Things You Might Not Know About The Borough Of Harrow

Things You Might Not Know About The Borough Of Harrow

In northwest London, lies the borough of Harrow — a fascinating place harbouring many secrets, and places well worth visiting.

A world famous school

Wide shot of a beautiful redbrick school
Harrow School is probably the most famous thing about the borough, but it holds many wonderful secrets. Image: iStock/JoeDunckley

We begin with what Harrow is most famous for: its private school. But while most people will know about the school, they don't know about its many wonderful secrets. Did you know, for example, that its Fourth Form Room (which starred in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone) is littered with graffiti by its salubrious alumni, including Anthony Trollope, Lord Byron — and four boys would who go on to become Prime Ministers — namely Robert Peel, Spencer Perceval, Lord Palmerston and Winston Churchill.

Wooden panels carved with the names of many different students
One of the most fascinating pieces of graffiti in London. Image: Matt Brown/Londonist

Other gems of Harrow School include a plaque to Lord Shaftesbury (of Shaftesbury Avenue fame), who was inspired towards a life of philanthropy after witnessing a pauper's funeral outside the school; and the amphitheatre-esque Speech Room, often used in film and TV shoots — and where a certain Benedict Cumberbatch cut his teeth in school plays.

A collection of absorbing museums

A beautiful rambling old country manor
Get your historical Harrow bearings at Headstone Manor. Image: Matt Brown/Londonist

The school's Speech Room Gallery features a small museum that's open to the public on and off throughout the year; alongside Egyptian antiquities, 19th-century Japanese prints and rare bibles, it features displays on some of the school's former pupils, including, as you might expect, Winston Churchill.

The borough of Harrow is home to another trio of engrossing museums: The rambling Headstone Manor is the place to get your historical bearings of the area: brimming with some 15,000 objects, this rustic country pile explores Harrow's storied past through artefacts, fine art, and natural history items, with displays on Hamilton’s Brushworks, the Kodak Factory, not to mention an Anglo-Saxon map, created by a certain Matt Brown of Londonist fame.

Sculptures of people in a second world war map room
Bentley Priory might just be the most important museum you've probably never heard of. Image: Matt Brown/Londonist

In Pinner Memorial Park, you'll find the Heath Robinson Museum, its galleries laden with some 1,000 original works of the cartoonist/satirist/contraption-inventor extraordinaire, who lived nearby. The museum also hosts regular workshops.

Up towards Stanmore, you'll find Bentley Priory, the John Soane-designed former royal palace, from which the Battle of Britain was arguably won, thanks to the operation set ups that were here at the time. With its Spitfire-themed stained glass windows, sprawling gardens studded with planes, and its recreation of a wartime filter room, we've previously named Bentley Priory 'the most important museum you've probably never heard of.'

A pagan past

A smouldering white sage smudge stick
The area used to be called 'Gumeniga hergae'. Image: iStock/PamWalker68

Tracking back to those Anglo-Saxons for a second; did you know that 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.

This is a sponsored inclusion on behalf of Eastman Village.

Shared ownership homes at Harrow’s sustainable new neighbourhood

Here’s another thing you might not know about Harrow – it used to be home to the UK’s largest Kodak factory, and the historic site is now getting a second lease of life. Eastman Village by Hyde New Homes is a brand new residential quarter, with sustainability at its heart. We’re talking ultra-energy efficient homes; EV charging points; acres of green space, including bee-and-bird-friendly landscaping, and a fantastic new network of footpaths and cycle paths (bike storage is available on site!)

What’s more, a home here could be much more affordable than you think – thanks to Shared Ownership. Through this part-buy, part-rent scheme, an Eastman Village apartment could be yours for as little as £84,000 for a 25% share (FMV: £336,000). Choose from a range of 1-3 bedroom homes, each equipped with integrated appliances, energy efficient fixtures and fittings (with homes categorised as EPC Level B, buyers could save over £2k per year on energy bills), and its own private balcony or garden.

On top of all that, an array of onsite amenities are in the works, including a residents-only gym, cafes, a restaurant, and a supermarket. When you do fancy venturing further afield, you’re just a 10-minute stroll from Harrow & Wealdstone station. From here, you can get to Euston in under 15 minutes via the Overground, or hop on the Bakerloo line and arrive at Paddington in less than half an hour. Couple these excellent transport links to central London with the bucolic delights of Harrow itself (Stanmore Country Park, Ruislip Common, Headstone Manor), and you really get the best of both worlds at Eastman Village.

Grim's Dyke — home to a great man and tragic death

A grand half timbered building
Grim's Dyke. Photo: Steve Cadman via creative commons

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...). He kept quite a menagerie here, including bees, pigs, horses, monkeys and parrots. The cats and dogs of the house, meanwhile, dined with the family at mealtimes!

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.

A portrait of a gent with moustache sitting in a chair
W. S. Gilbert lived at the picturesque Grim's Dyke. Image: public domain

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. Scenes from Doctor Who and Sliding Doors have been shot here, among others.

The ponds that give Stanmore their name

A picturesque scene with a Victorian redbrick house and village ponds
Caesar's Ponds date back to Roman times, and give Stanmore its name. Image: Des Blenkinsopp via creative commons

Stanmore — which resides at the top of Harrow — is an altogether pretty place, not least the wooded Stanmore Country Park, as well as the villagey Stanmore Common. The latter is home to 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 has it that Boudicca and her rebel army camped here, drinking from the ponds. And here's something else rather interesting; the ponds have another name in Old English: 'Stony Ponds', which translates as 'stane meres'... giving Stanmore its name.

Home to London's Zoroastrian population

Freddie Mercury singing into a mic
What links Freddie Mercury and Harrow? Read on! Image: Carl Lender via creative commons

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 at least 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 resting place of Lord Byron's daughter

Lord Byron obviously enjoyed his misspent youth at Harrow School, because he wanted to be buried in Harrow's graveyard. His wishes, alas, 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.

Updated in 2023 by Will Noble

Last Updated 28 November 2023