Metro-land is a name given to the suburban areas that were built to the north west of London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 in the counties of Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan home county in South East England. The county town is Aylesbury, the largest town in the ceremonial county is Milton Keynes and largest town in the non-metropolitan county is High Wycombe....

, Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England. The county town is Hertford.The county is one of the Home Counties and lies inland, bordered by Greater London , Buckinghamshire , Bedfordshire , Cambridgeshire and...

 and Middlesex
Middlesex is one of the historic counties of England and the second smallest by area. The low-lying county contained the wealthy and politically independent City of London on its southern boundary and was dominated by it from a very early time...

 in the early part of the 20th century, and were served by the Metropolitan Railway
Metropolitan railway
Metropolitan Railway can refer to:* Metropolitan line, part of the London Underground* Metropolitan Railway, the first underground railway to be built in London...

, an independent company until absorbed by the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) in 1933.


The Metropolitan Railway began as the world's first underground line in 1863. The word, métro, used in Paris as an abbreviation for its own Chemin de Fer Métropolitain
Paris Métro
The Paris Métro or Métropolitain is the rapid transit metro system in Paris, France. It has become a symbol of the city, noted for its density within the city limits and its uniform architecture influenced by Art Nouveau. The network's sixteen lines are mostly underground and run to 214 km ...

, which opened in 1900, has since been adopted around the world. Metro-land was coined as a brand name by James Garland, of the Metropolitan's publicity department, to promote what the company first called its "extension" line, and later its "main" line. The term was used in advertisements and promotional publications from 1915 to 1934, although the railway itself was popularly known as "the Met" (rarely the "Metro").

The extension line

The extension line ran initially from Baker Street
Baker Street tube station
Baker Street tube station is a station on the London Underground at the junction of Baker Street and the Marylebone Road. The station lies in Travelcard Zone 1 and is served by five different lines...

 to Swiss Cottage
Swiss Cottage
Swiss Cottage is a district of the London Borough of Camden in London, England. Thedistrict is located north-west of Charing Cross. It is centred on the junction of Avenue Road and Finchley Road and is the location of Swiss Cottage tube station.-Etymology:...

 (1868), reaching Harrow in 1880, Rickmansworth
Rickmansworth is a town in the Three Rivers district of Hertfordshire, England, 4¼ miles west of Watford.The town has a population of around 15,000 people and lies on the Grand Union Canal and the River Colne, at the northern end of the Colne Valley regional park.Rickmansworth is a small town in...

 in 1887, Chesham
Chesham tube station
Chesham lies at the end of the Metropolitan Line Chesham branch, and opened on 8 July 1889 as the original northern terminus of the Metropolitan Railway from . The station is a Grade II listed building. There is no station starter signal at Chesham. The branch has no intermediate stations...

 in 1889 and, stretching ever deeper into the Chiltern Hills
Chiltern Hills
The Chiltern Hills form a chalk escarpment in South East England. They are known locally as "the Chilterns". A large portion of the hills was designated officially as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1965.-Location:...

, Aylesbury
Aylesbury railway station
Aylesbury railway station is a railway station in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England and is a major stop on the London to Aylesbury Line from Marylebone station via Amersham. It is 37.75 miles from Aylesbury Station to Marylebone Station...

 in 1892. At Aylesbury it connected to the former Aylesbury and Buckingham Railway over whose tracks express trains ran from Baker Street to beginning in 1897. From 1899 the Metropolitan operated the line from Quainton Road
Quainton Road railway station
Quainton Road railway station was opened in 1868 in undeveloped countryside near Quainton, Buckinghamshire, from London. Built by the Aylesbury and Buckingham Railway, it was the result of pressure from the 3rd Duke of Buckingham to route the railway near his home at Wotton House and to open a...

 (between Aylesbury and Verney Junction) to Brill
Brill Tramway
The Brill Tramway, also known as the Quainton Tramway, Wotton Tramway, Oxford & Aylesbury Tramroad and Metropolitan Railway Brill Branch, was a six-mile rail line in the Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire, England...

, Buckinghamshire. There were further extensions to Uxbridge
Uxbridge tube station
Uxbridge is a London Underground station in Uxbridge in the London Borough of Hillingdon, north-west London. The station is the terminus of the Uxbridge branches of both the Metropolitan Line and the Piccadilly Line. The next station towards London is Hillingdon. The station is 15.5 miles west of...

 (1904), Watford
Watford tube station
Watford is a station at the end of the Watford branch of London Underground's Metropolitan Line in the north-western part of the network in Zone 7, previously zone A.-Location and description:...

