The Boroughers 21/01/18: Harrow Harrowing

Greetings, you wonderful people. Hope you're keeping warm and dry. A hearty welcome to this, the third instalment of a series entitled The Boroughers, in which your intrepid correspondents gallivant around the UK's capital city throughout 2018 in pursuit of nice, educational fun.


Today - by which I mean the day I'm writing, also the day in which the experiences below happened, namely 21st January 2018 - we went to Harrow. It's our first venture north of the river, and the first borough of the year who couldn't even be bothered to bid for the Borough of Culture prize. Be there dragons up there?

Harrow. Due north of our starting point, but annoyingly tricky to reach.

Eagle-eyed Boroughers fans - that is, I estimate, zero of you - will have noticed a change to our "yet to visit" page over the preceding days. Originally this day was our designated visit to Bromley, putting off that river traversal even longer. But as our activities there will mostly be outdoors and the weather forecast was shit, we thought it more prudent to head somewhere further and more difficult to reach: time spent on trains and tubes feels less wasted when it's raining. Furthermore our Harrow plans mostly involved staying indoors anyway. With that backstory, we set off - though not before collecting our by now habitual 3 bits of trivia.


  • In Harrow borough there is a 62% chance that any two random residents are not of the same religion
  • The borough, and Pinner in particular, is remarkable for the number of famous people born, resident, or educated there, the most auspicious being Peter Andre
  • The first fatal automobile accident in which the driver died occurred here


First, the picnic. Today's ham and cheese sandwiches involve Wiltshire ham, spreadable brie, and small bread with all bits 'n that in it. Made immediately prior to leaving for the train, Buster the cat only tried to get involved three times.

The forecast stayed poor. Really bastard cold, with heavy rain but an increasing temperature. As is their wont, the BBC take their data from the Met Office and then ignore it; the latter were predicting snow.

It's not like it was very nice in Thames Ditton to be honest. Helen had shoved on about 5 base layers, none of which seemed to be doing much good. Is this train coming or what?

Yes, it is. Time to get cracking on the sandwiches as we trundle to Waterloo. Past the cutely named "traincare depot" just north of Wimbledon, and I'm trying to convince her that we should visit our two scheduled attractions in reverse order, but my appeal falls on deaf ears. Anyway she's more interested in taking my nascent idea for a 2019 resolution (I like to plan ahead) and derailing it somewhat, though her idea would be a bit more pleasant. That's it for teases and spoilers, as if you're bothered. We've got another 30 of these to get through first.

An offline map app told us there was a zoo in Pinner, but the rest of the internet disagreed. How disappointing. At Waterloo there is vaping and the purchase of caffeine, and a well timed Jubilee line tube to Baker Street.

CityMapper had told us to carry on to Finchley Road but frankly I didn't trust it, and was right not to. At Baker Street a busker played olde-timey film score style music, speeding up at the exact moment we realised we needed to hurry up the stairs because our Metropolitan line was leaving in the next minute or so. It felt like he was our personal soundtrack.

Zooming past all the stations the Metropolitan skips, including the whole of Zone 3 - yeah, fuck you lot - and we cross the border into Harrow borough by passing underneath a roundabout near Harrow on the Hill. I'm eyeing up a fellow passenger's Adidas Hamburg sneaks, which I very much like the look of. Outside the weather is grim, and I'm starting to lose my previously unshakeable trust in the Met Office because there's no sign of snow. But then we pull into Pinner, a full 30 minutes earlier than we'd been led to believe, and it's snowing like fuck. Hurrah! Wait, no, I dislike snow. Fucking hell.

It's grim up north

Good job I'm not wearing anything remotely waterproof except my watch. The station is nondescript and it's really bloody cold and hilarious.

Thankfully we know exactly where we're going, meaning we have to spend very little time consulting the local what's on guide.

Down the road, round the corner, cross the road, through a tiny park, over a bridge, under another bridge, into another park. Pinner town centre is tantalisingly close, except not really tantalising at all. I just mean we skirted its boundary, past ... «thinks» ... Subway. I don't remember anything else. Anyway, there's tons going on here.



The snow is getting harder, and we're chased by a dog. Not really. There's a bloke out for a run, and his dog is a small bundle of naughty full-of-beansness, full of energy and hassling all the other dogs. They're being dragged around for a walk by their owners, none of whom seem impressed with the weather.

