Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Up the Watling

Watling Avenue, Burnt Oak
If you should happen to travel up the Northern Line, up the Edgware branch past Golders Green, you'll come to Burnt Oak, which is where I was born and grew up, where my mother grew up, where my family still lives. This is the 'skyline' of Watling Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Burnt Oak, weather-beaten chimneys crawling up the hill to Burnt Oak Broadway (aka Edgware Road, part of the ancient Roman highway called Watling Street). Burnt Oak it must be said is not a particularly charming part of London. It has changed a great deal over the years, nowhere more so than the shops on Watling Avenue, but these chimney-tops remain epic and unaltered, like a row of ancient statues. There is the odd shop here and there, however, that has survived the changes over the years as if unnoticed by the world - Hassan's clothing, Anthony's Drug Store, Pennywise, and of course my favourite shop Vipins, still run by the same Indian couple of who still remember me as a small red-headed eight-year-old buying felt-tip pens and glitter-glue. I sat in a quiet spot outside the Ming takeaway (another remnant from my youth) and sketched the chimneys, while the daytime passers-by passed me by, sometimes smiling, sometimes talking to me about what it was like round there when they were young. Burnt Oak might not be charming, but there is still charm to be found.



  1. These are the post and sketches that I enjoy most of all. Thank you for sharing! I'm not sure if I mentioned previously but I told my brother, whom still lives in Burnt Oak, about your blog and about your 'Vipins' post. He was chatting to the lady in Vipins about it and she promptly looked you up on her computer to find your sketch of her shop. She was suitably impressed, as was my brother. It gives a comforting feeling of nostalgia to me.

  2. Hello Pete - Nearly a year since you posted your excellent Burnt Oak drawing, but I've just come across it as a result of checking whether Hassan (the shop that provided most of the white shirts and grey trousers for school in the late sixties) still existed. Since it indeed DOES, I've visited the shop which STILL has its original shopfront, has ALMOST the same stock and "SALE - EVERYTHING MUST GO" signage. Do you, or does anyone, remember the LONDON LENDING LIBRARY? Opposite the 'official' library in Watling Avenue, this supplied the cheap paperbacks (Mills & Boons, war novels etc) that the 'real' library was too posh for and was a magnet for me as there was always a box of old comics, for which you were charged pence to BORROW. The bloke in there got wise to young collectors after a bit, with a "None back, none AHT!". How the shops have changed in Burnt Oak and most noticeably the shopfronts - nearly all obscured by pavement-filling extrusions. As you illustrate, the village-like skyline still survives, albeit the worse for wear. Incidentally, I replenished my socks supply at Hassan and had a good chat with Mr proprietor...


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