History of Kingsbury

Early history of Kingsbury
Early history of Chalkhill
Middle ages to the 18th century
Pubs
Notable residents
19th century life
Schools and churches
Industry
Wembley Urban District
London Borough of Brent
Local history articles

Kingsbury is situated at the northern edge of Brent, south of Stanmore.

Early history of Kingsbury

Kingsbury (‘The King’s manor’) developed between two ancient north-south routes, Edgware Road (then called Watling Street) and Honeypot Lane.

Remains from cremation burials have been found near the Brent Reservoir, which date back to the Bronze Age. Roman material has been found at St Andrew’s Church, leading to the theory that it was built on the site of a Roman camp. However, this theory has since been discredited. However, there is evidence that there was a large, Late Roman villa near Salmon Street.

The Anglo-Saxons most likely settled in southern Kingsbury, now Fryent Country Park and surrounding areas.

At this time, much of Kingsbury belonged to Ulward Wit, a Saxon lord. There were two manors in Kingsbury (written ‘Chingesberie’) which were mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 (which recorded a survey of land in England and Wales), and they covered 4.9km².

This was not large. For comparison, neighbouring Harrow covered 53km². After the Norman Conquest of 1066 (when armies from France invaded Britain), Wit’s land was taken over by the invading Normans.

Flick through this album of old photos of Kingsbury from the Brent Museum and Archives collection:

Kingsbury (BMA)

 

Early history of Chalkhill

Chalkhill is first mentioned in its present form in 1240. It later came into the possession of the Order of St John (a Catholic military order linked to helping the poor and sick – in the UK, an offshoot of the order is St John’s Ambulance). Freren Manor, just north of the church, was named after the group, also known as the Knights Hospitaller (‘Freren’ meaning ‘brothers’). The Order was suppressed in 1540 and their land given to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1544.

Middle ages to the 18th century

The medieval settlement pattern was scattered. In the middle ages, people settled in Kingsbury Green, Roe Green, Pipers Green and near the Hyde. Pipers Green is thought to have been named after John Lyon, a 15th century piper.

Despite its small size, the boundaries of the parish were uncertain. Kingsbury was closely connected to nearby Edgware, especially after Kingsbury and Edgware manors were both granted to All Souls College, Oxford, in 1442.

The parish was heavily affected by the Black Death (plague) in the 14th century. During the height of infections in 1350, 13 deaths are recorded in Kingsbury. This led to people abandoning their houses, and moving to the north, around Kingsbury Green. Southern Kingsbury shrank from a village to a church and one or two farms, and it has never fully recovered. This new settlement pattern remained until the 20th century.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Kingsbury Green grew. Houses were also built at the Hyde as forests were cleared, and criminal activity along Edgware Road diminished.

The number of homes for local people went from 21 in the 13th and 14th centuries to just 52 by 1664. During the 18th century, the number of houses hardly changed, but, from 1801 to 1851, the population trebled, with the number of houses increasing from 45 to 102, rising to 142 in 1881. There were 140 houses in 1900.

Pubs

Records show that there were six pubs in Kingsbury in 1751. The Plough inn at Kingsbury Green is first mentioned in 1748. However, three pubs, the Black Horse and two establishments called the Chequers, had disappeared from records by 1803. There were two pubs called the King’s Arms, one on Edgware Road, and one at the Hyde, which both dated back to the 17th century or earlier. The Red Lion existed before 1826, and, by 1851, a beer shop called the Green Man had appeared at Pipers Green.

Notable residents

Although most people worked the land, a few wealthy or famous people also lived in Kingsbury. From 1771 to 1774, the writer Oliver Goldsmith lived at Hyde Farm, which was visited by his friends Dr Johnson, James Boswell and Joshua Reynolds. Goldsmith wrote She Stoops to Conquer in Kingsbury.

In 1893, Field Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar and Waterford, who had recently returned from India, came to live at Grove Park in Kingsbury. Roberts fought in the Boer War, between the British Army and Dutch South African Republic in South Africa. While the Boer War was still going on, he came back to Britain to take up the post of Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, which he held until 1904. He spent his retirement calling for compulsory military service and died in November 1914, while visiting Indian troops in the trenches of the First World War. Grove Park was demolished after the Second World War.

A large Kingsbury house that survives is Kingsbury Manor, which was built for the Duchess of Sutherland in 1899. She had recently married the MP for Islington, and the house was probably built because of Kingsbury’s proximity to North London. It was renamed Kingsbury Manor in 1929 and is now a home for the elderly belonging to the London Borough of Brent. In the autumn of 1928, the manor’s coach house was rented to John Baird, who worked with a team of engineers on his invention, television. They put up 25m masts, and the first international picture broadcast (from Berlin) was received in 1929.

19th century life

In 1835, work on the Kingsbury Reservoir was completed. Largely, because of the efforts of the proprietor of the Old Welsh Harp pub, William Perkins Warner, the area around the reservoir became a pleasure garden. From 1860 to 1885, events and activities held here included horse races (until they were banned in 1878), greyhound races (held from 1876, the first in London), boat hire, fishing, fairs, swimming in the summer, ice-skating in the winter, and more. From 1870 to 1903, Welsh Harp Station, a Midland Railway station, served tourists travelling to the area.

As late as 1930, Kingsbury was famous for pleasant days out in unspoilt countryside. In reality, however, the picturesque farmland concealed considerable rural poverty.

Hay and animal farming predominated in Kingsbury. By 1838, 97% of land was under grass. At certain times of year, large numbers of seasonal farm workers came from Ireland to work in the area.

In the late 19th century, the decline in hay farming hit local farmers. Seasonal unemployment, high rents and short leases kept buildings in poor repair. The area was prone to flooding, especially after the construction of the reservoir, which failed disastrously in January 1841. In the early 20th century, there were stud farms at Roe Green and Kingsbury House.

In the 19th century, each of Kingsbury’s hamlets had villas. According to a Kingsbury resident, who was a child at the time, in 1890 ‘there were probably about six gentlemen living in Kingsbury, who would be driven by their coachmen, presumably to Hendon station, in the morning... when their coaches passed us, we schoolkids had to salute them’. Teachers would punish children who did not salute.

Watch this video showing how Kingsbury has changed over time:

Schools and churches

Records show John Bishop, curate of Kingsbury, kept a school in Kingsbury in 1530. By 1819, records show 35 children were being formally educated, perhaps in a Sunday school. In 1822, the first day school opened, with 30 children joining by 1833. Roman Catholic children, presumably the offspring of the Irish farm workers, had a school from 1865. In 1870, the British School was set up on Kingsbury Road, becoming a senior mixed school in 1922.

In 1884, Holy Innocents Church opened on Kingsbury Road, following a growth in population and new, tall buildings, nicknamed ‘wind jammers’. Following protests, St Andrew’s Church remained open as well.

There was little construction along Edgware Road itself because of inadequate sewers and a lack of public transport. The road was so bad that although trams used it from 1904, buses were not introduced until 1920.

Industry

Proximity to Hendon Aerodrome led to the development of an aircraft industry in northeast Kingsbury during the First World War. Many of the workers were women. There were also three aerodromes in Kingsbury itself.

In 1909-10, 20 houses were constructed at Stag Lane. At the end of the First World War, the architect Frank Baines built Roe Green Village for aircraft workers. After the war, an artificial limb factory was set up near Hay Lane.

The development of the aircraft industry, and the 1924-25 British Empire Exhibition, led to improved roads in the area. From 1911 to 1921, the population of Kingsbury more than doubled, from 821 to 1,856.

In 1928, soon after moving to London, aviator Amy Johnson visited Stag Lane Aerodrome and found herself mesmerised by watching the planes. Johnson was inspired and decided she wanted to be a pilot herself. She started getting lessons at the London Aeroplane Club, based at Stag Lane, and got a flat in Kingsbury. In 1930, Johnson gained worldwide fame when she became the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia. The same year, she received a CBE from King George V for her achievement.

Watch this video on local hero Amy Johnson:

In 1919, the Metropolitan Railway Company Estates Ltd bought up most of the Chalkhill Estate and built large detached houses and bungalows there. Then, from 1921 to 1931, Kingsbury experienced the largest population increase of any district in north London, from 1,856 to 16,636.

The architect Ernest Trobridge lived in Kingsbury during this time, and made a big impression on the architecture of the area. Trobridge trained as an architect in Belfast before moving to London, and after a few years, was able to turn to his true passion –building houses. In 1919-20, he developed his timber house patent, based on traditional designs. Using cheap elm wood, brick chimneys and thatched rooves, the houses were strong but light, provided effective insulation, and took just eight weeks to build.

Trobridge built two estates of wooden houses in Kingsbury. In 1920-22, Trobridge built the Fern Dene Estate on the corner of Slough Lane and Kingsbury Road. This estate consisted of 10 semi-detached houses, including Hayland, where Trobridge and his family lived. In spite of financial troubles, from 1922-24, Trobridge was able to get funding to build a second estate, Elmwood Estate on the corner of Stag Lane and Hay Lane, again with 10 houses, fewer than planned. Of the Elmwood Estate, one group of four houses survives, 345-351 Stag Lane.

More light industry came into the area as well. For example, Frigidaire, a home appliances company, which opened offices and showrooms in Kingsbury in 1926. The site is now an Asda Superstore.

Kingsbury Station opened in 1932 and Queensbury Station in 1934. Queensbury is not a Saxon name, but the result of a newspaper competition, with the winning name a play on the name Kingsbury.

The location of Kingsbury Station shifted the centre of modern Kingsbury significantly to the west. From 1931 to 1933, 1,000 houses a year were built in the area, many by special companies set up simply to develop Kingsbury. Kingsbury Green effectively disappeared. Churches, schools, social clubs and modern shops followed the houses, with shops largely concentrating around the Underground Station.

Even in southern Kingsbury, the population grew to such an extent that a new church was needed. New St Andrew’s Church, an important Victorian building, was moved there from Wells Street, north of Oxford Street in central London.

