Headstone Manor in Harrow comes with many superlatives. 'Oldest timber-framed building in Middlesex', they say, and 'Only surviving water-filled moat in Middlesex'. Putting aside that Middlesex hasn't existed for 50 years, these are still impressive boasts.
Indeed, everything about Headstone Manor is impressive. The manor house dates back to the 14th century, which puts it among the oldest buildings in Greater London. Next door, there's a huge barn from 1506. You can get married in here. There aren't many wedding venues in London that predate all of Henry VIII's nuptials.
The site has recently reopened following major restoration. A Heritage Lottery Fund grant has worked wonders, bringing these historic buildings back from the brink.
The heart of the complex is Harrow's local history museum. The Grade I-listed building is a temporal hotchpotch, with features of medieval, Tudor, Jacobean and Georgian heritage. Wonky beams and teetering timbers frame every angle. Nowhere in the capital, except perhaps the Tower of London, will you find a door of this antiquity:
The mesmerising surroundings steal the show, but the artefacts in the museum are also fascinating. Map fans will love the many historical charts of the area. They've even put a copy of Londonist's Anglo-Saxon map on display.
Elsewhere, Harrow's multifaceted history of agriculture, industry and education is well presented. The Whitefriars glass factory gets prime billing, along with the Kodak works that transformed the area. Dotted around are a letter from Mary Shelley (a one-time local resident), vintage railway signs, and centuries of wallpaper.
Do take time to explore the other buildings. Though only open to the public occasionally, the main barn is a staggering survivor. Keep an eye out for upcoming open days. The smaller barn provides an introduction to the site, with a neat little video and objects from the local area.
Even the cafe is a delight. This newly built timber structure recapitulates the shapes of its ancient neighbours. Better yet, it's not been franchised out to a megabucks catering firm, so all profits go back into the site.
Headstone Manor is a 10-minute walk from North Harrow (Met line) or Harrow and Wealdstone (Bakerloo, Overground). It's open Tue-Sun, and entrance is free. Images by the author.