History of Twyford and Park Royal

Park Royal is in the south of Brent, southeast of Alperton and southwest of Stonebridge and Harlesden. The Park Royal industrial area extends into the adjacent boroughs of Ealing, and Hammersmith & Fulham.

In 1894, East Twyford became part of the Willesden Urban District, now in the London Borough of Brent. West Twyford joined the Greenford Urban District, now in Ealing. The Grand Union Canal runs through the middle of the Park Royal industrial estate, with pedestrian access via the towpath.

Look at a map of the area from the late 19th century on the National Library of Scotland website: Ordnance Survey map of Twyford and Park Royal

Early history
Twyford ‘Abbey’
Growth of Twyford
The Royal Agricultural Show and the creation of Park Royal
Growth of industry
Industrial decline
Twyford and Park Royal today
Further reading

Early history

In the Domesday Book in 1086 (a survey of land in England and Wales), Twyford is called 'Tveverde'. Its Anglo-Saxon name means (place by a) 'double ford'. Twyford was then a village of nine households, with ploughlands and enough woodlands to support 100 pigs.

Two canons (priests) of St Paul’s held the manor of Twyford, representing the two estates of East and West Twyford. Over the centuries, the manors of both East and West Twyford changed hands many times.

By 1474, Sir John Elrington was lord of the manor in East Twyford. The manor house was most likely located at Lower Place, by Barretts Green on Acton Lane, where there was later a farm. Early maps show Lower Place Farm surrounded by drainage channels, thought to be the remains of the moat.

There were two other medieval dwellings in the area of East Twyford. One of these became Ruckhold farm and adjacent cottages, and the other is likely to have been at the site of the Coach and Horses pub at Stonebridge.

There was a chapel at West Twyford by 1181, but there was not enough money to support a rector. It was called St Mary's Church by 1300. There were 10 inhabited houses by 1250, but during the later middle ages, the village had nearly emptied out. This enabled the lords of the manor of West Twyford to enclose (fence off and claim) the common land.

The population was so small that, in the 15th century, the chapel was held by a vicar of Islington (in modern-day north London), and from the 16th century, by priests from Perivale (in modern-day Ealing). By 1593, the manor house was the only habitation in West Twyford, and St Mary’s Church had become a private chapel. 

By the 17th century, the parish officers of Willesden managed West Twyford's local affairs. West Twyford manor house was part demolished around 1715.

St Mary’s Chapel was rebuilt around 1712, becoming ‘a rather basic Georgian preaching box.’ Fragments of a medieval stone window found in the west wall suggest that the medieval church may have been larger than the 18th century building, which seated about 40 people. In the late 18th century, there was one service a month, with services becoming weekly in the early 19th century. 

By 1801, many people saw West Twyford as separate from Willesden. The only buildings were the manor house and a few structures connected with farming. Records show that by 1821, there was a small house, Canal Cottage on the canal east of West Twyford Farm. A few more houses appeared later.

In 1801, the population was just eight people. This rose to 43 in 1831 but fell to 18 in 1861. Despite a falling population, West Twyford became a civil parish in 1857. By 1881, the population had risen to 75. 

Twyford ‘Abbey’

In 1806, records show that Thomas Willan, a stagecoach proprietor, bought West Twyford’s manor house. Willan asked the architect William Atkinson to re-model the house into a Gothic-style mansion, filling in the moat and altering the church. In keeping with the spirit of the age, Willan gave his house a romantic pseudo-monastic association, calling it 'Twyford Abbey'.

 In 1902, the Alexian Brothers, a Roman Catholic order specialising in caring for the sick, bought Twyford Abbey and converted it into a nursing home, altering and enlarging it several times. The building was listed in 1973, but the nursing home closed in 1988 and Twyford Abbey became derelict. As of 2021, there are redevelopment plans to house an independent school there.

Growth of Twyford

By 1800, there was a cottage to the east of Lower Place Green in East Twyford. The Grand Union Canal Company dug the Paddington branch of the Grand Junction canal (now called the Grand Union Canal) close to Lower Place Farm in 1801. This sped up the transport of goods from the Midlands and North of England to London, which had previously relied on the river Thames to take goods into the city. The canal divided Lower Place Farm from neighbouring Ruckhold Farm.

In 1837, the London and Birmingham Railway was built north of the Grand Junction Canal, destroying cottages at Lower Place and running very close to the farm buildings. It introduced competition to the canal for transport of goods. In 1861, a former beer house (located where Acton Lane crossed the canal) became the Grand Junction and Railway Inn (today the Grand Junction Arms).

