Volume 9 - Kenton Hamlet and District

R S Brown, 1979

pages 10, 11, 12, 13

Kenton Road

Kenton Road’s importance to the old hamlet of Kenton was almost as significant as it is to the modern township of that name.  Kenton did not have its own High Street, but if such a highway had existed, Kenton Road must have been the choice for it. 

In the 20th century Kenton Road is the A4006, designated as a Metropolitan Highway under the jurisdiction of the Greater London Council - which also pays for the cost of maintenance.  There are only 26 miles of such roads in Harrow.  The reader will not therefore be surprised to learn that this particular narrative is inevitably the longest and most comprehensive in Volume 9.

Generations ago Kenton Road was known as Tyburn Lane (and a short section at the foot of Harrow Hill between the Grove Hill and Peterborough Hill highways still retains that name [see page 35 of volume 6]) and undoubtedly its original function was merely that of a cart track for the passage of farm vehicles.  By the mid-eighteenth century it was providing access to Harrow and Pinner in the west and Kingsbury Green and The Hyde in the east.

At this time few thoroughfares in the Harrow area were adequately maintained and during the winter months the road was usually impassable.  The central Kenton area has always been subject to flooding by the numerous minor waterways which flow through it.  Villagers in the past suffered regular damage to their modest homes and even today, with our improved drainage system, the River Lidding can still find its way into shops and houses as it did as recently as 1977 and again in 1979.

At the beginning of the 19th century an attempt to improve maintenance brought about the erection of a toll gate by the Harrow Turnpike Trust which regulated the admission of road users at the junction with Sheepcote Road (now the site of the large traffic roundabout which also has an exit onto the Watford Road).  The turnpike was abolished in the third quarter of the 19th century.

In those days Kenton Road was in two non-aligned sections, joined by a bend which ran through the middle of the hamlet.  From the west, one section was directed across Kenton Lane and Woodcock Hill Lane towards Kenton Grange and farm: from the other direction the road headed for the Plough Inn.  It was not until the third decade of this century that the line of the road between the Plough and Woodcock Hill Lane was straightened and widened along the route which it now follows.  The old hamlet thoroughfare has since been transformed into a small side road called Woodgrange Avenue.

Kenton Grange

As we mentioned in the Preamble, the major habitation in the hamlet - Kenton Grange - was built by John Lambert early in the 19th century when it was known as Kenton Lodge.  A succession of occupants passed through its portals during the 19th century including, Mrs Charlotte Lambert, Edward Lodge, Frederick Sang, Thomas C.  Gibson (who renamed the house 'Kenton Grange’), John Boyle, Henry Ricardo, Colonel Wellington Talbot and John Gwynne.

An estate of some 27 acres with two picturesque lakes provided an opportunity for the inclusion of a large garden, a vegetable section, an orchard and extensive pasture land.  This has now become a beautiful public open space called Woodcock Park, which extends from the rear of Kenton Grange to rising ground beyond Wealdstone Brook.

In the second half of the last century a two-storey extension was added to the main building of Kenton Grange, together with stables and other outhouses.

The last-named occupant of Kenton Grange - John Gwynne - lived there for 30 years until 1912.  He was described as a celebrated sportsman with a love of horses.  His stables were always well stocked and he was known to display more concern for his horses than his beautiful home.  Gwynne was a tall, sleek, clean-shaven man - invariably attired in a spotless, well pressed covert coat, with white top hat and brown gloves.  He drove a pitched yellow brake with red wheels, drawn by two high-bred horses.

After a brief occupation by an Arthur Burnhall, Kenton Grange passed to Albert J.  Jeffress an American from Virginia who was Deputy Chairman of the British-American Tobacco Company and held directorships on a score of other boards.  Jeffress, who possessed a keen sense of humour, was an enthusiastic tennis player and gardener but he died suddenly on board ship at the age of 51 when returning from a visit to the Far East.

He left a widow and two sons, one of whom - Joseph - had taken over Kenton Grange in the late 1920's.  The extensive grounds provided him with an opportunity to indulge in his favourite hobby - miniature railways, and he built a workshop and a 7 inch gauge track, complete with locomotives and rolling stock.  Joseph Jeffress later teamed up with another enthusiast, Henry Greenly, and built a large system with beautiful engines, sheds and a railway bridge over a pond, which was opened to the public in the early 1930's for the charge of a few pence per head.  The Harrow Model Railway Club was involved in these activities.

The maintenance of the large house became a burden to the family however, and in 1951, Stella Adelaide Jeffress sold the estate to Wembley Corporation for £12,500.  A year later Kenton Grange became a home for elderly people and this function has continued to the present day under the jurisdiction of the London Borough of Brent.

The location of Kenton Grange is successfully screened behind an extensive copse and few of the motorists who speed along modern Kenton Road are likely to know of its existence.