Just before the museum is an aviary. Perhaps this is what my map thought was a zoo? It's not a zoo. It's a cage with a few budgies in, all being mouthy, presumably complaining about how bloody cold it is.

Y'know what, I might be glad to be out of this for a while.

The Heath Robinson museum, then. The famous cartoonist, satirist, artist etc was born around these parts and they're very proud of him. His name is in the lexicon for describing needlessly complicated machinery for performing comparatively simple tasks, such as was once the subject of the magnificently nerdy Great Egg Race TV show on the BBC. Indeed I'd made Helen watch two episodes of that on YouTube the night before.

We enter the building completely drenched and stuff. They point us towards a coat stand. We wave our Art Passes at them to gain free entry, and are politely asked for some tiny market research-y questions. Where are we visiting from, how did we hear about them, why are we there? Naturally we tell them the truth: we're visiting every borough in London and have schlepped up from deep zone six in the SW today. This is slightly astonishing and apparently impressive. We're given leaflets for other museums in Harrow we might like to visit, but with the caveat that "they might not be in Harrow actually". Indeed they aren't. Thanks for trying though.

It's only a two room museum - the main exhibit, and a temporary one. We visit in that order. The first involves an audio guide which neither of us are that bothered by, once we figure out that all it's doing is reading out the captions that we've already read, and then getting the woman who does the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 to tell us what she thinks of the pictures.

It's really good. I thought I would like it, but didn't accurately predict how much. Everything seemed familiar, through a mix of actual (albeit cursory) familiarity plus the obvious extent of his influence. Specifically I have a "oh, right!" moment as I realise just how Heath Robinson-y the Viz strip "Gilbert Ratchet" is.

There isn't a great deal of machinery, but what there is is fun.

He did cartoons for weekly and monthly journals; he did satire; he did a great deal of advertising and promotional material; and he was an illustrator of humorous books. And it's all great, really. Here's a selection of pianos.

The series of work he did for an automotive leather firm based in Wandsworth are particularly good, as are his depictions of the design and manufacture of Johnnie Walker black label whisky. Also he made a big deal, when working for Hovis, of pointing out that being fat = being healthy. Why didn't someone fucking tell me this before I lost all that weight last year?

Anyway. Apparently one of Robinson's descendants was involved with the plumbing of the loo, judging by the signature.

We buy a book, put our still wet coats back on, and head back outside. Good news! The snow is harder than ever and has been settling a bit.

As we leave the park there's a henge-esque graveyard of miniscule proportions.

Leaving the park at the opposite end from where we entered, we head away from Pinner and through a bunch of residential side streets. The pavements are slippery, because the snow hasn't really settled properly but rather mixed in with the rain to form an immediate slush. It's unpleasant.

We're not heading for another venue, at least not yet. No, we're heading for a street sign. On our way this morning we'd figured out that we really weren't far from the borough's border, so fuck it - let's go see what kind of welcome they're laying on, shall we?

It's a grim, loud, cold, and wet welcome. It's a busy main road, next to a bus stop without a shelter, served only by a single service which is of no use to us. Brilliant. So we walk through ever colder rain - the snow has now stopped - for 15 minutes until another unsheltered stop, near some giant puddles, and wait for an H11. It's time to judge Harrow's intra-borough transportation.

15 minutes or so later and a single decker bus comes along. It's about a quarter full and everyone looks miserable. We wind through residential streets, each less salubrious than the last, and get off just past a large junction. Doubling back, we take our place next to another stop opposite some grim flats and on an even busier mainer road, though mercifully sheltered. It's shit, this. While waiting here our Lewisham ambassador texts me about a fake fried chicken shop, and expresses his hope that we're not out and about in this weekend's shitty weather. I send him a photo of a decidedly unimpressed Helen at a bus stop.


A single-decker H10 arrives and we're warm again, briefly. We pass North Harrow station and a crossroads full of takeaways and hairdressers, but seemingly no pub. Then back to solidly residential streets and at Pinner View we're off, to head down a dead end street to our second centrepiece.

Past the "wellcoming" allotments complete with trading hut, and a miserable creek, we find... our first signpost. Southwark this ain't.

But there's still the opportunity for some more misery and grimness, a breakers yard advertised by a knackered old caravan. Lovely.

And then, opening out before us, a huge car park and a vaguely ostentatious sign welcoming us to Headstone Manor and Museum. Look, a moat with ducks 'n stuff!

We are freezing cold. The journey from Heath Robinson to here has been hilariously shit, at least if you're me and can find some hilarity in it. Thankfully the cafe, into which we enter first, is very warm. We order paninis and drinks (no booze, bah) and sit down. I dump onto paper the memories of everything since I was last able to feel the pen in my hand.

The paninis arrive. My cranberry and brie is very cold, the bread itself a bit tepid. Helen's is apparently much better. Bah, again. We pre-plan our escape from the borough later in the day and then debate, again, whether to pay a fiver to do the guided tour at 2.30pm. I win - which is to say, we don't bother. Rather, at around 2.10pm or so we head into the museum by ourselves, map leaflet in hand. I carry my coat because it's still soaking wet, hoping there's somewhere I can hang it up.

First, a big barn showing a video. We can't be bothered sitting or listening to it, and anyway it's even bloody colder in there than it is outside. Why don't barns built in like 1300 or whatever have any heating?

We'll be seeing you two later.

Across the moat and into the main house, a man opens the door for us and welcomes us - with only one L - to Headstone Museum and Manor. Do we have a map? Yes, yes we do. Are we aware that there's no heating in the house in order to help preserve it, so this might not be the best time visit and I might want to think about putting my coat back on? Ah god damn it.

As if to take the piss even further, several rooms show off their fireplaces. LIGHT SOME DAMN FIRES YOU COLD BASTARDS.

The manor itself is a 2 storey house, built up over hundreds of years starting back in the 1300s, passed from owner to owner including several Archbishops of Canterbury. It was never knocked down and rebuilt, rather it was constantly extended, and so there are essentially multiple wings built at different periods of history, with inner rooms being the oldest. As a museum, the rooms showcase both the manor and its heritage itself plus a lot of information about Harrow throughout history. Like, different wallpaper people had, and how there's a safe in the wall that no-one has ever opened. JUST OPEN IT. YOU'VE GOT THE BLOODY KEY.

Quite a bit of the history is fairly modern, such as maps showing where bombs dropped during World War II, or how quickly the borough grew once the railways showed up in the 1800s.

There is in fact a lot about the war, including some actual bomb pieces and a marvellously state-knows-best (this is not a criticism!) leaflet about how to protect yourself during an air raid. The leaflet is from before war broke out, in fact.

The innermost oldest rooms are rickety wooden chambers, simultaneously cool and cold.


In the first room upstairs I jump out of my skin as a holographic* woman appears next to me and pipes up about how she's just moved in with her fella and they're doing the place up. She's very loud and sudden and once I've calmed down I look around for R2-D2 who might be projecting her. "Help me Obi-Darren, you're my only hope".

Similar, though less startling after the first time, experiences occur elsewhere. In one room the bloke gives his spiel twice, which is very annoying. Then there are train station signs and a recreation of part of a carriage.

The kitchen is well stocked, with a specific mould for making blancmange. It has the recipe written on it.

A photo op arrives, where I'm meant to shove my head through a hole like one of them seaside "shove your head through a hole" scenes. But my head is massive and doesn't remotely fit.

Kodak have been one of the largest, if not the largest, employers in Harrow for the last 100+ years and accordingly there's a display of old cameras. According to Helen these cameras aren't actually any good.

Also painting paraphernalia, of both the artwork and decorative variety. Of particular interest is the comedy giant paintbrush which seems ludicrously impractical.

One exhibit tells the history of the 20th century, using bold font to highlight the important stuff. I think Harrow has perhaps gained a somewhat inflated opinion of its place in recent history.

This next thing I confess to not even noticing when we walked around. I don't know what it is. Is it a cooker? I think it's a cooker.

One room is a local history research room; the wallpaper is all maps, and I love it. There's a bookshelf and two computers and a comfy chair in the corner. Think I'll take the weight off for a while and read about Pinner.

I mean, c'mon now, I didn't actually read about Pinner. But I did pose for that photo of me pretending to read about Pinner, which is almost as good, right?

The £5 guided tour is catching us up so we skedaddle, glad in the end that we didn't bother joining. Back outside we do a circuit of the manor, in rain that's no longer torrential but still wet.

If this were in Lewisham I'd call it the "wonk unit". But it's not so I won't.

One side of the building looks like a noughts and crosses game. Then there are statues of cats.

Back across the moat and we walk past the giant barn, as it seems to not be open and has no marked entrance. The other building - The Granary - is open and has an obvious entrance, so we go in. THERE'S A RADIATOR. YES. WARMTH.

Actually though this place is just a room for kids to do painting and stuff, with only a single cabinet of stuff that's not all, like, "cows eat grass" and "peas go into pea-based food dishes".

Back outside and Helen takes the opportunity to create a massive panoramic shot of this bleak, dank place. The weather has not helped us today.

That big barn, though... is it shut? It looks, through a gap in the wood, like there might be a light on. We try one of the doors at the far end and, oh, it's open - but there's fuck all museum-y here. A sign had said you could hire this for events, and that seems to be the only thing you can do. As we close the door, Helen spots people from the manor glaring at us. Yeah, whatever. It's not like we went inside is it?

The glares turn to scowls, I'm told, when we dick around with the stocks.

And that's it, we're done. Better weather would have helped, much as it would the whole day, but even so it was not all that. Some slightly interesting stuff but nothing to really grab us. By now, contrary to both the BBC and the Met Office, temperatures seem to be dropping. Back up past the death-risking electricity substation(?) and to the bus stop we got off at earlier, it's desperately unpleasant.

I am full of schadenforeman (taking pleasure in my own displeasure), singing songs about how shit the weather is and doing a tap dance to try and keep the blood flowing around my legs - which themselves are now wet, as my jeans have started to spread water upwards to my knees via capillary action. Helen feels a bit less sanguine about our situation.

Nonetheless, I convince her we should go for a pint. I really don't want to leave any of the boroughs without having a pint. On the bus towards Harrow & Wealdstone station, in Wealdstone, I hunt for local pubs. There are basically none. That can't be right, can it? Apparently so. This town looks shit, so shit that nice weather wouldn't do it any favours. There's a train to Clapham Junction - south of the river, and most of the way home - in 4 minutes. That's just long enough to take a photo of a boozer that's shut, and looks like it was horrific when it was open anyway.

It's time to channel Tina Turner: we don't need another Harrow, we just need to know the way home, ...

Next to the platform is a disused little part of the line which is one of the oldest in London and the UK. Yeah yeah whatever. It's 1528, a mere 4 hours after we got off the tube in Pinner, and here's the Southern service to Clapham Junction. It's a lovely warm train with plug sockets and tables and barely anyone on it and ewww, when I put my cold wet hands on the table tops everything feels slimy and nasty. Ewww, I said!

It's half an hour to Clapham, mostly taken up going through those shitty bits of northwest London where there's fuck all but train depots and train depots and train depots and passenger train lines and more fucking depots and goods yards. Oh and a giant McVities factory. Even with all this melancholy bleakness, Helen is still enjoying herself more than she did for more than any time in Pinner but for the Heath Robinson stuff.

"Brent's going to be nice then"

The most remarkable positive of the day is that all our road transport was complete bollocks, but our rail transport was comfortable, fast, and with exceedingly well-timed connections. At Clapham we have basically the exact amount spare for a vape and caffeine break before a train back to the glory of Surbiton. The pub next to the station serves a wide range of espresso based drinks - well, two: espresso martini and an espresso stout please barman - and finally there's a smile facing me. Harrow was, indeed, Harrowing. Let us never speak of it again.


The rules are there on our Boroughers microsite. Even for boroughs like this who don't even want Sadiq's money, we're going to be judgemental across the 3 criteria of fun, learning, and nice.


  • Fun: 1 - There was no fun the be had in Harrow. None. It would have got 0 except we decided the scale is 1 to 7
  • Learning: 3 - I learnt NEVER TO GO TO HARROW. It was an important and valuable lesson and for that I’m grateful
  • Nice: 1 - Shit weather, shit surroundings, nowhere to go for decent food and drink


  • Fun: 3 - finding unpleasant things funny is part of my schtick, innit
  • Learning: 4 - Heath Robinson was great, and the manor was pretty informative too
  • Nice: 2 - it was grim and shit and we couldn't even get a fucking pint.

14 out of 42, then. Piss poor. Some blue sky and extra celsius may have helped, but we can only judge what's in front of us... even when we deliberately chose to visit in bad weather. It didn't need to be quite so awful though did it?

Created By
Darren Foreman

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