Could you be a gardening entrepreneur? 1. Henry Wise and George London

I recently attended a talk given by Professor Sir Roderick Floud on 3  gardening entrepreneurs and would like to tell what he said and also add some of my own research.

I am starting in chronological order with Henry Wise.

Henry Wise was born in 1653 and baptised at St Alfege, Greenwich in that September.

According to its website, the church has connections with many famous figures in British history, including Henry VIII, Thomas Tallis, General James Wolfe, and John Flamsteed. The present church (which replaced an earlier medieval building) is nearly 300 years old but there has been a church for around a 1000 years on this site. It was designed by Nicholas Hawskmoor, Sir Christopher Wren’s famous pupil, and is one of the churches built under the Fifty Churches act of 1711.

By 1702 Wise was the Royal Gardener for Queen Anne. this is a particularly important post as this meant that not only was he repsonbile for maintenance of the royal gardens and parks but also for supplying the necesary plants – through his own nursery of course (see below Brompton Park).

1670s George London is first recorded as apprenticed to John Rose, gardener to the Earl of Essex and Charles II (it is Rose who was depicted presenting ‘the first pineapple raised in England’ to the king in a celebrated painting). At this time, London was despatched to France to learn about the compartmented formal gardens that would so influence his style. By 1675, he was in the employ of Henry Compton, Bishop of London, who was an enthusiastic plantsman at his Fulham Palace gardens and also an important political figure, as a supporter of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that saw William and Mary enthroned.

1680s In 1681, London was a founding partner at the Brompton Park Nursery (some 100 acres on the site of today’s Kensington museums), but his career really took off after William and Mary’s arrival, when he was appointed deputy superintendent of the royal gardens, below William Bentinck, Duke of Portland, a key horticultural figure in his own right as well as William of Orange’s key political advisor.

1689 Henry Wise’s obscure early career was perhaps not as glittering as London’s, but, by 1689, when he and London were sole partners at Brompton Park (the others having died or retired), he was also appointed a royal gardener, with responsibility for Hampton Court and Kensington. On the accession of Queen Anne in 1702, Wise took over from Bentinck as superintendent of royal gardens, and London busied himself with design projects all over the country, reputedly covering up to 60 miles a day on horseback.

About 1700 George London kept up with the times, as any leading professional must. London’s visit, in company with Bentinck, to gardens in France in about 1700, introduced him to the serpentine walks in the bosquets at Marly (an adjunct of Versailles), which may have planted the seed of an idea.

1706 There is a sentence in The Retir’d Gard’ner (London and Wise’s 1706 translation of the contemporary Le Jardinier Solitaire, by François Gentil) that provides a clue: ‘The most valuable Labyrinths are always those that wind most, as that of Versailles, the Contrivance of which has been wonderfully lik’d by all that have seen it.’

A few years later, London was working at Castle Howard for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, where the naturalistic Wray Wood came to be seen to be in the vanguard of this new naturalism. The Retir’d Gard’ner advocates walks of pallisades of hornbeams ‘winding variously for the greater Ornament of Park, Labyrinths and Groves’, and particularly recommends the latter. ‘Those [groves] that are irregular… are not less esteeem’d; for the Variety of them, in great Parks, is what pleases most.’

London’s work and writing prove that it was variety, not naturalism, that was the keynote of the incipient landscape-garden style, and that the Baroque style was not simply ‘swept away’, but rather tweaked at the edges in the early stages of its development.

After 1714 Later writers saw fit to deride London and Wise as old-fashioned, but, when he died in 1714, London wasn’t seen as some relic of the Baroque design past-he was very much at the top of his profession and fully aware of the latest stylistic developments.

According to the article on Wise and George London in Country Life, Wise, operating with George London were sole partners at the celebrated Brompton Park Nursery from 1689 until London’s death in 1714 where they enjoyed a near monopoly on large-scale landscape design, also supplying thousands of trees to landowners for avenue planting. [http://www.countrylife.co.uk/gardens/gardens-gardening/great-british-garden-makers-george-london-and-henry-wise-21795]

At this time London was the  place for nurseries to flourish as this was where the grand land owners spent the Season and thus where their garden designers could connect with each other easily and also purchase plants centrally and in great numbers. The Brompton Park nursery occupied between 50-100 acres of land where the South Kensington museums are now and in 1702 was estimated to have nearly 10 million plants for sale.

London and Wise specialised in an English version of the formal Baroque gardens associated with the Catholic courts of continental Europe, of which Versailles was the pre-eminent example. These were gardens in which magnificent flat parterres spread out below one or two façades of the palace or house, defined by box hedges in patterns derived from textile designs and enlivened with coloured gravels, white or painted statuary, extravagant fountains and colourful annual flowers.  See the painting of Kensington Palace.kensington_palace_garden_baroque_kip_knyff_original

A feature of the design at Het Loo are the scrolling parterres surrounding various sculptural features and fountains.
A feature of the design at Het Loo are the scrolling parterres surrounding various sculptural features and fountains.

Wise managed to buy The Priory in Warwick in 1709 at what would be in today’s value £32,110,00. this demonstrates the large amount of money that such gardeners were able to make in this period. He left an estate of £305,000,00 on his death. This was his ‘profit’ from his income from the garden centre plus the £4.7 million he received each year to maintain the royal gardens. Which included all the labour and all the plantings. But the profit margin was around 33.3 % which was typical at that time.

The best example of a garden designed by George London is Hanbury Hall which has recently been restored to his original designs by the National Trust.

By the way, there was a nursery growing plants in Willesden Green at the end of Chatsworth Road – more of that in another post.

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.

More fun and Games at Spas in London: 2 of many

As we move through London we also find Clerkenwell.

Clerkenwell was donated to the public in 1673 by the 3rd Earl of Northampton who owned the land on which the well was situated. He intended it for the use of the poor of the parish.

Mentioned by Fitzstephen as early as 1174, the Clerk’s Well was the scene of medieval miracle plays performed by the Parish Clerks of London, and this gave its name to the district of Clerkenwell. Until the reformation, the well was located in the boundary wall of St Mary’s Nunnery.

After the dissolution of the nunnery and the destruction of its boundary wall, the well was located in the basement of a building in Ray Street (now Farringdon Lane) which is now  the Islington Local History Centre..

In 1800 a pump was placed at pavement level to facilitate public use but by the middle of the 19th century the well had been closed.

In 1897 the remains of the well was found under the floor of 18 Faringdon Road which was formerly the Parish Watch House. But this site was lost to records again until rediscovered in 1924, during building work in Farringdon Lane. After renovation in 1984, the Clerk’s Well now has an accompanying exhibition outlining the history of the well and its environment in the basement of Well Court. Note that Clerkenwell Close was part of the old nunnery.

St Agnes a Clere’s well

At the entrance to Hoxton is the spa well known as Saint or Dame Agnes a Clere, apparently named after a rich widow, who having been made bankrupt by a lover, drowned herself in it in the 13th or 14yth century – it has been claimed by some sources. Another explanation for the name is that the a Clere stands for La Clair then corrupted to Anisseed Clear!, as being very clear water.

Whilst  Chassereau’s Map of 1745 shows the well on the south side of Old Street at the junction of that thoroughfare with Willow Walk, there was a chequered legal history of exactly where it was situated and who owned the land on which it was situated during the  16th and 17th century. By 1650 the situation was more settled and the Crown claimed the land. They leased it out as it was claimed to help rheumatic or nervous cases.

Of the well Stowe writes in 1603

“Somewhat north from Holy-Well is one other well, curbed square with stone and is called Dame Annis the Clear and not far from it, but somewhat west is also another clear water called Perilous Pond.”

By the time of Rocques Map in 1746 the name Dame Annis the Clear had changed to St Agnes Le Clare as evidenced by the name that later became associated with the Old Street roundabout. The indication from Stowe’s description suggests that the well was located towards the eastern end of Old Street and the name St Agnes Le Clare (on Rocques Map) indicates the approximate position of the well.

In 1731 baths opened based n the well water and by 1834 there were more than 12 rooms operating with some 10,000 gallons of water passing through every 24 hours. As the water was a constant temperature all year round it was very popular.

Unfortunately, in 1845 a fire destroyed much of the building and the spa was not rebuilt.

Holy Well Aldwych

This ‘holy well’ is at present located in the basement of Australia House in the Aldwych, Strand, and can only be accessed via a manhole cover.

The first known mention of the well was by William FitzStephen (ca 1174/1183) a medieval monk who wrote:

“There are also in the northern suburbs of London springs of high quality, with water that is sweet, wholesome, clear, and “whose runnels ripple amid pebbles bright”. Among which Holywell, Clerkenwell and St. Clement’s Well have a particular reputation; they receive throngs of visitors and are especially frequented by students and young men of the city, who head out on summer evenings to take the [country?] air. Truly, a good city – if it has a good lord.”

Holy Wells – Fun and Games in London Post 1:

In Elizabethan time, London was dotted with wells all over to provide (safe) drinking water. Some of the  more notable such wells were the holy wells by St Bride and St Clement, and the Clerk’s well by St John of Jerusalem.

Mentioned by Fitzstephen as early as 1174, the Clerk’s Well was the scene of medieval miracle plays performed by the Parish Clerks of London, and gave its name to the district of Clerkenwell.

Until the reformation, the well was located in the boundary wall of St Mary’s Nunnery. After the dissolution of the nunnery and the destruction of its boundary wall, the well was located in the basement of a building in Ray Street (now Farringdon Lane).

In 1800 a pump was placed at pavement level to facilitate public use but by the middle of the 19th century the well had been closed. The exact location of this important site was uncertain but was rediscovered in 1924, during building work in Farringdon Lane.

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Holy Well Clerkenwell as seen today at museum

Bagnigge Well, aka Reddewell or Reedwell, belonged to the Benedictine Nunnery of St Mary’s Clerkenwell. It got its name Bagnigge from the valley which followed the route of the Hloebourne between Clerkenwell and Battle Bridge – which was Bagnigge Vale. Battle Bridge was so named after a an ancient bridge over The Fleet where Boudica‘s army is said to have fought an important battle against the Romans.  Battle Bridge is now Kings Cross Station. There is also a small brook called Bagnigge Wash. This area was frequently flooded as it was originally a swamp! The Holebourne and the Fleet were navigable up to this point well into the 1700s and Bagnigge House was thought to be the country residence of Nell Gwynne.

The wells at Bagnigge consisted of 2 different types of water – one of which was noted for being a purgative. And it is interesting how many holy wells and spa wells had this type of effect and that this made them very popular – presumably because of the lack of regular vegetables in the common diet.bagniggewells

As in my previous post, these spa or holy wells had many entertainments for the gentry and the masses developed alongside, much in the way you would develop a seaside, at Bagnigge there were skittles, bowls and tea house. If you can spot it, the wells are noted in a tablet between 61-63 Kings Cross road where Bagnigge House originally stood.

Further down from Battle Bridge on Gray’s Inn Road was a mineral spring dedicated to St Chad. This well also had gardens and recreational activities associated with it in the 1700s. This water was also claimed to be purgative, diuretic and a mild tonic – all at the same time! To find it you will need to look for St Chad’s Place and then the Met Line which has built over it.

The old parish church of St Pancras also had a spa and a well with extensive gardens and avenues of trees. Difficult to believe now as all you can see are pavements and buildings.. These waters were according to Mr Edward Martin, the proprietor in 1697:St Pancras Holywell

“ a powerful antidote against rising of the vapous, also against stone and gravel and as a general and sovereign help to nature.”

Sadler’s Well was thought to be used by the monks of St John’s Priory.

From “The Political State of the British Empire” by John Adolphus, 1818

“As the water was found to be ferruginous [by Mr. SADLER], though not so much impregnated with iron as those of Tunbridge Wells in Kent, they were immediately recommended as useful in removing obstructions in the system, and purifying the blood.

Sadler’s Wells was inclosed within a wall of considerable extent, with several fine trees within”

From “The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction” by Reuben Percy, John Timbs, 1839

“ Henry VIII., in 1538, dissolved the priory and its revenues; when the well, to which superstitious uses were ascribed, was covered over: and as no water was in any way known to be derivable from it, time, which obliterates all things, annulled, even in the memory of man, all cognizance or remembrance of it for nearly a century and a half.

The dissolute manners prevalent in the reign of Charles II., gave encouragement to a variety of music-houses in and about the metropolis, but none of them attained the popularity or celebrity of that erected on the north side of the New River Head, on the site of the present theatre, by a person named SADLER; who, being made surveyor of the highways, and having good gravel in his own ground, the garden attached to the music-house, employed two men to dig there, and in digging, the pickaxe struck upon a broad flat stone, which being raised, was found to have been supported by four oaken posts, and under it a large well, encircled by stone, arched over, and curiously sculptured. SADLER, impelled by its singularity, conceived it had some medicinal quality, and as such, had been used in former times: his conjecture was confirmed on reference to a physician.

He at first sold the water in bottles, then in roundlets, till at last Dr. MORTON advised his patients to drink the water as a restorative; and its salubrity induced Sadler’s Well to be visited, in 1684, by from five to six hundred persons every morning.”

Spas and Wells in London and around

It is not very well known that within the boundaries of what is now Greater London, lay a number of spas where the water was indicated to be of healing quality and thus frequented by many people in the past.

I live close by one in Kilburn – more of which later in this post – so I decided to investigate just what I could find out about other such spas within London and what they were renowned for, and when.

There is a fabulous text written in 1910 by Alfred Stanley Ford which attempts to cover all the spas in London that he could discover and this book I am going to abridge and quote from as appropriate. Other references are to be found at the bottom of the text.

Springs, Streams and Spas of London

Alfred Stanley Foord

1910

[Extracted from:}

Outside the City of London, in the western suburbs there are 3 good sized brooks: the Hole-Bourne; the Ty-Bourne; and the West-Bourne. All arise in the higher lands of Highgate and Hampstead.

The Hole-Bourne – means the burn on the hollow or ravine – and these hollows are to be found in Hockley-in-the-Hole (an area of Clerkenwell in central London, roughly where Ray Street Bridge stands near Farringdon Road) and Black Mary’s Hole (aka Bagnigge Wells), also in Clerkenwell.

Black Mary’s Hole or Well, was a small hamlet on the bank of the Fleet River and Black Mary’s Field was nearby. The iron impregnated water of the well was supposedly good for sore eyes.

This area was noted not only for the well and the waters but also for highway robbery in the 1730s and perhaps more unusually, as a gay cruising ground in the early 1700s.

Although well known also as Bagnigge Wells because the River Bagnigg passed through it, the land was leased at one point to a Mary, who kept a black cow in the field, and who mixed her milk with the water to enhance the drink. But there are other stories according to the Dabbler about the origin of the name and it may actually have belonged to a free black woman, possibly one Mary Woolaston who looked after the well at one point. The well is of course, no longer visible from the street level.

It is also worth noting that many of these streams were altered or covered when the railways were built, and indeed the Hole-Bourne’s stream bed is used near Farringdon by the Met Line.

Further down the Hole-Bourne (see Holborn) runs into the Fleet River which was navigable up to this point as was evident by the street names such as  (Old)Seacole/Seacoal Lane. Fleet is the Anglo-Saxon word meaning tidal inlet and probably held the oldest tidal mill in the world (Roman in origin it is thought). So many wells were built along the Fleet that in the 13th century it was known as the River of Wells.

The main source of the Fleet comes from Hampstead Heath, down Flask Walk, by Willow Road (once a steep ditch) to South End Green and Kentish Town Fields. From the East a small stream near the current railway line joined it, and still further east was the Ken (Caen) Wood Springs.

The Ty-Bourne which was originally named the Teo-burna, which most likely means the two arms forming a delta around Thorney Island (Thorney Street) on which Westminster Abbey was built.

