Bedford Park in Chiswick, West London is a rather special place, it has the distinction of being the first Garden Suburb. It optimises the best of suburban living, with tree lined streets, attractive houses and community facilities, all within a short commute to central London. The Bedford Park Festival is held annually in June and offers a variety of events including musical performances, talks, children’s activities and exhibitions.
I first "discovered" Bedford Park a few years ago when I was attending a London architecture course and I was curious to visit. This year I attended a fascinating walk round Bedford Park, led by John Scott and Pamela Bickley, with anecdotes and stories about the history of the area and its former famous residents.
One of the highlights for me is the Bedford Park Open Gardens, which is similar to the Open Garden Squares weekend and I highly recommend it. With the aid of a map, you can visit about 15 delightful private gardens dotted around the estate and partake of tea and cake in the church hall. While it's popular with locals, it's still relatively off the radar to most Londoners and visitors which for me just adds to its charm, but you can be assured of a warm welcome and it's fun to see the diversity of gardening designs.
Jonathan Carr's Plaque at St Michael and All Angels
Let’s start with a little history. In 1875 Jonathan Carr, a cloth merchant turned property speculator, acquired 24 acres of land which was adjacent to his father in law’s property and near to Turnham Green Station which had recently opened in 1869. The estate was built between 1875 and 1886 and at the time the surrounding area was still rural. Carr, who was influenced by the Aesthetic Movement, set about creating desirable (and affordable) homes for the middle classes.
Bedford Park’s significance both locally and internationally can be best summed up by John Betjeman, former Poet Laureat and founding member of the Victorian Society, description of it as "the most significant suburb built in the last century, probably in the western world."
St Michael and All Angels church was designed by Norman Shaw and was completed in 1892. The church, like most of Bedford Park, is built in a Queen Anne Revival style and with red brickwork which gives the whole area a distinctive feel. It is topped with a charming, wooden lantern and surrounded by a delightful garden.
St Michael and All Angels
The interior of the church is very attractive, light and spacious. The first thing that struck me was how colourful it is with its pink walls and green painted pews. It has an impressive, high beamed roof.
St Michael and All Angels
Behind a large screen is the chancel, the area by the altar reserved for the clergy and choir. The painted reredos, the screen behind the altar, is particuarly beautiful.
Unlike many of the other "model villages" which were being built in the Victorian era, such as Port Sunlight and Saltaire, Bedford Park included a public house. The Tabard, located opposite the church, takes its name from the inn which Chaucer's pilgrims set out from in the Canterbury Tales. Also designed by Norman Shaw, it has huge gables, bay windows and has remarkably retained its de Morgan tiles. On the first floor is the Tabard Theatre, an intimate fringe theatre.
On the opposite end of the block is Shaw's The Stores, with its large bay windows. Originally a shop it has since been converted into office space. Between the shop and the pub are two houses one for the shop keeper and one for the landlord of the pub. There was also a club - house and a school of art, the latter of which was damaged during the war.
Bedford House is what remains of the original house that gave the area its name. The blue plaque is to John Lindley a botanist and pioneering cultivator of orchids.
Bedford Park is built in a Queen Anne revival style and Carr employed a number of different architects. The first one was E.W. Godwin but when his designs were criticised Carr sacked him and replaced him with Norman Shaw. He was later succeeded by E.J. May and Maurice Adams.
The sunflower is a popular motif throughout Bedford Park
The estate consists of both detached and semi - detached houses of a similar architectural style. However they are not uniformed due to the various combinations of features, such as large chimneys, balconies, Flemish style gables, decorative tiling and different window styles.
The attractive decorative style attracted people with an artistic and bohemian flair and several homes were built to incorporate artist studios, with large windows, like in the photo above.
Many of the properties have white painted fences which adds to the unique character of the area.
The black and white wooden panelling is in a Tudor style.
Apart from the distinctive architecture, the other thing which makes Bedford Park stand out is its tree lined streets and well maintained front gardens.
The houses' beautiful detailing make them very desirable today, but just after World War II, the Victorian style was out of fashion and a few of the properties were demolished. The Bedford Park Society was founded in 1963 and today many of the buildings are listed and the district is now a conservation area.
I hope this blog has whet your appetite about a lesser known part of London and will encourage you to want to visit too.
Bedford Park Festival is held annually in June.
Bedford Park Society http://www.bedfordpark.org.uk/
Nearest Tube Station: Turnham Green in Travelcard Zones 2 and 3. St Michael and All Angels church is a two minute walk from the station and is a good place to start exploring Bedford Park from.
St Michael and All Angels
Address: Bath Road, London, W4
Address: 2 Bath Road, London, W4
If you enjoyed this blog post you might like to read you might like to read about The Roof Garden in Kensington.
The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds.