Willesden parish, known until the Reformation for its cult of Our Lady, and more recently
for the railway junction which in fact lies outside
its boundaries, is roughly triangular in shape
lying along the west side of Edgware Road
between the second and fifth milestones from
London. It contained 4,383 a. in the 1860s. (fn. 1)
Willesden had a local board of health from 1874
and became an urban district in 1894 and a
municipal borough in 1933. In 1934 Willesden
M.B. gained 283 a. from Ealing M.B. and 37 a.
from Wembley civil parish, but in 1937 some 72
a. were given back to Ealing. After minor changes
in the boundaries Willesden M.B. covered 4,633
a. in 1965. (fn. 2) In that year it joined Wembley and
Kingsbury in the London Borough of Brent.
Willesden was bounded on the north-east by
the Roman Watling Street, later Edgware Road,
on the north and west by the river Brent, and on
the south-east by the Kilburn brook. An ancient
track, some of it forming part of Harrow Road
and Kilburn Lane, marked most of the southern
boundary. (fn. 3) There were slight adjustments to the
course of the Kilburn brook in 1840, (fn. 4) and in 1862
the boundary at that point between Willesden
and Paddington, which had been obscured by
building in the area, was redefined. (fn. 5) In 1875
there were complaints that boundary stones had
been removed during building at Willesden
Junction and the boundary between Willesden
and Acton was disputed then and in 1892, (fn. 6) as a
result of which a slight adjustment was made in
1895. (fn. 7) There were minor adjustments to the
boundary with Wembley when the river Brent
was straightened in 1938. (fn. 8)
The land rises from less than 30 m. along the
Brent and the Kilburn brook to 73 m. at Dollis
Hill and 75 m. at Mount Pleasant on the
Brondesbury ridge. It lies on London Clay, with
Taplow Gravel along the river Brent, glacial
gravel at Dollis Hill, and Claygate Beds at Mount
Pleasant. (fn. 9) The soil is mostly heavy and poorly
drained clay, probably once covered by thick oak
forest and well adapted to the grass farming that
characterized the area from the 18th century. (fn. 10)
The river Brent, running from north-east to
south-west, flooded frequently. It was dammed
between 1835 and 1839 to form the Brent or
Kingsbury reservoir (the Welsh Harp) along the
northern boundary, but although the reservoir
and feeders to the canal reduced the Brent it
remained capable of serious flooding. (fn. 11) The
principal tributary of the Brent in Willesden was
the Mitchell brook which entered the Brent north
of Stonebridge and was itself formed from two
tributaries. (fn. 12) The northern branch, called the
Sherrick or Slade brook, rose near Edgware Road
at Cricklewood and flowed through Sherrick
green where it was joined by a stream flowing
northwards from Willesden Green. (fn. 13) The
southern branch rose south of Willesden Green
and flowed west and north through the open
fields. South-east of the Brondesbury ridge the
land drained into the Kilburn brook, (fn. 14) also
known as West Bourne, Ranelagh Sewer, or
Bayswater rivulet. The Paddington branch of the
Grand Junction canal, which was opened in
1801, crossed East Twyford and was fed by a
canal which ran through the common fields of
Neasden and Stonebridge. (fn. 15)
||O.S. Map 6", Mdx. XI. SW., SE.; XVI. NW., NE.
Census, 1931-61; Grange Mus., NM 9, 22, 184.
||M.R.O., EA/WIL; Bodl. MS. Gough Drawings a 3,
||Grange Mus., O 6 (North colln.).
||Ibid. Wood F 23, pp. 211 sqq.
||Ibid. Wood F 10 (letter by overseers to local bd.);
M.R.O., Rep. Local Inqs. 1889-97, 627-37 (Willesden and
Acton boundary 1892).
||Ibid. 1931-51; Grange Mus., NM 9, 22, 184.
||Geol. Surv. Map 6", Mdx. XI. SW., SE.; XVI. NW.,
NE. (1920 edn.); relief map in A. Winterburn, 'Willesden:
The Process of Urbanisation' (Univ. of Durham B.A. thesis,
1977) in Grange Mus., gen. files, topog.
||A. J. Garrett, 'Hist. Geog. of Upper Brent' (Lond. M.A.
thesis, 1935), 13-18.
V.C.H. Mdx. v. 2; S. Potter, Story of Willesden (1926),
||M.R.O., EA/WIL (inclosure map); cf. Bodl. MS. D.D.
All Souls c 123/45; All Souls Coll., Oxford, Hovenden maps
11/18; W.A.M. 17039.
||P.R.O., E 40/11845; M. S. Briggs, Mdx. Old and New
||G. F. Cruchley, New Plan of Lond. (1829); Rep. on
Bridges in Mdx. 200; P.N. Mdx. 8, 112.
V.C.H. Mdx. iv. 198; M.R.O., EA/WIL (inclosure