Today I’m off to Reigate, where some of my father’s forebears once lived, after coming to the UK from Germany. It’s a small town in Surrey, to the south of London. Getting there involves taking the tube to Victoria Station on the Circle Line, then a train to Redhill with a change there for Reigate. By now the tube system has become quite familiar to me.
Victoria station was very, very busy. Lines for tickets involved 45 to 60 minutes of waiting. Ticket machines were quicker, but would not work with notes. Eventually I got a ticket, not wishing to use my Britrail pass for such a minor journey. Could have caught the Brighton train but it was very crowded. Was able to get one with plenty of seats going to Bognor Regis, if I recall correctly.
A British Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) train (Photo: Andrew Butcher)
The trip to Redhill was on an older EMU, with multiple doors opening straight into each seating area. The EMUs get their power from a third rail set outside the main rails. After crossing the Thames, we pass a big gasometer and the derelict Battersea Power station. The latter has an outrageous design with four huge smokestacks. It once featured on the front of a Pink Floyd album. Say no more.
The old Battersea Power Station (Photo: Aurelien Guichard)
London suburbs are mostly grey and grim, with lots of chimney pots and endless rows of terrace houses. I can’t understand why the denizens have not long ago revolted against their conditions. Perhaps the only thing that saved the UK in the past was that a critical mass of people smart enough to organise a revolution were off somewhere running outposts of the Empire.
We pass through Clapham Junction; sort of a busy part-Redfern, part-Strathfield station equivalent. The suburbs get nicer out towards Purley. Lots of little hills and plenty of trees, but it still has that cramped look. Changed over to a more modern EMU at Redhill heading for Reading. Reigate is only one stop away.
Reigate high street
Reigate is a pleasant little town that has merged into the outer suburbs. Has quite leafy streets, but still lacks parks; something which surprises me about London in general. Many Sydney suburbs feel almost like forests by comparison. Otherwise not a bad place to live. Has a street that runs through a tunnel with vaults off each side, apparently built for storing beer and wine. There’s also a statue of a well known local, Dame Margot Fonteyn.
Plenty of people around, mainly lunching in charming little pubs. It has a nice high street, if a little narrow. Actually, everything in the UK seems either small or very grand. There’s little middle ground and a distinct lack of ‘space’ at times.
The tunnel once used for beer and wine storage
Fun event of the day happened in the queue for a ticket at Victoria Station. Ahead of me was a tourist from Kazakhstan (no, seriously) and an American woman who lives in London (probably for not very long as her grasp of London transport was very thin indeed). The guy made the mistake of asking her how he should get to Brighton and where he should go once there to find a place to stay. She went on for about 40 minutes (no exaggeration) explaining the entire British transport system with an emphasis on ticketing arrangements and options, and constantly compared it with how things worked in Virginia (‘where I come from’) or anywhere else with almost no relevance to London for that matter. Much of her information was wildly apocryphal, including her advice that he might take the tube to Brighton!! I particularly liked the way she would say, ‘Now I won’t explain about …. because that might confuse you’, then proceeded to explain it in a way that would confound a life-long Londoner. Fortunately he seemed to barely understand a word she said most of the time, and the ticket seller sorted out what he needed to know.
Reigate town and station area
Something I didn’t mention before. There is a ‘heatwave’ in London at the moment. The temperature actually hit 27C which makes it fairly muggy. On the way back from Reigate, in the few parks that are around (and I mean like tiny suburban corner parks), people are out having picnics and guys are stripped to the waist to cope with the heat. It all looks very strange to an Aussie, for whom it’s merely a mildly warm day.
Quite a few areas seem to be set up as garden plots. Each has a motley collection of vegetable patches with apparently mandatory little sheds for storing tools. Lots of people are out in them, including several groups lounging around on deck chairs and turning the day into a barbecue event.
Since my visit I have discovered that my father’s ancestor came from ‘The Frenches, Reigate Foreign’ which struck me as very odd when I first heard it; but ‘The Frenches’ is just the name of a little street, and Reigate Foreign is just an old name for the Redhill area near Reigate. The street is on Google Earth, but probably looks a lot different now as most of the houses appear to be fairly modern.