As young boy I often used to go to Gladstone Park. It’s a pleasant green space of winding paths and towering trees close to the tube stations of Willesden Green and Dollis Hill. I recall clearly those days of walking to the top of the hill to see the ducks in the small pond there. It was here where I would always see an old abandoned house that was boarded up. It would take me a further twenty years to appreciate the writer Mark Twain and a few years more to learn that, to my surprise, this is where he used to live.
Dollis Hill House, as it was called, was built in 1825 before this once rural area had become surrounded by the ever-growing metropolis of London. Before Mark Twain was here, the house had also been the home of William Gladstone, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom four times in the late 1800s. As a lover of English and American literature, for me it was the fact that Mark Twain lived here during the summer of 1900 that caught my attention most. During this time, he wrote
Dollis Hill comes nearer to being a paradise than any other home I ever occupied.
I come to this park often but it was only when Dollis Hill House had been knocked down did I learn about its history. The house, which also served as a hospital during the First World War, closed down in 1989 due to safety concerns. In the 90s there were two fires and despite numerous campaigns from local residents to try and save the house, it was demolished in 2012. Although it’s sad the house is gone, the brick ruins of its base were preserved because of its historical significance. It’s obvious that this was once a house. To me it feels strange looking at these ruins because I remember what they used to be, and it’s an eerie experience to be able to walk over the rooms that once housed one of the greatest writers in American history and one of the UK’s most important Prime Ministers. The Stables Café and its flower garden are right beside the ruins; a good place to relax and read a few chapters of one of Twain’s classics.
The ruins are what catch my eye but it’s the park itself which makes this a nice place to spend the day. Gladstone Park, named after the Prime Minister who once lived within these ruins, is in a quiet residential neighbourhood and on a sunny afternoon, it’s where the locals come for picnics and to enjoy the sun. There’s a reason I come back here every summer.
Twain’s legacy in the park has always been a subtle one and not long ago was reduced to these ruins. More recently however, it was somewhat revived as a small street at the side of the park was named after him.
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