12 Things You Never Knew About Ealing

By M@ Last edited 20 months ago

Last Updated 26 October 2022

12 Things You Never Knew About Ealing
An old-style tube roundel with a red disc and blue name board saying Ealing Broadway
Let's delve deeper into Ealing... Image: Londonist

Here's a book that teases out some of the more remarkable stories from Ealing's history.

A-Z of Ealing: Places - People - History by Andy Bull certainly throws up some surprises. Among them, you'll find a little slice of North Korea in W5, and a building that everyone thinks is in Peckham.

Andy has kindly selected 12 of his favourite secrets for the list below. The book contains dozens more, with over 100 illustrations.

1. A Hollywood superstar lived here as a destitute child

Outside shot of a large mansion house
The former Cuckoo Schools, now Hanwell Community Centre. Image by Juan Gutierrez under creative commons licence

As a seven-year-old, Charlie Chaplin became a pupil at a school for destitute children in Ealing.

His parents Charles and Hannah, both music hall performers, had separated two years before, with Charlie and his older half-brother Sydney staying with Hannah.

She struggled as a single mother, and the family was forced to enter Lambeth Union Workhouse in June 1896, where they were separated. Charlie, who first appeared on stage aged five, and Sydney were transferred after three weeks to the 1,000-pupil Central London District School, known as the Cuckoo Schools, in Hanwell.

The tramp character Chaplin developed made him internationally famous, and the highest paid actor in Hollywood, but he never forgot the school, on one occasion organising coaches to take all the pupils to see one of his films.

2. Cradle of the Rolling Stones

A big red sign with silver letters says RED ROOM nightclub
The Ealing Club, now the Red Room. Image by Andy Bull

The Rolling Stones formed after the members met at the Ealing Club, a pioneering early-Sixties venue in a cellar beneath a cafe, opposite Ealing Broadway station. (Mick and Keith already knew one another, but met the other core members here.)

At this tiny cellar bar at 42a The Broadway, a new sound — British Rhythm and Blues — was created, making it as important in music history as Liverpool's Cavern. R&B featured a combination of electric guitars and pounding drums, and was heavily influenced by Black American blues.

The club, founded by musicians Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies, opened on 17 March 1962. In his autobiography, Life, Keith Richards wrote "Without them there might have been nothing."

3. The Marshall Amp is born

Close up of a Marshall amp
Image: Junya Ogura under creative commons licence

Ealing has another huge rock and roll link. Modern stadium rock concerts were made possible thanks to a little shop in the Uxbridge Road.

It all started when The Who's guitarist Pete Townshend wanted an amp strong enough to project his sound over the combined power of the drums and bass of fellow band members Keith Moon and John Entwhistle (not to mention raucous audiences), and turned to Jim Marshall.

Jim, a former dance band drummer and tutor who had played with Pete's dad, ran a musical instrument shop, Jim Marshall and Son, at 67 Uxbridge Road, Hanwell. Pete bought guitars and amps from the shop, but in 1962 complained that what was currently available didn't give him the tone and volume he needed. Jim Marshall and son Terry set about building their own amp to meet Pete's specification.

One Sunday night in 1963 the Marshall JTM45 amp they came up with was tested at the Ealing Club, in a band featuring the future Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, who was once tutored by Jim and worked in his shop.

4. Beginnings of a dance legend

A well-to-do redbrick house with a blue plaque (unreadable from this distance)
Margot Fonteyn's former family home in Elm Grove Road. Image by Andy Bull.

The Stones and The Who weren't the only ones in Ealing with a strong sense of rhythm. The legendary ballerina Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991) spent six childhood years in Ealing. She was named Peggy Hookham when her parents moved from Reigate.

While living here Peggy went to her first ballet lessons, at a school close to Ealing Common run by Grace Bosustow. She received her first review, aged five, in the Middlesex County Times, for a charity performance in which, the paper reported, there was "a remarkably fine solo dance by Peggy Hookham, which was vigorously encored."

5. Pioneering care for mental health

An arch structure made of stone. The top section is covered in ivy
St Bernard’s Hospital, the first humanely administered institution for those with mental illnesses (P. G. Champion under creative commons)

In the 19th century, attitudes to mental illness differed starkly to those of today. Inmates at what were called asylums were treated as objects of ridicule and sources of amusement for visiting gawpers.

That changed in 1831, when Dr William Ellis became superintendent of the first purpose-built asylum in England. Ellis pioneered an enlightened approach in which inmates were treated with humanity, and engaged in occupational therapy.

The Middlesex County Asylum, later known as St Bernard's Hospital, is alongside Ealing Hospital, on the Uxbridge Road in Southall.

Together with his wife, who was matron, Ellis ensured the hospital became a model for enlightened psychiatric care. Patients were encouraged to use the trades and skills which had occupied them in the outside world.