Like the other 2 burns it rises in Southern Hampstead in the Shepherds (Conduit) Fields. These fields separated Hampstead from Belsize Park and Kilburn and contained the Shepherd’s Well which later became neglected and thus a swamp of brackish water and then drained by railway construction. The fields could be exited by College Lane. Apparently the water never froze and was thus in great demand even though there was a well nearby at Kilburn.

The Tyburn went down Fitzjohn’s Ave to Belsize and thence to Regent’s Park. It crossed Marylebone Lane twice and then Oxford Street.

Some ancient maps identify the Tyburn as the Aye or Eye brook taken from the name of the ancient estate of Eia. It has also been known as the Mariburne brook. So we see that it is often difficult to trace the route of a river or stream from maps and texts as at different times not only did they flow in different places/directions but were also called by different names according to local estates and so on.

The West-Bourne was a larger stream and rose close by the Tyburn and was the source of a small pond on the South Western Heath and thence to the Frognall Estate where there was an arch over it. As it flowed towards the Great North Road the Kilburn joined it.

The Kilburn came from a small nunnery and crossed Edgware Road under a 13th century into a low lying meadow and was then joined by another small brook coming from Willesden Lane.

Kilburn may take its name from the Saxon for ‘cattle stream’ or someone called Cylla (a C was pronounced then as a K). The stream has been called Cuneburna, Kelebourne, or Cyebourne.

As Watling Street crossed the brook, a small community of nuns – Augustinian – was founded in 1134 – when Belsize Road meets the High Road. It was dissolved by Henry 8th and nothing is now left but the Red Lion pub may have been the convent’s guest house originally. In 1714 a chalybeate (iron impregnated) spring was enclosed and was considered a cure for stomach ailments. However, it is suggested that Belsize House may have also been of as much importance as the spring it stood alongside, as this was where bare knuckle and dog fighting took place – common entertainments of the time at ale houses. This area was also well known for highway robbery it seems.

Kilburn Wells, near Paddington.—The waters are now in the utmost perfection; the gardens enlarged and greatly improved; the house and offices re-painted and beautified in the most elegant manner. The whole is now open for the reception of the public, the great room being particularly adapted to the use and amusement of the politest companies. Fit either for music, dancing, or entertainments. This happy spot is equally celebrated for its rural situation, extensive prospects, and the acknowledged efficacy of its waters; is most delightfully situated on the site of the once famous Abbey of Kilburn, on the Edgware Road, at an easy distance, being but a morning’s walk, from the metropolis, two miles from Oxford Street; the footway from the Mary-bone across the fields still nearer. A plentiful larder is always provided, together with the best of wines and other liquors. Breakfasting and hot loaves. A printed account of the waters, as drawn up by an eminent physician, is given gratis at the Wells. [The Public Advertiser, July 17, 1773.]kilburn-wells-hampstead-london-c1820

Although the well declined in the 19th century there was still water sold in 1841. The Bell pub was known then as the Kilburn Wells and was regarded as a nice tea garden now rather than a place of rough entertainment. The pub was rebuilt in 1863.

I will write more of other wells and spas in later posts. Most well known wells were also spas and had grand gardens and entertainment to ensure visitors spent their money on the site and were there quite some time. They were also almost the only places where such entertainments could be found.

Willesdune or Wellesdone or Wilsdon

The name of Willesden derives from the Anglo-Saxon Willesdune, meaning the Hill of the Spring, and a settlement bearing this name dates back to 939 AD at least as far as we can tell.

The Domesday Book of 1086 records it the settlement as being Wellesdone. However, in later 19th century maps of the town (see the Ordnance Survey First Series), the town is shown as Wilsdon.

So we can safely say that there was sufficient water and enough height for it to be settled early in recorded history although there is little evidence of this water now – except in people’s gardens! Several gardens in the Mapesbury area need sump pumps to drain their gardens, evidence of the springs and possibly ponds – again see Ordnance Survey Maps – which are either dew ponds created by farmers or natural spring ponds.

From the 14th to 16th centuries, the town was a place of pilgrimage due to the presence of two ancient statues of the Virgin Mary at the Church of St Mary (Neasden Lane) built in 938 when it was founded by King Athelstan as the original Parish Church of Willesden. It is the oldest parish church in North-West London.

