Volume 9 - Kenton Hamlet and district

R S Brown, 1979

pages 5, 6, 7, 8, 9


The first significant exodus of population from the inner London area to the suburbs began nearly a hundred years ago but it gathered momentum early in the 20th century as the army of white collar workers reinforced their ranks, and salaries - and subsequently living conditions - improved.   The newly-affluent began to seek homes beyond the drab environs of London and developers were quick to take advantage of the demand for brighter and more self-contained houses.

New railways out of London expedited and assisted the rush for the rural areas and - as we have mentioned on earlier occasions in this series - Harrow was to experience a generous share of suburban expansion.  The one time local village communities of Harrow, Pinner, Stanmore, Edgware and Roxeth (South Harrow) were soon to count their inhabitants' in thousands instead of hundreds: but in between these highly developing centres were the little hamlets with only a handful of inhabitants.

Kenton was one such hamlet, wedged between industrial Wealdstone, Little Stanmore, Harrow on the Hill and Wembley.  Hamlets - which comprised scattered groups of labourers' cottages, had grown up around Manors,estate houses and large farmhouses.  Harrow Weald (known earlier this century as Weald Village) was adjacent to Wealdstone House; Hatch End was developing around a large residence called 'Woodridings' while Kenton evolved around Kenton Grange.  There were also three farms in the immediate area of Kenton - Kenton Lane Farm, Kenton Farm and Woodcock Hill Farm.

How would nondescript Kenton survive as the 20th century progressed?  Would it disappear like Greenhill Village or would it inflate from the effects of a population explosion?  In the following narratives the reader will be - we hope - both enthralled and entertained by the story of Kenton's emergence as a modern township with a complicated pattern of new highways.


Borough Jubilee

Over the centuries a system of local government evolved in Britain whereby trustworthy members of the community were selected or elected to undertake various civic responsibilities: up until the time of the dissolution such governing power rested with the Church.  The Manor of Harrow was in the ownership of the See of Canterbury and the Archbishop appointed a 'Reeve' to manage the economy of the Manor.  The Reeve often employed a clerk to put the accounts in order while the policing of the Manor was the responsibility of the 'Beadle'.  Then there was the official village 'Ale-taster' who drew to the attention of the Court any cases of contravention of the licensing laws by the Brewers or the landlords of ale houses.  The Lord of the Manor also included a 'Steward' and 'Bailiff on his personal staff.

Lower down the social scale was the 'Tithing man' who was elected annually at the Court Leet (manorial court of record): he was responsible for the good behaviour of a group of citizens (i.e. ten families or a 'Tithing'.)

Thus our village forbears were being trained to carry out the duties of local government but the system has since changed out of all recognition with the officials re-designated as Mayor, Aldermen, Councilors and so on.

Various local bodies were elected to govern our region over the years until, in 1934, the Urban District of Harrow was formed. Subsequently - in 1954 - the Borough was created (becoming a London Borough eleven years later) and it is that milestone in Harrow's history which has attained its Silver Jubilee in this year of 1979.


Historical Preamble

Although it was mentioned in the Introduction to this volume that the hamlet of Kenton evolved around Kenton Grange, a group of habitations had existed in the same region for centuries, known as Kennington in the reign of Henry III.  As areas of forest were cleared, farmers found the land suitable for agricultural purposes - thanks to the proximity of the River Lidding (now Wealdstone Brook) and the accessibility afforded by a nearby, well-worn track (now Kenton Lane).

In the Middle Ages Kenton was one of eleven settlements around Harrow Hill - the other ten being Pinner, Harrow Weald, Preston, Uxendon, Wembley, Tokynton, Alperton, Sudbury, Roxeth and Greenhill.  (There was also a hamlet called Norbury about which there are no authentic records).

During the first quarter of the 14th century when ill-fated King Edward II was on the throne, two families known by the intriguing names of Wapses and Jacketts, held the head tenements in Kenton and the modest population was entitled to only one Tithing man.

By the mid-16th century there were several tenements - including one held by the familiar Harrow name, Greenhill: during the next hundred years torso the land passed in turn to the Pages, Smiths and Walters.  This was a period when large, open fields were the basis of the agricultural system and three main tracts of land around Kenton were called Great, Little and Old Street fields.

The Graham family became established in Kenton in the first quarter of the 18th century and the hamlet began to assume the form which it would more or less retain for the next two hundred years.  There were several cottages near to the Graham's family house and farm,with the Smithy and an inn nearby.  By 1759 over two dozen habitations were grouped around an eighteen acre green.  Meanwhile the senior members of the Graham family were growing old and Daniel died in 1773 and Thomas in 1783 - both octogenarians.  As is so often the case the sons had no desire to maintain the family succession in Kenton and after the estate had been managed by tenant farmers from 1785, it was disposed of, piecemeal, in the very early years of the 19th century.  Monuments to the Grahams can be found in Harrow Parish Church.

So far we have made almost no reference to the highways of Kenton - largely because no real highways existed during the period we have so far covered.  Winding Kenton Lane - then truly, just a lane - undoubtedly functioned in modest form, and Kenton Road (as it is now called) had linked up with Harrow to the west and Kingsbury Green in the east.  Such limited access to other surrounding villages which may have been desired by an immobile community could only be achieved by crossing fields, using cattle tracks or footpaths.

