Willesden the most exquisite

 

Willesden Green as seen in 1839

From Jack Sheppard by W. Harrison Ainsworth

What a contrast did the lovely scene she (Mrs Sheppard) now gazed upon present to the squalid neighbourhood she had recently quitted! On all sides, expanded prospects of country the most exquisite and most varied. Immediately before her lay Willesden – the most charming and secluded village in the neighbourhood of the metropolis – with its scattered farm-houses, its noble granges, and its old grey church tower peeping above a grove of rook haunted trees.

Coming out of the Green

Willesden Green was very green indeed until the 19th century as we can see from the settlement history.

In the centre and west there were very small hamlets situated around village greens and separated from each other by open fields. In the east there were enclosed fields with isolated farms. Common meadow and pasture covered the badly drained lands bordering the Brent, and there was woodland covering any remaining land.

Population was counted by whether or not there was any taxes paid or people were communicants in the church. In fact there was also the issue of the Protestant Oath which was required during the Civil War era by the Cromwellians and 152 males took this oath in 1642.

There were 102 houses in 1664, of which half were one-hearth cottages (very small).

There were 11 ratepayers at Willesden Green in 1687. By 1738 the green (of Willesden Green) was surrounded by buildings. The ‘Spotted Dog’ pub (now flats) existed by 1762, and was described as “a well accostomed Publick House” in 1792.

By 1720 there were 77 ratepayers, divided between Harlesden (23), Kilburn (14), Church End (13), Willesden Green (10), Neasden (8), Sherrick green (4), Oxgate (3), and Dollis Hill (2).

Now the manor houses are of most interest here as so little remains of them and yet they were the main employers and indeed shaped the landscape before the growth of the area as an outpost of London.

Willesden House, Brondesbury Park, Neasdon House, Dollis Hill, Harlesden House, Heathfield, Mapesbury House, Bramshill Lodge, Glyn-field House, and the Rookery as well as Brandesbury House, and East Twyford were the houses and land I have decided to investigate. I shall only be able to describe some in this post so the rest will follow..

The largest houses were Neasden House and East Twyford manor house, the rest being modest farmhouses. and thus nearly everyone was a farmer or a support worker of farming although it was noted that Bridget, Countess of Bedford, lived in Willesden in 1595. And of note was Brandesbury House, formerly the seat of the Salusburys (according to some sources). The Salusburys (see Salusbury Road) were a prominent family initially of English origin but who settled in Wales. During the Tudor period, welsh families were favoured with positions at Court, and thus the Salusbury’s became rich. however, they remained RC in faith and were thus had problems during the Reformation, and also they were Royalist during the Civil War. However, Charles II revived the family fortunes to some extent for their loyalty. The establishment of (the) Queen’s Park included a road named in their honour. It seems that the name Brandesbury was later migrated to Brondesbury.

Brondesbury House was by 1538 a moated house. It was described in 1649 by the Guildhall records with the remnants of the moat, and was shown in 1749 as a large, apparently L-shaped building with a central cupola on the Messeder Road Map. It appears to have been rebuilt in the third quarter of the 18th century and by the time of Lady (Sarah) Salusbury was a three-storeyed villa with a central entrance bay rising the full height of the north front.

A lower wing, presumably an addition, ran southward from the east end.

In 1789 Humphry Repton (very famous and expensive!) landscaped around 10 acres of grounds, and William Wilkins supplied drawings for a Gothic seat. In his ‘Red Book’ Repton commented favourably on the hilltop situation and enhanced the view towards London.

The house and grounds then 23 acres increased by 1834 to 53 acres and was occupied by Coutts (after 1821 Sir Coutts) Trotter, Bt. (1804-36), Lady Trotter (1836-40), Lady (Elizabeth) Salusbury (1840-3), and Charles Hambro (1843-9). The house was extended westward and a semicircular bay was added to the south front in the early 19th century.

By 1849 the estate was reduced to 27 acres and the house, described in 1816 as being commodious although having ‘no regularity of architectural character’ and in 1822 as an ‘elegant seat’ by Brewer, Beauties of England and Wales,

It continued as a gentleman’s residence under Mrs. Howard (1850-3), Henry Vallence (1853-6), Mrs. Geach (1856-61), John Coverdale (1862-7), and Thomas Brandon (1867-76),  and in 1877 was offered for sale with 52 acres.

After remaining empty it was leased as a school, to Margaret Clark (1882-98) and Lucy Soulsby (1898-1915). In 1891 the school added a classroom and dormitory block on the east and subsequently a chapel beyond that.  The house continued as a school until 1934 when, described as ‘shabby-looking’, it was bought by C. W. B. Simmonds, a builder, and was pulled down to make way for Manor Drive.

map w 1823

So looking for Willesden House I found yet another manor house: It seems that here was a Willesden family, almost certainly named after the place, in the area from 1278 to 1494. And in 1425 they held the lease of the manor of Oxgate in the north of Willesden parish.

The local history archives then gave me yet more manors! The manor of Bounds bordering Willesden Lane, and the manor of Chambers, named after Richard de Camera, an early 13th century cleric.

Click on the map to the right to see the placement of these manors and houses.

Willesden House stood west of the ‘Spotted Dog and remained in existence until 1882 when it was demolished and replaced by semi-detached houses. It was inhabited by a dentist in 1851 and owned by the Waite family, and stood in 6 acres of gardens. The village had 40 houses in 1823, including a large one built for Lord le Despenser probably The Grange at the entrance to Chambers Lane. The le Despenser family were prominent in the 14th century but not so much later on – having largely lost their wealth and influence.

So in future posts I shall explore the remaining manors and manor houses and try and differentiate a manor from a manor house!

Sources include: