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Willesden (//) is an area in north west London which forms part of the London Borough of Brent. It is situated 5 miles (8 km) northwest of Charing Cross. It was historically a parish in the county of Middlesex that was incorporated as the Municipal Borough of Willesden in 1933, and has formed part of the London Borough of Brent in Greater London since 1965. Dollis Hill is also sometimes referred to as being part of Willesden.
With its close proximity to affluent neighbourhoods Brondesbury Park, Queen's Park and Kensal Rise, the area surrounding Willesden Green station has seen increased gentrification in the past several years, with rapidly rising property prices. The Daily Telegraph called Willesden Green one of London's "new middle class" areas. The area has a population of 44,295 as of 2011 including the Willesden Green, Dollis Hill and Dudden Hill wards. Willesden Green has one of the city's highest Irish populations, and is also strongly associated with Latin Americans.
The name derives from the Anglo-Saxon Willesdune, meaning the Hill of the Spring, and a settlement bearing this name dates back to 939 AD. The Domesday Book of 1086 records it as Wellesdone. However, on 19th century maps of the town such as those from the 'Ordnance Survey First Series', the town is shown as Wilsdon. The motto of Willesden Borough Council was Laborare est orare ("to labour is to pray").
From the 14th to 16th centuries, the town was a place of pilgrimage due to the presence of two ancient statues of the Virgin Mary at the Church of St Mary. One of these statues is thought to have been a Black Madonna, venerated as Our Lady of Willesden, which was insulted by the Lollards, taken to Thomas Cromwell's house and burnt in 1538 on a large bonfire of "notable images" including those of Our Lady of Walsingham, Our Lady of Worcester, and Our Lady of Ipswich. There was also a "holy well" which was thought to possess miraculous qualities, particularly for blindness and other eye disorders. Much of the district supplied Apples, Pears and vegetables to the city of London for many years from the early years of the industrial revolution.
The Iris was a British car brand that was manufactured from 1906 by Legros & Knowles Ltd in Willesden. Lucien Alphonse Legros (1866–1933), son of the artist Alphonse Legros, and Guy Knowles, scion of a wealthy and artistic family, founded Legros & Knowles Ltd in Cumberland Park, Willesden Junction, in 1904 to build and repair vehicles.
The parish of Willesden remained predominantly rural up until 1875, when its population was 18,500. It included the villages and hamlets of Brondesbury, Dollis Hill, Dudden Hill, Harlesden, Kilburn, Mapesbury, Oxgate and Stonebridge. However, this changed with the opening of the Metropolitan Railway (later the Metropolitan line) station of Willesden Green on 24 November 1879. By 1906 the population had grown to 140,000, a phenomenon of rapid growth that was to be repeated in the 1920s in neighbouring areas such as Harrow. The Metropolitan line service was withdrawn in 1940, when the station was served by the Bakerloo line, and later the Jubilee line.
The First World War caused Willesden to change from a predominantly middle class suburb to a working class part of London. After the war, Willesden grew rapidly as many factories opened up with numerous flats and terraced houses. The local council encouraged building to prevent large unemployment and decline. To the present day, Willesden has been shaped by the patterns of migration which marks it out as one of the most diverse areas in the United Kingdom. City of London Corporation records show that the first black person recorded in Brent was Sarah Eco, who was christened in St. Mary’s Church in Willesden on 15 September 1723. The 1901 United Kingdom census recorded that 42% of the population was born in London. In 1923, the specialist coach builder Freestone and Webb established their base in Willesden, producing bespoke cars on Rolls-Royce and Bentley chassis until 1956.
Willesden became a municipal borough in 1933, and it is at this time that the area became predominantly working class. A small Irish community had formed in Willesden by this time, which grew rapidly during the period of the Second World War. A small Jewish community of refugees from Europe also formed during the war, with 3.5% of the population in 1951 born in Germany, Poland, Russia or Austria. During the war, Willesden suffered large bombing damage due to the heavy concentration of manufacturing industry, such as munition factories, the location of 'Smiths Instruments" (Used defensive aircraft instrumentation). Mulliner-Park Ward (Coach builders to Rolls Royce and Bentley, hand built cars). Power Station location, canal and major railway locomotive overhaul facilities located in the area.
The period from 1960 saw migrants settling from the Caribbean and the Indian Subcontinent. Additionally, from 1963 it was the site of the Kuo Yuan, the first Chinese restaurant to serve Pekinese dishes in Britain. Since the 1960s, Willesden has been popular with young working holidaymakers from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, although this popularity has declined somewhat in favour of other areas since about 2003.
Willesden went into a period of decline during the 1970s and 1980s as much of the housing was inadequate due to overcrowding as industry was mixed with housing. The whole of central Willesden (bar the area by the Willesden Green station) was earmarked for redevelopment; however, this did not come to fruition. In the late 1980s, traders were given money to revamp the High Street to prevent shops closing.
According to the 2011 census, the Willesden Green ward had a population of 15,587. Ethnically, 22% of the population was Other White, followed by 20% White British, 8.2% Other Asian, 8.1% Black African and 7.1% Black Caribbean. The most spoken foreign language was Portuguese, followed by Polish. 2,621 of the tenure households were privately rented; 1,625 were socially rented; 1,540 were owned.
Railways were instrumental in the development of Willesden, from a quiet village into a vibrant part of London. Willesden Green station was opened in 1879 by the Metropolitan Railway and has a grand 1920s facade. The Metropolitan connected Willesden to Central London, Harrow, Uxbridge, Rickmansworth and Aylesbury. The Metropolitan no longer stops regularly at the station (apart from when the Jubilee line is out of service). Neasden station is also within walking distance for some Willesden residents.
A large bus garage was built in 1902 and thus, many bus routes start or run through the town. These routes are shown in the table below. The Queen visited it during her Golden Jubilee celebrations.
London Buses routes serving Willesden are:
|206||Kilburn Park||Wembley Park||Metroline|
|226||Golders Green||Ealing Broadway||Metroline|
|260||White City||Golders Green||Metroline|
|302||Mill Hill Broadway||Kensal Rise||Metroline|
Founded in 1926, Willesden Cycling Club (WCC) supports Track cycling, Time Trials, Road Racing and AUDAX events. The club also provides grassroots coaching and social rides, as well as frequent "club runs" into the Chilterns and surrounding areas.
Famous people from Willesden Green
- Ronald Coase, Nobel Prize winner in Economics, was born (in 1910) and grew up in Willesden.
- Zadie Smith's younger brother, Ben Smith, is an underground British rapper who goes by the name Doc Brown. He is featured on the track "Think Back" from the album The Enthusiast produced by the British DJ Evil Ed. He raps "Born and bred in Kilburn" but also says "Veteran Willesden tenant. Brent the borough of residence."
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- Emma Thompson's character in Last Chance Harvey mentions she lives in Willesden Green.
- The town was featured in the popular novels White Teeth and "N-W" by Zadie Smith, published in 2000 and 2012 respectively; the first novel was the basis of a subsequent TV series.
- Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros sang from "Willesden to Cricklewood" on their album Rock Art and the X-ray Style.
- Willesden is the origin of the formation of the 1980s breakdance group the Willesden Dodgers with Pete Q. Harris, Nigel Green and Richard Jon Smith as the main members.
- "Willesden Green" is the title of a song written by Ray Davies and performed by the Kinks and is included in the soundtrack of the 1971 film Percy. Lyrics from the song:
Well I tried to settle down Fulham Broadway
And I tried to make my home in Golders Green
But I gotta get that train
And go back home again
Oh how I miss the folks back home in Willesden Green
You know, I tried, I really tried to settle in this big city
And I always thought I could make it all on my very own
But there's one thing that keeps calling me
To that little, that little semi-detached
That's the folks, yeah, the folks back home
In Willesden Green
- Willesden Green is a running reference/joke on the animated TV cartoon series Danger Mouse.
- The Last Detective (2002) was set and filmed in and around Willesden and used the Rising Sun pub as its central location.
- Jonathan Creek is regularly filmed around Willesden.
- The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band make a short reference to Willesden Green on their track "Shirt", the second track of their 1969 album Tadpoles quote: "Now, here in Willesden Green, yes, brrr, it is a bit chilly but no matter. Here comes a gentleman and we're going to talk to him about shirts."
- Lead Balloon, a BBC4 sitcom starring Jack Dee, is filmed principally in Willesden.
- A static inverter plant of HVDC Kingsnorth was located in Willesden.
- In the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher's mother lives in Willesden.
- Willesden was the first location of Zomba Records. It remained there for many years whilst growing into the International Music Company, which released the music of such global artists as Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and Britney Spears.
- The family who share their house with a ghost in the BBC's 1992 Sitcom So Haunt Me lived on Meadow Road, Willesden.
- On the popular 1980s/90s TV show Minder, Arthur Daley had a lock-up full of questionable merchandise located in Willesden. He also orchestrated many of his dodgy deals in the area and other parts of northwest London. In the episode "Willesden Suite", Arthur finds himself caught up in the web of a dishonest manager whilst supplying a hotel with dodgy gear.
- Willesden was once home to Morgan Studios, where many well-known rock albums by artists such as Yes, Led Zeppelin and Supertramp, were produced.
- Brignall, Miles (2 April 2014). "London's Brent borough leads Britain for rising house prices". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 22 May 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
- McGhie, Caroline (23 March 2015). "The new map of middle-class London". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 10 June 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
- "Demographics – Hidden London". hidden-london.com. Archived from the original on 6 February 2013.
- "Willesden, London Borough of Brent". Brent-heritage.co.uk. 1 October 2002. Archived from the original on 18 July 2014. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
- "Old maps of Britain and Europe from A Vision of Britain Through Time". Visionofbritain.org.uk. Archived from the original on 21 May 2014. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
- "Civicheraldry Of England And Wales-Middlesex (Obsolete)". Civicheraldry.co.uk. Archived from the original on 21 April 2014. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
- "Lucien Alphonse Legros". www.gracesguide.co.uk. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015.
- "Legros and Knowles". www.gracesguide.co.uk. Archived from the original on 9 May 2015.
- Motor Sport, February 1960, Page 42, The Iris Car. By S. A. Gibbons Archived 18 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine
- Williams, Guy R. (1975). London In The Country – The Growth of Suburbia. Hamish Hamilton. p. 18.
- "Church End and the Parish of Willesden" (PDF). Brent Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 April 2007. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
- Jay Rayner. "The sweet and sour revolution Archived 23 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine". The Observer. 10 November 2002.
- "Willesden Green – UK Census Data 2011". Ukcensusdata.com. Archived from the original on 25 July 2017. Retrieved 14 July 2017.