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.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ACTIVITIES.
In 1552 there were three alehouses (fn. 1) in Willesden and one in Kilburn. (fn. 2) William Huddle was jailed in 1615 for keeping an unlicensed alehouse. (fn. 3) The Anchor and Cable, which existed in 1670, may be identifiable with the Anchor at Harlesden (1688) and the Crown at Harlesden green, licensed from 1722. (fn. 4) There were eleven licensed houses, none of them named, in 1716 and fifteen in 1722. Among them were the Crown, two Lettice inns, one of which was the Dolphin in Harrow Road in 1726, the Parrot, the Great House at Neasden, and the Banqueting House on Edgware Road. One of two called the Green Man (fn. 5) was the inn south of Harlesden green (fn. 6) which in 1824 was the half-way house between London and Harrow. The Parrot is probably identifiable with the Five Bells, described as a newly erected cottage in 1724, (fn. 7) which stood north of High Road at Church End, near the Vicarage, and was used for vestry meetings. (fn. 8) By 1790 the name had changed to Six Bells. It ceased to be licensed some time before 1913 when the council decided to close it. The small square building survived into the later 20th century. (fn. 9)
The Plough, at the junction of Harrow Road and Kilburn Lane at Kensal Green, existed by 1749 (fn. 10) and, though rebuilt, was still there in 1980. The White Hart (also called the Leather Bottle and the Gate) stood at the junction of Church Lane and High Road, Church End, by 1749 and was a brick and weatherboarded building with 19th-century pleasure gardens. (fn. 11) The Spotted Dog, High Road, north of Willesden Green, existed by 1762 and can probably be identified with the Dog at Willesden Green in 1751. (fn. 12) A dance hall had been added to the building by 1927. (fn. 13) There was a Cock in 1726 but it is not likely to have been the inn of that name on Edgware Road in Kilburn which was probably built in the 1760s. The inn was burned down and rebuilt c. 1794 and rebuilt again in 1900. (fn. 14) A second Spotted Dog was licensed in Neasden, at the junction of Neasden and Dog lanes, by 1770; (fn. 15) the small, square, brick and weatherboarded building, to which Londoners flocked as a 'suburban tea garden' in 1876, gave way to a building of c. 1900 which was demolished in 1932 and replaced by the large Tudor-style building surviving in 1980. (fn. 16) A building on the site of the Coach and Horses on the south side of Harrow Road at Stonebridge in 1749 is unlikely then to have been an inn. (fn. 17) Called the Coach and Horses by 1790, it can probably be identified with the Stone Bridge, licensed in 1770. About 1900 it had a skittle alley and a gymnasium frequented by boxers. It was rebuilt in 1907. (fn. 18)
There were eight public houses in 1828, an average of one to every 177 persons, and in 1827 the vestry met to consider the number and to enforce the Sabbatarian legislation concerning them. The constables complained about only one, the Green Man, and the numbers were not reduced. (fn. 19) Other inns were opened: the Royal Oak, Harlesden green by 1839, the Case is Altered, Kensal Green by 1843, the Lion at Harlesden by 1851, the White Horse at Church End c. 1860, and the Victoria in Willesden Lane by 1865. (fn. 20) The spread of building brought new public houses, most developments reserving corner sites for them. By 1916 there were 35 licensed houses in Willesden and 42 by 1947, of which 10 were in Kilburn and only one in Neasden. (fn. 21) The numbers were much reduced when Kilburn was redeveloped. In the 1960s Kilburn High Street and Cricklewood Broadway were frequently disturbed by violence and noise, associated particularly with the Irish public houses and dance halls. (fn. 22)
In 1830 the duchess of Buckingham was paying an annual subscription of 2 guineas to a benevolent society which may have been set up by the vestry in 1811. (fn. 23) The Willesden union friendly society met at the Crown in 1816 and 1817; the Willesden provident society existed in 1830-1 and the Willesden association for the improvement of the condition of the working classes in 1856. (fn. 24)
