Volume 9 - Kenton Hamlet and District

R S Brown, 1979

page 33, 34, 35

Kingsbury

The names of' two neighbouring hamlets on the borders of Harrow have been inevitably linked together for as long as can be remembered - Kenton and Kingsbury.  Kenton's history has been told - albeit briefly - in the preceding narratives and it is now the turn of Kingsbury, located in the north west postal region of the London Borough of Brent.  As on some previous occasions we choose to ignore the limitations of borough boundaries and in calling this volume "Kenton Hamlet and District", legitimate provision has been made for the inclusion of the very adjacent hamlet of Kingsbury in this edition - to which only a passing reference was made previously - on page 34 of volume 5.  We shall however talk in more general terms about Kingsbury - rather than analyse the hamlet highway by highway, as is our normal practice.

The study of various maps published in different decades forms a very important aspect of our research into history of Harrow's highways; one anomaly which frequently becomes apparent is the manner in which both a road or district may be transplanted from one region to another in the course of time.

In a map produced by G.W.Bacon & Co. Ltd. before the first world war the centre of Kingsbury is shown as being located at the junction with Forty Lane and Blackbird Hill when the nearby Metropolitan Railway station was called 'Kingsbury and Neasden'.  Although within the N.W.9. postal region, this location is now shown on maps as being on the borders of Wembley and Neasden (with the railway station called simply, 'Neasden').  The accepted centre of Kingsbury is now a mile to the north, west of Kingsbury Green, centred around Kingsbury underground station in Kingsbury Road.

Having attempted to establish the central location of modern Kingsbury an observation which may prove to be controversial!) we can now move on and refer briefly to Kingsbury's historical background.  One school of thought believes that Julius Caesar, on his way to Verulamium (St Albans) broke his journey at Kingsbury, there being evidence of a Roman camp in the vicinity of old Kingsbury Churchyard.  However, Norman Brett-Jones - writer and historian - contests this view and has explained that a Roman legion (which would probably have been in support of Caesar) numbered 14,000 troops and would have required an area of 50 acres in which to camp while the aforementioned churchyard is only three quarters of an acre in extent.

Be that as it may Saxon kings were later to select Kingsbury as a place of royal residence, which possibly included a hunting lodge.  Edward the Confessor, benign ruler and forerunner of William the Conqueror, was the founder of Westminster Abbey and when that hallowed building was consecrated in 1065, he bestowed one third of his annual fruit crop from 'Kyngesbyrig' to the Abbey.  Shortly afterwards, Kingsbury is referred to in the Domesday Book as 'Chingesberie'.

Among the relics of Kingsbury Old Church thought to have survived from Saxon times is a door (bricked up until the middle of this century), two corner stones and possibly the font.  Situated conveniently on a rise, this old church, with wooden turret and spire, was once considered to be the prettiest place of worship in Middlesex and was described as enjoying a placid attraction in its loneliness on a low ridge among pleasant fields ...

The church is now closed and sealed up but a local historical society intends to reopen it as a museum.  Despite its presented deserted appearance, it retains a quiet aura of holiness as it nestles amid ancient trees and gravestones in an area which is still very green, peaceful and pleasant.  A short distance away stands the larger stone pile of the Parish Church of St Andrews.

By the end of the 19th century, All Souls College, Oxford, was the "chief landed proprietor" in the area but at this time the character of Kingsbury had changed little for generations.  The gently undulating countryside could be explored through picturesque lanes which were backed by abundant hedges of hawthorn and maple or overhung by arching trees.  There were about 250 acres of water and 30 acres of woodland in the Parish: the main employment prospects for a population of about 700 souls continued to be provided by the many local farms (covering about 1,500 acres).  These included Shoeland, Valley, Bush, Hillhouse, Fryent, Blackpothill, Blackbird Hill, Reets and Townsend Farms.

Starting on a summer amble from Kingsbury Church a hundred years ago, one would have discovered that the surrounding fields were bright with a variety of wild flowers including water crowfoot and field scabious while the green banks which bordered country lanes were dotted with birds-foot, trefoil and bedstraw.

As one passed across the fields in the direction of Fryent Farm there was a pleasing view of a distant Hampstead and beyond the farm buildings was swing gate giving access to a footpath.  Proceeding in a northerly direction, the lower end of Kingsbury Green was encountered where three lanes met.  Around this triangular Green were clustered a few old cottages and at the rear of a country garden stood the Plough Inn with its rustic porch and a bench for the ale-drinkers.

On the west side of the Green - near the Green Man - spirals of blue smoke emitted from the parked caravans of gypsies.  There was also a 'Pipers Green' in this vicinity - so named perhaps for similar reasons to those applicable to a green in Edgware (see page 44 of volume 8).

The first world war brought an end to the momentum of residential building on various Middlesex sites as suitable materials became very scarce and many younger building labourers were recruited for the armed forces.  During the five years from 1915 there was virtually no private building in the London area but the Housing Act of 1914 had given authority to the Local Government Board and the Commissioners of Works to buy suitable land on which to build homes for people engaged in war work.

In 1916 a site was bought in Stag Lane, Kingsbury for the erection of 250 houses, the architect of which was Sir Frank Barnes.  The scheme was completed between 1917 and 1919 and tenants were brought from the Midlands, Lancashire and Scotland to occupy the houses.  Ten years later - in 1929 - large private builders were buying land in Kingsbury, including A.F.Davis (later called Davis Estates Ltd) who were developing estates in the district as well as some twenty other locations in various parts of London.

Laings also embarked upon local development schemes in 1930 and their much sought-after houses were described in a brochure as " ...palaces built of rustic bricks in avenues of trees which grow more beautiful as the years pass... "

In 1932 Kingsbury electric railway station opened and the population expanded at a rate which enabled suitable patronage to be available for two Odeon cinemas which were opened by Oscar Deutsch between May 1934 and January 1935.  In all Deutsch built nineteen such cinemas in London during the building boom period of 1934/35.

Despite the great surge of suburban building which engulfed Kingsbury in the second quarter of this century, the scent of history still lingers in obscure corners of the township but it becomes increasingly difficult to locate true relics of the past - and some features which appear to be very ancient can be deceptive.  A walk down Slough Lane will reveal a group of delightful cottages standing in old-world gardens with thatched roofs and weather-board cladding.  Pre-Victorian perhaps?  No: they were built in the 1920's by an Ernest George Trobridge using a new technique called 'green elmwood construction'.  Other striking but deceptive buildings may be found in Buck Lane.  Should the Romans or Saxons be re-incarnated and return to Kingsbury, they would have great difficulty in discerning any difference between it and most of the surrounding suburbs.