The church and its graveyard are al that remain of the original village – the rest has been re-developed.st marys

In 937 King Athelstan defeated the Danes at the battle of Brunanburh, and as a thank offering gave the Royal Manors of Willesden-cum-Neasden to the Dean and Chapter of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. (Subsequently many of the vicars of Willesden have also been Canons of Saint Paul’s). A church was built, possibly replacing an earlier wooden one. The earliest part of the church as it stands today dates from the thirteenth century with fifteenth and sixteenth century additions and is built of ragstone rubble and flint with freestone dressings . The two Victorian restorations added a north aisle and a new south porch. Two notable fittings are the Purbeck marble font, dating from 1150 and the fourteenth century inner door to the south porch.

There is a fine 14th-century door in the south porch, a piscina in the chancel, an Easter sepulchre in the south-east chapel, and an Elizabethan communion table. Brasses, which were rescued after they had been thrown onto a rubbish heap in the course of the Victorian restoration, include these of Bartholomew Willesden and his wife (1494), the vicar William Lichfield (1517), Margaret wife of Thomas Roberts (1505), Edmund Roberts with his two wives and nine children (1585), Jane Barne and her daughters (1609), and a mid-16th century unidentified woman with six children.

There is a sculptured monument to Richard Paine and his wife (1606) and monuments, mostly in black marble, to John Barne (1615), Richard Franklin (1615), John Franklin (1647), Francis Roberts (1631), his wife Mary (1623), Sir William Roberts, Bt. (1688), his wife Sarah (1682), Sir William Roberts (1698), William Roberts (1700), and Elizabeth wife of Francis Brende (1667).

Willesden had two bells in 1297 and four in 1552.  All had been replaced or recast by 1717 when there were five bells, including three dated 1661, 1694, and 1704.

One of the two famous statues is thought to be a Black Madonna  – A Visitation report of 1249 mentions the presence of two statues of Our Lady, one of which must have been the ‘Black Madonna’ (This was described in the C16th by Richard Mores as ‘robed in sarcenet, and with stones, with a vale withal of lace embroidered with pearles and other precious jewelles and golde and silver’ surrounded by a metal grille, and a canopy with hangings). This statue was insulted by the Lollards and taken to Thomas Cromwell’s house and burnt in 1538 on a large bonfire of “notable images” including those of Walsingham, Worcester and Ipswich. There is also a “holy well” or water which was thought to possess miraculous qualities, particularly for blindness and other eye disorders, this comes from the Willesden stream flowing under the church and which can still be accessed and people can partake of it.

Thousands of people visited the sanctuary in the heart of leafy Middlesex.  It reached its height at the turn of the sixteenth century, when the shrine was frequented by royalty (Queen Elizabeth of York) and future martyrs (St Thomas More), who confidently petitioned the Blessed Virgin under her title of ‘Our Lady of Willesden’.  According to a contemporary document, Our Lady appeared to a priest devotee of the shrine, a certain Dr Crewkehorne, in 1537 and said that she wished to be honoured at Willesden. William Gladstone worshipped here between 1882 and 1894.

Our Lady of Willesden’s greatest day came during the Marian Year of 1954, when her statue was crowned by Cardinal Griffin at Wembley Stadium, in front of 94,000 people.  According to the Encyclical Letter, Fulgens Corona (1953), Pope Pius XII said that every diocese had a special shrine at which the Virgin Mary received fuller homage.  Willesden was made the centre of Westminster’s celebrations for the Marian Year and throughout 1954 some 60,000 pilgrims visited the shrine. Another pilgrim from the 1950s was St Josemaria Escriva, the Founder of Opus Dei, who came to the shrine several times (he re-consecrated Opus Dei to the Name of Mary here on 15 August 1958)

The new statue – carved in 1972 – is paraded through the streets every year in May.

