Volunteer Anne Logie walked along the Longford River and sent this dispatch.


Now you see it……
Now you don’t!
Hampton Court Palace was always short of water, so Charles I came up with the idea of bringing water from elsewhere via an artificial channel.   To get a fall of water of sufficient force a canal had to be cut all the way from the River Colne, a distance of over nineteen kilometres (over eleven miles).  The canal was designed by Nicholas Lane and built during a nine month period in 1638 to 1639.  It wasn’t the first canal to divert water from the Colne, the canal now known as The Duke Of Northumberland’s River had been dug in Tudor times to take water from the Colne across to the River Crane and from there east to what is now Syon Park.  Charles didn’t get uninterrupted satisfaction from his river, as in the weeks before the Civil War began “the villagers of Hanworth had dammed and polluted the Longford River with dead dogs and rotting refuse, blocked the water supply to the fountains at Hampton Court, causing a wilful stench, to the discomfort of the residents” ('A Book Of Hanworth' compiled written and published by John E. B. C. Wright and John H. B. Finnis).
The Longford River, which is owned and maintained by The Royal Parks, begins at Longford (hence the name) and meanders roughly south west to the Thames.  It has the possibly unique distinction of having two air fields along its length, which have each affected it in different ways.  The first of these is Heathrow Airport.  I am insufficiently intrepid to have visited the source of the Longford or to have walked along its route by the airport, but the Longford is visible running parallel to the Northumberland around the south west edge of the airport.  The Northumberland is the one closest to the airport.  Both rivers were moved to their present routes around the airport as a consequence of the Terminal 5 expansion, the so called Twin Rivers Diversion Scheme.  It appears that they are covered for part of the way to the west but they are visible just north of the Southern Perimeter Road, dropping south of it near Seaford Road, and then continuing to hug the Southern Perimeter Road until they cross under the Great Southwest Road (the A30), at which point the two rivers go their separate ways. The Longford flows under Staines Road into North Feltham, at which point it becomes publicly accessible and a joy to walk.  
It is unlikely that many people commuting through Feltham notice the river running behind the Bedfont Lane McDonald’s on the north side of Feltham High Street and alongside the converted church on the south side, but it is worth stopping to look, for there next to the busy intersection is the Longford River flowing between treelined grassy banks.   While the Longford is celebrated as it approaches Hampton Court Palace, and bordered with elegant hand painted signs declaring “LONGFORD RIVER Police have received instructions to take any person into custody damaging or destroying the Bank of the River. By Order, Secretary Of State”, it becomes curiously anonymous further upstream.  Indeed, at its crossing of Staines Road there are just signs stating ‘Warning. River ahead.”
Feltham train station makes a good starting point to walk the section of river north to Staines Road.  From the main station entrance walk past the bus stops, cross the road, and suddenly there is the river, loud with coots and moorhens dodging in and out of the reeds, and on its right bank a broad pathway edged with hawthorn.  The nature of the river changes as it continues north between Blenheim Park to the west and the Feltham Arenas to the east and then runs along the western side of Ruskin Avenue before disappearing under the Staines Road and continuing seemingly inaccessibly north west from there. There is a rich diversity of plants and birds, and the river is sufficiently rich in fish to be of interest to kingfishers.
Following the river south from Feltham station is a bit more problematic.  It can be seen as it runs between Cardinal Road and New Chapel Square, down behind the bingo, the bowling alley, and the cinema, but there is no riverside walk, and then just north of Browells Lane it dives into a culvert.  In order to meet up with it again, walk along Browells Lane to Forest Road, then head down Forest Road past all the warehouses, and there, next to the little mobile kiosk providing welcome refreshment, is a bit of raised ground, some trees, and the river reappearing from its culvert.  A sign next to the culvert opening announces that this is Hanworth Park.
Hanworth Park is an area with a remarkable history which will be the subject of future blogs, but having got you this far it would be unfair not to mention of some highlights, particularly as almost no information is provided on the sign next to the culvert. Hanworth Park is a small remainder of land which belonged to the manor of Hanworth, going back to at least the time of Edward The Confessor, later owned by Henry VII and then by Henry VIII, who used it primarily for hunting and made a present of it first to Ann Boleyn and later to Catherine Parr.  Following Henry’s death Catherine Parr lived there with her fourth husband, Sir Thomas Seymour, and her stepdaughter, the future Queen Elizabeth.  The old manor house, known variously as Hanworth House or Hanworth Palace, was destroyed by fire in 1797.  It stood near St George’s Church to the southwest of the present day park.  The present Hanworth Park House was built by the fifth Duke of St Albans, the grandson of Charles II and Nell Gwynn.  It stands in the middle of Hanworth Park, and although there are discrepancies between various references with regard to its exact date, there seems to be a consensus towards 1802 with later additions, particularly of the 1860s. At any rate it is Grade II listed. ‘The Buildings Of England’ describes it as ‘an odd but very attractive house’, and were it not for photographic archives we would need to take their word for it, as the house now stands empty behind high rusting fences and almost totally hidden by trees.  
