Roundwood Park is situated on the border between Harlesden and Willesden
The open ground where the park was to be established was known in the early 19th century as Hunger Hill Common Field, with the unusual hillock as a main feature and a few isolated oak trees and elms. The area got its present name from Roundwood House, a magnificent Elizabethan-style mansion which had been built for Lord Decies about 1836 and between 1856-1936 was the home of the Furness family. It stood on a hill across what is now an open field. After the death of George James Furness the property was sold to Willesden Council and shortly afterwards the fine old building was destroyed. Harlesden Brook runs underground in the little valley between the open field and the fence separating it from the main park. Another fine building called Knowles Tower used to stand where the Anansi Nursery is now, near the Longstone Avenue gate.
Robson Lays Out Recreation Ground
For many years Willesden Local Board, seeing the Harlesden area gradually changing from open countryside into residential estates, had been considering the need for a local recreation ground. In 1892 the Board started the process of buying the land for what is now Roundwood Park and appointed Oliver Claude Robson as the main architect. He was Surveyor to the Local Board, and later to Willesden District Council, for 43 years (1875-1918). Before the Park he engineered the main drainage and sewerage of Willesden. Robson was allowed to spend £9000 setting out the Park. He put in 5 miles of drains, and planted an additional 14,500 trees and shrubs. Robson is commemorated by a plaque on the drinking fountain near the main entrance.
Planting and laying out took rather a long time, since Robson chose to use labour from the local unemployed rather than get in contractors. Ever since then the Park maintains a high level of horticulture, having even won prizes for its floral displays. Previously plants and shrubs were grown in on-site greenhouses (as seen in the old picture above). These have now been demolished.
The fine main gates and railings were built in 1895 by the firm of Messrs. Tickner and Partington at the Vulcan Works, Harrow Road, Kensal Rise. The gracefully curving wrought iron fence is 270 feet long and the hammered open work has a maximum height of 18 feet. Decorative details on the pedestrian gates included the Willesden Local Board arms, but these have disappeared over the years, as have most of the general acanthus leaf embellishments.
A very fine lodge house was built to house the gardener; greenhouses erected to supply new flowers, and paths constructed, running upward to the focal point - an elegant bandstand on the top of the hill. The red-brick lodge was in the Victorian Elizabethan style, with ornamented chimney-breasts. It is currently occupied by council employees.
The Park Opens
Roundwood Park was opened on 11th May 1895 by R.D.M. Little, Q.C, Chairman of Middlesex County Council, who 'dedicated it for ever to the people'. In the opening speech Mr. Pinkham (Chairman of the Parks Committee) gave full credit to the architect: " It was formerly a miniature Dartmoor without the granite, and Mr. Robson had left them a veritable Garden of Eden without the serpents".
Robson decided that a refreshment chalet would be a good idea for the Park, and in 1897 a suitable building was designed and constructed by council employees. It was of brick and timber construction with a steeply pitched slate roof and gables, with a verandah on all sides. Various franchise owners succeeded one another, and a new building was constructed in 1958 as the old one became run down. Currently it features a children's playground and a nice outside sitting area.
Activities and Features
Roundwood Park has always been devoted to floral displays and a relaxing quiet environment. Sporting activities were not catered for in general, with the exception of a Bowling Green built near the centre of the southern path. It opened in June 1924 and has been a success story ever since. Occasionally it has been the target of vandals, for instance in 1958, but is usually in fine condition.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the park in 1995, the paved rosebush-lined central pathway was equipped with sturdy new seats and a 'Victorian' gazebo.
After an approach by Willesden & District Caged Birds Society in 1955, the Council approved the establishment of an aviary. It was built the following year, and the Society stocked it as a gesture of goodwill. Although successful in terms of being fox-proof, it has been the subject of theft. Budgerigars worth £50 were stolen in the summer of 1963, and the security of the building was improved. Among the occupants are zebra finches, cockatiels and canaries.
The wild life area is a recent addition to the Park. It used to have a pond surrounding the large willow tree. This has been filled in to prevent children from drowning. The area is the quietest section of the Park, and a sanctuary for such birds as Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Mistle Thrush and Great Spotted Woodpecker, as well as many common species.
For more than 10 years after the Park opened, the Willesden Junction Brass Band gave concerts at the bandstand. The became so popular, that a new rustic-type bandstand was built to the south of the Gymnasium (children's playground), where more space for the audience was available. The hilltop became the viewing point. As band concerts lost their popularity, so the Park lost its bandstand. In its place a new Summer Theatre was built in 1959 at an estimated cost of £6750. This had been well used, especially for children's events, but has also seen Shakespeare performed. Currently it is closed and run down.
On the other site of the hill there is a basketball court. It was originally the children's playground then known as the 'gymnasium'. Between this and the fence is the storage area for compost, the recycling station.
Once a model railway track existed here. It was set up by the Willesden and
West London Society of Model Engineers. A temporary track had been laid for
the 1953 Willesden Carnival, and in 1954 it opened as a permanent attraction.
Charges for rides were 6p for adults and 3p for children, of which the Council were to take 50%. By 1957 steam engines were circuiting the raised loop of multiple gauge track during the summer months (subject to weather) on Thursday evenings and weekend afternoons & evenings. Roundwood Park Model Railway Club were running the enterprise in the early 1970's, but sadly the system fell into disuse, and was removed in 1998.
The beautiful fish pond near the Lodge was proposed by the Willesden & District Aquarist Club during 1956, and completed in 1957. It boasts a large willow and tulip trees.
Roundwood Park has been the setting for many public events. In its long history it had seen numerous religious and political open-air meetings, circuses and all the fun of the fair. For many years it was home to the Willesden Show when the place would be crowded with people. Owners of pets of many types, flowers and vegetables, and even 'bonny babies' would compete for prizes in large canvas tents. Art and crafts were shown, and demonstrations of dog handling, sheep shearing, parachuting and trick motor cycling given. Later this became the Brent Show. Currently events take place on the open space on the southern side of the Park rather than on the main territory.
Roundwood Park. Notes on its history by Cliff Wadsworth, available from the Willesden Local History Society.
The old postcards are kindly provided by Dilwyn Chambers of the Willesden
Local History Society.
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© Brent Heritage website 2002