A Brief History of Kensal Green
The earliest known landowners in Willesden were the Canons of St Paul’s Cathedral as in 939 King Athelstan (925-940) granted the manor of Neasden with Willesden to the Cathedral.
In 1086 the Domesday Book records the Canons of St Paul’s Cathedral held the two manors of Willesden & Harlesden. The Book states Willesden Manor provided household supplies for the Canons before 1066.
In 1150 Willesden was divided into sub-manors, each to support a Canon. Later, one manor, West Twyford, was transferred to Greenford.
The Manor Houses were usually no grander than farmhouses, as the Canons were absentee landlords. Today, only Oxgate Farm, the oldest secular building in Willesden, survives as a private house. Part of it dates to the 16th century.
Only two other historical buildings survive; the Grange in Neasden (formerly the local history museum) & Dollis Hill House sadly ravaged by fire & its stables, now an art gallery. A local group, The Dollis Hill House Trust, have been making great efforts for some years to save the house from demolition & restore it for community use.
Kensal Green is first mentioned in 1253, meaning the King’s Holt (King’s Wood). We do not know which King it was named after. It was one of the ten manors of Willesden & was on the boundary of the parishes of Willesden, Chelsea & Paddington. This boundary remains more or less the same, between the London boroughs of Brent, Kensington & Chelsea & the City of Westminster.
Kensal Green might have been carved out of Chamberlayne Wood Manor, named after Canon Richard de Camera (of the Chambers).
The Green itself lay between the junction of the Harrow Road and Kilburn Lane.
In the early 15th Century Thomas Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury 1414-1443, acquired lands in Willesden & Kingsbury. In the year of his death he founded All Souls College, Oxford & endowed it with these lands.
In 1843 the surveyors of highways of Chelsea met their neighbours of Willesden to agree a map showing the boundary between the parishes. They agreed the boundaries should be from The Plough in the Harrow Road (on the junction with Ladbroke Grove, now no longer standing.) At that time there were a few cottages on the West side of the Lane including Regent Street.
In 1832 Kensal Green Cemetery was opened and most of the cemetery workers lived locally.
In 1835 ecclesiastical commissioners were appointed by the Crown to administer all lands belonging to The Church of England. In 1846 they reported “The larger portion of the Prebendal Estates possess, in our opinion, a value far beyond their present agricultural value.”
In 1844 St John’s Church in Kilburn Lane was consecrated. This shows there were now enough people living locally in order to create a new parish. Prior to that it would have been a long walk for residents over muddy foot paths to St Mary’s Willesden or down the Harrow Road to St Mary’s Paddington!
The district remained rural until c. 1850. The 1851 census records c.800 people living around Kensal Green.
Kensal Green manor house, which was roughly situated where Wakeman Road joins the Harrow Road, was pulled down in the 1860s.
From about 1860 the lands to the west of Kilburn High Road began to be built upon and in the 1870s the sale of Banisters Farm led to the building of many present day streets (Bannister Road, Mortimer Road.)
By 1880, the rapid build up of the area caused official concern. Many houses had no regular sewers and privies drained into old, broken down pipes.
In about 1880 All Souls College Oxford began developing its lands north west of Kilburn Lane, hence All Souls Avenue & College Road. Many of the roads were named after leading Fellows of the college.
Kensal Rise Reading Room was built to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897, on land given by All Souls College. It took a long time to build & did not open until 1901, some months after the Queen’s death. It was opened by the famous American author, Mark Twain, who was staying at nearby Dollis Hill House. Four years later it was extended & became Kensal Rise Library.
In the 1960s the college disposed of many freeholds, to its Fellows later regret. It still retains some land in Willesden to this day.
Origins of some Local Road Names
- All Souls Avenue – All Souls College, Oxford.
- Amery Road – Leopold Amery MP, Secretary of State for the Colonies 1924-1929.
- Chelmsford Square – The 3rd Viscount Chelmsford, Viceroy of India.
- College Road – All Souls College, Oxford.
- Hardinge Road – Lord Hardinge, Viceroy of India.
- Irwin Gardens – Lord Irwin, Viceroy of India, 1925-1931. Later 3rd Viscount Halifax, Foreign Secretary, 1938-1940.
- Phillimore Gardens – A member of the legal family from Oxfordshire.
- Trevelyan Gardens – A member of the family from Northumberland.
- Uffington Road – The college owns land in this Oxfordshire village, which this road was named after.
Nigel Clark has lived locally since 1986. He read history at Christ Church, Oxford & retains a keen interest in history.