Church End is east of the centre of Brent and is the heart of the original parish of Willesden.
Church End, once also known as Crouch (Cross) End, grew up around the church, on the edge of marshland, an equal distance from the three main settlements in the area.
The church is first mentioned in 1181 and is first recorded as St Mary’s around 1280. The oldest surviving part of the church is the baptismal font from mid-12th century, which is one of six Norman fonts in Middlesex. A 12th century window is believed to have been destroyed in 1872, most likely during the renovations led by E. J. Tarver, who oversaw the removal of the western gallery, and the creation of the north aisle and chapel.
A clergy house stood next to the churchyard by the mid-13th century. The clergy house was probably the largest manor in the parish. In 1502, the Paulet family leased the manor, with one of them serving as clergyman. Later landowners in the area included All Souls’ College, Oxford (from the 15th century), and St Bartholomew’s Hospital, which owned a house at Church End.
Flick through this album of old photos of Church End from the Brent Museum and Archives collection:
Our Lady of Willesden
By the early 16th century, St Mary’s Church was known for its shrine to the Virgin Mary. The shrine appears to have attracted several pilgrims. Local historian K. J. Valentine (Our Lady of Willesden, 1988) has argued that the famous description of the shrine, supposedly sent to Thomas Cromwell in c. 1537, is actually a Victorian forgery, written in 1877. Therefore, there is no longer any reason to believe that the shrine was particularly special.
Even before the Reformation (when Protestantism replaced Catholicism as England’s official religion), the shrine was not viewed as special by everyone. In 1509, a woman described the image as ‘a burnt arse elf and a burnt arse stock’ (wood) that lacked even the power to protect itself from a fire.
By 1527, Thomas Bilney, an important reformist (Protestant) priest, insulted Our Lady of Willesden, calling it ‘but stockes and stones’. By referring to traditional shrines and monuments as just wood and stones, Bilney and others were railing against the traditionalist idea of worshipping ‘images of saints’. This famously resulted in iconoclasm during the Reformation era – when reformists led the destruction and removal of images of God and saints in churches. This was regularly mentioned in the debate between reformists (Protestants) and traditionalists (Catholics). In 1538, four years after Henry VIII had become the head of the Church of England, the statue from Willesden was burnt in Chelsea. (Quotes from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, link at the bottom of the page.)
In 1720, Church End had 13 people listed as ratepayers, meaning there were 13 adults who paid taxes living in the area at the time. The first Black person recorded in Brent may have been Sarah Eco, christened in St Mary’s Church in September 1723. By the mid-18th century, Church End was a small village, with a group of wooden poorhouse cottages in the churchyard.
At enclosure in 1823 (which allowed farmers to fence off farms and claim common land), there were 20 houses, mostly small cottages.
A pub called the Parrot existed by 1722. Two years later, The Five Bells pub is recorded, and is believed to be the same pub with a new name. By 1790, the pub had been renamed the Six Bells to reflect the change in the number of bells in St Mary’s Church tower. In 1834, the pub was also used as a post office and the boarding point for a London coach. The Six Bells closed before the start of the First World War in 1914.
18th century pleasure gardens were ticketed outdoor spaces holding events and activities, including dancing, eating and music. The largest gardens were in Vauxhall and Chelsea, but others ones popped up on rural outskirts of London, where there was more space. One such small pleasure garden opened at the White Hart pub, which stood at the junction of Church Lane and the High Road from around 1749. An alehouse called the White Horse opened on Church Road prior to 1860.
In 1777, the first school in Brent opened in Church End. Now called St Mary’s C E Primary School, it was first opened as a Sunday school for St Mary’s Church in 1809, before extending into a day school in 1818.
By 1829, Church End had a butcher and a general dealer.
The east end of the village became known as Chapel End after a brick Congregational chapel was built there in 1820. The district was also called Queen’s Town after Queen Victoria visited it in 1837.
By 1846, a terrace, a large farm and two large houses had been built at Queen’s Town. According to the 1841 census, a few people lived in tents. It is possible that they were Irish seasonal labourers. In the late 1860s, a new house, The Elms, was built opposite Mead House, another large house.
In 1847, at an unusually well attended vestry meeting, St Mary’s Church members saved the church (which had fallen into disrepair) from demolition. St Mary’s has been restored five times since then.
In 1866, the churchyard was extended, and the poorhouse cottages pulled down. In the same year, the London & North Western Railway opened Willesden Junction station. This was a long way south, but the company ran buses from Church End to meet the trains.
In 1868, the Midland & South West Junction Railway constructed the Acton branch line to the west and north of the village. The leaders of the church (the vestry) insisted they build the railway line at least 155 metres from the church, so that trains did not interfere with church services. This meant that the station was so far away from Church End as to be virtually useless.
The railway did influence development, with the United Land Company buying land at Chapel End in 1869. This became the Meyrick Road estate. By 1875, there were 73 houses in Church End and Chapel End, with the latter boasting seven shops and a new chapel. The company laid out more estates in the 1880s, with building almost complete by the mid-1890s. Buses now ran between Church End and Kilburn.