 (1925) and Stanmore
Stanmore tube station
Stanmore tube station is a London Underground station at Stanmore. It is the northern terminus of the Jubilee Line; the previous station is Canons Park. It is in Travelcard Zone 5...


By the time the Metropolitan was taken over by the LPTB, over half of the line between Baker Street and Verney Junction was outside the geographical area covered by the Board. Ward Lock's Guide to London informed visitors to the British Empire Exhibition
British Empire Exhibition
The British Empire Exhibition was a colonial exhibition held at Wembley, Middlesex in 1924 and 1925.-History:It was opened by King George V on St George's Day, 23 April 1924. The British Empire contained 58 countries at that time, and only Gambia and Gibraltar did not take part...

, held at Wembley
Wembley is an area of northwest London, England, and part of the London Borough of Brent. It is home to the famous Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena...

 in 1924-5, that "Baker Street is the terminus of what must perforce be called the "country" lines of the Metropolitan Railway".

The Metro-land guide

An annual guide, also called Metro-land, was published by the company from 1915 to 1932. This replaced the Guide to the Extension Line, which first appeared in 1904. Metro-land encouraged leisure travel and also published facts and figures for the commuter and would-be resident. The 1924 edition featured the British Empire Exhibition, at which the Metropolitan had its own stand in the Palace of Engineering. The exhibition and the new Empire Stadium, which was first used for the Football Association Cup
FA Cup
The Football Association Challenge Cup, commonly known as the FA Cup, is a knockout cup competition in English football and is the oldest association football competition in the world. The "FA Cup" is run by and named after The Football Association and usually refers to the English men's...

 final in 1923, were served by the refurbished Wembley Park station
Wembley Park tube station
Wembley Park tube station is a London Underground station in Wembley Park, north west London. The station is served by the Underground's Metropolitan and Jubilee Lines and is in Travelcard Zone 4...


Defining Metro-land

The Metro-land guide insisted that Metro-land was "a country with elastic borders that each visitor can draw for himself". Indeed, to the extent that the principal features of Metro-land were not unique to the Metropolitan, it has been invoked more generically: for example, by Kathryn Bradley-Hole writing about Gunnersbury Park
Gunnersbury Park
Gunnersbury Park is a park in the Brentford ward of the London Borough of Hounslow, in west London, England. Purchased for the nation from the Rothschild family, it was opened to the public by Neville Chamberlain, then Minister of Health, on 21 May 1926...

, and by the London Evening Standard, which, in 2009, under the heading, "Down the line into Metroland", identified High Barnet (Northern Line), Loughton
Loughton is a town and civil parish in the Epping Forest district of Essex. It is located between 11 and 13 miles north east of Charing Cross in London, south of the M25 and west of the M11 motorway and has boundaries with Chingford, Waltham Abbey, Theydon Bois, Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill...

 (Central Line) and two Metropolitan suburbs, Amersham and Rickmansworth, as "top locations with an easy commute". Even so, Metro-land was quite firm that, so far as the Buckinghamshire Chilterns were concerned, its "Grand Duchy" was confined to the hundred of Burnham
Burnham (hundred)
Burnham Hundred is a hundred in the ceremonial county of Buckinghamshire, England. It is situated towards the south of the county and is bounded on the north by Hertfordshire and on the south by Berkshire.-History:...

: "the Chilterns round Marlow
Marlow, Buckinghamshire
Marlow is a town and civil parish within Wycombe district in south Buckinghamshire, England...

 and the Wycombes
High Wycombe
High Wycombe , commonly known as Wycombe and formally called Chepping Wycombe or Chipping Wycombe until 1946,is a large town in Buckinghamshire, England. It is west-north-west of Charing Cross in London; this figure is engraved on the Corn Market building in the centre of the town...

 are not in Metro-land".

The architect Hugh Casson
Hugh Casson
Sir Hugh Maxwell Casson, KCVO, RA, RDI, was a British architect, interior designer, artist, and influential writer and broadcaster on 20th century design. He is particularly noted for his role as director of architecture at the 1951 Festival of Britain on London's South Bank.Casson's family...

 regarded Harrow
Harrow, London
Harrow is an area in the London Borough of Harrow, northwest London, United Kingdom. It is a suburban area and is situated 12.2 miles northwest of Charing Cross...

 as the "capital city" of Metro-land, while Arthur Mee
Arthur Mee
Arthur Henry Mee was a British writer, journalist and educator. He is best known for The Harmsworth Self-Educator, The Children's Encyclopaedia, The Children's Newspaper, and The King's England...

's King's England described Wembley
Wembley is an area of northwest London, England, and part of the London Borough of Brent. It is home to the famous Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena...

 as its "epitome".

Slogans and references

The Metropolitan’s terminus at Baker Street was "the gateway to Metro-land" and Chiltern Court, which opened over the station in 1929 and was headquarters during the Second World War of the Special Operations Executive
Special Operations Executive
The Special Operations Executive was a World War II organisation of the United Kingdom. It was officially formed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Minister of Economic Warfare Hugh Dalton on 22 July 1940, to conduct guerrilla warfare against the Axis powers and to instruct and aid local...

, was "at the gateway to Metro-land". In similar vein, Chorley Wood
Chorleywood is a village and civil parish in the Three Rivers district of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. It had a population of 6,814 people at the 2001 census. The parish of Chorleywood as a whole has a population of 10,775. The town lies in the far south west of Hertfordshire, on the...

 & Chenies, later described by John Betjeman as "the essential Metro-land", were "at the gateway" of the Chiltern Hills (of which Wendover
Wendover is a market town that sits at the foot of the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire, England. It is also a civil parish within Aylesbury Vale district...

 was the "pearl").

Literature and songs

Before the end of the First World War George R. Sims had incorporated the term in verse: "I know a land where the wild flowers grow/Near, near at hand if by train you go,/Metroland, Metroland". By the 1920s, the word was so ingrained in the consciousness that, in Evelyn Waugh
Evelyn Waugh
Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh , known as Evelyn Waugh, was an English writer of novels, travel books and biographies. He was also a prolific journalist and reviewer...

’s novel, Decline and Fall
Decline and Fall
Decline and Fall is a novel by the English author Evelyn Waugh, first published in 1928. It was Waugh's first published novel; an earlier attempt, entitled The Temple at Thatch, was destroyed by Waugh while still in manuscript form. Decline and Fall is based in part on Waugh's undergraduate years...

 (1928), the Hon Margot Beste-Chetwynd took Viscount Metroland as her second husband. Lady Metroland re-appeared in Vile Bodies
Vile Bodies
Vile Bodies is a 1930 novel by Evelyn Waugh satirising the Bright Young People: decadent young London society between World War I and World War II.-Title:The title comes from the Epistle to the Philippians 3:21...

 in 1930. Metro-land further entered the public psyche with the song My Little Metro-land Home (lyrics by Boyle Lawrence and music by Henry Thraile, 1920), while another ditty extolled the virtues of the Poplars estate at Ruislip
Ruislip is a suburban area, centred on an old village in Greater London, and is part of the London Borough of Hillingdon.It was formerly also a parish covering the neighbouring areas of Eastcote, Northwood, Ruislip Manor and South Ruislip in the area. The parish appears in the Domesday Book, and...

 with the assertion that "It's a very short distance by rail on the Met/And at the gate you'll find waiting, sweet Violet". Queensbury
Queensbury may refer to:* Queensbury, London* Queensbury, New York* Queensbury, West Yorkshire...

 and its local surroundings and characters were cited in the song "Queensbury Station" by the Berlin-based punk-jazz band The Magoo Brothers
The Magoo Brothers
The Magoo Brothers were an Anglo-German Berlin-based punk-jazz band who toured extensively in Germany and throughout Europe during the late 1980s, playing over 400 concerts...

 on their album "Beyond Believable", released on the Bouncing Corporation label in 1988. The song was written by Paul Bonin
Paul Bonin
Paul Bonin is a singer and musician and a songwriter/composer. His body of published recorded work spans from 1980 to the present day.Bonin was born in Hammersmith, London and grew up in north London...

 and Melanie Hickford, who both grew up and lived in the area. In 1997, Metroland was the title and setting for a movie starring Christian Bale
Christian Bale
Christian Charles Philip Bale is an English actor. Best known for his roles in American films, Bale has starred in both big budget Hollywood films and the smaller projects from independent producers and art houses....

 about the development of the relationship between a husband and wife living in the area. The movie was based on the novel of the same name written by Julian Barnes.

"Live in Metro-land"

In 1903 the Metropolitan developed a housing estate at Cecil Park, Pinner
- Climate :Pinner's geographical position on the far western side of North West London makes it the furthest London suburb from any UK coastline. Hence the lower prevalence of moderating maritime influences make Pinner noticeably warmer in the spring and the summer compared to the rest of the capital...

, the first of many such enterprises over the next thirty years. Overseen by the Metropolitan's general manager from 1908–30, Robert H Selbie, the railway formed its own Country Estates Company in 1919. The slogan, "Live in Metro-land", was even etched on the door handles of Metropolitan carriages.

Some stations, such as Hillingdon
Hillingdon tube station
Hillingdon tube station is a London Underground station in North Hillingdon in the London Borough of Hillingdon, west London.The station is on the Uxbridge branch of both the Metropolitan line and Piccadilly line, between Ickenham and Uxbridge stations and in Travelcard Zone 6.-History:The...

 (1923), were built specifically to serve the company's suburban developments. A number, including Wembley Park, Croxley Green
Croxley tube station
Croxley Station is a London Underground station at Croxley Green in the Three Rivers district of Hertfordshire. It is on the Watford branch of the Metropolitan Line...

 (1925) and Stanmore (1932), were designed by Charles W. Clark (who was responsible also for Chiltern Court) in an Arts and crafts
Arts and Crafts movement
Arts and Crafts was an international design philosophy that originated in England and flourished between 1860 and 1910 , continuing its influence until the 1930s...

 "villa" style. These were intended to blend with their surroundings, though, in retrospect, they arguably lacked the panache and vision of Charles Holden
Charles Holden
Charles Henry Holden, Litt. D., FRIBA, MRTPI, RDI was a Bolton-born English architect best known for designing many London Underground stations during the 1920s and 1930s, for Bristol Central Library, the Underground Electric Railways Company of London's headquarters at 55 Broadway and for the...

's striking, modern designs for the Underground
London Underground
The London Underground is a rapid transit system serving a large part of Greater London and some parts of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex in England...

 group in the late 1920s and early 30s.

The demise of the Metropolitan company

By the time the Metropolitan disappeared as a separate company, the economic climate had begun to apply some brakes to the pace of residential development that had already submerged large areas of countryside. For a time, the LPTB used the "Metro-land" tag: "Cheap fares to Metro-land and the sea" were advertised in 1934. But the era of Metro-land as such was over and, indeed, the outer backwaters of the "Grand Duchy" beyond Aylesbury
Aylesbury is the county town of Buckinghamshire in South East England. However the town also falls into a geographical region known as the South Midlands an area that ecompasses the north of the South East, and the southern extremities of the East Midlands...

, such as the Brill branch and the line to Verney Junction – their sleepy features described in A G Macdonell’s England, Their England
England, Their England
England, Their England is an affectionately satirical comic novel of 1920s English urban and rural society by the Scottish writer A. G. Macdonell. It is particularly famed for its portrayal of village cricket.-Social satire:...

 (1933) – were closed to Metropolitan trains by 1936. In that year London Transport introduced new, rather deadpan slogans which tended to emphasise excursions, rather than residential opportunities: "Away by Metropolitan" and "Good spot, the Chilterns".

Steam traction continued to be used on the outer sections of what had become the "Metropolitan Line
Metropolitan Line
The Metropolitan line is part of the London Underground. It is coloured in Transport for London's Corporate Magenta on the Tube map and in other branding. It was the first underground railway in the world, opening as the Metropolitan Railway on 10 January 1863...

" until 1961. From that date Metropolitan trains ran only as far as Amersham, with main line services from Marylebone covering stations between Great Missenden
Great Missenden railway station
Great Missenden railway station serves the large village of Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, as well as the villages of Prestwood, Little Hampden and Little Missenden. The station lies on the London Marylebone-Aylesbury line and is served by Chiltern Railways trains...

 and Aylesbury.


Nearly 70 years later the Chilterns Conservation Board was advertising "Chilterns Country – countryside walks from rail stations" (2004). Drawing no doubt on Metro-land, a guide for ramblers, published by British Railways Southern Region shortly after the Second World War, referred to the "Rambleland" stations of Surrey and Sussex.

The spirit of Metro-land

The sentimental and somewhat archaic prose of the Metro-land guide ("the Roman road aslant the eastern border ... the innumerable field-paths which mark the labourer's daily route from hamlet to farm") conjured up a rustic Eden
Garden of Eden
The Garden of Eden is in the Bible's Book of Genesis as being the place where the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, lived after they were created by God. Literally, the Bible speaks about a garden in Eden...

 – a Middle England
Middle England
The phrase "Middle England" is a socio-political and geographical term which originally indicated the central region of England, now almost always referred to as the "Midlands"....

, perhaps – similar to that invoked by Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin
Stanley Baldwin, 1st Earl Baldwin of Bewdley, KG, PC was a British Conservative politician, who dominated the government in his country between the two world wars...

 (Prime Minister three times between 1923–37) who, though of manufacturing stock, famously donned the mantle of countryman ("the tinkle of the hammer on the anvil in the country smithy, the sound of the scythe against the whetstone"). As one historian of the London Underground put it wryly, "the world of Metroland is not cluttered with people: its suburban streets are empty ... There are, it seems, more farm animals than people."

