Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Breathing London - Brent's Parks and Open Spaces (as you've never seen them before)

Guest post by Philip Grant

I have just heard about the "Breathing London" project organised by the Royal Photographic Society earlier this year, which aimed to capture the diversity of London's public green and open spaces. It produced a website with a large gallery of photographs, which you can visit and search by borough to see pictures of parks and open spaces, large and small, in your area.Link

One of the local photographers taking part was Gareth Davies from Kingsbury, who specialises in 360 degree panorama images. He photographed all 92 of the parks and open spaces listed by Brent Council as public spaces which they (or the City of London) maintain in the borough. His fascinating pictures are on the "Breathing London" website, but you can also view them as a slideshow on his own website. Link  
 There you will find local parks that you did not know existed, and some that you have never visited, but will know that you want to visit now. Why not go and explore some of them (perhaps with your children or grandchildren, in the school holidays) this summer?

Monday, 24 July 2017

Family workshops: African soldiers of World War 1

Summer nature activities at the Welsh Harp Centre

Strawberries and scones celebrate 80th anniversary of Titus Barham's gift to Wembley

From Friends of Barham Library

Saturday 8 July was the 80th Anniversary since Titus Barham "Wembley's Greatest Benefactor" donated his home and gardens in Sudbury which became Barham Park.

Friends of Barham Library held a Celebration 'Vintage' Tea Party in honour of Titus Barham as a Thank You for his generous gift. As the gift took place in 1937 thirty seven lucky people, whose names were drawn out of a hat, including 6 members of the Barham family, were served a traditional afternoon tea. The Tea Party was held inside the Community Library itself specially decorated for the occasion.

Gaynor Lloyd and Paul Lorber, two Trustees of Friends of Barham Library, and the waitresses dressed up in a traditional 1937 way, to serve and entertain the invited guests.

To make sure that no one missed out the following day Friends of Barham Library opened their doors to their Community Library in Barham Park and served strawberies and traditional scones with cream and jam to around 150 people who came to a picnic in Barham Park and watched a Kino Van showing films of how people lived in the 1930s.

Milk & More, a Muller Company which took over part of the former Express Dairy business, donated the cream, jam and many other items for the Party. All the work putting on the event was carried out by local Volunteers.

The Wembley Elm – why is it special?

Guest post by Philip Grant

I agree with Martin’s comment, in his blog about the Marriage Garden willow LINK, that trees are too often an undervalued part of our local heritage’. His article jogged my memory about an unresolved local history enquiry that I received last year about “the Wembley Elm”. I wonder whether “Wembley Matters” readers can help to solve the mystery around why this particular tree is special?

“The Wembley Elm”,
outside the former Greyhound pub,
at the junction of Oakington Manor Drive and Harrow Road.

Elm trees have been part of Wembley’s history for centuries, and have left their legacy in place names around our area. Hundred Elms Farm in Sudbury existed in the time of Queen Elizabeth I, and may even have belonged to the Archbishops of Canterbury before her father, King Henry VIII seized their local lands in the 1540’s. An avenue of elm trees is shown leading to the farm, across Sudbury Common, in a mid-18th century map, and Elms Lane still survives as a local street today, between the Harrow Road and Sudbury Court Road.

An extract from John Rocque’s  1746 map
 of London and environs,  showing
Hundred Elms Farm and the avenue of elm trees.

The Read family were tenant farmers in Wembley from Tudor times, and Brent Archives holds some of the family’s farm and personal records from the mid-18th century onwards. At various times they farmed land at Wembley Hill and around East Lane, but one of the main family homes was at Elm Tree Farm, in Blind Lane near its junction with Wembley Hill Road. Just before the First World War, part of the land they rented was sold off to Wembley Urban District Council, to create King Edward VII Park, with Blind Lane renamed Park Lane. When the rest of their farmland was earmarked for housing development, the Reads sold off their livestock and machinery in 1922, and emigrated to Australia.

