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The Highway Star

Hanwell Community Centre

Hanwell Community Centre

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The MkII version of Deep Purple, with Ian Gillan and Roger Glover leaving Episode Six to join Purple founders Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord and Ian Paice, is the line-up that became a household name around the globe, giving us classics such as Black Night, Child In Time, Highway Star, and, of course, the riff thatís banned from every guitar shop in the world, Smoke On The Water.

Their big breakthrough came with Deep Purple In Rock - "the mighty roaring slab of turbo-powered proto-metal" that may be the "most influential UK hard rock album ever". The accompanying single, Black Night, soared to the upper reaches of the singles charts all over Europe.

Hanwell Community Centre

And Hanwell Community Centre was where it all started.

Hanwell Community Centre

Let's start with some history.


The building was originally constructed in the 1850's, as a home and school for poor and orphaned children from central London. Such places were called Cuckoo schools - after the cuckooís habit of leaving its young in other birdsí nests, to be fed and brought up. In fact, the road that was the driveway for the school is now called Cuckoo Avenue.

At that time, Hanwell was in the countryside west of London, and so the school offered the chance of health as well as education to London's poorest children. Despite this, its most famous former pupil was later to find worldwide and everlasting fame as the best-loved tramp of all - Charlie Chaplin.

In 1930, the building became the responsibility of London County Council. They developed the land around the school as a housing estate - Hanwell was no longer in the countryside - and demolished the wings of the building until only the central block remained. This, in 1945, became the Hanwell Community Centre, to provide services - education, arts, and sport - to the local community.

Hanwell Community Centre One of the advantages of a self-contained building is that there are no neighbours to complain about the noise. Thus it was that when the MKII line-up of Deep Purple came together in the summer of 1969, they used Hanwell Community Centre as their rehearsal rooms. They were living near by, and the room hire was cheap. So it was in Hanwell that the songs and the sound of the legendary album Deep Purple In Rock were first developed. There's a story that some of the first people to hear what was happening were the band Uriah Heep, working on their material in another room in Hanwell - and listening through the wall!


In late 1999, I was working in West London. Seeing a road sign indicating the way to Hanwell, I realised that I was not far away from this fabled place. So, one fine day - December 10, 1999 - having consulted the map and armed the Nikon, I headed off to see the Hanwell Community Centre for myself.

I was amazed at what I found, and I hope these photographs give you some idea of why. The only photograph of Hanwell that Iíd seen was the one in the booklet of the Deep Purple In Rock 25th anniversary re-issue, and I had been expecting some sort of normal-sized building on a normal sort of street. That's not what I found!

Hanwell Community Centre Hanwell Community Centre is at the top of a small rise - the highest ground for a long away around. When it was first built, it was out in the country, and it must have had fantastic views for a long way in all directions. Nowadays, as I've said, itís surrounded by a housing estate, and it is now many miles inside the London urban area, so that aspect of it has been lost.

What remains is only the central block of the school. Yet it is enormous. Just look at how it dwarfs the cars in the photographs. I was completely unprepared for the sheer scale of the place.

Hanwell Community Centre How typical of the Victorians to build something like this! The poor and the disadvantaged children coming to live here must have been thoroughly awe-struck as they first saw it in the distance in its dominant position on top of the rise. As the horse-drawn carriage slowly travelled up the long driveway, it would have loomed larger and larger over them until, standing outside its imposing bulk, craning their necks to see the top of the tower, the poor children would have been given a very precise and unwelcome impression of their own extremely lowly position in society. I wonder how many would have turned and fled back to the low-rise, but human-scale slums of London.

Hanwell Community Centre I spent a few minutes wandering round the outside of the Community Centre, taking these photographs. I didnít try to go inside. It is used by local schools, and when I was at the back of the building, a bunch of kids playing there started throwing stones at me, and yelling things at me. This brought a woman hurrying across from another direction, who saw the camera, and demanded to know what I was doing. Such are the times that we live in nowadays. I realised that it would not be a good idea for this middle-aged man in a seedy raincoat, carrying a camera, to go inside and ask to see the gymnasium!

Hanwell Community Centre Hanwell Community Centre

Garry Smith, 05 March 2000

post box garry@caleyjag.demon.co.uk

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