A more cynical view, that sought to contrast illusion with changing times, was offered in 1934 by the composer and conductor Constant Lambert
Constant Lambert
Leonard Constant Lambert was a British composer and conductor.-Early life:Lambert, the son of Russian-born Australian painter George Lambert, was educated at Christ's Hospital and the Royal College of Music...

 who "conjure[d] up the hideous faux
'Faux is a French word for "false".When manufacturing faux objects or materials, an attempt is often made to create products which will resemble the imitated items as closely as possible...

 bonhomie of the hiker, noisily wading his way through the petrol pumps of Metroland, singing obsolete sea chanties
Sea shanty
A shanty is a type of work song that was once commonly sung to accompany labor on board large merchant sailing vessels. Shanties became ubiquitous in the 19th century era of the wind-driven packet and clipper ships...

 [sic] with the aid of the Week-End Book, imbibing chemically flavoured synthetic beer under the impression that he is tossing off a tankard of 'jolly good ale
Ale is a type of beer brewed from malted barley using a warm fermentation with a strain of brewers' yeast. The yeast will ferment the beer quickly, giving it a sweet, full bodied and fruity taste...

 and old' ... and astonishing the local garage proprietor by slapping him on the back and offering him a pint of 'four 'alf'".

Town v. country

With similar ambiguity, Metro-land combined idyllic photographs of rural tranquillity with advertising spreads for new, though leafy, housing developments. Herein lay the contradictions well captured by Leslie Thomas
Leslie Thomas
Leslie Thomas, OBE is a British author.- Virgin Soldiers :His novels about 1950s British National Service such as "The Virgin Soldiers" spawned two film versions, in 1969 and 1977, whilst his Tropic of Ruislip and Dangerous Davies, The Last Detective have been adapted for television Leslie...

 in his novel, The Tropic of Ruislip (1974): "in the country but not of it. The fields seemed touchable and yet remote". Writer and historian A. N. Wilson
A. N. Wilson
Andrew Norman Wilson is an English writer and newspaper columnist, known for his critical biographies, novels, works of popular history and religious views...

 reflected how suburban developments of the early 20th century that had been brought within easy reach of London by the railways, "merely ended up creating an endless ribbon
Ribbon development
Ribbon development means building houses along the routes of communications radiating from a human settlement. Such development generated great concern in the United Kingdom during the 1920s and the 1930s, as well as in numerous other countries....

 ... not perhaps either town or country". In the process, despite Metro-lands promotion of rusticity, a number of outlying towns and villages were "swallowed up and lost their identity".

The influence of Country Life

Wilson noted that the magazine Country Life
Country Life (magazine)
Country Life is a British weekly magazine, based in London at 110 Southwark Street, and owned by IPC Media, a Time Warner subsidiary.- Topics :The magazine covers the pleasures and joys of rural life, as well as the concerns of rural people...

, which had been founded by Edward Hudson
Edward Hudson (magazine owner)
Edward Burgess Hudson was the founder of Country Life magazine in 1897.-Career:Country Life was an early lifestyle magazine. Edward Hudson was the owner of Lindisfarne Castle and two other Lutyens-designed houses, Deanery Gardens in Sonning , designed and built 1899–1901, and Plumpton Place,...

 as Country Life Illustrated in 1897, had influenced this pattern with its advertisements for country houses: "If you were a stockbroker or a lawyer's wife ... you could perhaps afford a new Tudorbethan mansion, with an oak staircase and mullioned windows and half-timbered gables, in Godalming or Esher, or Amersham
Amersham is a market town and civil parish within Chiltern district in Buckinghamshire, England, 27 miles north west of London, in the Chiltern Hills. It is part of the London commuter belt....

 or Penn". Of the surrounding landscape, Country Life itself has observed that, in its early days, it offered

a rose-tinted view of the English countryside ... idyllic villages, vernacular buildings and already dying rural crafts. All were illustrated with hauntingly beautiful photographs. They portrayed a utopian never-never world of peace and plenty in a pre-industrial Britain.

Precisely the same could have been written of the Metroland guide.

The growth of Metro-land

By the 1930s the availability of mortgages with an average rate of interest of 4¼ per cent meant that private housing was well within the range of most middle class and many working class pockets. This was a potent factor in the growth of Metro-land: for example, in the first three decades of the 20th century the population of Harrow Weald
Harrow Weald
Harrow Weald is an area in north-west London, England. It includes a suburban development and forms part of the London Borough of Harrow.-Locale, geography and history:...

 rose from 1,500 to 11,000 and that of Pinner from 3,000 to 23,000. In 1932 Northwick Park was said to have grown over the previous five years at the rate of 1,000 houses annually and Rayners Lane
Rayners Lane
Rayners Lane is a suburban district in the London Borough of Harrow between Pinner and West Harrow.-History:During the Middle Ages the Rayners Lane road was used when transporting grain to the mill on Pinner Green. The road was originally called Bourne Lane as it crossed several streams including...

 to "repay a visit at short intervals to see it grow".

