So here we go again. In recent months a couple of new parkruns have started up in the Greater London area, so if I wanted to maintain my LonDone status I would have to go up there again. Thus it was that this morning I was headed for Southall.
Southall is to be found at the western edge of Greater London. It used to be part of Middlesex, when that county still existed, but nowadays is part of the suburban sprawl. The name Southall derives from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘southern corner’, in this case the southern end of a large forest at the western edge of London. The northern end was Northolt. For many centuries Southall was a quiet rural community. The oldest building that still survives is the Manor House, built in Tudor times for the Awsiter family, who were Lords of the Manor. The house passed through several owners over the centuries and eventually ended up with its present landlord, which is Ealing District Council. There is some concern about the state of the building but promises have been made to renovate it.
Things started to change with the construction of the southern end of the Grand Union Canal. This connected London to the network of canals spreading northward to Birmingham. In 1839 the Great Western Railway arrived in Southall making the place an important transport hub. This led to the establishment of many new businesses including flour mills, brick factories, chemical plants and soap works. Later many food companies had their base here, producing everything from margarine to Walls sausages. A famous ceramics factory was established here towards the end of the nineteenth century. The Martin Brothers produced distinctive and nowadays highly valuable ceramic artwork.
From the 1950s onwards a large number of people were encouraged to immigrate from the Indian subcontinent to work in the local factories and businesses and in the newly opened Heathrow airport. Further waves of immigrants came and settled in the area so that nowadays Southall is the most overwhelmingly Asian corner of London. Around 75% of the population is believed to be of Asian origin. The area is home to the largest Sikh community in the UK. Southall is sometimes referred to as “Little India” or “Little Punjab” The signs at the local railway station are in both English and Punjabi script.
At Southall parkrun you will find that many of the runners and nearly all of the volunteers are British Asian. It takes place at Southall Park which is a nice little park off the Uxbridge Road - an oasis of greenery amidst the suburban sprawl. The park was formerly the grounds of a fine house called Southall Haw, home of the Merrick family. For a time it was used as an asylum. Eventually the estate was bought by the council who turned it into a park, adding formal gardens, paved footpaths, playgrounds and sports facilities.
Southall parkrun is a very recent addition to the parkrun family - we were only up to run number eight today. The course starts in the roundabout area in the centre and consists of three laps around the perimeter plus a short loop to begin with. It’s a bit winding and twisty but it’s largely flat and on paved surfaces so it ought to be a fairly fast course. I wasn’t sure how I was going to go today. Earlier in the week I was cutting up some branches that had come down in the storm and tweaked something in my back. It felt all right after a couple of Nurofen. And then I had allowed plenty of time to get there but then found that the M4 was closed for roadworks and the traffic forced onto the minor roads. I saw far more of the back roads of Hounslow than I would have liked but managed to arrive in time.
It was a bright crisp morning and there were 157 runners lined up for the start. At this stage they are still getting lots of tourists and first time visitors. I set off at a decent pace and spent much of the run trying to catch up to two other guys. I never quite caught them but coming towards the finish I saw had a chance to improve my over 65 PB. And I did! By one whole second. 12th in 21:30. I was very happy with that. Indeed I enjoyed the whole Southall experience. It was great to meet and be cheered on by lots of friendly British Asians!
My statistics for today - that was parkrun venue number 247. I was first in my age group and first overall on age graded scores.
If you’d like a glimpse of the course, here’s a YouTube video from a few weeks ago.
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