The tube has to stop somewhere. Such far flung stations are the stuff of myth to some Londoners — many hear their names, fewer visit. So what lies at the end of the line?
The intention was to start off every post in this series by chatting to a member of staff at the station in question, and getting a few pictures before we ventured out into the wilderness. Perhaps they could tell us about the place? Give us a few pointers? A bit about what kind of people live here? Sadly, the staff at Stanmore did not share our vision.
"No, you need to ask permission to take photographs inside the station."
"Can I not just..."
"You need to ask for permission."
Well then. As far as welcomes go, it's not the warmest — maybe Stanmore station has something to hide. Perhaps it's best that we get on with our journey.
Opened in 1932 as the terminus of a new Metropolitan Railway spur, the station lies in the heart of what marketeers at the time referred to as 'Metro-land'. Surplus land purchased for the construction of the railway was developed with housing and sold to those who worked in the city, yet wanted to retreat to an idyllic piece of English countryside.
It's no surprise, then, that the first thing you notice about Stanmore is just how green it is — upon leaving the station, you're immediately faced with a screen of trees. Some might call this a boring welcome — but isn't that just what you'd like to come home to after a busy day in the city?
Indeed it might be, but why should you come and visit?
Well we're here now, and TfL's helpful signage doesn't appear to offer up many reasons to stay. In true nowhere-town style, it's left to the town centre, or right to the Orthopaedic Hospital. You'd be forgiven for turning right back round and boarding a train for Stratford. At least there's a Westfield and stuff there, right?
But maybe Stanmore just doesn't know how to sell itself.
Thankfully, a bit of prior planning leads us north to Stanmore Country Park. Forget a slice of the countryside — this is the whole cake, just minutes from the Jubilee line. It almost seems silly, at this point, to stop and ask someone what their favourite bit of Stanmore was... isn't it obvious?
"This is my favourite thing about Stanmore" one passerby tells us. Ah, of course.
"I've lived next door for 40 years, and never properly explored it until I got a dog. There's a reservoir, meadows, cows... you could be anywhere. It's like a little oasis. Grab a map, or you might get lost!" she says, gesturing to homemade map dispenser by the gate.
Before we have a chance to ask for her name, yet alone a picture, her phone buzzes and she's off into the wilderness. Most helpful, however, would have been the chance to ask for some directions... there are no maps left.
Pressing on, we're left no option but to navigate the woodland from a grainy image on Google Maps, as if on some kind of reconnaissance mission. Hey, forgive us, we're in zone 5.
Not wanting to miss anything, it's difficult to decide which path to follow; plenty criss cross through the woodland, some more official looking than others. We head anti-clockwise, and manage to find a hidden lake — and while the cows prove elusive, we do spot some golfers through the trees.
No doubt there is plenty more to explore down here, but the main attraction lies ahead: a spectacular panoramic view of London. Perched atop the meadowland, a gentle climb leads us to what is near enough an uninterrupted horizon of the city's best sights.
Granted, they're quite far away — and on a foggy day you might struggle to distinguish much more than neighbouring Wembley Stadium — but really it's the scope of this view that is most impressive. A helpful board points out all there is to see, from Alexandra to Crystal Palace and everything in between.
While the view has always been here, it's only recently that the general public has been able to access it. The 59 acre Wood Farm, upon which this viewpoint sits, was formerly a pig farm, and also a landfill site. Recently handed back to the council, the area has been transformed into a space as good as, if not better, than the adjoining Stanmore Country Park. And it doesn't smell either.
Perhaps more striking than the view, is just how deserted this place is — the only sign of life here is the hum of crickets in the tall grass. While we can't vouch for weekends, it seems that visiting on a weekday afternoon means you'll likely be able to take in the view all by yourself.
And just as we're pondering how deserted the place is, we spot Keyna and a whole carload of visitors entering the car park.
Keyna, who no longer lives in Stanmore but is still local to the area, tells us how surprised she is at how the space has changed.
"I remember when this was all landfill. You couldn't get down to the Country Park from here, but now they've really opened it all up, and there's a great view. Stanmore's got that village feel, it's lovely. I just came from Victoria and feel like I'm back in the countryside, yet I'm only at the end of a tube line."
And a short walk to Stanmore's Little Common will leave you feeling that no truer words have ever been spoken...