6. The Vietnamese leader who worked in an Ealing kitchen

The outside of an ornate pub with hanging baskets
The Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh worked in the kitchens at the Drayton Court Hotel. Image by Andy Bull

The revolutionary and Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh worked in the kitchens at the Drayton Court Hotel in The Avenue, West Ealing, in 1914.

As a young man, Ho (1890-1969) travelled the world, working on ships and in hotels. He shovelled coal as a stoker on the ship that brought him to England, then worked for a short stint at the Drayton Court, where he lived in a small staff bedroom in the attic.

The Marxist-Leninist led the Vietnamese independence movement from 1941, driving the French out in '54, and was a key figure in the '55-'75 Vietnam War, in which North Vietnam triumphed, forcing out American forces, leading to the reunification of North and South Vietnam in 1976.

7. And a little bit of North Korea in London

A normal looking terrace house with a grand entrance portal
The North Korean Embassy in Gunnersbury Avenue, W5. Image by Andy Bull.

A discreet sign, and national flag on its flagpole, identify the seven-bedroom detached house at 73 Gunnersbury Avenue as the North Korean Embassy.

The house briefly made the headlines in 2016 when, after a decade enjoying life in Ealing, deputy ambassador Thae Yong-ho defected to South Korea along with his family.

In an interview with the BBC after his escape to Seoul, Thae spoke fondly of the friendliness of the people of Ealing, and in particular of the members of the St Columba's Tennis Club, just across the road from the embassy, whom he said he would miss greatly.

8. Queen Vic's dad was a local

A white wall conceals a low building. The Union Flag flies on a mast
The Duke of Kent, son of George III, lived where St David’s Home is now. Image by Andy Bull

Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and father of Queen Victoria, made Ealing fashionable when he moved to Castle Hill Lodge on Castlebar Hill, in 1801.

The Duke, fourth son of George III, bought the house from Maria Fitzherbert, who had lived here from 1795, after her marriage to his brother, the Prince of Wales, later George IV, was annulled. He lived here with his French-Canadian mistress Julie de Saint-Laurent. A nearby pub, called the Duke of Kent, remembers the connection

9. An Oscar-winning director

The director Steve McQueen in a bow tie and maroon suit, holding an oscar
Steve McQueen won an Oscar for Twelve Years a Slave. Image by Aprillamb under creative commons licence

The award-winning director of Twelve Years a Slave grew up in Ealing. The film won the Best Picture Oscar in 2014.

Sir Steve McQueen went to Little Ealing Primary School and Drayton Manor High School, Hanwell; transferring to Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College to study A-level art.

Sir Steve revisited his Ealing schooldays when he collaborated on a project, Year 3, to photograph all 76,000 seven-year-old pupils in London’s schools and present the extraordinary diversity of the city's population. Over 3,000 photographs of the children were posted on 600 billboards around the capital, and an exhibition held at Tate Britain in 2019-21.

10. Ealing Fried Chicken

A typical branch of Nandos, on a corner plot with blue sky
The spicy chicken chain Nando’s opened its first UK branch at Ealing Common. Image by Andy Bull

Nando's, the South African spicy fried chicken chain, opened its first UK restaurant in 1992 beside Ealing Common underground station on the Uxbridge Road. There are now 340 in the UK, and around 900 globally, and the first English branch is still in business.

11. Twinned with Peckham?

A fairly normal tower block at twilight. A few lights are on
Nelson Mandela House in Only Fools and Horses is actually Harlech Tower in Acton. Image by Phillip Perry under creative commons licence.

Nelson Mandela House, the tower block in which Del Boy and Rodney Trotter live in Only Fools and Horses is actually in Ealing, rather than Peckham where the BBC sit-com was set, and is named Harlech Tower.

Exterior shots of the 13-storey block, in Park Road on the South Acton Estate, were used in the opening credits of the show from 1981 to 1985, after which a block in Bristol was used.

12. An assassinated prime minister

A stone church with a large tree in front
All Saints Church, built in memory of Spencer Perceval, the only British prime minister to be assassinated. Image by Andy Bull

The only British Prime Minister to be assassinated lived alongside Ealing Common in a house that passed its name to a street: Elm Grove Road.

Spencer Perceval (1762-1812) was shot dead in the House of Commons, aged 49, by a bankrupt Liverpool businessman, John Bellingham, who held the government responsible for a failed business venture in Russia. Bellingham was immediately tried, and hanged within seven days of the murder.

All Saints was built on the site of the Perceval family home, and now bears a plaque recording the connection with Spencer Perceval. The church's dedication is inspired by the fact that Perceval was born on 1 November, All Saints Day.

Ealing A-Z by Andy Bull is published by Amberley RRP, £15.99. Get direct from the publisher, Amazon, or via your local independent bookshop.

An old photo of ealing with the book A-Z of Ealing superimposed