Saturday, 3 March 2012

Secret Bush: under the arches

A piece of Bush history - H&C westbound platform is directly above
A veil of grey drizzle, shining cobblestones gleaming in the rain, a garage in an archway and a train rattling overhead. Through the fine mist and at the bottom of the alley the tall BBC building with a large white satellite dish is the only thing that confirms this is not in fact the 1960s or earlier. This was another discovery of a piece of history in the Bush.

The spirit of the Bush hangs on every corner of this hidden alleyway – unknown to most of us who live here but only 2 metres from the busy entrance of the H&C tube station. I’d been recommended to take my car to High Tech Autos, a garage run by two brothers which has been a resident of Arch 150 for a quarter of a century and existed on the Goldhawk Road before that.

They don’t want the working classes round here anymore” sighed Keith, the long haired owner and worker of mechanical magic. Looking down the narrow alleyway out at the market traders setting up their fruit stalls he described the changes that had slowly changed the face and the faces of the Bush over the years.

They echoed many of the themes Mohammad, the owner of King Soloman's further up the Uxbridge Road had told me, that the populations of successive waves of immigration had added layers of richness but there were also things that remained constant - a willingness to help each other out and a sense of sticking together.

Battles for survival on both sides of the Uxbridge Road
As another train rattled its way overhead Keith and his brother introduced me to the other arch dwellers around them. There is a window tinter, a sign-maker and a computer warehouse while Bush Studios, a music outfit used by bands including some A-listers in the past, owns several arches on each side of the garage. Transport for London, the landlords of the arches, wants Keith to make way for another studio and has repeatedly raised his rent, and altered his contract to get their way. Two court cases later, both of which TfL withdrew from at the last minute, and Keith is still standing. As our Council are finding over the Market just on the other side of the Uxbridge Road they don’t take kindly to bullies in the Bush.

On the other side of the alleyway is a row of houses which form the backbone of Macfarlane Road, a well-to-do community that have fought their own battles over the impact of Westfield on their lives. But behind them, sadly, it seems relations are often not cordial with the arch dwellers either, with one resident apparently even having installed a camera on a pole to check whether the arch dwellers were working past their official clocking off time of 7pm!

As the prices of houses around them have rocketed, with one having been sold for just under a million a couple of years ago, the remaining working class artisans are feeling increasingly under siege. There is a real spirit of solidarity, a word as old-sounding as the scenes from the arches but somehow appropriate, with the traders of the Market and the shop owners of the Goldhawk Road as they fight for their own existences against the luxury flat development being pushed relentlessly by our Council. 

But Keith is only a few years off retirement himself, and he knows that when he hangs up his oily gloves there won’t be another like him. In the meantime I can’t recommend this local business highly enough. He had every chance to charge me the earth for what was wrong with my car, but chose not to – instead spending double the time telling me his stories about this hidden corner of a rapidly disappearing face of London. As we stood there a steady stream of taxi drivers turned up to have various things fixed – and these guys choose their garages very carefully. Keith and his brother aren’t just faces of the Bush, they’re part of what makes it special.

The alley snakes down towards the soon to be vacated BBC


  1. You are crazy to walk there. A lot of drug dealing goes on there and can be quite dodgy.

    1. drug dealing happens everywhere. West end, city bars, bush green common Market & Alleys. Chris is just taking time to talk to normal people who rarely get a look in. He is also bright enough to understand that there is no difference between them and others, the alley or the ritz Hotel lobby. Keep it up.

  2. Nice piece Chris, not quite the vision of the beloved leader though! Quite a labyrinth back there, used to be a car hire place as well......Iain Muir

  3. You should have gone further up and spoken to Jeremy the tailor! He has tales! Aladdin's cave of an arch.

  4. You should have gone even further up than Jeremy the tailor and taken a shit in the bush by the fence. Old tradition in those arches. Full of culture that place.

  5. Thanks Anonymous. I think it's great that they let you back into the community.

  6. You describe Macfarlane Road as a well-to-do community. I think it would be more accurate to call it a mixed community. Many of the houses are multiple occupancy, private rented, many are council owned houses or flats, some housing association as well as private home owners. A few are large family homes, some have been turned into multiple bedsits. Residents are a mixed bunch. There is a high turnover of residents in the rented sector but some people have lived here for decades, some over 50 years - I am a mere novice at 21 years! I think we are like most of the other of the streets around Shepherds Bush Green.
    Viv - Macfarlane Rd

  7. One the most compelling mysteries of our time - whatever happened to the working class of shepherds bush?? Their council houses disappeared, their boozers were turned into gastro-pubs, their snooker hall was turned into a music venue, and now the last relic of that culture, Cookes pie and mash shop is to be bulldozed. Maybe the article meant layers of richness in the fiscal sense!

  8. Thanks Chris for this excellent recommendation. Just took my car in and had a great experience. Highly recommended.