It's proper English countryside stuff: ponds, trees, cute cottages, a pub. OK, you can forget that last one — the local boozer has closed down. The Vine, located just minutes from here, has been converted into luxury flats. The developer's website boasts that they'll be a 'fantastic opportunity for buyers in an extremely sought after area'. Brilliant. But where's the fantastic opportunity for a pint?
Don't bother looking elsewhere either, because there are no pubs here. Zilch. Zero. None. There were others, of course, but like The Vine, they've all found new leases of life. For shame, Stanmore... even the local Wetherspoon has been turned into a Nando's. Is nothing sacred anymore?
Perhaps then, the high street will have some redeeming qualities. Stanmore's a 10 minute walk down the hill from here, and there's a little more life to the place as we make our way down. That view rears its head again on the journey, and we can't help but think it's quite a nice welcome to London as people drive in from neighbouring Hertfordshire.
Oh, and we pass another shuttered pub, too — though this one's been converted into a rather stylish Indian restaurant — a darn sight better than luxury flats.
Located at the bottom of the hill, Stanmore's high street is a leafy affair (as you might expect by now) — though this is clearly not enough for the locals, as they've only gone and lined it with colourful planters. Down many of London's high streets, people would scoff at such a sorry attempt to breathe life into the place, but these little bursts of colour look right at home in Stanmore.
We stop to chat with Caroline, who wastes no time recommending her favourite place in Stanmore: "Browns. My favourite place to eat is Browns. If you're looking for somewhere to eat, you must go there."
Shocked that she didn't mention trees, or something, we thought we had better confirm. Is Browns really the best thing about Stanmore? Maybe everyone goes there instead of the pub...
"Well, it's just a nice little community. We're surrounded by the green belt and the city is right next door. You've got the best of both worlds." Ah, there it is.
"But my favourite place to eat is Browns," Caroline laughs.
Browns is just one of many independent retailers around here, though it seems to be one of a dying breed. Rather like any other British high street these days, the usual brands have begun to weasel their way in — there's a Costa, a Subway, a giant Sainsbury's, a Pizza Express, a Prezzo, a Lidl, a Nando's...
That's the same Nando's that drove out Wetherspoons, y'know. Passerby Harvey tells us that local chicken restaurant The Pecking Order' was another casualty, though we start on a more positive note.
"The best thing about Stanmore? I suppose it's the convenience really. Everything is here and it's very green, it's very well connected. But its becoming more expensive.
"There's a show called Harry & Paul, where Harry Enfield runs a shop called 'I Saw You Coming'. It sells junk to wealthy people... people that will just buy it because it's expensive. Stanmore is becoming more and more like that, unfortunately.
"Why would I spend £80 on a pair of shoes from that fancy shoe shop across the street? They're only going to go on my feet!"
To dwell any longer on how Stanmore's high street is changing, though, would be doing it an injustice. The branded takeover is more of a sad indictment on the state of retailing than it is a stain on the reputation of Stanmore. Sure, there are a few brands knocking about now, but at least it's not lined with betting shops. The high street has changed before, and no doubt it'll change again, but it's certainly not something that would put us off living here (are we thinking of living here now?).
It's a welcome surprise to find that the high street is home to yet another green space. At only 0.3 hectares, we nearly miss it, but this well looked after little hideaway is a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the main road. It's called Bernays Gardens, and a few locals are lunching on picnic benches when we arrive. We certainly wouldn't come out of our way for it, but it's a nice little escape along the way.
Not much further up the main road is a large churchyard — large enough, in fact, to house two churches. Our eyes are immediately drawn to a brick structure, looking in a bit of a sorry state. Built in 1632 and dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, it was nearly demolished in the mid-19th century when Stanmore's growing population necessitated that a larger one be built in its place.
Thankfully, local residents stepped in before the church (one of few in this architectural style) was lost for good, though much of the damage was already done. It's been left in ruin ever since, though there is an effort to keep what is left in good care: English Heritage granted funding in the early 1990s to make the site safe, clearing it of rubble and ivy.
If you'd like to go and visit, the ruin is occasionally open for public viewing, though plenty can be seen from the outside too. Next door is the larger replacement church built in 1850.
Outside the church sits long-time Stanmore resident John, reading his newspaper. If anyone can talk us through how the area has changed, it's him — he's lived here for 80 years.
