, for instance, one folly is intended to be part of a ruined castle gatehouse. Not a real gatehouse that got ruined, but a ruin right from the start.   (Question, how do you restore something that was built as a ruin?)  Look closely, and you'll see carved lintel supports above the door, but there never were any lintels. 

I think the stable below (complete with chimney) is supposed to seem as if it's built onto the roofless ruins of a Gothic church aisle. Or at least, the big stone lump in the foreground is part of an arch, and so is the clump of ivy to the right. 

The stables are also ruined, although they were not intended to be.  In fact, this coat of arms shows how grand they were; they're beautiful buildings in the classical style. At present the temporary roof covering is stopping the rain getting in. I hope they too will be restored in time. Perfect for a teashop and gift shop.

As for this ruin - a folly of a ruined ticket office, perhaps? Nothing so glamorous. It is a ruined ladies washroom, obviously abandoned for decades.  Despite that, it's beautifully situated amidst huge trees and what I think was once the Japanese garden.

The biggest challenge remains the Small Mansion, potentially a most attractive place built in Regency Gothick style. It faces huge lawns but in its present dilapidated state, it looks a bit creepy. Its main entrance is on the north side, shaded by huge trees, and those lamps burned a weird flickering orange.   

Beyond the fake castle walls below is a well tended community garden

It grows flowers, fruit and vegetables.

I picked this colourful miniature pepper up from where it had dropped. 

The garden also shows sign of some projects aiming to display archaic ways of life. Possibly someone is running courses on, for instance building your own wattle and daub Ancient Briton hut, complete with pigsty? The roofing consists of boughs from some of the magnificent cedars that have been a feature of the park since the 18th century. 

Here's an ancient oven.

And.... a World War 2 air raid shelter! 

Yes, it's strange indeed in the far corners of Gunnersbury Park. 

I was astonished at how large and lovely the park itself was. At this time of year the colours are so varied, with flashes of intense colour. 

The planting is very interesting, with lots of different types of tree.  Here's a secret grove of silver birches....

This bench, carved with leaves,  stands by a grove with many sweet chestnuts.

These are not the familiar horse-chestnuts or "conkers" - do they have conkers in other countries than Britain?  If you have the patience, you can gather the little sweet-chestnuts up and boil or roast them.  I love the look of them, so bright and new in their hedgehog-like jackets.  

Can you spot the fine cedar tree spreading on the right side of the picture below? The cedars will look wonderful in winter, when their evergreen shapes stand out against the frost. I plan to go back one frosty winter day.  It'll take ages for the binders to do the book, so maybe then.   

If you want to read a bit more about Gunnersbury park and gardens, take a look here. 

Finally, have some cake. Not the world's best photo and the cake's already been started, so it doesn't look as immaculate as "Bake Off" -  but I loved the cut-out paper decorations. 

We were attending a Macmillan Coffee Morning which took place outdoors last week. 
After helping organise the picnic for the Jo Cox Great Get Together last summer I like events like this. K and I have just been invited to a get-together from the Jo Cox Foundation to about what to do next year. and I'm looking forward to it.   


  1. A lovely place with a lot of potential, i'm glad it is being tended now.

  2. Jenny I was always told that Horse Chestnuts or 'conkers' were inedible at best and poisonous at worst.

  3. You have jogged my conscience. I haven't baked anything for a Macmillan Coffee Morning for a very long time. Note to self for next year.

  4. Never heard of Gunnersbury before, enjoyed your photos. Must be nice to be a Rothschild.

  5. I remember Gunnersbury Park...we used to play cricket fixtures there back in the dark lovely to see that it is all being restored!

  6. How lovely! Every bit from follies to cake! It's so hard to imagine a time when such a sense of humor was employed in architecture. And the gardens! Thank you for these as once again, you have opened a window into a completely different time and place.

  7. That looks lovely! My aunt and uncle live in Barnes which is as close as I've been to Acton.

  8. What a fascinating place! To see it all refurbished and brought back to its glory would be remarkable! Yes, I can see weddings there and tours and a museum, for sure. :)

  9. How fabulous to secure a National Trust grant to help restore such a wonderful property. It truly is mind boggling. I've seen one very small example of such a park for children, but this truly deserves as much restoration as possible.

  10. Love every second of this post.
    Sorry to read about the ruins of the homes but adore the park. Outdoors is good for the soul.
    All your photos are wonderful but the one that tugged at my heart were the sweet little decorations on the cake. Especially the gud dug !

    cheers, parsnip

  11. What a fascinating place - - and it's nice to know that a restoration is in progress. The grounds and gardens are wonderful - it would indeed be a lovely place for a wedding.
    I like all of your photos, but that carved bench with the leaves is my favorite. I absolutely love it!

