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Protecting Betjeman's Metroland put on Harrow's agenda

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The area was an early development last century

By Claire Timms
BBC London

A suburban community immortalised by Poet Laureate John Betjeman could be protected to recognise the role Metroland has played in shaping modern London.

Harrow Council is recommending 112 homes in Pinner are brought under an already existing conservation area to protect its "mundaneness", so cherished by Betjeman in three poems.

Harrow-on-the-Hill, Middlesex and The Metropolitan Railway, as well as his 1973 documentary Metro-land, romanticised and celebrated the area.

The Metropolitan Railway was the first underground line in 1863 but the name "Metro-land" was created much later in 1915 by the company's publicity department.

Initially the extension line ran from Baker Street to Swiss Cottage, later reaching Harrow, Rickmansworth, Chesham and eventually Aylesbury in 1892.

Over subsequent years lines extended further into Buckinghamshire plus additional stops at Watford, Uxbridge and Stanmore. The Metropolitan line was the true gateway to the countryside.

Poster promoting Metroland
Courtesy of London Transport Museum

"Metro-Land" became the name of the annual publication of the railway's booklet which described the area the railways served through north west London, into Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

The company began to encourage leisure travel and extolled the virtues of commuting and living further out of the city.

Before the end of the First World War George R. Sims had used the term in verse:

"I know a land where the wild flowers grow

Near, near at hand if by train you go,

Metroland, Metroland"

By the 1920s, the word Metroland was common parlance. In Evelyn Waugh's novel, Decline and Fall (1928), the Hon Margot Beste-Chetwynd took Viscount Metroland as her second husband.

In 1903 the Metropolitan developed a housing estate at Cecil Park in Pinner, the first of many over the next 30 years.

Overseen by the Metropolitan's general manager, Robert H Selbie, the railway formed its own Country Estates Company in 1919. The slogan was "Live in Metro-land".

Hillingdon station was purpose built to accommodate the railway company's suburban onslaught and Wembley Park, Croxley Green and Stanmore sprouted between 1925 and 1932 and designed to blend in with their surroundings.

Sir John Betjeman romanticised Metroland
Sir John Betjeman romanticised Metroland

In the 1930s mortgages were becoming more available and appealing to the middle classes. In the first three decades of the 20th century the population of Harrow Weald rose from 1,500 to 11,000 and that of Pinner from 3,000 to 23,000.

However, not everyone has been seduced by Metro-land. A. N. Wilson commented that, although semi-detached dwellings of the kind built in the inner Metro-land suburbs in the 1930s "aped larger houses, the stockbroker Tudorbethan of Edwardian Surrey and Middlesex", they were in fact "pokey".

By the mid-1940s the lure of suburbia was on the wane, however, over subsequent decades Metroland has been immortalised in novels (Metroland by Julian Barnes and Tropic of Ruislip by Leslie Thomas) and on television. The Good Life, although set in Surrey, was actually filmed in Northwood.

The London Transport Museum

You can discover more about Metro-land heritage at London Transport Museum in Covent Garden where posters, film footage and ephemera relating to London's suburbs are on display in the Museum's Metro-land gallery.

On 15 October, the Museum will launch a new temporary exhibition, Suburbia, which will explore how public transport has shaped the suburbs over the last 100 years.

The exhibition will celebrate the suburban lifestyle and look at defining influences such as fashion, West End shopping, interior design, pastimes, hobbies, music, television and film. More Metro-land posters can be seen at www.ltmuseum.co.uk .




SEE ALSO
'Dreary' suburb may get protected
15 Jul 09 |  London
London's recovery lies in suburbs
16 Mar 09 |  London

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