By the end of the 19th century, another farm in Acton became known as Lower Place Farm, and the original Lower Place Farm changed its name to Grange Farm. A large house, called The Grange, was built nearby.

In 1879, the United Land Company bought land next to the canal in East Twyford and built a little complex of terraces at Disraeli Road and Steele Roads.

The Good Shepherd Mission Church opened in Disraeli Road in 1890, with the mission hall providing a social hub and support to the local community with clubs and societies.

In 1897, Willesden Urban District acquired land from the Twyford Abbey estate to build a parish workhouse and infirmary near Ruckhold Farm. The farm was demolished soon afterwards. Alfred Saxon Snell designed the new building to accommodate 400 people, and it opened in 1903. It included an administrative block, infirmary, male and female wards and a 50-bed nursery.

Staff typically recorded births and deaths with the address Twyford Lodge, rather than ‘workhouse’, as there was stigma attached to the term. From 1907, it was used exclusively treat sick people. It was renamed Park Royal Hospital in 1921. It then became the Central Middlesex County Hospital in 1931, and is now the site of the modern Central Middlesex Hospital.

A Baptist mission opened in Steele Road in 1909, which provided further support. However, Lower Place was a poor area. In 1908, records show there were many families in ‘need and distress’. A primary school was built at Lower Place in 1915 and shortly afterwards a children's home was built near Steele Road.

In 1917, a day and night nursery opened at Lower Place, designed to provide a home for the children of munition workers, the majority of whom were women. Children from a few weeks’ old up to five years’ old were cared for, and the charge was sixpence per child for each twelve-hour day or night session.

The Royal Agricultural Show and the creation of Park Royal

By 1901, Waxlow Road had been built, west of Acton Lane, between the canal and the railway. Two years later, Action Lane Power Station opened.

Meanwhile, the Royal Agricultural Society moved its annual Royal Agricultural Show to the Twyford Abbey Estate. The show exhibited the latest farming machinery and animal breeds. Coronation Road was built to provide access to the showground, presumably named after the coronation of Edward VII in 1901.

Park Royal Station, on the Great Western Railway (GWR), and Royal Show Ground Station, on the London & North Western Railway, both opened to serve the site in time for the first show in 1903.

The Metropolitan District Railway also opened a line (now the Piccadilly Line) to South Harrow. Park Royal and Twyford Abbey Station were on Twyford Abbey Road to the west of the showground. GWR extended their train line to Greenford in 1904, and built a halt (un-manned station) at North Acton.

The Prince of Wales (later George V) opened the 1903 Royal Agricultural Show. The area was named Park Royal in his honour. The Plumes Tavern opened by the east gate in 1904. The Society had spent at least £70,000 developing the site but not many people attended the shows, so the society abandoned the site after 1905.

To recoup some of the cost, the Royal Agricultural Society sub-let part of the showground to the Queen's Park Rangers Football Club (QPR). The GWR built the QPR Park Royal Stadium in 1907, and the club played there until 1915, when the army took over the site during the First World War, as a horse compound and for munitions factories. Some prisoners-of-war were also held there.

Growth of industry

In the late 19th century, there were a few factories in northern Acton near the canal and Willesden Junction. Aircraft were being built there even before the First World War, and there was an aerodrome east of Masons Green Lane.

The early 20th century saw the growth of some industries in East Twyford on Waxlow Road, notably the McVitie & Price biscuit factory in 1902. McVitie’s biscuits acquired national significance during the First World War, when they were included in the ‘iron ration’, an emergency ration of long-life food sent out to soldiers on the front line (as well as biscuits, the packages included meat, cheese, tea, sugar and salt). McVitie’s have also supplied cakes for Royal weddings and christenings, including the 1947 wedding between Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. The cake was 2.5 metres tall, and ingredients were sent from overseas because of post-war rationing. McVitie’s remains one of the largest employers in Park Royal in 2021.

The district became a centre for mushroom farming by 1907. Mushrooms played a part in the local economy until the late 1920s, with new farms appearing after the First World War. In 1902, West Twyford's population was about 80. It had risen to 126 by 1911 and 130 in 1923.

During the First World War, munitions factories were located on Park Royal Road and Victoria Road in Acton. One Park Royal munitions factory employed 7,000 workers, mainly women. The district was bombed in 1917.

When the war ended, much of the Park Royal site became derelict. Some of the wartime industry was adapted for civilian use. However, by 1919, several large engineering factories were located there and it was becoming a major industrial site, covering the area between the railway and the canal and extending along Acton Lane to the infirmary.

Proximity to railways, the opening of Western Avenue and the building of the North Circular Road along Twyford's northern border (1934-35), made the area highly suitable for import of raw materials and export of goods. Good public transport links with urbanised Willesden provided the workforce.

In 1920, there were around 40 businesses in Park Royal. By 1932, there were 73 factories, employing 13,400 people, manufacturing food, electrical equipment, paper and machinery. By this date, the factories at North Acton had connected with those at Park Royal and the estate was becoming the largest industrial zone in southern England.

More industry came to Waxlow Road in this period of growth, including the Heinz factory in 1925. In its first year of operation, 125 Heinz workers produced 100,000 tonnes of food. In 1928, the first British-made Heinz baked beans were made there and, by the mid-1960s, the modernised factory was producing a million cans of beans a day. By 1964, the Heinz factory had 3,500 employees, and a popular sports and social club (the ’57 club’) to keep them entertained. However, thirty years later, the factory employed only 500. Heinz suffered in the 1980s recession and was hit by competition from supermarket own brands. The factory closed in 2000.

The largest and most impressive factory constructed in this period was the art deco Guinness Brewery. Alexander Gibb and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed the building, the architects of Bankside (now Tate Modern) and Battersea Power Station.

The building initially housed 1,500 workersbut, towards the end its life, Guinness abandoned the large brewery, and brewed the beer at a small modern brewery within the site. Production ceased in 2005. The Secretary of State rejected applications to list the buildings, and so the brewery was demolished in 2006. The Twentieth Century Society called this an act of ‘pure architectural vandalism’.

Most local farms had sold off their land for development in the 1930s. Grange Farm, for example, became a sports ground in 1935. By this time, the 19th-century housing at Lower Place had become dilapidated and overcrowded. In 1960, the council planned to remove the housing and make the area wholly industrial. Lower Place School, unable to sustain low pupil numbers, closed down and was finally demolished in the 1990s.

There was new housing, however – the North Circular (which was finished in 1930) stimulated housing, as well as industry, leading to significant parts of West Twyford becoming residential. Guinness also built houses for brewery workers. The population of West Twyford grew from 130 in 1923, to 311 in 1931, and 2,995 in 1951. Public transport improved, with Park Royal Station moving to Western Avenue in 1931.

Isolated buildings, such as a small Baptist mission hall south of the canal, also succumbed to the growth of industry. There were, however, a number of green spaces in Park Royal, giving the impression of a 'garden factory' with several sports grounds and allotments in the area. But apart from West Twyford Farm (owned by the Alexian Brothers), the district's only connection with the countryside was the Farm Ice Creamery Company, which produced 1 50,000 packets of ice cream a day in summer 1937. 

By 1939, despite the Depression, there were at least 256 firms in Park Royal, some making consumer goods like fountain pens and radio sets, others making capital goods like lorries or electric motors.

Local government evolved to respond to the changing nature of the area. Ealing had been a borough since 1901 and, in 1926, it absorbed Greenford, including West Twyford. In 1934, West Twyford was transferred to the new Borough of Willesden (now in Brent), but popular protests forced most of it to be returned to Ealing in 1935. 

During the Second World War, factories again shifted to war production, including the manufacturing of Halifax bombers by Park Royal Coachworks. While the area suffered frequent air raids, bomb damage was relatively light compared to London’s other industrial heartlands. After the war, the Central Line was extended from North Acton to West Ruislip. Hanger Lane Station replaced Brentham Halt at the junction of Hanger Lane and Western Avenue. 

Industrial decline

The 1950s and 1960s initially saw further prosperity. At its peak, in the 1960s, Park Royal was employing 45,430 people. In 1958, a new church was built at West Twyford, incorporating the original St Mary’s Church as a Lady Chapel. In the 1960s, Willesden replaced the poor housing at Lower Place with industry from Stonebridge, which was being redeveloped as a wholly residential area.

However, the effects of the declining British economy began to be felt in northwest London, and, by the 1970s, Park Royal faced industrial decline. The comparatively narrow roads were unsuitable for large lorries and there were few car parks despite growing car ownership. The estate had no shops, few pubs and minimal social facilities, which drove skilled workers to find work elsewhere.

Thousands of jobs were lost between 1977 and 1983 when firms closed down, moved away or 'downsized', as Heinz and Guinness had done. Wall's meat processing factory on Atlas Road closed down in around 1978. In 1980, Park Royal Vehicles, the London bus body maker that opened in Park Royal in 1919, shifted production to Cumbria. In 1984, following an industrial dispute, Waterlow and Sons, printers of the ‘Radio Times’, moved its printing out of Park Royal. These are just a few examples that led Park Royal to be described as ‘depressed’ by 1987.