John Betjeman

In the mid 20th century, the spirit of Metro-land was evoked in three "late chrysanthemums" of John Betjeman
John Betjeman
Sir John Betjeman, CBE was an English poet, writer and broadcaster who described himself in Who's Who as a "poet and hack".He was a founding member of the Victorian Society and a passionate defender of Victorian architecture...

 (1906–84), Poet Laureate from 1972: Harrow-on-the-Hill ("When melancholy autumn comes to Wembley/And electric trains are lighted after tea"), Middlesex ("Gaily into Rusilip Gardens/Runs the red electric train") and The Metropolitan Railway ("Early Electric! With what radiant hope/Men formed this many-branched electrolier") . In his autobiographical Summoned by Bells (1960) Betjeman recalled that "Metroland/Beckoned us out to lanes in beechy Bucks".
Described much later by The Times as the "hymnologist of Metroland", Betjeman reached a wider audience with his celebrated documentary for BBC television, Metro-land
Metro-land (TV)
Metro-land is a BBC documentary film written and narrated by the then Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman. It was directed by Edward Mirzoeff and first broadcast in colour on February 26, 1973...

, directed by Edward Mirzoeff
Edward Mirzoeff
Edward Mirzoeff CVO, CBE is a prominent British television producer and documentary filmmaker.-Early life:He went to Hasmonean Grammar School in Hendon...

, which was first broadcast on 26 February 1973 and released as a DVD
A DVD is an optical disc storage media format, invented and developed by Philips, Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic in 1995. DVDs offer higher storage capacity than Compact Discs while having the same dimensions....

 33 years later. The critic Clive James
Clive James
Clive James, AM is an Australian author, critic, broadcaster, poet and memoirist, best known for his autobiographical series Unreliable Memoirs, for his chat shows and documentaries on British television and for his prolific journalism...

, who judged the programme "an instant classic", observed that "it saw how the district had been destroyed by its own success".

To mark the centenary (2006) of Betjeman's birth, his daughter Candida Lycett Green
Candida Lycett Green
Candida Lycett Green is the author of sixteen books including English Cottages, Goodbye London, The Perfect English House, Over the Hills and Far Away and The Dangerous Edge of Things. Her television documentaries include “The Englishwoman and the Horse” and “The Front Garden”...

 (b. 1942) spearheaded a series of celebratory railway events, including an excursion on 2 September 2006 from Marylebone to Quainton Road, now home of the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre
Buckinghamshire Railway Centre
Buckinghamshire Railway Centre is a railway museum operated by the Quainton Railway Society Ltd. at Quainton Road railway station, in the far depths of "Metro-land", about 5 miles west of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. The site is divided into two halves which are joined by two foot-bridges, one of...

. Lycett Green noted of the planning of this trip that among the fine details considered were which filling to have in the baguettes on the train through Metro-land and how long it would stop at Ruislip Gardens so that the poem Middlesex could be read over the tannoy. The event was in the tradition of earlier commemorations of "Metro-land", such as a centenary parade of rolling stock at Neasden
Neasden is an area in northwest London, UK. It forms part of the London Borough of Brent.-History:The area was recorded as Neasdun in 939 AD and the name is derived from the Old English nēos = 'nose' and dūn = 'hill'. It means 'the nose-shaped hill' referring to a well-defined landmark of this area...

 in 1963 and celebrations in 2004 to mark the centenary of the Uxbridge branch.


Metro-land (notably west Hertfordshire) formed the backdrop for the 1960s ABC TV series The Avengers
The Avengers (TV series)
The Avengers is a spy-fi British television series set in the 1960s Britain. The Avengers initially focused on Dr. David Keel and his assistant John Steed . Hendry left after the first series and Steed became the main character, partnered with a succession of assistants...

, whose popular imagery was deployed with a twist of fantasy. The archetypal Metro-land subjects (such as the railway station and the quiet suburb) became the settings for fiendish plots and treachery in this series and others, such as The Saint
The Saint (TV series)
The Saint was an ITC mystery spy thriller television series that aired in the UK on ITV between 1962 and 1969. It centred on the Leslie Charteris literary character, Simon Templar, a Robin Hood-like adventurer with a penchant for disguise. The character may be nicknamed The Saint because the...