Other developers built houses in the early 20th century, although the Jewish Cemetery (built 1873) and Willesden Cemetery (built 1893) prevented expansion to the southeast and the railway restricted growth to the west. However, Church End did spread south towards what is now Craven Park Road. In 1895, another Anglican church, St Matthew’s Mission Church, was founded on St Mary’s Road, northwest of Harlesden. It became a permanent structure in 1901.
In 1872, Willesden Volunteer Fire Brigade was set up, with its main station at the White Horse pub. By 1890, there were flourishing shops on Church Road. Initially, laundries were the only industry in the area.
From the mid-1880s, small-scale industry developed at Church End, mainly makers of blinds, picture frames and cabinets. J.H. Dallmeyer, manufacturers of lenses and scientific instruments, moved to Denzil Road in 1907. At this time, Church End was largely working-class and one of the poorest parishes in London, despite the efforts of vicars to combat poverty. It is not surprising that, in 1904, Church End ward elected Willesden’s first Socialist councillor, Dave Barrett, a trade union official with connections to Irish politics.
The First World War brought more industry to the district. By 1915, factories replaced the cricket field north of St Mary’s Church. Later, Dudden Hill Farm was built over as well.
The First World War interrupted Willesden Borough’s plan for building council houses. Council properties were built north of Denzil Road and at Curzon Crescent in the 1930s. Willesden Technical College, now part of the College of North West London, opened in 1935.
From the 1960s, Church End was hit by industrial decline. In 1992, levels of unemployment were high compared to neighbouring wards.
In 1963, the Council bought property in the west of the Church End ward. Redevelopment, in the form of maisonettes rather than high-rise flats, started in 1971.
In 1998, Brent Council transferred housing estates at Church End and Roundwood to Fortunegate Community Housing, a local company formed to regenerate them. As part of the regeneration plan, Fortunegate Community Housing demolished 752 properties making up the Church End Resiform Estate. They replaced these with 556 new build properties, and repaired 664 former council properties. The layout of the streets was redesigned, and Brent Museum and Archives was consulted on new street names.
Watch this video showing how nearby Willesden Green has changed over time.
Today, Church End has a large Somali community. In 2008, Rhoda Ibrahim and other members of the Somali community in Church End set up the Somali Advice and Forum of Information (SAAFI). This community-based organisation aims to support all local people who have English as a second language, particularly women and children, with advice and support through workshops and training.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged Church End, with members of the Somali community badly hit. In June, the Guardian reported that at least 36 residents had died of the virus, making it the second worst cluster of cases in England and Wales at the time. Locals believe the numbers were even higher than this.
Find out more about this area by looking at our local history articles, written by volunteer researchers and members of local history societies:
- Margaret Pratt, Church End and Chapel End: Part 1 (.pdf, 1.29MB)
- Margaret Pratt, Church End and Chapel End: Part 2 (.pdf, 2.03MB)
- Margaret Pratt, Church End and Chapel End: Part 3 (.pdf, 2.16MB)
Much of the information you have read on this page came from the following resources, some of which are held by Brent Museum and Archives, and available to look at. For more information, contact us by phone 020 8937 3600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brent Council – Brent’s War (1995)
British History Online – A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7 (Victoria County History, 1982)
British History Online – A History of the County of Middlesex: Willesden Churches (Victoria County History, 1982)
Estate Regeneration – Statement (Department for Communities and Local Government, February 2016)
Foxe, J. – ‘Thomas Bilney’, The Acts and Monuments of the Christian Church
Gillett, J.T. – The History of Willesden (1964)
Gretzyngier, R. & W. Matusiak – Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 21: Polish Aces of World War 2 (Osprey, 1998)
History and Guide (Willesden Local History Society, 1996)
Leff, S. & L.V. Blunden – The Willesden Story (n.d.)
Mohdin, A. – ‘People were abandoned’: Injustices of pandemic laid bare in Brent (The Guardian, 27 June 2020)
Pevsner, N. – The Buildings of England: Middlesex (Penguin, 1951)
Snow, L. – A Short History of the Labour Party in Brent: 1900-2000 (n.d.)
Snow, L. – Brent, A Pictorial History (Phillimore, 1990)
Snow, L. – Willesden Past (Phillimore, 1994)
Somali Advice and Forum of Information (2019)
Spencer, A. – Britain in Old Photographs: Willesden (Allan Sutton, 1996)
St Mary's C E Primary School: School History (2016)
Thom, D. – Welcome to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (Museum of London, 2017)
Valentine, K.J. – Neasden: A Historical Study (Charles Skilton, 1989)
Valentine, K.J. – Our Lady of Willesden (1988)
Valentine, K.J. – Willesden at War, Volume One (1994)
Wadsworth, C. (ed.) – Beating the Bounds: A Walk Around the Willesden Boundary (Willesden Local History Society, 2000)
Wadsworth, C. (ed.) – The Church of St Mary, Willesden: A History and Guide (Willesden Local History Society, 1996)
Waller, J.G. – On the Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Wilsdon, Transactions of the London & Middlesex Archaeological Society, Vol. 4, Old Series (1871)
Willesden Local History Society – Willesden Boundary (2000)
Zamoyski, A. – The Forgotten Few (John Murray, 1995)