Willesden is situated in the middle of Brent, surrounded by Neasden, Church End, Cricklewood and Kilburn.
The name comes from the Ango-Saxon 'Wellesdune', meaning 'the hill of the spring'. The Doomsday book of 1086 records it as 'Wellesdone'.
By 1000 all this area was in the hands of St.Paul's Cathedral, with a southern part belonging to All Souls College, Oxford.. Willesden started as a small settlement in a woodland clearing, which later became Willesden Green. By the 14th century there were houses and farms here.
By the middle of the 18th century the village had grown and had its own pub, The Spotted Dog, described in 1792 as 'a well accustomed Publick House'. In the 19th century it was famous for its pleasure gardens and in the 1920s boasted a dance hall.
Willesden parish registers began in 1569. The parish covered several hamlets which eventually became suburbs of Willesden Green, Neasden, Harlesden, Kensal Green, Brondesbury, Stonebridge and Dollis Hill, as well as parts of Kilburn and Cricklewood. Local affairs were administered by the vestry, consisting of the vicar or curate, the churchwardens, the overseers and a few others. They held regular monthly meetings.
In the early 18th century Willesden was notorious for 'baby farming', when unwanted infants from London were sent to be nursed here. Later in the century a rather short-lived lock-up was built.
The coming of the Metropolitan Railway to Willesden boosted the development of this region. It was essentially an agricultural area, supplying hey, milk and horses to London.
The Growth of Willesden Green
In the 19th century there were some large mansions in Willesden Green, and professional people lived there alongside farmers. Poorer cottages were built there too, including on Pound Lane (named after a brick animal pound demolished in 1895).
Willesden and Willesden Junction stations opened by the London & North Western Railway in the 19th century were far away from Willesden Green and had little effect on it. The Metropolitan Railway opened Willesden Green Station only in 1879. Even before it opened streets had been paid out around the Green and many houses built. Willesden was the fastest growing district in London. At one time in the 1890s four houses were being built in the area every day.
From 1870s George Furness' Brick Works was operating on Chambers Lane, supplying bricks and tiles for the building industry in the area, and employing many residents.
The Anglo-Catholic St.Andrew's Church on Willesden High Road dates from 1887. It was the centre of St.Andrew's parish on the south side of Willesden Green. St.Gabriel's Parish was on the north side of the railway.
St.Andrew's provided a church school and some social facilities, including a men's club, a parish library and a soup kitchen.
By the beginning of the 20th century farms disappeared, farmhouses were replaced by villas and cottages and Willesden Green was joined up with Brondesbury and Cricklewood to the southeast, Chapel End to the west and Harlesden and Kensal Rise to the south. By around 1910 most of the original Green disappeared.
Shops grew along the High Road. The population became middle and working class, with many working in building and transport.
Willesden Green Library was built in 1894 and extended in 1907.
Willesden Local Board came into existence in 1875, replaced by Willesden Urban District in 1894. In 1933 Willesden became a Borough controlled by labour.
During the First World War Willesden Green was badly affected by unemployment. The War hit the building trade, and many Willesden residents were out of work.
Willesden Borough suffered severe bomb damage during the Second World War, because of the concentration of industry and railway lines. In October 1940 a greater tonnage of bombs fell on Willesden than on East Ham. There were many casualties. Willesden's war effort is marked by a memorial in Willesden New Cemetery, commemorating 72 dead who had no relatives to claim them.
Willesden purchased a bomber and a Spitfire named Borough of Willesden and flown by a Polish squadron.
At this time many Irish people came to live in Willesden Green. They worked in factories supplying the armed forces.
Decline and Hope for the Future
Little redevelopment was done in Willesden Green after the War, and in the 1950s-60s the area was in decline. The High Road suffered from congestion.
Hope came to Willesden Green in the 1980s. Traders received money to improve their shops in order to save the High Road. The new library opened in 1989. Now it includes a cinema, arts complex, cafe and bookshop.
In 2001 Brent Council announced a regeneration scheme for Willesden Green backed by English Heritage. It will improve street signs, public spaces, pavements, shops and local historic buildings.
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© Brent Heritage website 2002