Nearby Kenton Farm, demolished in the mid-1960s (apart from a few outbuildings) has been superseded by a block of flats called Westglade Court:  when a second Kenton Farm was built at the turn of the century, the original farm of that name was re-designated Kenton Grange Farm.  The afore-mentioned Arthur Burnham moved into the farm at the outbreak of the first world war and subsequently the name was altered again, this time to Grange Farm.

Kenton Lodge

Another large house in Kenton hamlet was Kenton Lodge (called originally - Kenton House):  it was built about the same time as Kenton Grange and demolished in the 1930s.  It stood near the junction of Kenton Road and what is now Charlton Road.  Although there were numerous occupants, John T. Neate, who was in residence for a few years in the middle of the 19th century, is specially remembered for his generosity to Kenton’s poorer inhabitants.

The Inns

There have been two inns near the centre of the old hamlet, modern versions of which still exist.  The oldest is the Plough, licensed during the first half of the 18th century.  Early landlords included William Bennett, Thomas Hitchcock and James Allen, but the inn was bought by the Clutterbuck Brewery early in the 19th century and survived until just prior to the last war when it was rebuilt as we know it today.

The other 'house of refreshment’ called the Three Horse Shoes until 1873, survived for only one generation before being replaced by the Travellers’ Rest.  A photograph in the centre pages emphasises the fact that the building was sited in a very rural location and as a popular venue for pony and trap passengers out for the day.  It was also visited by rambling clubs who organised tea parties in a hut at the back, enjoying sing-songs round a piano.

With minor changes of name from time to time it was rebuilt in much larger form in 1933; modernisation was undertaken forty years later following the rejection of a proposal by a supermarket chain to redevelop the site.

In the 'Afterthoughts’ of Volume 8 in this series the importance of the blacksmith’s role in small communities was underlined.  Kenton was no exception in this respect and a blacksmith’s shop was managed by the Jones - and later the Marsh families - at the end of the last century.

The Churches

As the 19th century drew to a close a writer described Kenton as "a dreamy little hamlet set in a sea of emerald with a few old cottages, a couple of farmhouses and a little inn." Lanes and footpaths were still the main means of communication with adjacent villages.  The nearest church was two miles away and Sunday services were conducted in the village school house.

Many generations of 'peace and quiet’ were however drawing to a close: the opening of Kenton station in 1912 ignited the spark which would set off the population explosion but another two decades were to pass before the full impact would be felt.  Houses and shops mushroomed along the flanks of Kenton Road between 1925 and 1930 and later (in 1935) the Odeon Cinema was built.  But entertainment habits were to change rapidly and a supermarket and office block replaced the cinema within 30 years.

Four churches were built on different Kenton Road sites in the 1930s, including St Mary the Virgin with its striking, modern Gothic tower, which serves as the Parish church.  A mission was started on this location in 1927 under the patronage of St Leonard, patron saint of prisoners, by the Reverend F.R. Johnson, on instructions from the Bishop of London, Dr A.F. Winnington Ingram.  Such was the population increase of Kenton by 1930 that a permanent church was planned.  The dedication was changed to St. Mary the Virgin as part of the proceeds of the sale of the site of the Church of St. Mary, Charing Cross Road was given by the diocese to aid the building of the Kenton Church.

The new church was consecrated by the Bishop of London on 5th December, 1936 and now fulfils the need of a congregation which is concentrated at the western end of the parish.  A visitor to St Mary’s cannot fail to be impressed by the marble high altar which is located beneath a large baldachino or canopy and furnished with renaissance ornaments.  An adjacent highway - St. Leonard’s Avenue - has been so named in deference to the memory of the old wooden church.

Another handsome place of worship is the red-brick Methodist Church which is sited near the Woodcock Hill traffic lights.

The Dwellings

Many of the houses in Kenton Road and the adjoining highways were the products of Messrs Costin Limited:  sidings were provided in the goods yard near Kenton Station for the movement of materials needed for the large development projects undertaken by Costins.  Fortunately for the present generation a discerning and far-seeing authority recognised the need for building a generously wide highway in the 1930s and, apart from a bottleneck on Kenton Station bridge, four lanes of traffic can be accommodated throughout its length of more than a mile.  Shops are separated from the highway by service roads or wide pavements.

The number of residents in Kenton who can remember the transformation which began to take place more than half a century ago are now few and far between: a new generation of residents is gradually infiltrating Kenton Road and the surrounding highways and no doubt their presence will be demonstrated in various ways long before the 21st century arrives.

In the last 40 years there have been relatively few changes along the flanks of Kenton Road: further blocks of flats have however, been added and these could continue to multiply if there is a continuing trend to desert inner city areas - which are now less attractive because of increasing overheads and decreasing facilities - in favour of suburbs like Kenton.  This will encourage the demolition of houses built in the 1930s to make way for flats - a practice already begun in Kenton Road.

An element of balance may be achieved by virtue of the fact that many people are leaving the south east, in what is probably a vain attempt to discover a less expensive locality - usually one of the new towns.