Kensal Green lies on the Brent's southern border.
Recorded as 'Kingisholt' ('The Kind's Wood') in 1253, the name Kensal Green is first mentioned in 1550. The Green lay around the junction of Harrow Road and Flowerhills Lane (now Kilburn Lane).
In the middle ages the land in the surrounding areas was owned by the Countess of Richmond (the mother of King Henry VII) and All Souls' College, Oxford. There was also a small manor of Chamberlayne Wood, named after Richard de Camera, an early 13th century priest who received income from the land. There were sheep farms between Kensal Green and Harlesden.
In the 18th century, along with farms and two larger houses, there was an inn called the Plough (frequented by artist George Morland). After 1814 the Green was used as a shooting range by the Cumberland Sharpshooters, a local rifle club. Another sporting activity was Willesden Steeplechases on the site of the future King Edward VII recreation ground (now Willesden Sports Centre) until the middle of the 19th century.
The Canal and the Cemetery
In the beginning of the 19th century the small hamlet of Kensal Green lived around the activities on the Grand Junction Canal. Barges with such cargoes as iron, coal, waste paper and gravel were towed through Kensal. A brick works was set up and the growth of the village began. In 1823 the Green was divided into plots for cottages owned by local tradesmen and inhabited by the poor.
The real grown of Kensal Green began in connection with the All Souls' Cemetery. It was opened in 1832 to solve the problem with burial grounds in London and soon became the place to be laid to rest amongst many prominent Victorians. The construction of two railways, the London & Birmingham line to the north and the Great Western line to the south, in 1837-8 facilitated the growth of Kensal Rise which became a London suburb.
In the 1840s the area south of the Harrow Road became Kensal New Town, and north of the cemetery was Kensal Green. St.John's Church was built in 1844 followed by a school and more inns.
Around this time Kensal Lodge and Kensal Manor House were associated with writer William Harrison Ainsworth and his guests, including Charles Dickens.
In 1858 St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery was opened west of All Soul's Cemetery. Many Irish immigrants were buried there, as well as Sir Anthony Panizzi (d. 1879), the principal librarian of the British Museum who was partly responsible for the creation of the famous Round Reading Room. After the two World Wars a Belgian War Memorial was created there.
The Beginning of Urban Development
In 1860 the Hampstead Junction Railway was opened. Next year a new station appeared called Kensal Green & Harlesden. In 1873 it was moved half a mile to the east and renamed Kensal Green. There was Willesden Junction station nearby. Buses and later trams also connected Kensal Green to London.
Large scale housing construction followed, mainly two-storey cottages. Sanitation was poor, and many residents kept pigs. Indeed, the slaughtering and selling off of a pig at the Plough was one of the highlights of the week. Towards the end of the 19th century local landlords All Souls College, Oxford stepped up the urban development. Chamberlayne Road was built to connected Kensal with Willesden Green. The new area was called Kensal Rise. Kensal Green Station was renamed Kensal Rise in 1890.
Schools and churches opened between 1877 and 1913. Housing now stretched all the way to Harlesden. Of interest are the houses built by Charles Langler and Charles Pinkham, like those in Clifford Gardens (about 1897) with decorated facades.
Despite the proximity of respectable Queen's Park to the east, and gifts of land, libraries and clubs by Victorian philanthropists, Kensal had a reputation of being a near slum, although some better off people, like clerks, accounts and salesmen employed in the City lived here, too.
Amongst the leisure facilities in the area were the National Athletic Grounds (the site of Witmore Gardens today) laid out in 1890; Kensal Rise Library, opened by Mark Twain in 1900, as well as Kensal Green Lawn Tennis Club (1906) and the Constitutional Club (1909). Kensal Green station was opened in 1904.
Modern Day Development
At the turn of the century many houses were overcrowded and lack full amenities. As late as 1971 25% of Kensal Green housing lacked full amenities. Not enough attempts to redevelop the area in the 1950s-70s were made, and even those met with strong local opposition. This saved Kensal Green's many Victorian houses all of which by now have been renovated.
Many Afro-Carribean immigrants moved into Kensal Green in the 1960s-70s. From 1980s middle class professionals who could not afford the neighbouring Queen's Park chose to live here. In the beginning of the 21st century Kensal Green is one of modern day London's 'des-res', with house prices swiftly approaching the higher mark.
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© Brent Heritage website 2002