Elm Tree Farm, Park Lane, in the 1920’s.
[A painting by Norah Parker, in the Wembley
History Society Collection at Brent Museum]

A hundred years ago the elm was a common sight around Wembley, often growing as tall individual trees in hedgerows. During the First World War a local architect, Ernest Trobridge, studied the properties of its timber, which was soft and easy to work when first cut, but really solid within two months when it had seasoned. He developed the compressed green wood construction system, using the abundant supplies of elm wood (many hedgerows were being removed to widen roads for motor traffic) to build cheap and comfortable “homes for heroes” from 1920 onwards. His Elmwood Estate in Kingsbury was one such development, and although Elmwood Crescent still exists, only four of the original elm-built houses from it survive in Stag Lane. If you would like to discover more about Ernest Trobridge and his work, Brent Archives has an online local history article about him LINK.

Rose Cottage in Stag Lane, Kingsbury, one of the surviving Ernest Trobridge houses from the Elmwood Estate, built 1922-1924.

The English Elm (Ulmus procera) was still a widespread feature of the landscape until the 1970’s, when millions of its trees were wiped out by Dutch Elm disease (caused by a fungus spread by elm bark beetles). You can still find young elm saplings in Fryent Country Park, growing through suckering from the roots of old trees, but the disease kills off the trees before they can reach maturity. That may be one reason why the mature “Wembley Elm” is special, and the man who wrote with the enquiry about it has said it is an unusual species of elm (Ulmus laevis) - the European white elm - which is rare in this country. However, the main reason for the query is the plaque set into the paving beside it:-

“The Wembley Elm” plaque.

The plaque, put here by the London Tree Forum (if it still exists, I can’t find it on the internet), states: ‘The Wembley Elm, one of the great trees of London, has been a focal meeting point since 1900.’ What I am trying to find out is when this particular tree was first known as “the Wembley Elm”, why it was considered so important and why it became ‘a focal meeting point.’

In 1900, the tree, if it existed, would have been near the edge of a farmer’s field. After the Great Central Railway opened a branch line through Wembley Hill in 1906 (with a station now known as Wembley Stadium), these fields were to become the Wembley Hill Garden Suburb. Planned in 1913, its first roads and houses appeared in 1914/15, but the rest of the homes on this estate were built between the early 1920's and mid-1930's.

A 1914 advertisement for homes in
the Wembley Hill Garden Suburb
(surrounded by beautiful country /
 12 minutes from Marylebone)

From the size of “the Wembley Elm”, it is thought to be at least 80 years old, but it seems unlikely that it was a significant tree as early as 1900. As it is a rare elm species in England, it may have been planted to mark a special occasion, perhaps the opening of Oakington Manor Drive (the first main street laid out in the garden suburb, although the varieties planted along it were mainly lime and white beam trees), which it stands at the entrance to.

As the tree is outside “The Greyhound”, it might have been part of the landscaping for this landmark pub, which opened in 1929. The licence for the pub was transferred from “The Greyhound” in High Street on Wembley Hill, which began life as a beer shop in 1810, but was too small for the crowds who came to events at Wembley Stadium, and was demolished when the new pub opened. Perhaps it was for F.A. Cup final crowds that “the Wembley Elm” became ‘a focal meeting point’!

Crowds outside the old “Greyhound”
in High Street, for the first Wembley
F.A. Cup Final in April 1923.

If you have any information which might throw some light on the history of “the Wembley Elm” and why it is special, please include this in a comment below. Thank you.

Philip Grant

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Murky figures at HS2 as public money goes down the drain

The figures associated with the HS2 project are so vast that they are hard to grasp. The world's most expensive railways at £400,000,000 per mile LINK with experts predicting a doubling of total cost to £104bn suggest the project is a high speed white elephant, particularly as the government has quietly ditched plans to improve current rail routes.

At the same time Carillion, one of the main contractors appointed by the government, is facing its own financial crisis and has lost its Chief Executive in the process. LINK

Fears about the reliability of HS2's figures have not been helped by the National Audit Office's recent findings about unauthorised payments by the company.  They spent £2.76m on pay-offs in 2016 of which only £1m was authorised.  The redundancy payments were prompted by a head office move and reorganisation and were made above the civil service cap of £95,000 despite advice from the Department of Transport.

