Nairn’s London #27, #10

Nairns London #27
Kingston upon Thames

THEN: Without any doubt, the best town centre near London; in fact, one of the best in the country. The first view of the triangular Market Place seems too vivid to be true: the Market Hall, fussily Victorian, surrounded by stalls; the church tower behind to the right, half screen by trees, a wonderful half-timbered 1929 Boots behind to the left. Everything going on together, clanging like a peal of bells. And this is only half. Another triangular market place, the Apple Market, dovetails with the main space to make up a square. Buildings separate them except for one narrow alley (Harrow Passage). Here and There, with the There a reflection of the Here, like meeting the younger sister of the woman you love. Another alley (King’s Passage) runs west from the Market Place straight down to the Thames – no railings or notices, just water at the end of stairs. And all this takes up approximately the same area as one of the roundabouts on the Kingston By-pass.

NOW: Not quite the spectacle I’d hoped for. Its a pretty town square, for sure, but I’m not sure it would receive the honours of best near London today. The gilt statue of Victoria still sits on the Market Hall, and the church continues to look down warmly upon those passing by. But commercialism has left scorch marks across every frontage, and you can feel a tension between the old and new (rather than both working in harmony.) The Apple Market still exists, accessible through Harrow Passage, but it’s much quieter, a shadow of the main square. And the Kings Passage is no longer frequented by punters, who instead take Shrubsole Passage to the waterfront, via The Slug and Lettuce and Byron Burger. I doubt Nairn would rate it today.

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Nairns London #10
Shepperton Village Square

THEN: In the north of England this might be passed over: in Middlesex it has got to be noticed. But only in one direction: the view in to the square, with the old church at the end, cottages along the sides, and a road beyond which meets the river head-on because it takes a sudden bend here. Look back, and the whole thing disintegrates, dominated by an ugly, fragmented splay corner which carries a continuous stream of traffic.

NOW: In comparison to Kingston-Upon-Thames, this square has managed to retain its charm. If you were to paint out the cars and restaurant names, I doubt there would be any difference since Nairn’s day. I don’t think we passed a single person whilst there, but the parking bays were curiously full. Even at lunch, there were only two or three people in The Anchor pub. It’s a ghost town, a moment preserved in time.  Little wonder. People now call it Old Shepperton, with ‘New’ Shepperton sitting about a mile up the road.

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