Kilburn

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History

Kilburn High Road originated as an ancient trackway, part of a Celtic route between the settlements now known as Canterbury and St Albans. Under Roman rule, the route was paved. In Anglo-Saxon times the road became known as Watling Street.[2]

Kilburn grew up on the banks of a stream which has been known variously as Cuneburna, Kelebourne and Cyebourne, which flows from Hampstead down through Hyde Park and into the River Thames. It is suggested the name means either Royal River or Cattle River (‘Bourne‘ being an Anglo-Saxon word for ‘river’). The river is known today as the River Westbourne. From the 1850s it was piped underground and is now one of London’s many underground rivers.

The name Kilburn was first recorded in 1134 as Cuneburna, referring to the priory which had been built on the site of the cell of a hermit known as Godwyn.[3] Godwyn had built his hermitage by the Kilburn river during the reign of Henry I, and both his hermitage and the priory took their name from the river.[4] Kilburn Priory was a small community of nuns, probably Augustinian canonesses. It was founded in 1134 at the Kilburn river crossing on Watling Street (the modern-day junction of Kilburn High Road and Belsize Road). Kilburn Priory’s position on Watling Street meant that it became a popular resting point for pilgrims heading for the shrines at St Albans and Willesden. The Priory was dissolved in 1536-7 by Henry VIII, and nothing remains of it today.[5]

The priory lands included a mansion and a hostium (a guesthouse), which may have been the origin of the Red Lion pub, thought to have been founded in 1444. Opposite, the Bell Inn was opened around 1600, on the site of the old mansion.[4]

The fashion for taking ‘medicinal waters’ in the 18th century came to Kilburn when a well of chalybeate waters (water impregnated with iron) was discovered near the Bell Inn in 1714. In an attempt to compete with the nearby Hampstead Well, gardens and a ‘great room’ were opened to promote the well, and its waters were promoted in journals of the day as cure for ‘stomach ailments':[4]

Kilburn Wells, near Paddington.—The waters are now in the utmost perfection; the gardens enlarged and greatly improved; the house and offices re-painted and beautified in the most elegant manner. The whole is now open for the reception of the public, the great room being particularly adapted to the use and amusement of the politest companies. Fit either for music, dancing, or entertainments. This happy spot is equally celebrated for its rural situation, extensive prospects, and the acknowledged efficacy of its waters; is most delightfully situated on the site of the once famous Abbey of Kilburn, on the Edgware Road, at an easy distance, being but a morning’s walk, from the metropolis, two miles from Oxford Street; the footway from the Mary-bone across the fields still nearer. A plentiful larder is always provided, together with the best of wines and other liquors. Breakfasting and hot loaves. A printed account of the waters, as drawn up by an eminent physician, is given gratis at the Wells.

The Public Advertiser, July 17, 1773.[6]

In the 19th century the wells declined, but the Kilburn Wells remained popular as a tea garden. The Bell was demolished and rebuilt in 1863, the building which stands there today.[4]

The Kilburn stretch of Watling Street, now called Edgware Road and Kilburn High Road, was gradually built up with inns and farm houses. However, despite the discovery of a medicinal well in 1714, and the creation of gardens and a fine room to exploit the water, Kilburn did not attract any significant building until around 1819 in the area near St John’s Wood.[4]

Between 1839 and 1856 the newsagent and future First Lord of the Admiralty William Henry Smith lived in a house to the west of Kilburn High Road. Much of the area was developed in the last decades of the nineteenth century by Solomon Barnett, who named many of the streets after places in the West Country (e.g. Torbay) or after popular poets of the day (e.g. Tennyson) in honour of his wife.

Governance

The boundary between the boroughs of Camden and Brent runs along the middle of Kilburn High Road. The electoral wards of ‘Kilburn (Camden)’ and ‘Kilburn (Brent)’ cover most of the area.

Demographics

Kilburn has a number of different ethnic groups, including people of Irish, Afro-Caribbean, Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Somali backgrounds. Because the area is split between more than one London borough, statistics are gathered from different parts of Kilburn.[7][8]

The Kilburn area is most strongly associated with its Irish population and culture; 13% of the population were born in Ireland with an even higher percentage of Irish descent, giving it the highest Irish population of any London area.[9] The Irish presence is evident in Irish community activities, Irish pubs (many of which attract custom by screening Gaelic games), local GAA sports clubs,[10] newsagents selling a wide range of Irish newspapers, and the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations in the area. The area is sometimes jokingly referred to as County Kilburn. The 2007 Irish-language film Kings has also been associated with Kilburn and is based on Jimmy Murphy‘s play The Kings of the Kilburn High Road.[11]

Landmarks

Kilburn High Road

Kilburn High Road is the main road in Kilburn. It follows a part of the line of the Roman route, Iter III in the Antonine Itinerary, which later took the Anglo-Saxon name Watling Street. This was based on an earlier Celtic route from Verlamion to Durovernum Cantiacorum, modern day St Albans and Canterbury.

Running roughly north-west to south-east, it forms the boundary between the London boroughs of Camden to the east and Brent to the west. It is the section of the Edgware Road (itself part of the A5) between Shoot Up Hill and Maida Vale.

There are three railway stations on Kilburn High Road: Kilburn tube station (Jubilee Line) at its northern end and a little to the south Brondesbury station (London Overground on the North London Line). Approximately 1.25 km (nearly a mile) further south is Kilburn High Road station (also London Overground, on the Watford DC Line). Kilburn Park tube station, on the Bakerloo Line, lies a little west of the southern end of the High Road.

The green space of Kilburn Grange Park is located to the east side of Kilburn High Road.

The name of Ian Dury‘s first band, Kilburn & the High Roads, refers to this road, as does the Flogging Molly song, “Kilburn High Road” and the Shack song, “Kilburn High Road”.

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History (