Many well-known local families have been buried at St Mary’s including that of Sir Henry Holland whose family vault is here. The novelist and playwright Charles Reade, famous for ‘The Cloister and the Hearth’, was buried here in 1884, next to his lady friend Laura Seymour (d.1879) who left her whole estate to Reade, part of which he made over to the Charity commissioners to be distributed to ‘fatherless children and widows in Willesden’.

George Furness, owner of Roundwood House, a church warden here and first Chairman of the Willesden Board in 1857 was buried here in 1900, as was his son George James Furness (d.1936), who was MP for Willesden West in 1922/23.

Other local families with tombs in the churchyard include the Kilbys, many of them bellringers in the C19th and C20th. A tomb with a broken mast and anchor on a coil of rope commemorates Captain Brook (d.1893). There is also the grave of F A Wood (d.1904) and his wife Mary (d.1898); Wood was a well known local politician, JP and Willesden historian.

Near the south-east exit of the churchyard is a War Memorial in remembrance of workers from the British Thomas Houston Factory in Neasden Lane who died in the two world wars.

Local folklore has it that the cemetery is haunted by a monk in white.

 

 

Where Willesden began:

Once upon a time there was a small hill or two with some water which was cleared of all the trees surrounding it,  and a hamlet grew up.

Perhaps this hamlet was based on a Neolithic site, or there had been a hill-top fort here, or an Iron Age track had passed nearby, but the evidence is not clear and we cannot be certain that this happened.

What we do know is the Roman Watling Street passed through this area and by Anglo-Saxon times the hill-top hamlet was in existence.

There was a brook at Kilburn and the River Brent passing nearby. The Brent is one of London’s longest rivers at over 16 miles. It starts at  the junction of Dollis Brook and Mutton Brook  in Hendon and joins the Thames at Brentford. A Roman Road forded the Brent near Brentford Bridge.

The name Brent is Old English, from Celtic words meaning “sacred waters”. The River Brent divides Willesden and Wembley.

Sir John Betjeman knew the area well and wrote:

Gentle Brent, I used to know you
Wandering Wembley-wards at will,
Now what change your waters show you
In the meadowlands you fill!
Recollect the elm-trees misty
And the footpaths climbing twisty
Under cedar-shaded palings,
Low laburnum-leaned-on railings
Out of Northolt on and upward to the heights of Harrow Hill.

The area of Willesden remained leafy and sylvan for hundreds of years.

The far end of Willesden High Road links to Church End and from there the Church began to acquire the land around, and by the year 1000 St Paul’s Cathedral owned a very large chunk of this part of what is now known as the Borough of Brent.

For those not familiar with this area, I am adding a map: map1

GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of Willesden, in Brent and Middlesex | Map and description, A Vision of Britain through Time.

In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Willesden like this:

WILLESDEN, or Wilsdon, a village, a parish, and a sub-district, in Hendon district, Middlesex.

The village stands 1½ mile N by W of Willesden-Junction r. station, and 7½ WNW of St. Paul’s, London; and has a post-office‡ under London NW, a police station, and fairs on Holy Thursday and St. James’ day.

The parish includes W.-Green, Dollis-Hill, Sherrick-Green Neasdon, and Harlesden hamlets, Brondesbury domain, and parts of Kilburn and Kensal-Green villages. Acres, 4,190. …

Real property, £28,401.

Pop. in 1851, 2,939; in 1861, 3,879. Houses, 642.

Pop. in 1869, about 15,000.

The property is much subdivided.

The manor was given by King Athelstan to St. Paul’s, London; and was known, at Domesday, as Willesdone. W. House, Brondesbury Park, Neasdon House, Dollis Hill, Harlesden House, Heathfield, Mapesbury House, Bramshill Lodge, Glyn-field House, and the Rookery are chief residences. T

he living is a vicarage in the diocese of London. Value, £320.* Patrons, the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s. The church is later English.

The rectory of Brandesbury and two p. curacies of Kilburn are separate benefices. There are an Independent chapel, a national school, and charities £27.—The sub-district consists of W. parish and Twyford-Abbey extra-parochial tract.

But long before we see these details we begin see a few farms dotting the area around but until the 19th century the area remained fertile, furrowed and field.