Early in the 19th century the effects of a long-term trend in building precepts were to change the social structure of smaller communities such as Kenton.  In medieval times Kings and nobles built castles, forts, palaces - and later, churches or abbeys, at prohibitive expense.  From Henry VIII's time; when few churches were built, architects diverted their attention to the design of huge houses for noblemen and the very rich, (some examples are Cardinal Wolsey's Hampton Court; the Earl of Salisbury's Hatfield House; the Earl of Devonshire's Chatsworth and the Duke of Northumberland's Syon House.)  From the Georgian period and on into the Victorian era, wealthy merchants and industrialists bought massive areas of land, including many farms - frequently in Middlesex - on which they built luxurious country houses.

Veritable townships grew up within the precincts of these houses, providing a living for the tenant farmers and their labourers, shepherds and herdsmen.  Hunting in the parks involved the employment of keepers, rangers and foresters and the maintenance of buildings found work for masons,carpenters, painters and thatchers.  The same family would live on in a house, sometimes for generations.

Many of these large houses have become the 'Stately Homes' of today and are maintained by admitting the public and charging an entrance fee or by handing over responsibility and ownership to the National Trust.  There were (and still are) scores of spacious country houses of mansion-like dimensions which, whilst not qualifying for the category of Stately Homes,nevertheless stood in acres of ground with one or more farms, around which the life of a village or hamlet revolved.

This set of circumstances applied to the hamlet of Kenton when some of the land formerly owned by the Graham's was bought by a John Lambert: within the first decade of the 19th century he built a substantial residence called Kenton Lodge - later renamed Kenton Grange.  When it was bought 150 years later by Wembley Corporation, Kenton Grange was described as "a large mansion with three lodges and two cottages standing in extensive grounds."  More details about the history of Kenton Grange is contained in the Kenton Road narrative which follows this Preamble.

Although there were at this time a dozen small estates in Kenton, in the Victorian era wealthy Londoners were inclined to choose Stanmore, Harrow Weald and Edgware as being more suitable locations for their country villas than Kenton.  This was partly because there were no railway stations in the vicinity - nor would there be until the onset of the 20th century-and partly because any suitable sites were owned by several large landowners, notably Lord Northwick (with over 1,100 acres).

Farming and agriculture continued to provide the main employment prospects in the region but following a succession of inclement summers in the second quarter of the 19th century, there was a switch from wheat production to dairy farming.  Two small schools were opened about the middle of this century at which time the population had yet to exceed one hundred.

Harrow was now the largest Parish in Middlesex and within its bounds were included the Chapelry of Pinner and the communities of Roxeth, Headstone ,Weald, Greenhill, Sudbury, Preston, Alperton, Wembley and Kenton.  Kenton did not become a separate parish until 1927.

It is rather ironic to realise that with the explosion of suburbanisation only about half a century away, three new farms appeared in Kenton at the end of the 19th century; a second Kenton Farm (the first being renamed Kenton Grange Farm); Black Farm and Glebe Farm (see map on page 4).

At the outbreak of the first world war, most of the younger male farm workers were absorbed into the armed forces: some women moved into London to obtain employment in factories making war supplies and armaments.  But a third of the girls leaving school had been finding work in domestic service.  Larger households employed about half a dozen servants (a cook, two or three maids, a 'nanny' and a gardener/groom): annual wages were in the region of £20-£30.  Less affluent families would only manage a 'maid-of-all-work' who was paid a mere pittance.  Young women thus employed were expected to work a twelve-hour day and provide sexual relief for the bored master of the house - or for the local tradesmen, very frequently resulting in disastrous pregnancies which incurred instant dismissal and a ban on further employment.  In other instances, cruel mistresses subjected the young girls to social torture and perversion.   (It should be mentioned that the above remarks apply generally to London houses of the time and not in particular to Kenton).

Fortunately, such practices were less frequent after the war when opportunities to obtain other types of less arduous employment - such as in shops and offices -became more numerous.

After the first world war Kenton's population barely exceeded 250 and green fields were to extend across to Stanmore for almost a further decade.

By 1921, the population of Harrow Urban District had increased to an incredible 50,000 but another four years passed before developers realised that the hamlet of Kenton offered distinct possibilities as a region for suburbanisation (although a limited amount of house-building had been undertaken prior to 1914.)  The firm of Nash began house-building in 1925 and six years later there were over 6,000 inhabitants in Kenton.  By 1951 almost 28,000 people had moved into the one-time hamlet - at the rate of 231 persons per acre.

Because of its earlier limited population, Kenton did not 'qualify' for a Parish Church: its most important churches are mainly of 20th century origin, including All Saints (formerly All Hallows) - (1932); St Johns (1934); St Mary the Virgin (1936); Kenton Methodist Church - (1937) and Kenton Free Church - (1939)

As in the case of Edgware, with the re-arrangement of the London Boroughs in 1965, Kenton became a divided community with the area north of Kenton Road falling within the Harrow Authority while the London Borough of Brent became responsible for the district south of Kenton Road.  But we shall not limit our narratives to the Harrow side of Kenton Road.