Aits and Offshore at Brentford

On my last visit to London for some time, with Jonny I went to visit the gym premises set up by Sam Village. Sam is friend of Jonny’s and a professional trainer involved in keeping Formula One drivers fit. See https://www.kotwf.co.uk/high-performance .

Jonny on the bridge over a weir leading to a former ait, a liminal location

It is on a wonderful site at Brentford, in what was Middlesex, where the Brent flows from the north to an oblique, and presumably in the past changing, confluence with the Thames. The ford referred to in the place name is over the Brent, although there is reference to this being the lowest fordable point on the tidewater Thames. Looking up the local word “ait”( or eyat) for river islet, Wikipedia quotes Brentford as the case example.

Weir leading to a cutting off the Brent river, still used for barge repairs, opposite social housing. Note the plane climbing from nearby Heathrow.
Cranes, barges & workshops
A Street Map from c.1925. It shows Brentford hemmed in between the Great North Road (now the M4) and the Thames. The terminal pool of the Grand Junction Canal is shown above the gauging lock. The complex site of the Brentford Lock clings to former aits on the confluence of the Brent and Thames, their form clearly related to aits on the tidewater Thames.

Immediately inland, flats and a Holiday Inn have been installed at what was the terminal barge pool of the Grand Junction Canal (completed 1804). The Brentford Lock site sits below the gauging lock and beside the Thames Lock on the Brent. The site is being developed for luxury flats, but includes presumably listed sites and unuseable, brownfield land on what were aits between the Thames and Brent. As it is at present, it is a hidden gem, well worth the visit. There is a lovely café/ restaurant/ bakery, a Victorian pub, barge moorings and rickety artists’ premises accessible only across bridge routes over lock gates (in varying states of disrepair).

Former industrial / canal / riverside units used to show/sell the sort of cars & bikes you polish and keep as installations. Behind them is “The Brentford Cobbler”, relocated from the High Street.
The Fuller’s Pub outside the entrance to the Brentford Lock. The name, ” The Beehive”, is surely not coincidental. Brentford FC, presently in the (second tier) Championship, (their highest league position since the 1930’s), are known as “the Bees”.
The blue line marks the former high water mark, recording flooding (in 1841, when several lives were lost?)

You are reminded of Penelope Fitzgerald’s wonderful novel, “Offshore”; not offshore in the sense we use it now, but a story of eccentrics and the downtrodden living on barges on the Thames at Battersea in the 1960s, just the sort of place since redeveloped for expensive “riverside” living. Maybe with the present crisis the Brentford Lock site will be left for longer than we feared in its present dishevelled but intriguing state.

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