As you enter Hanworth Park from Forest Road three options present themselves: to follow the sign marked Feltham School and strike out overland towards St George’s Church, to walk straight ahead down the dead end to the fence at the back of Hanworth Park House, which though empty is well guarded, or to bear left and follow the river.  At this point the river flows between mature ivy-covered trees and the path is bare earth. (There are paths on both sides of the river.  I took that on the left, I suspect the one on the right may run out against the Hanworth Park House fence.)  After a couple of bends the tree cover begins to open but the river disappears once again.  Ahead is a broad expanse of flat, empty, grassland, albeit historically and ecologically important acid grassland, twelve hectares of which are, according to a sign within the park, in management under Natural England’s Environmental Stewardship Scheme.  Crossing the expanse of grass where the river ought to be is a concrete path.  Why the concrete path?  Because you are now standing on the site of that second air field, known as Hanworth Aerodrome or Hanworth Air Park.  
Having myself had no idea that the air park existed until a couple of weeks ago I am astounded that so little is made of it.  There are oblique references - The Airman pub with the jolly leather helmeted pilot on its sign at the intersection of Hanworth Road and Harlington Road East, and the otherwise mysteriously named Feltham Airparcs Leisure Centre on the edge of the park near Mount Corner (the aforesaid Mount having been the site of the ice house for Hanworth Park House).  I could not see any reference to the historic Air Park even within the Airparcs Leisure Centre.  Search the internet however and there is splendid archive material to be found.  Briefly, James A Whitehead, an American with an aircraft company in Richmond, purchased Hanworth Park in 1916 in order to use it for testing his planes.  The ornamental trees which had been planted in the park were felled, allegedly by lumberjacks from the Canadian Army, and the concrete slabs to cover the river are said to have been laid by German prisoners of war.  Hanworth Park House was converted in 1915 for use as a Red Cross hospital.  It can hardly have been restful surrounded by an airfield.  In later days the park was used as a private flying club, and the house became its clubhouse and hotel.  Flying was abandoned in the 1940s because of the proximity to Heathrow Airport.  The Graf Zeppelin visited Hanworth Air Park twice, and one of my favourite pictures is an aerial view showing the Graf Zeppelin on ground now occupied by Feltham Community College playing fields, Hanworth Park House in all its glory, and in the foreground the little planes of the flying club.  Other, older, pictures show children blackberrying by the side of the Longford as it was before it was covered over.  It is always tricky when places have history of different periods, but it might be nice to restore the river across that stretch of grass, particularly as it does reappear from the culvert shortly before the park ends at Hounslow Road.  That last little bit of river already attracts children, and the river north of Feltham station shows how the river can run open and accessible through public land.
From Hounslow Road the river carries on generally southeast, visible but largely inaccessible, passing on its way the Air Links Industrial Estate, the Lady Eleanor Holles School playing fields, the Longford Industrial Estate, and then running briefly beside the Uxbridge Road in Hampton before crossing under Pantile Bridge and into Bushy Park before its final dive under the grounds of Hampton Court Palace and out into the Thames.
Longford River looking north to Feltham Station from Feltham High Street
Longford River looking south from Feltham High Street
Longford River north of Feltham Station (view looking south back to Feltham Station)
Longford River just north of Feltham Station looking up river to the north east
Longford River at Blenheim Park
Longford River by Ruskin Avenue looking downstream
Longford River between Cardinal Road and New Chapel Square looking downstream
Longford River at Forest Road emerging from culvert into Hanworth Park
Hanworth Park House viewed from the west (a detour from the river route)
Longford River in woods near Hanworth Park House (looking up stream back towards Forest Road)
Longford River emerging from under concrete cover in Hanworth Park near Hounslow Road
Longford River looking south from Hounslow Road
Longford River at Pantile Bridge, Hampton, looking upstream
The Longford River arrives in Bushy Park