You will find Barnes in the far west of London, nestled into one of the quieter curves of the River Thames. On arrival at the station, it doesn’t feel like London at all, more like a small rural town in the home counties. On exiting the station you’ll find it to be wholly rural, with forest in all directions – all rather confusing as there is no obvious indication of how to get ‘into town’.
I eventually oriented myself and made my way toward Barnes Common where forest soon became town. It was a bit of a walk, so as I was very early for my meeting, I took the opportunity to get a feel for the place.
Forty odd years ago the average middle class couple of say, a mid ranking civil servant or a teacher could easily afford a pretty substantial house in Barnes. Just as in Hackney’s East end, a decent terraced house could be bought by a postal worker, and his secretary wife.
Not so today. To buy a house in Barnes today you have to be earning some very serious money indeed for even a modest property. And as I walk into Barnes, the high Estate Agent coefficient confirms this.
I can certainly see its attraction. In the centre of Barnes I came across the spacious Barnes Green, containing a well stocked pond, and the OSO Arts Centre. There is a pretty decent pub which leads to Barnes High Street which contains some pleasant shops and the aforementioned Estate Agents. In just a few yards the street opens out to the River Thames offering fine views to the wooded bank opposite. Surely this can’t really be ‘London’? Here we find more pubs, and galleries, though no estate agents.
After more wandering about I visited The Coach and Horses on Barnes High Street for lunch. Thankfully The Coach and Horses still knows it’s a pub. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else which is often a worry in affluent areas. It has friendly staff and a well maintained dark wood interior and proper upholstered pub benches with comfy chairs, all set off nicely by the original leaded windows.
At the bar there are cask conditioned real ales and an impressive pub food menu. Anyone that sells Pork belly cubes has my vote although I eventually settled for a Classic hamburger with Curly Fries. Whilst waiting, I thought I would learn a bit more about Barnes.
A bit about Barnes
I have to confess now that I thought Barnes would be bit prosaic and therefore I would struggle to write about it. I often initially think that about the places I visit, and I am always wrong.
What surprised me the most about Barnes is its links with the music industry. Not only did Gustav Holst and George Frederick Handel live in Barnes, but so did Freddy Mercury(Queen), Roger Taylor(Queen), Brian May (Queen), Yes, the whole of Queen lived in Barnes aside from John Deacon. You can add to that Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), Pete Tong the DJ and Welsh songbird, Duffy, of all people.
Olympic Studios (1966-2008) Now a cinema.
arnes was also home to one of the world’s leading recording studios at 117 Church Road. There was a vast array of albums, film scores and singles recorded in this quiet backwater of London. The list includes:
- The Rolling Stones recording six of their albums there between 1966 and 1972
- The Beatles recoded “All You Need Is Love”, and “Baby, You’re a Rich Man”.
- Jimi Hendrix recorded ‘Are You Experienced’ , ‘Axis: Bold as Love’ and ‘Electric Ladyland’
- The Who recorded ‘ Who’s Next’ and ‘Who Are You’.
- Led Zeppelin, who recorded tracks there for all of their studio albums up to and including ‘Physical Graffiti’
- Queen (local lads) recoded ‘A Night at the Opera’
- David Bowie
- The Kaiser Chiefs
- The Arctic Monkeys
Other recording artists include:
- The Faces
- Blind Faith
- The Seekers
- The Moody Blues
- Deep Purple,
- Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’.
On a sadder note the 70’s Glam Rock artist Marc Bolan died in a car crash in Barnes. He hit a tree quite near the railway station. There is now a memorial at the site which devotees visit. The tree itself appears to be no longer there, slowly pilfered by pilgrims after relics, no doubt. It has been replaced by a large beer barrel of all things. How odd…
The London Wetlands Centre
Opened in 2002 and covering almost 30 Hectares you will find The London Wetlands Centre. It was built on top of four disused Victorian reservoirs and was the brain child of Peter Scott.
Peter Scott was a fascinating character, and to me achieved far more than his more well known father, the Arctic explorer Captain Scott whose, let’s face it, most famous act was to come second in the race to the South Pole and then freeze to death.
That said, in Captain Scott’s final diary entry he wrote to Peters mother saying “make the boy interested in natural history”. Peter took this to heart and became a notable wild life painter (when he wasn’t winning Olympic medals for sailing) and went on to present the BBC’s first wildlife programs. He was also the founding chair of The World Wildlife Fund, even designing their famous Panda logo.
Peter Scott was one of the first truly modern conservationists, knowing how to use modern media to inspire families and especially young people to value wildlife conservation and preservation.
The London Wetlands Centre is vast and contains many rare species both wild and captive all just a short journey from Hammersmith. It’s well worth a day out.
Painting the house in Barnes
After lunch I met my client and began my preparation watercolour of the house.
The house I was asked to paint is a rather fine early 20th Century semi-detached, gable-front house tucked away in the knot of streets behind Barnes Green. I really love to see red brick houses. Many are painted over these days or worse, butchered during the pebbledash lunacy of the 1970’s.
Not here, it hasn’t been touched at all, just softly glowing in the sunshine.
I love the original wooden arch above the door, many of the houses in the street appear to have kept this feature, just as the architects intended, and all the better for it. The final touch is a small balcony from the upper room above the front door. I hope the doors are thrown open on bright afternoons and a chair dragged out to read a trashy paperback with a glass of what you fancy. I suspect they are rarely used however. I can imagine the residents may feel a mite silly, or worse, ‘vulgar’, being perched up there in front of the neighbours.
As I worked up the preparation piece I got an opportunity to see how thoughtfully the building was put together. It will be here for another 100 years to be sure.
Barnes was an enjoyable place to visit and paint, and I really must come back one day to visit The Barnes Fair which takes place on the green.