The Guardian LINK reports that HS2 circumvented the cap by placing highly paid staff on gardening leave and continuing to pay them for several months despite the fact that they were no longer working and adding the maximum payout.  67 staff were made compulsorily redundant at a total costs of up to £916.000 when statutory compensation would have totalled between £55,000-£115,00. A further 27 staff were given voluntary redundancy packages worth £1.84m with 8 people on a salary of more than £150,000 receiving up to £200,000  each.

This is of course public money.

The HS2 Director of Financial Operations is Clive Heaphy, former Director of Finance and Corporate Services at Brent Council. Previously he was Interim Director of Finance at Ofsted under Christine Gilbert, later CEO of Brent Council.

Heaphy left Brent Council after negotiating an exit payout of £145,508. LINK

Friday, 21 July 2017

The demise of one of Wembley's wonderful willows

Trees are too often an undervalued part of our local heritage and personal histories. The willow above, in the Marriage Garden at Brent (formerly Wembley) Town Hall, probably appears in thousands of wedding albums across generations.

According to the Lycee security officer I spoke to the tree came down in the recent storm.

After the Town Hall was sold-off by Brent Council to the Lycee International des Londres Winston Churchill it became part of the children's playground and doubtless figured large in their creative play and exploration.

The storm occurred after the school broke up for the summer holiday so children will return to find a large gap in their playground. This was the scene today.

Wembley is well endowed with mature willows with local doctors' surgeries and playcentres named after them.

There is a magnificent specimen, in need of a trim, just behind the Lycee in Greenhill Way:

If you would like one of your pictures of the Marriage Garden willow published please send in jpeg or png format to me at

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Saturday July 22nd Heart of Wembley Fesival, Wembley High Road

From 'Wembley Futures'

On Saturday, 22 July 2017 Wembley Futures will be hosting the second annual Heart of Wembley Festival. This exciting community event will take place from 1pm-6pm on Wembley High Road, from the Park Lane junction with the High Road towards the Wembley Triangle.

The Festival is one of the activities by Wembley Futures, one of 150 recipient groups across the UK to be awarded funding by The Big Local. A long-term innovative programme that aims to achieve lasting change, The Big Local provides a mixture of funding, finance and support. The Big Local is an opportunity for residents in Wembley Central to make a massive and lasting positive difference to their area. In addition to celebrating the Big Local success, the Festival aims to enthuse residents, businesses and partner organisations about the possibilities that Wembley Futures and Wembley Central present.

The Heart of Wembley Festival will celebrate the communities in Wembley Central through a mix of both local and professional music and dance. Among the musicians playing onstage will be Dhol2Dhol, outstanding performers and instructors of the vibrant Dhol drum, who have played major events such as the closing of the 2012 Paralympic Games and the London Marathon 2017; The London Belles, a chic vintage music trio playing favourites from the 1940s and beyond; rock band Harripaul, and singer-songwriter Doriane Woo. Move and sway to the headline act, Marta and Emiliano jazz band with a Latin American feel. The stage will also showcase the DJ talents of MC Nino, sounds of Ebony steel band, and a spoken word performance by festival MC, Bries. Dance groups representing the art form from across the world include street dancers from Elan Arts, South Asian Kathak dancers from the Encee Academy, Nepalese dancers from the British Gurka Nepalese Association, and Salsa dance from Wembley-based, Mambo City.

Shaun Wallace, one of the ‘chasers’ on the ITV quiz show The Chase, will be attending the Heart of Wembley Festival as the celebrity guest. The quiz show pits four contestants against the Chaser, a ruthless quiz genius determined to stop them winning the cash prize. Wallace, who won Mastermind in 2004, is a barrister and also known by the names ‘The Legal Eagle’ and ‘The Dark Destroyer’.

The Heart of Wembley Festival is a free event and will be a family-friendly environment, with children’s rides, a fascinating bubble show from bubbleologist Graham Maxwell, street theatre, community and information stalls, and stalls offering tantalising world food, fashion, gifts and jewellery.

Francis Henry, Chair of Wembley Futures, said: “I hope to see both new and familiar faces at the Festival in July. We are building on the success of last year’s Festival and look forward to a great day out with friends and neighbours, making the most of our local community.”

For more information please contact Osita Udenson on 07875 588 107 or