Bedford Park

Bedford Park, Ealing

An influential ‘new model suburb’ created after 1875 in the south-east corner of Acton by the speculator Jonathan Carr

Hidden London: Bedford Park houses

The name comes from Bedford House, a Georgian villa in the grounds of which Bedford Park was laid out. The house itself was named after the man who built it, in the 1790s, ‘John Bedford’ (an assumed name – he was originally John Tubbs).

Prompted by the arrival of the Metropolitan Railway at Turnham Green, Jonathan Carr bought 24 acres of land with the intention of building a settlement that would be affordable yet stylish and he commis­sioned EW Godwin to design the first houses. However, the archi­tec­tural press criti­cised the interiors, though Godwin had previ­ously worked on the Chelsea homes of Wilde and Whistler. Anxious to avoid damage to the development’s reputation, Carr sacked Godwin and brought in R Norman Shaw, the leading architect of his day. Shaw’s Queen Anne archi­tecture has been nicknamed ‘Wrenaissance’ – long rows of houses, some with balconies, differ­en­tiated by detailing in the gables, windows and tall chimneys. There was hot water plumbing, and the airy rooms looked out onto tree-lined avenues.

These well-received homes formed the heart of Bedford Park but Shaw resigned in 1880, frustrated with Carr’s exacting demands and slow bill paying. The next five years’ building was the work of EJ May, a pupil of Shaw’s, and the differ­ences in the designs represent an evolution rather than a change of direction. Carr commis­sioned progress­ively larger houses with more generous gardens, but his company failed in 1886. The remaining plots were sold to an assortment of developers and construction continued until the outbreak of the First World War. Unlike many of the more austere Victorian communities, Bedford Park had an inn, a club and an art school as well as the customary church.

The area suffered a decline during the post-war years, and delays in granting statutory protection allowed several houses to be demol­ished and replaced by blocks of flats in the early 1960s. Preservation groups subsequently prevented any further destruction and Bedford Park has since regained and even exceeded its original popularity – but inevitably with a more mainstream ambience.

WB Yeats lived in Bedford Park for most of the 1880s and 90s, and wrote ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ at 3 Blenheim Road.

Camille Pissarro’s painting of Bath Road in Bedford Park (1897) is in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.

Bryan Appleyard’s novel Bedford Park (2013) is a witty historical thriller set in the suburb and elsewhere in Edwardian London.

Postal district: W4
Further reading: Tom Greeves, Bedford Park: The First Garden Suburb, Bedford Park Society, revised 2010