The Cumberland sharpshooters, a volunteer unit founded in 1792, became in 1814 a civilian rifle club which, though based in Covent Garden, met for drill and practice at Wormwood Scrubbs and Kensal Green. It changed its name to the Royal Victoria rifle club in 1835, and in 1849, after a disagreement with the landlord of the Kensal Green ground, it leased 14 a. at Kilburn for a rifle range. In 1853 the group was reconstituted as a more military unit called the Victoria Rifles, renamed the 1st Middlesex Rifle Volunteers in 1859, and it left Kilburn in 1867 when Victoria Road was built across the range. (fn. 25) Another rifle range on the Roundwood estate between Harlesden and Church End, described as newly erected in 1861 when the vestry complained of the danger to people in Harlesden Road, was still there in 1871. (fn. 26) The West Middlesex Rifle Volunteers had a drill hall at Regency Terrace, Willesden Green, in 1887 and a large drill hall opened in Pound Lane in 1911. (fn. 27) Willesden Green and District rifle club, which had previously met in an iron hall, opened a new rifle range at Cricklewood in 1909. It continued until the 1930s. (fn. 28) There was a miniature rifle association at Willesden Green in 1917, and there were shooting grounds at Kensal Green from c. 1861 to c. 1910 and at Neasden in 1920. (fn. 29)
Fishing rights on the Brent belonged in the 16th and 17th centuries to East Twyford manor. (fn. 30) Willesden was a favourite place for pigeon shooting c. 1790 and in the mid 19th century at Purdey's grounds. (fn. 31) In the 19th century packs of hounds, of which the Neasden Harriers were the best known, were kept both at Neasden House and at the Grove. The Grove hounds were sold in 1856 and those at Neasden House may not have survived the death in 1853 of Joseph Nicoll, who had his portrait painted as a huntsman. (fn. 32) Boxing matches and bull-baiting had taken place at Willesden Green for some years before 1810, when the vestry decided to stop them on the grounds that they attracted crowds from London and disrupted the hay harvest. (fn. 33) Cricket matches were being played in 1854 by the Black Lion Perseverance Club at its ground on the Willesden side of Kilburn. (fn. 34) Willesden cricket club existed by 1875 and had a ground at Church End until 1898; the lease then passed to the London Playing Field committee, which continued the use as a cricket pitch until the First World War. (fn. 35) There was another cricket ground at Neasden by 1894, and one south of Roundwood Park and two at Gladstone Park by c. 1910. (fn. 36) There were four cricket clubs by 1917 and 17 pitches by 1933. (fn. 37) There were two wholly West Indian cricket teams in 1964. (fn. 38)
Kilburn was one of the clubs present at the formation of the Football Association in 1863, (fn. 39) and Willesden football club existed by 1885. (fn. 40) Queen's Park Rangers was formed in 1886 by the amalgamation of two Paddington clubs, and used numerous grounds mostly within Willesden. The club became professional in 1898 and moved in 1907 to Park Royal, where its ground was taken over by the army during the First World War. In 1917 it moved out of Willesden to the Shepherd's Bush ground at Loftus Road where it has remained. (fn. 41) By 1933 Willesden had 26 football pitches. (fn. 42)
Willesden lawn tennis club existed by 1877, (fn. 43) Willesden Park c. 1904-34, Kensal Green from 1906, and Elmwood 1914-57. (fn. 44) There were 13 clubs by 1917, most of them serving small localities, and 36 courts by 1933. (fn. 45)
The National Athletic ground at Kensal Green was laid out in 1890 and steeplechases were last held on the site of the King Edward VII recreation ground in 1903. (fn. 46) It was used by the Aeroplane Building and Flying Society in 1911. (fn. 47) By 1914 the council was receiving so many applications for sports pitches that they had to be ballotted. (fn. 48) The number of applications revived after the war and by 1920 there were numerous athletic grounds, cricket pitches, and tennis courts. (fn. 49) Neasden golf club, founded in 1893, with its headquarters at Neasden House, survived until the area was engulfed by building in the 1930s. (fn. 50) A greyhound stadium was opened at Park Royal in 1931 and enlarged for use by Acton and Willesden rugby league club in 1935. (fn. 51) As building swallowed up all available land, sports grounds became concentrated in the public parks and recreation grounds. In 1965 Willesden stadium and sports centre was opened in the former King Edward VII recreation ground. (fn. 52)
Many of the earliest social clubs, including those for working men, were organized by the churches and chapels. (fn. 53) Regency working men's club existed at Regency Terrace, Willesden Green, by 1890 (fn. 54) and still existed in 1980. Willesden working men's club had opened by 1917 at Villiers Road, where it remained in 1977. (fn. 55) Harlesden working men's club started in Manor Park Road in 1909 and still flourished in 1950. (fn. 56)