Wembley Urban District

Kingsbury, originally part of Wembley Urban District, had been an independent Urban District from 1900 to 1934. In 1934, Kingsbury Urban District was again amalgamated into Wembley Urban District.

Between 1935 and 1940, Wembley Council built an impressive new town hall on Forty Lane, in what had been Kingsbury. In 1939, an open-air swimming pool was opened, and in 1940, a public library. By 1945, there were few large areas left to develop. In 1951, the population had grown to 41,905, though it declined after this, due to emigration to Hemel Hempstead and other new towns.

London Borough of Brent

In 1965, Willesden and Wembley joined to become the new London Borough of Brent. At this time there remained a divide between the richer, Conservative Wembley, and the poorer, Labour Willesden.

Even before this occurred, a plan had been devised to build a high-density council estate at Chalkhill to help move people out of overcrowded Willesden. Chalkhill House, a 17th century building in Forty Lane, had been demolished in 1963. The suburban houses of the Chalkhill Estate were now also destroyed, some of them after compulsory purchase. The scheme was highly unpopular with Conservative Wembley councillors and the new Borough of Brent was therefore born amid considerable political bitterness. The new Chalkhill Estate, built between 1966 and 1970, was not a great success. Several of the tower blocks there have since been demolished.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a number of Asian people who had fled East Africa came to Kingsbury. Some of them contributed to the area almost immediately by buying up local shops that would otherwise have closed.

In 1984, the open land bordering Fryent Way, which had been purchased by Middlesex County Council in 1935, and had remained as farmland until the early 1970s, became Fryent Open Space.

George Michael, the famous singer-songwriter, grew up in Kingsbury. Born Georgios Panayiotou to a Cypriot father and English mother in 1963 in East Finchley, he and his family moved to a flat on Holmstall Parade, near Burnt Oak, the following year. In 1967, the family moved into a semi-detached house at 57 Redhill Drive in Burnt Oak in the mid-1960s, when George was very young. Michael went to school locally, first at Roe Green Infant and Junior School and then Kingsbury High School. From 1981, Michael teamed up with former classmate Andrew Ridgeley to form Wham! They quickly became one of the most successful pop groups of the 1980s, before splitting up in 1986. Michael had a long and successful career as a solo performer. In 1998, he came out as gay, and became a LGBTQ+ campaigner and HIV/AIDS fundraiser. Michael died in 2016. Today, you can see Dawn Mellor’s permanent mural of George Michael at 499 Kingsbury Road, created as part of the London Borough of Culture’s Brent Biennial exhibition programme.

Charlie Watts, the drummer for the Rolling Stones, also went to Kingsbury High School, 20 years before Michael. His bandmate, Mick Jagger, often refers to him as the ‘Wembley Whammer’.

With thanks to Philip Grant for his research into notable Kingsbury residents.

 

Local history articles

Find out more about this area by looking at our local history articles, written by volunteer researchers and members of local history societies:

Self-guided walks

Archive copies

  • Ernest Trobridge: the Compressed Green Wood Construction leaflet (February 1920) A facsimile copy (with introductory note) of the leaflet written for the 1920 Ideal Home Exhibition, where Ernest Trobridge first displayed his new method of building timber houses. (The original document is in the Trobridge collection at Brent Museum and Archives, 19794/ADM/2/1.)
  • Ernest Trobridge: The Housing Folly A facsimile copy of Trobridge's typescript, with handwritten amendments, for a 1919 article attacking the Government's housing policy for the working classes, and setting out his ideas for cheaper comfortable, practical and spiritually uplifting wooden homes instead. (The original document is in the Trobridge collection at Brent Museum and Archives, 19794/ADM/2/6.)

Further reading

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 museum.archives@brent.gov.uk.

Brent Council – Brent’s War (1995)
British History Online – A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 5 (London: Victoria County History, 1976)
Elsley, H.W.R. – Wembley Through the Ages (Wembley News, 1953)
Field, J. – Place-Names of Greater London (Batsford, 1980)
Hewlett, G. – A Historical Survey of Kingsbury (Wembley Historical Society, 1982)
Hewlett, G. – Aviation in and around Brent (Grange Museum, London Borough of Brent, 1984)
Hewlett, G. (ed.) – A History of Wembley (Brent Library Service, 1979)
Holliday, S. – The History of Kingsbury (1934)
Journal of the Wembley History Society, Vol. IV, Nos. 3-10 (Autumn 1976-Spring 1980)
Mills, A.D. – A Dictionary of London Place Names (Oxford University Press, 2001)
Pevsner, N. – The Buildings of England: Middlesex (Penguin, 1951)
Potter, S. – Old Kingsbury Church (Home Words Ltd, 1920)
R.C.H.M.E. – Middlesex (1937)
Snow, L. – Brent, A Pictorial History (Phillimore, 1990)
Spencer, A. – Britain in Old Photographs: Wembley & Kingsbury (Alan Sutton, 1995)
Vulliamy, C.E. – The Archaeology of Middlesex and London (Methuen, 1930)
Wadsworth, C. – Traditional Pubs of Brent, Volume 2 Wembley (CAW Books, 1999)