Up in the northwest corner of London, lies the borough of Harrow, often overlooked in favour of trendier areas. However, it's an interesting place in its own right and we're here to unveil a few of its secrets.
What a cheery sounding place. Grim's Dyke is a Best Western Hotel in Harrow Weald. So far, so ordinary. However, the building's history is fascinating. It was built between 1870 and 1872, and purchased in 1890 by one W. S. Gilbert. You may know him better as one half of operatic writing duo Gilbert and Sullivan (we can hear you humming The Pirates of Penzance already...).
Gilbert lived at the property until his tragic death in 1911. He had invited two local women out to his lake for swimming lessons. Ruby Vivian Preece found herself out of her depth, so Gilbert went out to save her. He managed to, but the exertion of saving her life cost him his own, dying of a heart attack brought on by the stress.
After Gilbert's wife died in 1936, the house was acquired by Middlesex County Council and London County Council. They leased it to a local hospital, which turned the building into a rehab centre for tuberculosis sufferers. The building was some sort of secret base during the second world war, although we won't know quite what went on there until documents are declassified in the 2040s.
Its stunning design and verdant scenery have made it an ideal filming location as well. Shows such as Doctor Who and Little Britain have been filmed there, as have films Sliding Doors and One Chance.
In Stanmore there are two ponds known formally as the Spring Ponds, although they have another colloquial name: Caesar's Ponds. The pools are manmade and date back to Roman times, hence the name. Legend also has it that Boudicca and her rebel army camped here, drinking from the ponds. The ponds have another name in Old English. Stony Ponds translates as 'stane meres', giving Stanmore its name.
The poorly-named tithe barn
The Harrow Museum is in a building called The Great Barn. The name fits; as anyone who's been can tell you, the barn is impressive. It was built in 1506 by the then Archbishop of Canterbury and has a framework made entirely from English oak. It was used to store grains and stable horses, which begs the question as to why it used to be called the tithe barn — at no point did it have anything to do with tithes.
Britain's first motor accident?
In Harrow-on-the-Hill, a plaque remembers the 'first recorded motor accident in Great Britain involving the death of the driver'. According to a local press report, 'While the car was going down Grove Hill at a high speed the front wheel collapsed, and the occupants were violently thrown out.' The driver, Edwin Root Sewell (31), died instantly. A passenger called Major Ritche died later from a fractured skull, and a further four passengers received minor injuries.
It was a tragedy, but the plaque is incorrect — the accident was not the first of its kind. A whole year earlier, one Mr Henry Lindfield lost control of his motor wagonette during a drive in Purley. His vehicle ran through a wire fence before hitting a tree, mortally wounding him. There is no plaque commemorating Mr Lindfield's crash, makes us wonder why Harrow was so desperate to claim the unenviable first motor accident, considering it isn't Harrow's to own.
Harrow-on-the-Hill was once a hotbed for pagan activity. The area used to be called 'Gumeniga hergae' which translates from Anglo-Saxon English as 'heathen shrine'. The area's famous medieval church, St Mary's, is built on an old place of pagan worship, in an attempt to convert non-believers to the Christian cause.
Home to London's Zoroastrian population
Harrow has a diverse population when it comes to faith, with over 80 places of worship, representing religions from Jain to Buddhism. One of these religions is Zoroastrianism. You might not have heard of it, but you'll be aware of one of its British followers: Freddie Mercury. It's one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world, originating in 1,500 BC in ancient Iran.
When Zoroastrians fled Iran for India, they were not allowed into the country unless they promised not to convert anyone. This has become a rule of the religion, leading to its followers dwindling in number. 2011 census data shows that there are only 4,100 Zoroastrians left in the UK. Their main place of worship is the Zoroastrian centre on Rayners Lane, a grade II listed converted cinema.
The word Harrow is most readily associated with Harrow School, a public boys' school where many famous British figures (mis)spent their youth, including poet Lord Byron. Byron wanted to be buried in Harrow's graveyard, but his wishes were ignored. We imagine he spent a lot of time ignoring his schoolteachers so maybe this was their version of revenge.
Byron's daughter Allegra is buried in Harrow, however. She died of either typhus or malaria aged just five in Italy. Byron had her body transported back to England, but when he got to the school, they had little interest in allowing her to rest in their sacred ground. After a protracted argument, she was buried in an unmarked grave. A plaque was later added for her by the Byron Society.