  12. I went to Gunnersbury Park once, many years ago. It's very impressive. Glad to know some of the old buildings are being restored instead of being left to rot. I like the gatehouse. Of course there are a lot of gatehouses around Belfast, sometimes all that's left of some grand house and estate, now just someone's modest home. I like the bench with its carved leaves too. Reminded me of that wooden throne at Winkworth.

  13. Beautiful park, and I'm glad someone has decided to take care of the buildings. The cakes look delicious - and now I want cake!

  14. Hi Jenny, that was a very interesting foray you made. Those chestnuts are lovely, I can see why you like the look of them and love your description of hedgehog jackets. I believe "conkers" is strictly British, or at least that's what I've read. Chestnuts are rarely seen here in my little corner of the States but I've seen one or two gigantic trees in the past - they really are magnificent.

  15. To answer your question about conkers in other countries: My hometown of Ludwigsburg was/is famous for its chestnut-tree-lined streets. Our parks and gardens are full of them, and the townspeople carry the nickname "Kastanienbeutel" (chestnut bags), because we have so many.

    As for the park, the follies and the mansions - exactly my kind of place! I would love to explore every little bit of them, and I find the small mansion most intriguing.

  16. It will be wonderful to watch the restoration - I hope you follow this up, so we can all see how things develop.

  17. You do find interesting places!
    Follies are great, especially those meaningless ones built just to keep men employed during hard times. Lots of those about.
    The park is interesting but If I was that rich I could not justify such dwellings. A smaller place and make use of the cash would be better.
    Nice to see them making a go of the buildings however.

  18. Wonderful photos and history. The boat is the best.

  19. What an interesting place. Glad there was money to restore as it would be a real loss to both the community and history. We move too fast these days to pause as you do on the other side of the pond.

  20. What an interesting place, and it is good to know it is being restored. The temple on the lake is so pretty, but then so are the follies, which are amusing as well. I never realised some things are made to look like ruins right from the start. The ladies washroom seems to be doing a fine job by itself, turning into a creepy relic! I have never seen or tasted a horse-chestnut, to my disappointment. Perhaps I don't know where to look....

  21. Hi Jenny, you certainly discovered another interesting place to see. I love the idea of those follies. The gardens are beautiful and how cool is that carved seat!

  22. There is so much to love in this post I don't know where to begin! The fabulous carved bench? I'd love that in my yard! And a real Anderson shelter! So cool! I love all the ruins (the fake ones) and am confident that the genuine ones will soon be restored to their glory. I always hurt a little inside to see something so lovely fall into such disrepair. I'm so very grateful that the organization has taken it on.

    The cake decorations are lovely and now I wish I'd done something like that for Kevin's cake yesterday. Ah, well... it didn't last long!

  23. Interesting, what lies behind a name on the tube map! It's amazing what you can find wandering round London. I used to enjoy just walking around when I lived there - and would do it a lot more now if I still did,

  24. Your posts are always interesting, Jenny...and your photos stunning. :)

  25. I was wondering what was cooked in the ancient oven. Archaeology is always full of imagination and affection.

  26. Hello Jenny, I am so glad I found your interesting blog. I just subscribed and am looking forward to future posts.

  27. I loved this park and garden, Jenny! The carved bench, ruins, follies, Mansion - all buildings are interesting. Your photos show the park's restoration is done well, thanks to a group of National Heritage Lottery Fund.
    I always love reading your excellent texts, it helps me improve my English.
    Have a nice weekend!

  28. I have missed your descriptive posts and will probably miss a few more since the pain hasn't gone yet.Thank you so much for your lovely messages.

  29. Goodness, what a magical place. Things built as ruins and things going to ruin. Then again things being restored. Makes my head spin. What an adventure.

  30. Lovely pictures.

    I do like a folly ... and a gatehouse, castle, cake, garden...

  31. I must get back to London. My uncle nd aunt live on the other side of the Thames and a little to the east of Gunnersbury Park.

  32. When I was a child we used to go to Gunnersbury Park quite often. It was a favourite of my father's and I remember the grounds being beautiful. It looks as if they are still. I like the old classic building too. Peeking through the trees, they look so attractive. Thanks for showing them to me again, Jenny! Jo Cox was a neighbour to some of my friends on the river. I wonder if you will meet them too.


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