Various attempts to reverse the decline were made by Central Government, the Greater London Council and the boroughs of Brent and Ealing. Some new firms set up in the area, but others continued to cut jobs. 

Twyford and Park Royal today

Since around 1975, a Lebanese community, fleeing civil war, has settled in the area. Park Royal’s Lebanese restaurants are gaining a strong reputation.

The Park Royal Partnership worked from the 1990s to encourage new businesses to move in, and to improve the quality of the environment. The partnership ceased to function in 2013. The Park Royal Business Group (PRBG) was established in 2014 to provide a forum and a voice for the Park Royal business community. Despite the earlier decline, Park Royal is now home to over 2,000 businesses and employs 40,000 in a range of sectors.

Today, Brent comprises 35% of Park Royal’s total workplaces. Relatively little was known about the diversity of Park Royal’s businesses until the Park Royal Atlas was published in 2014, which identified key sectors, including food manufacturing, logistics and the film industry, with some global brands but also a high proportion (75%) of small businesses.

The Atlas revealed that during the course of a year, Park Royal businesses provide London with 240,000 bouquets of flowers, 300,000 rolls of sushi, 3,000 recording sessions and 24,000 books to university libraries. A wealth of ingredients and foods from all over the world are made, sold and prepared at Park Royal, earning it the name ‘London’s kitchen’.

In 2015, the Mayor of London established the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), a local planning authority for the 640-plus hectare development site (covering parts of Brent, Ealing and Hammersmith and Fulham) to oversee what is likely to be the largest regeneration project since the London 2012 Olympic Games. There are development proposals for 14,200 new homes and 37,590 new jobs over the next 20 years to create a new neighbourhood. High Speed 2 and Crossrail developments at Old Oak and Park Royal will create a major transport hub, with super-fast links in and out of the area and improving connectivity across West London.

 

Further reading

Brent Council – Brent's War (1995)
British History Online – West Twyford: Introduction (Victoria County History, 1982)
British History Online – West Twyford: Manors (Victoria County History, 1982)
British History Online – Willesden: Public services(Victoria County History, 1982)
British History Online – A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 7 (Victoria County History, 1982)
Field, J. – PlaceNames of Greater London (Batsford, 1980)
Gillett, J.T. – The History of Willesden (1964)
Grant, P. – Brent’s women at war and at peace, 1914–1919
Hewlett, G. – Aviation in and around Brent (Brent Museum and Archives, 1984)
Hidden London – Lower Place, Brent
Higginbotham, P. – Willesden, Middlesex
Holmes, Mrs. B. – West Twyford, Middlesex (Elliot Stock, 1908)
Kearney, C. – A History of Twyford Abbey(n.d.)
Khorsandi, P. – The West London industrial estate that became home to an array of Middle Eastern restaurants(The Independent, 2017)
Leff, S. & Blunden, L.V. – The Willesden Story (n.d.)
London Canal Museum – The Grand Junction Canal: London’s Long-distance Link
London Drinker – Park Royal: a lost history in a changing market(2020)
Macey, G. – Queen's Park Rangers (Breedon Books, 1993)
Mayor of London – The Park Royal Atlas: An Employment Study of London’s Largest Industrial Area (Greater London Authority, 2014)
Mayor of London and London Assembly – Park Royal Industrial Area (Greater London Authority)
McVitie’s – About: 1900-1950
Mills, A.D. – A Dictionary of London Place Names (Oxford University Press,2001)
Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) – Buildings of Interest: Grand Junction Arms Public House
Open Domesday – Twyford
Pevsner, N. – The Buildings of England: Middlesex (Penguin, 1951)
Snow, L. – Brent, A Pictorial History (Phillimore, 1990)
Snow, L. – Willesden Past (Phillimore, 1994)
Spencer, A. – Britain in Old Photographs: Willesden (Alan Sutton, 1996)
Strangleman, T. – Voices of Guinness: An Oral History of the Park Royal Brewery (OUP, 2019)
The Moones – Lower Place Book
Valentine, K.J. – Willesden at War, Volume One (1994)
Wadsworth, C. – Lost Willesden Railway Stations (CAW Books, 1998)
Wadsworth, C. – Traditional Pubs of Brent, Volume 1 Willesden (CAW Books, 1999)
Wadsworth, C. (ed.) – Beating the Bounds: A Walk around the Willesden Boundary (Willesden Local History Society, 2000)