Willesden: Introduction

Page 177

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7, Acton, Chiswick, Ealing and Brentford, West Twyford, Willesden. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1982.

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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)


  • 1. O.S. Map 6", Mdx. XI. SW., SE.; XVI. NW., NE. (1864-73 edn.).
  • 2. Census, 1931-61; Grange Mus., NM 9, 22, 184.
  • 3. M.R.O., EA/WIL; Bodl. MS. Gough Drawings a 3, f. 14.
  • 4. Grange Mus., O 6 (North colln.).
  • 5. Ibid. Wood F 23, pp. 211 sqq.
  • 6. 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).
  • 7. Census, 1901.
  • 8. Ibid. 1931-51; Grange Mus., NM 9, 22, 184.
  • 9. 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.
  • 10. A. J. Garrett, 'Hist. Geog. of Upper Brent' (Lond. M.A. thesis, 1935), 13-18.
  • 11. V.C.H. Mdx. v. 2; S. Potter, Story of Willesden (1926), 4-6.
  • 12. 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.
  • 13. P.R.O., E 40/11845; M. S. Briggs, Mdx. Old and New (1934), 162.
  • 14. G. F. Cruchley, New Plan of Lond. (1829); Rep. on Bridges in Mdx. 200; P.N. Mdx. 8, 112.
  • 15. V.C.H. Mdx. iv. 198; M.R.O., EA/WIL (inclosure map).