Willesden choral association was founded in 1884 with a membership of 175 and a programme of two concerts a year. (fn. 57) Harlesden philharmonic orchestra was founded in 1912 and in 1956 the borough amenities committee proposed taking it over and expanding it. (fn. 58) There was a Willesden (later Brent) symphony orchestra by 1961. (fn. 59) Willesden operatic society, founded in 1921, still existed in 1971 (fn. 60) and by 1933 there were eight operatic and choral societies. (fn. 61) Brass bands played in the parks in the early 20th century. (fn. 62) St. George's, Brondesbury, literary society existed by 1917 and Willgreen dramatic society by 1922. (fn. 63) Willesden People's Theatre Movement was founded in 1926 with plays performed at Harlesden Memorial hall by the Mansfield House and Willesden Players. (fn. 64) There were eleven dramatic societies by 1933. (fn. 65) A drama festival for local amateur groups was held annually in the Anson hall from 1945, (fn. 66) and by 1960 39 societies were taking part. Music, horticultural displays, and other activities were added. (fn. 67) The new London Borough of Brent formed an arts council which from 1965 organized the annual arts festival. (fn. 68)
There was a horticultural association by 1876, a parliamentary debating society in the 1880s, a Radical club and institute at Willesden Green by 1903, (fn. 69) and Cricklewood horticultural society, founded in 1911. (fn. 70) The Willesden Society, a general amenity society, was active by 1958 and Willesden Local History Society from 1974. (fn. 71) Numerous social and cultural groups associated with the various immigrant communities dated mostly from the 1960s and 1970s. (fn. 72)
Most early social activities took place in public houses or in buildings belonging to the churches and chapels. Willesden workmen's hall was built at the junction of High Road and Pound Lane at Chapel End in 1875 but the company owning it was bankrupt by 1877 and a Congregational chapel was built on the site in 1878. (fn. 73) Willesden library and institute, also for working men, had opened at Willesden Green by 1876 and survived in 1890. (fn. 74) The Regency drill hall at Willesden Green was being used for concerts and popular entertainment in 1887 and 1890 (fn. 75) but in 1891 Willesden Lyric Hall Ltd. was formed to provide a public hall and assembly rooms because there was no building suitable for meetings, dances, or similar activities. (fn. 76) The Willesden High school building at Craven Park, used from 1907 by Willesden club and institute, had by 1915 become a billiard club. (fn. 77)
In 1899 All Souls College planned to let land in Anson Road for a public hall to serve the tenants of their new estate at Cricklewood, but there was opposition to the 'proposed gambling hell'. (fn. 78) St. Gabriel's parish hall was founded in 1909 and took the name Anson hall in 1948 when it was leased to Willesden B.C. (fn. 79) There were c. 10 halls by 1917, several belonging to places of worship. (fn. 80) Demands in the 1920s for public halls and assembly rooms, to give the borough a social centre, were resisted on grounds of expense, and Willesden has remained a collection of local communities served by small, often short-lived, halls. (fn. 81) One of the more important was Harlesden Peace Memorial hall, opened in 1923 as a men's club and for other local activities. It was sold in 1965. (fn. 82) Local dramatic and music societies mostly used halls or schools for their plays and concerts. (fn. 83) In 1963 the former College Park Methodist church in Victor Road was leased to the Theatre Centre Co. (fn. 84)
Willesden Hippodrome opened in High Street, Harlesden, in 1907 as a music hall seating 3,000 people. It was later used for orchestral concerts and as a cinema. It was bombed in 1940 and demolished in 1957. (fn. 85) In 1909 several shops were giving cinema shows. (fn. 86) In 1917 Willesden Green Electric Palace opened in the former Willesden Congregational chapel at the junction of High Road with Dudden Hill Lane. (fn. 87) It was called the New Savoy by 1933 and the Savoy by 1947, and had closed by 1959. (fn. 88) There were seven other cinemas by 1917: the Rutland Park, opposite the Spotted Dog at Willesden Green, (fn. 89) and the Picture House Cinematograph Theatre, at no. 24 High Street, Harlesden, had closed by 1926, the Grand Electric Theatre, Salusbury Road, by 1947, (fn. 90) the Picardy, at no. 120 High Street, Harlesden, by 1959, the Coliseum in Manor Park Road, Harlesden, in 1972, (fn. 91) and the New Palace and the Pavilion, both in Chamberlayne Road, Kensal Rise, by 1975.