"The best thing about Stanmore is the relative peace. I say relative... the roads are much busier now. There's lots of traffic, lots of gardens being turned into flats — usually quite tastefully, but still. Lots is being crammed in, and the centre is a mess now. You know that tower block as you come down the hill? That didn't used to be there. It used to be much more pleasant."
He offers to show us inside the church: "Many of the windows in here were taken from the old church," says John, "It's a shame, but its brick architecture very much fell out of fashion with people at the time. You know how it is with trends..."
Gesturing to a painting of the old church on the wall, he continues: "This is by a local artist, he lives just down the road. It's to illustrate what the old church would have looked like when it was still being used. There's talk of restoring it so it looks like this again, with a new roof and everything."
You can read all about it here, and see the artist's impression. While it looks like a great project and creates much needed community space, we can't help but feel that buildings such as these are a lot more intriguing when left alone. Surely a 1632 ruin teaches us more important lessons about conservation of old buildings than a modern day reconstruction? We asked John what he thought.
"I'm really in two minds about it..."
Old Church Lane, located adjacent, is our next port of call. Don't be fooled though: John helpfully points out to us that the name doesn't actually refer to either of these churches. Instead, it refers to an even older church that once stood at the bottom of the hill, though nothing of it remains but a tomb in someone's back garden.
So what are we doing down Old Church Lane, then? Well, we're here to see this:
It might look unassuming, but this building was once Stanmore's railway station. Before the Metropolitan line arrived, Stanmore wasn't very well connected by rail, and hotelier Frederick Gordon needed a way to lure punters to his recently purchased hotel, Bentley Priory. This necessitated the construction of a branch line from nearby Harrow & Wealdstone station in 1890, terminating at Stanmore with an intermediate stop at Belmont. The station building was built to resemble a country chapel, deliberately in keeping with its residential surroundings.
Sadly, the railway did not prove popular enough, and the line stopped carrying passengers in 1952. Goods services continued to run until 1964, when the line finally got the chop as part of the Beeching cuts. You can still walk part of the route — though it doesn't go anywhere very interesting — and the branch line platform at Harrow & Wealdstone still remains, now disused.
As for the station building? Needless to say, it's been stripped of all character and is now a private residence. A small plaque by the door is the only evidence of its former life, although you see what it used to look like here.
Our last stop is Bentley Priory nature reserve, a short walk back up the road. The site is huge, originally comprising the grounds to the stately mansion, Bentley Priory. Built in 1775 by Sir John Soane, the building has seen various uses over the years — not just as the hotel which necessitated the construction of the Stanmore branch line. In fact, it played a much greater role in history than that: the RAF used it as an operations centre during the Battle of Britain.
These days, the house and part of the immediate grounds have been converted into luxury housing, though a small museum does occupy part of the building. We don't have time to pay a visit today (but you can read a Londonist writeup here).
The now separate portion of land south of the house now forms the Bentley Priory nature reserve, open to the general public.
There are nearly 70 hectares to explore — more ground to cover than we could possibly squeeze into one article. If we were to pick just one highlight, it would be the picturesque Summerhouse Lake, formed from the damming of a small stream that ran through the grounds. A summerhouse once stood on its banks, and Queen Adelaide, widow of King William IV, is said to have spent the last years of her life here in the 1840s.
We're just casual observers, though. The more adventurous will find even more to geek over: the site is home to many rare birds, wild flowers and ancient woodlands. Heriot's Wood, for instance, is known to have been a wood since 1600, and the site is even home to a 400 year old oak tree — the oldest in Middlesex — with a trunk 9m in circumference. There are plenty of cows, too, and a small herd of fallow deer.
And, in a nod to the site's military past, we stumble across a 1940s pillbox.
There seems no better place to end our whistle-stop tour of Stanmore than with a view (can you see Wembley poking its head through the trees?). Hopefully we've convinced you that there's enough here to make it worth the trip... as long as you don't come expecting to be able to sit down in a pub by the end of it, that is.
If there is a reason to visit Stanmore though, it's the fantastic green spaces — both the highlight for us, and most people we met. We didn't even get a chance to visit Stanmore Common, the 50 hectare site with an even greater 'sense of wildness'.
This north London outpost might lie right at the very end of the Jubilee line, but that doesn't mean it's not worth your time.
Stanmore, it has been a pleasure. Check out a map of our route below.
Where should we go next? Let us know in the comments.