Local’s View: our guide to Barnes
What do you get when you cross a rural village with a waterside town? And how on earth did it end up in a city? Inigo provides the answer to the historic dilemma of living in London without having to live in London: Barnes. Disclaimer: somebody was going to spill the beans eventually
- Charlie Gooch
Nestled beneath a meander of the Thames is a village that defies all metropolitan supposition. Barnes is the compromise so many have been looking for – a haven for the country bumpkin whose vocation keeps them tethered to the city. Given it’s only 30 minutes from central London, the peace and quiet here are nothing shy of a miracle. Thanks to the protective arc of the river and the local community’s steadfast support of their independent shops, restaurants, markets and green spaces, the calm should last for years to come.
Church of St Mary, Church St
Barnes’ oldest and most revered building was once graced by the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, who reconsecrated it on his way back from sealing Magna Carta. While great fire destroyed much of the church in 1978, sadly taking out its Victorian and Edwardian architecture, the Tudor tower survived, as did much of the original structure, while a few previously unknown features from the 12th and 13th centuries were revealed from the wreckage. When the newly restored church was rededicated in 1984, Langton’s legacy was commemorated in the naming of the oldest part of the building in his honour.
For those seeking artistic inspiration, the Terrace is the Mecca of Barnes real estate: a row of impossibly picturesque Georgian homes peering over the banks of the Thames. It’s no wonder it’s been populated by a slew of celebrated authors, artists, actors and musicians – Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Gustav Holst among them. What better way to breathe life into creative practice than by living in and around such beauty? Blue-plaque spotters have plenty to occupy them here.
Grade II-listed and one of only three London bridges designed to cater for both trains and pedestrians, this thoroughfare promises stunning views of Duke’s Hollow nature reserve, a natural tidal foreshore. Opened in 1849 and widened in the 1890s, the bridge has been a landmark viewing point for the Boat Race since 1945; it’s said that whichever team leads when they pass underneath is tipped to go on to win. Even if rowing isn’t your sport, the atmosphere is electric. Each year over 250,000 people gather to watch Oxford v Cambridge, so securing a position on the bridge is well worth the effort.
Two Peas in a Pod, 85 Church Rd
Local hero Malcolm Louis is the product of what happens when you mix green fingers with a business mind. He deals strictly in the finest organic produce, sourcing the best of what’s in season so that even your simplest dish will taste superb. His stockroom is an endless cornucopia of obscure herbs, mushrooms and exotic fruits, alongside top-notch versions of staple pastas and pulses, making him every chef’s dreamboat. And if your menu requires something truly bizarre, Malcolm will find it for you – just give the man 24 hours’ notice. Staff here also remember everyone by name, which is the cherry on top of what promises to be a revolutionary shopping experience.
The Real Cheese Shop, 62 Barnes High St
Arguably the Holy Grail of Barnes’ bountiful high street is this oasis of pasteurised promise. A portal to a world of divine dairies, the Real Cheese Shop imports its produce from across the country, as well as France and the Nordic countries. Alongside the grands fromages – the likes of Epoisses, Crottins and Coulommiers – what attracts most customers are the unicorn cheeses: the elusive Lyburn, from the New Forest; or the caramel-flavoured Gjetost, which lures Scandanavians from far and wide. The owners’ passion is exemplified in each of their carefully sourced products and, thanks to a deep understanding of their stock, they’ll help you pair each with chutneys, crackers, Marcona almonds and fat, juicy olives.
Tobias and the Angel, 68 White Hart Lane
The beloved Tobias and the Angel has been filling homes in Barnes and beyond since 1986. A purveyor of furniture, both own-made and antique, founder Angel Hughes also deals in pottery and vintage textiles. Essentially, anything that’ll make a home more aesthetically pleasing can be found here, whether that’s a drying-up cloth, a duster, an antique Staffordshire jug or some handmade chopping boards. The shop’s understanding of all things quality naturally led to the creation of its own range of soft furnishings and block-printed fabrics. Shoppers beware, however: Angel keeps her own hours and the shop is currently only open when it’s open, whenever that may be. Cross your fingers.