, The Baron
The Baron
The Baron is a British television series, made in 1965/66 based on the book series by John Creasey, written under the pseudonym Anthony Morton, and produced by ITC Entertainment. It was the first ITC show without marionettes to be produced entirely in colour...

 and Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)
Randall and Hopkirk , first transmitted during 1969-70, is a British private detective television series starring Mike Pratt and Kenneth Cope as the private detectives Jeff Randall and Marty Hopkirk, respectively. The series was originally created by Dennis Spooner and produced by Monty Berman...

, all of which made regular use of locations within easy reach of film studios at Borehamwood
-Film industry:Since the 1920s, the town has been home to several film studios and many shots of its streets are included in final cuts of 20th century British films. This earned it the nickname of the "British Hollywood"...

 and Pinewood
Pinewood Studios
Pinewood Studios is a major British film studio situated in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, approximately west of central London. The studios have played host to many productions over the years from huge blockbuster films to television shows to commercials to pop promos.The purchase of Shepperton...


Escaping Metro-land

Some abhorred Metro-land for its predictability and sameness. A. N. Wilson observed that, although semi-detached dwellings of the kind built in the inner Metro-land suburbs in the 1930s "aped larger houses, the stockbroker Tudorbethan of Edwardian Surrey and Middlesex", they were in fact "pokey". He reflected that
as [the husband] went off to the nearest station every morning ... the wife, half liberated and half slave, stayed behind wondering how many of the newly invented domestic appliances they could afford to purchase, and how long the man would hold on to his job in the Slump
Great Depression in the United Kingdom
The Great Depression in the United Kingdom, also known as the Great Slump, was a period of national economic downturn in the 1930s, which had its origins in the global Great Depression...

. No wonder, when war came, that so many of these suburban prisoners felt a sense of release.

Post-war attitudes

By the end of the Second World War architects in general were turning their backs on suburbia. In fact, the very word tended to be used pejoratively, even contemptuously. In 1951 Michael Young, one of the architects of the Labour Party's electoral victory in 1945, observed that "one suburb is much like another in an atomised society. Rarely does community flourish", while the American Lewis Mumford
Lewis Mumford
Lewis Mumford was an American historian, philosopher of technology, and influential literary critic. Particularly noted for his study of cities and urban architecture, he had a broad career as a writer...

, wrote in the New Yorker in 1953 that "monotony and suburbanism" were the result of the "unimaginative" design of Britain's post-war New Towns. When the editor of the Architectural Review, J. M. Richards
James Maude Richards
Sir James Maude Richards, FRIBA, MA, , was a leading British architectural writer.Richards was born at Epsom, Surrey. Educated at Gresham's School, Holt, and Cambridge University, he trained as an architect at the Architectural Association, but his main career was as a writer on architecture...

, wrote in The Castles on the Ground (1946) that "for all the alleged deficiencies of suburban taste holds for ninety out of a hundred Englishmen an appeal which cannot be explained away as some strange instance of mass aberration", he was, in his own words, "scorned by my contemporaries as either an irrelevant eccentricity or a betrayal of the forward looking views of the Modern
Modernism, in its broadest definition, is modern thought, character, or practice. More specifically, the term describes the modernist movement, its set of cultural tendencies and array of associated cultural movements, originally arising from wide-scale and far-reaching changes to Western society...


John Betjeman admired John Piper
John Piper
John Piper may refer to:* John Piper , 20th century English painter and printmaker* John Piper , 20th century BBC radio host* John Piper , 19th century lieutenant-governor of Norfolk Island...

's illustrations for Castles on the Ground, describing the "fake half-timber, the leaded lights and bow windows of the Englishman's castle" as "the beauty of the despised, patronised suburb". However, as the historian David Kynaston observed sixty years later, "the time was far from ripe for Metroland nostalgia".

Julian Barnes: Metroland

Valerie Grove, who conceded that Metro-land was "a kinder word than 'suburbia'" and referred to the less spoilt areas beyond Rickmansworth as "Outer Metro-land", maintained that "suburbia had no visible history. Anyone with any spirit … had to get out of Metro-land to make their mark".

Thus, the central character of Metroland (1980), a novel by Julian Barnes
Julian Barnes
Julian Patrick Barnes is a contemporary English writer, and winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, for his book The Sense of an Ending...

 (b. 1946) that was filmed in 1997
Metroland (1997 film)
Metroland is a 1997 British film starring Christian Bale and Emily Watson. It was directed by Philip Saville and written by Adrian Hodges, based on the 1980 novel by Julian Barnes...

