Harlesden lies in south Brent, between Willesden, Kensal Green and Stonebridge.
The name Harlesden comes from the Saxon 'Herewulf's Tun' (farmstead). It was a Saxon settlement on well-watered woodland clearing on a hill. The Domesday Book calls it Hervlvestvne and describes it a manor that 'was was in the lordship of the Canons of St.Paul's before 1066 and still is'.
In the 15th century a brick and tile works thrived at Harlesden. In the following centuries Harlesden was a small village at the edge of a green that bordered Harrow Road. An estate was owned here by All Souls' College, Oxford.
Harlesden remained a rural community set in orchards with some inns in the village until the development of public transport.
By 1839 the London-Harrow coach passed through Harlesden every day. By 1855 an omnibus service to London ran from the Royal Oak inn. The village had a blacksmith, a grocer and a shoemaker.
The first railway came as the London & Birmingham (later the London & North Western Railway) in 1837. It was built south of the village. Willesden Junction station opened in 1866 and ran six trains a day in each direction. There was another station, Kensal Green & Harlesden, half a mile west of the present Kensal Green station.
The railways encourage housing development, both quality housing and terraced cottages. In Harley Road the railway management built houses for its own workforce.
Cheap houses could be built in Harlesden, as, being in Willesden parish, there were not subject to London's strict planning regulations. This also led to sewage problems, as Willesden vestry relied mainly on open drains. Sewage finally arrived in Harlesden in 1871.
Local landowners All Souls' College built Wrottesley Road in 1900 and leased surrounding land to builders of middle class housing. Later cheap houses were also built a little later, due to a crises in the housing market.
By 1920 there was continuous housing between Harlesden and Kensal Green, with some dairy farms still remaining in between.
The turn of the century was the best time for Harlesden. The mainly middle class population enjoyed nine churches and chapels (including a Catholic convent in Crown Hill Road from 1886, with a girls' school from 1888), a court, a library, a sub-fire station, Roundwood Park, several cinemas and a telephone exchange. A clock was erected in 1888 to commemorate Queen Victoria's Jubilee the year before.
The High Street was rebuilt in the Edwardian period and the Willesden Hippodrome, a large music hall, opened in 1907. The same year saw first electric trams in Harlesden, complementing existing horse trams (the first in northwest London, operating since 1888) and horse buses. In 1912 Harlesden railway station was opened near the site of the old Willesden Station. In 1917 electric trains to Watford began operating on this line.
The railways facilitated the development of industry in Harlesden. By 1890 washing machines, bicycles and antiseptic fluids were made here. McVities biscuit factory was nearby in East Twyford, there were three large factories in Acton Lane, including a generation station.
This industrial growth led the middle classes to abandon Harlesden. Between the two World Wars Harlesden became an entirely working class area, with many living in poverty. In 1936-7 the Curzon Street housing estate was created, the largest built by Willesden Council. Poverty and vandalism made Harlesden an unpleasant place to live. Much of the area needed improvement, but redevelopment did not come until the 1970s. For example, prefabricated houses for the homeless after the war time bombings remained on Harlesden Road until the late 1960s.
In the 1980s the situation was made worse by racial unrest (a lot of immigrants from West Indies and the Indian subcontinent moved here), unemployment resulting from the demise of south Brent's manufacturing industries and rising property prices.
Harlesden has much improved since then. It has also become the centre of Brent's large African-Caribbean community. Many buildings have been renovated, for example, Jubilee Clock in 1997.
The Domesday Book: the original record
or summary of William I the Conqueror's survey of England. By contemporaries
the whole operation was known as the description of England, but the popular
name Domesday--i.e., 'doomsday,' when men face the record from which there is
no appeal--was in general use by the mid-12th century. The survey, in the scope
of its detail and the speed of its execution, was perhaps the most remarkable
administrative accomplishment of the Middle Ages. - from Britannica 2001
Return to Main Menu
© Brent Heritage website 2002