Dining and drinking
The Bull’s Head, 373 Lonsdale Rd
Nothing says “idyllic British village” better than a proper Sunday pub roast; they’re almost synonymous. Yet the Bull’s Head doesn’t only have great taste in food. Known as the “suburban Ronnie Scott’s”, this SW13 watering hole has a sultry side. Having taken a break from your stroll along the river, ask for the Jazz Room and you’ll be escorted to a sacred space that has been forging the genre in this country for the last 60 years. Who needs the 606 Club when you could be in Barnes, feasting on a Yorkshire pud and high-quality jazz at the same time?
Rick Stein Barnes, Tideway Yard, 125 Mortlake High St
Decommissioned council stables have been repurposed in the most spectacular fashion to form this mouth-watering riverside brasserie. Rest assured, the menu is as far from roughage and hay as is culinarily possible. Rick’s seafood is a classic nod to his adoptive Cornwall and beyond, with dishes such as Dover sole, Indonesian seafood curry and lobster thermidor. Rick’s fish are so fresh they may as well have been tickled from the upper reaches of the Thames by the man himself, but it’s also the view, the atmosphere and the wine that accompanies them that makes this quite such a perfect dining experience.
Orange Pekoe, 3 White Hart Lane
‘Orange pekoe’ is the term used to describe the highest grades of both Western and South Asian teas. Brewed from the leaves of one person’s passion for a good cuppa, this tearoom has scoured the earth for the finest blends around. Whether you’re after the essential English breakfast or the rare Silver Monkey, Orange Pekoe’s sommelier has a tea for every mood, time of day, season, weather configuration, moon cycle… You name it. Its ethos is centred around the tea ritual and its transporting experience, although frankly we wouldn’t want to be transported anywhere else. There’s a reason Time Out declared it “London’s best tearoom”, while Tatler said it offers one of the “best afternoon teas in the city.
Olympic Studios, 117-23 Church Rd
Olympic Studios was born a cinema in 1906. It reinvented itself as a theatre in the mid-1920s before reverting back to being a picture house throughout World War II. In 1966, after a brief stint as a recording studio for television commercials, it diversified into one for music, which was big enough for a 70-piece orchestra.
Though its litany of dramatic productions is long, its history as a studio will always be its greatest achievement. It was here that The Rolling Stones recorded six consecutive albums between 1966 and 1972, that The Beatles made the original tracks of All You Need is Love and Baby, You’re A Rich Man, and that Led Zeppelin put on disc the debut that producer Glyn Jones heralded as “A milestone… One of the best rock’n’roll albums ever made.” Over the course of 30 years, the studio welcomed BB King, The Who, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, Oasis, Barbra Streisand, Madonna, Prince, Spice Girls and many more. Today, it’s gone back to its roots, now functioning as the cinema it once was, complete with an award-winning café and dining room too. There are also screens for private hire and a record shop across the road, which is well worth checking out.
WWT London Wetland Centre, Queen Elizabeth Walk
In a letter to his wife, a dying Captain Scott wrote of their young son: “Make the boy interested in natural history.” And so she did. Peter Scott would go on to found the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Gloucestershire in 1946 – the first of 10 such centres across the UK. Three-quarters of a century later, Barnes boasts London’s own, opened in 2000.
With the city petering out in the distance, the landscape gives way to a tapestry of lakes, meadows, marshes and lagoons, all teeming with wildlife – a true triumph of biodiversity. It’s perhaps unsurprising to learn that it’s no easy feat maintaining this ecosystem, but thanks to the tireless efforts from the army of Barnes volunteers, this paradise won’t be lost.
Barnes Common wasn’t always the space of distilled tranquillity we know today. The fixed boundary was drawn up in the 16th century as a result of fierce clashes between the farmers of Barnes and Putney over grazing rights. Over time, the common became known for its thriving orchards, nurseries and exotic market gardens; later, after being encouraged to ‘dig for victory’, its allotments fed the war effort.
Nowadays, its grasslands and woodlands provide a sanctuary for bunnies, bats and butterflies, as well as Londoners starved of greenery. If you’re more ornithologically inclined, Leg o’ Mutton reservoir is just beyond the treeline and is great for bird spotting.
This six-bedroom townhouse on Lonsdale Road is Barnes all over: Victorian, stucco-fronted and with a glorious garden that makes you feel miles from the city, it’s also just a short stroll from the Thames – and all the delights that line it – and only 10 minutes on foot from Hammersmith station. If anything summed up this bucolic pocket’s best-of-both appeal, it’s this.