, ended up in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 during the disturbances of May 1968 – though, by the late 1970s, having thrown off the yearnings of his youth, he was back in Metro-land. Metroland recounted the essence of suburbia in the early 1960s and the features of daily travel by a schoolboy, Christopher Lloyd, on the Metropolitan line to and from London. During a French lesson, Christopher declared, "J’habite Metroland" ["I live in Metroland"], because it "sounds better than Eastwick
Eastwick (Metroland)
Eastwick was a fictional suburb on the outer reaches of the London Underground’s Metropolitan line in Julian Barnes’ novel Metroland. This book, written in 1980, recalled adolescence in the early 1960s.-Features of Eastwick:...

 [the fictional location of his home], stranger than Middlesex".

In real life, some schoolboys had made similar journeys for more hedonistic reasons. Betjeman recalled that, between the wars, boys from Harrow School
Harrow School
Harrow School, commonly known simply as "Harrow", is an English independent school for boys situated in the town of Harrow, in north-west London.. The school is of worldwide renown. There is some evidence that there has been a school on the site since 1243 but the Harrow School we know today was...

 had used the Metropolitan for illicit excursions to night clubs in London: "Whenever the police raided the Hypocrites Club or the Coconut Club, the '43 or the Blue Lantern there would always be Harrovians there".

Social mobility: Tropic of Ruislip

Between Metro-land’s heyday before the Second World War and the end of the 20th century, the proportion of owner-occupied
An owner-occupier is a person who lives in and owns the same home. It is a type of housing tenure. The home of the owner-occupier may be, for example, a house, apartment, condominium, or a housing cooperative...

 dwellings in England, already rising fast from the mid 1920s, doubled from a third to two-thirds. In Tropic of Ruislip, Leslie Thomas
Leslie Thomas
Leslie Thomas, OBE is a British author.- Virgin Soldiers :His novels about 1950s British National Service such as "The Virgin Soldiers" spawned two film versions, in 1969 and 1977, whilst his Tropic of Ruislip and Dangerous Davies, The Last Detective have been adapted for television Leslie...

’s humorous account of suburban sexual and social mores
Mores, in sociology, are any given society's particular norms, virtues, or values. The word mores is a plurale tantum term borrowed from Latin, which has been used in the English language since the 1890s....

 in the mid 1970s (adapted for television as Tropic, ATV 1979), the steady flow of families from council housing on one side of the railway to an executive estate on the other side served to illustrate what was becoming known as “upward mobility
Social mobility
Social mobility refers to the movement of people in a population from one social class or economic level to another. It typically refers to vertical mobility -- movement of individuals or groups up from one socio-economic level to another, often by changing jobs or marrying; but can also refer to...

”. Another sign was that, by the end of the book, "half the neighbourhood" of Plummers Park (probably based on Carpenders Park, on the outskirts of Watford
Watford is a town and borough in Hertfordshire, England, situated northwest of central London and within the bounds of the M25 motorway. The borough is separated from Greater London to the south by the urbanised parish of Watford Rural in the Three Rivers District.Watford was created as an urban...

) had moved south of the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 to Wimbledon or nearby Southfields
Southfields is a suburban district in the London Borough of Wandsworth, England, situated 5.6 miles south-west of Charing Cross where Serena Frazer lives. Southfields is located partly in the SW18 postcode area and partly in SW19....

. This was put down to the "attractions of Victoriana
Victoriana refers to items or material from the Victorian period , especially those particularly evocative of the design style and outlook of the time....

", which, like suburbia itself, championed at the time by Betjeman’s Metro-land, was coming back into fashion; however, it appeared to have just as much to do with couples following each other round in order to maintain extramarital affairs.

Another glimpse of Metro-land in the 1970s was provided by The Good Life, the BBC TV comedy series (1975-8) about suburban self sufficiency. Though set in Surbiton
Surbiton, a suburban area of London in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, is situated next to the River Thames, with a mixture of Art-Deco courts, more recent residential blocks and grand, spacious 19th century townhouses blending into a sea of semi-detached 20th century housing estates...

, Surrey, the programme's location filming was carried out in Northwood, an area reached by the Metropolitan in 1885. A less benign view of Metro-land was offered in the mid noughties by the detective series, Murder in Suburbia
Murder in Suburbia
Murder in Suburbia was a British detective drama that ran for two series in 2004 and 2005.-Plot summary:The series focused on various murders in the fictional suburban England town of Middleford; filming took place in North West London, including Northwood.-Regular cast and characters:-Episode...

(ITV 2004-6), which, though set in the fictional town of Middleford, was also filmed in Northwood and other parts of North West London.

Note on spelling

The form Metroland is now in common use, but the "brand" was hyphenated as Metro-land or METRO-LAND. Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman and Julian Barnes all dispensed with the hyphen (though it was inserted by the BBC for Betjeman's documentary of 1973).

External links

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