A Garden is a grand teacher

Excerpt from

The Beauties of a Cottage Garden



Gertrude Jekyll.

A Garden is a grand teacher. it teaches patiences and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all, it teaches entire trust. ‘Paul planneth and Apollo watereth, but God giveth the increase’. The good gardener knows with absolute certainty that if he does his part, if he give his labour, the love, and every aid that his knowledge of his craft, experience of the conditions of his place, and exercise of his personal with can work together to suggest, that so surely as he does this diligently and faithfully, so surly will God give the increase.

Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) was a garden designer who collaborated with Edwin Lutyens the architect and was involved in the design of Hampstead Garden Village.

Her Cottage Garden style encouraged the use of plants with scents and that were native (or nearly) and good for wildlife, and some of these can be seen here in pictures taken by Jim Coakes of the garden at 58a Teignmouth Road.

P1040145 P1000226 P1000303 P1000449 P1010448 DSCN1567 P1000192 20141030_132512



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.

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.

Painting the Lines

Out of sequence of the history of Willesden, I am going to write about a famous painter who has painted the railway lines in Willesden Junction and at Willesden Green, many times – Leon Kossoff.

I had not heard about Kossoff until the weekend I went to the Literary festival in Kew and heard him mentioned by Iain Sinclair who I heard talk about his new book on his Over Ground railway walk.[London Overground: A Day’s Walk Around the Ginger Line].

Sinclair mentioned in passing a painter who had painted Willesden Junction  many times, and also the ‘under’ the railways activity – the area we do not see when we look out of the window of the train. That which is under the railway and the train – and which uses their buildings – the Arches or the bridges or the waste areas by the side of the railways.

Under the Arches in London are many spaces which have been inhabited for years – since existence – by many industries or for other purposes including leisure: now railway arches have been converted into cinemas, climbing walls, bakeries and boxing clubs and skate parks and artists’ spaces and galleries too. Sinclair looks at them when he walks and Kossoff painted them.

RefurbishedArches skate park under the arches


Like Sinclair, Kossoff too looked out of the train window and also his studio window and painted what he saw. Sinclair filmed what he saw.

Kossoff was born in Islington in 1926 and is now therefore 88/9 and now finds it too taxing to paint.

He has spent his whole life in London apart from his time as an evacuee and during his military service. His home territory when growing up was the East End – Shoreditch, Bethnal Green and Hackney as was typical of the Jewish emigrants from the Ukraine. He had 6 siblings and his father was a baker.  Art was unknown in his family but he found his way to the National Gallery when 10 years old and started to ‘translate’ what he saw into his own versions.

Evacuated in 1939 to Kings Lynn he stayed with a family who encouraged his art and which led to him returning to London in 1943 to study art at St Martin’s and Toynbee Hall. After military service he also studied at Borough Polytechnic under David Bomberg and met Frank Auerbach there. These 3 together formed what is loosely called the London School. They were joined by Lucien Freud, Keith Critchlow, and Francis Bacon.

Between 1963 and 1968 he had a studio in Willesden, near Willesden Junction and painted what he saw :

“Something happens when you see Willesden Junction stretching out in front of you. What else can you do but draw it?”

He also painted Kilburn Station for many years and painted what he saw in the swimming pool at Willesden where he took his son.

Willesden Junction, Morning in October 1971 Leon Kossoff born 1926 Lent from a private collection 2006 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/L02671
Willesden Junction, Morning in October 1971 Leon Kossoff born 1926 Lent from a private collection 2006 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/L02671

At the bottom of the garden of the family house in Willesden Green are railway lines – the Chiltern and the Jubilee and the Met lines pass by – from which, in the 1980s and 1990s, he drew the trains as they went past. Train lines, he says, “open out the landscape, somehow”. A recent subject has been a cherry tree in his garden, one of its lolling branches steadied with struts. Once, before the suburban houses were built, there was an orchard here. [And I shall write more about the landscape in Mapesbury and what was before in a later post]. cherry tree

Many of the landscapes in his drawings and paintings are now gone, which is why to look at them is to look through Kossoff’s eyes but also to travel into his past with him. Even the trains at the bottom of the garden look different now, trees have grown up to obscure the view and the area is considered a protected wildlife corridor for the urban wildlife to travel safely up and down the rail lines.

It’s a smutty place, Kossoff’s London, congested, seething, murky, messy, relentlessly itself, and usually rendered in a mixture of charcoal and pastel.

The colours were most often sombre – greys edging off to black. He has always loved architectural decrepitude, often seen from a fairly high view point: gantries; a gasometer ; the demolition site; conventionally unlovely industrial locations; places between places; grubby edgelands like Iain Sinclair talked about – the passed by, the unloved, the areas where our transient population can linger and not be noticed.

These are the interesting places that are changing as London finding itself short of spaces looks for more, and finds them crowded up against the railway lines (see the new flats at West Hampstead) or underneath and even attempts (I remember it well – the Tesco store over the railway line at Gerrard’s Cross, as I was living near there then, that collapsed initially, but has since been rebuilt and opened in 2010) to build over the railways. The railways change the scenery of London constantly and are the driver of change in many ways. Here we can celebrate an artist who has captured the railways as they were before London’s need for space transformed them. kossoff photo

I have taken as my sources a number of articles about Kossoff:

  1. Wikipedia and Leon Kossoff
  2. Independent article on Kossoff
  3. Guardian article on Kossoff
  4. Studio Independent article on Kossoff
  5. Plus pictures taken from the articles and the Tate Gallery.

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:

The weary man rests

The weary man may rest serene in leafy sylvan Willesden Green

This project started as an idea and a discussion probably in 2012/3.

Could we improve the look of our urban town and make it again the leafy paradise the original quote above thought it was back in the late 1800s when the Metropolitan Railway first came to our town?

What we wanted to was to make our town – Willesden Green, leafy, sylvan and green again. how could we go about doing this? And who could we partner with to help us?

Our first partners were our local Councillors from Brent who being part of this discussion agreed that they would do what they could to help us green our very urban environment.

To explain our beginnings it is necessary to consider the history of Willesden Green, how it got its name, and what it now looks like.

So I shall start with the history and naming and then take you – my reader – through what our town – yes we are considered as a town within London – currently looks like and what it looked like before we started greening.

In later posts I will explain our projects and outcomes and what it is like to undertake public gardening with volunteers, in London’s congested environment. what succeeds and what doesn’t and what you need to think about when undertaking such projects.