back to burnt oak library

BurntOak - Library - 2022

At the end of May I finally returned home to London, having not been back since before the pandemic started. This was my longest period of time not going back, and it was great to see my family again. My older brother was getting married to his long-time partner (I was best man and gave a speech). It was the first of two trips back to London this summer, and both times I would be going off to France for the second half of the trip. It’s been a busy time. I also managed to get a lot of sketching done, as well as many drawings I would start now, finish later (gives me something to do on the plane home). I felt a bit odd flying across the Atlantic again after all this time, but it wasn’t so bad, and I landed at Heathrow and took the brand new Elizabeth Line, London’s newest train line, that had opened only a day or two before. It was pretty exciting getting to ride this new train so early in its existence. The Elizabeth Line (formerly called Crossrail) station within Tottenham Court Road was like an underground cathedral, at least compared to the tube platforms. Anyway, I made it up to Burnt Oak on the Northern Line which is where my family still live, and this is where I got my first sketch of the trip in. This was a London sketching day and I was headed down into town to fill my book and wander the streets, as I do. I like to explore. But I had to stop here on Orange Hill Road and draw Burnt Oak Library. This iconic landmark of Burnt Oak (opened 1968, designed by B. Bancroft) was like a second home to me growing up, I spent so much time in here. These days only the top part is the library, greatly reduced in book numbers, while the bottom floor is all council offices for local services now (very useful of course). When I was a kid, the children’s library was upstairs while the main library was downstairs. I still dream about the library from those days. There was a smell, a bookish smell, and as you walked in the main doors (which are in a different place now since the remodel), you were greeted with three maps on the wall (I think it was three, maybe two?) showing Burnt Oak as it was when it was all fields and a few roads, then a small village in Middlesex, and then how it looked in the 60s all built up and part of the Greater London suburban metro-land. Burnt Oak is on the Edgware Road, which is part of the ancient Roman road called Watling Street, shooting dead straight in a general north-western direction. It’s from Watling Street that we get the name Watling Avenue, the main road that cuts from Edgware Road (called ‘Burnt Oak Broadway’ in this section) downhill and past the Underground station towards this intersection with Orange Hill Road, and that’s where you find the library. Watling Saturday Market by the way, from the sign in the sketch, was the market that was in the parking area behind the station. I don’t know if it even still goes, and I think the stairwell down there from Watling Avenue has been closed off, but we used to go there on Saturdays and look around the stalls. The little street to the right is Park Croft, a tiny cul-de-sac that just backs up to the train lines. The library itself didn’t used to be painted in such a dark grey colour, but was white (not a very clean white admittedly) and looked quite striking. Then they painted some colourful patterns on the interior parts, and when they did a big redevelop in the 2000s they painted it an uninviting dark grey. There didn’t used to be a fence around the grassy bit, well there was a small shin-height barrier we used to jump over, so we could sit in the shade outside the library windows. I remember getting my library card as a very young kid, possibly on a visit from my infant school which was just up the road (Goldbeaters), the librarian upstairs in the kids section had brown curly hair and was friendly and kind but serious, you couldn’t make noise of course without a stern look, but I remember her teaching me all about book care (I still remember her advice that it’s not a good idea to turn the corners of pages in your books to mark your spot, and to this day I still don’t). I do remember that I forgot to take some books back when I was a kid, and it turned out they were in our loft, and the two books were a very silly children’s story about colourful teddy bears getting into trouble, and a heavy book about the Soviet manned space program. Two more completely different books you could not have chosen but that was the sort of thing I would read, I guess. As I grew I would read lots of adventure books, but I’d mostly spend ages poring over the travel books, especially the Insight Guides which have all the colourful photographs in them. New Zealand, Hong Kong, Germany’s Rhine Valley, Brazil, the fjords of Norway, Australia, Japan, the Trans-Siberian Express, there were all these places I read books about at that library but have as yet still never visited. Some day. When I was an older teen I would study in the library, especially on the evenings when it would stay open late until 9pm, I could get some quiet study done and also if I needed to study with friends, but usually it was a quiet place for myself. I would go to other libraries too, I remember studying hard for my Maths GCSE in Edgware library every day, and the big library at Hendon was a favourite for me, I’d sometimes spend all of a Saturday in there getting lost among the language books, and they also had an excellent music library where I would check out vinyls (I often used to get the old BBC Sound Effects records, for some reason). Libraries were such a big part of my growing up as a place where I could find ideas and let the imagination bubble, and I carried that on into adulthood. When I lived in Hornsey Lane, when I wasn’t working I would spend most of the day in Crouch End library. When I moved to Davis, similarly I would spend a lot of my time in the library, looking through books that might be interesting. I think it’s always a massive shame whenever public libraries close, they need to be protected. While it’s a lot smaller than it used to be, I’m glad Burnt Oak Library is still there. Probably not quiet enough for me to do my homework in now though. And I wish they paint it white again.

Behind the library it looks like they are building some sort of extension on top of Silkstream Parade, that changes the look of the street a bit. I’m interested to see how that turns out, but I hope it’s not some big redevelopment scheme like we saw in Colindale, which is a completely different place from when I left the area. I miss it round Burnt Oak, so it was good to be back for a little bit. I did do a few more drawings round here while I was back, will post later. Next up – central London sketches…

2 thoughts on “back to burnt oak library

  1. David Rush says:

    Great sketch. I grew up in the Watling Estate, on Deansbrook Rd. I went to the Catholic infants school on Thirleby Rd and the primary school in The Meads. I also attended St James’s on Orange Hill and Grahame Park. I loved the old library. It’s been ruined by the refurbishment. Such a shame, the late 60s interior was fantastic.
    I remember Pennywise and Vipins. Do you remember the bookshop near the station? It had such a great name: Buy A Book And Banish Boredom.

    • pete scully says:

      Cheers! My little sister went to those schools too, but St James had already closed on Orange Hill by the time she moved up from St Martins so she was Grahame Park only. I was at Goldbeaters and then Edgware, my older siblings were at Woodcroft and then Orange Hill, so between us we covered all the local schools!
      I do remember a second hand bookshop on Silkstream Parade across from the station when I was a kid, tiny place but felt huge like it had everything. Closed when I was very young though.

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