The Empire, later called the Granada, had opened at the north end of Church Road by 1926. It closed c. 1962 and by 1978 had become a bingo hall, used by Granada social club. (fn. 92) The Ritz opened in Neasden Lane in 1932 and closed in 1971. (fn. 93) The State cinema, opened at nos. 195-9 High Road, Kilburn, in 1937 with seating for 4,000, the largest cinema in the British Isles. It contained two cinemas in 1978. (fn. 94) The Odeon, Craven Park, Harlesden, opened in 1937, had closed by 1972, and reopened in 1977 as the Roxy theatre, a popular music centre seating 1,600. (fn. 95) The Envoy Repertory cinema at no. 399 Kilburn High Road had opened by 1947 and closed by 1959. The Classic cinema had opened by 1959 at no. 405 Kilburn High Road and remained in 1980.
The Kilburn Times was founded as an independent weekly newspaper in 1867 by Willesden Press Association Ltd. and taken over in 1892 by the North Western Printing and Publishing Association Ltd. (fn. 96) In 1877 the same owners produced the Willesden Chronicle and Herald, also an independent weekly, which changed its name in 1964 to the Willesden and Brent Chronicle. (fn. 97) Both papers were still published in 1980. The Queen's Park Advertiser, a progressive weekly printed in Harrow Road, flourished from 1881 to 1965. There were several short-lived newspapers in Kilburn in the 1880s: the Kilburn and Queen's Park Post, Kilburn Free Press, and Kilburn News, all published in 1882-3, and the Kilburn Post, published in 1886-7. Other papers were the Willesden Advertiser (1884) and the Willesden Herald, from 1893 the Willesden Times (1884-94). The Harrow Observer group, printing in Harrow, produced two versions for the Willesden area: the Willesden Observer, from 1897, and the Cricklewood Observer from 1900; both ceased between 1910 and 1920. The Willesden Citizen, a left-wing weekly printed at the Manor House, Kensal Green, was founded in 1901 and changed its name in 1965 to the Willesden Mercury, when it was published by Middlesex and West London Newspapers Ltd. It was absorbed into the Willesden and Brent Chronicle in 1975. The Cricklewood and Willesden Advertiser, one of the Hendon Advertiser series, was a left-wing weekly founded in 1910 and closed in the 1920s. The Cricklewood News, founded in 1911, had closed by 1920 and the Willesden Call flourished from 1913 to 1918. The Comet and North West Startler, from 1923 the Comet and Bargain Seekers Guide, circulated in south-east Willesden for almost a decade from 1922. The Cricklewood Gazette, an independent paper founded in 1923, had closed by 1940. The Cricklewood Christmas Advertiser existed from 1932 to 1936 and Willesden Monthly Illustrated, a monthly magazine, lasted only from January to December 1937. (fn. 98) There were several overtly political papers. The Conservative West Willesden Advertiser produced only four issues in 1929. Papers of the left included the Labour monthlies West Willesden Citizen or Courier (1930-9) and the East Willesden Courier (1934-9), the Willesden Worker, a Communist paper founded in 1949, and the Willesden Clarion, a London Cooperative Society quarterly first published in 1958 and flourishing in 1963. The borough council published the monthly Willesden Civic Review from 1956 until 1965, when it became Brent Civic Review. (fn. 99)