Tuesday 3 January 2017

The “blasted oak”, and other history around Barn Hill

Many thanks to Philip Grant for this fascinating guest blog.
Martin’s recent report on the sad loss of the “Blasted Oak” on Barn Hill LINK  said that the tree ‘had been there for well over 100 years’. I think that it may have been part of the local landscape for well over 200 years, and it gives me the excuse to share a little more local history with you.

The area around Barn Hill today looks a lot different from what it was 100 years ago. This extract from the Ordnance Survey map (reproduced from the 1920 edition of the 6 inch to one mile map of Middlesex, Sheet XI) was surveyed just before the First World War. I have added an arrow to indicate roughly where the “Blasted Oak” would have stood at the time, and you can see that it was part of a belt of trees across the lower slope of Barn Hill, before the open fields of the surrounding farmland began, with the footpath (F.P.) running beside it.

click on image to enlarge
That belt of trees, which then ran south along the boundary between the Urban Districts of Wembley and Kingsbury as far as Wembley Park Station (and had been the boundary between Harrow and Kingsbury parishes since Saxon times), was part of the design by landscape gardener, Humphry Repton, for the Page family’s Wembley Park estate, which was planted out in 1793. Some of the oak trees on and around Barn Hill from that time still survive, and their high branches provide a popular perching place for the hill’s resident parakeets.
As you will see from the map, Barn Hill 100 years ago was the site of a golf course, but there were some other interesting sporting facilities close by. For a time up until the First World War, there was a polo ground where today you will find the houses of Greenhill and Greenhill Way. It is no coincidence that the road built around 1930, across the former fields where the polo ponies were kept, is called The Paddocks.

The fields to the west of Barn Hill are marked as a shooting ground. Uxendon Shooting Club was the venue for the “Clay Bird” (clay pigeon) shooting events at the 1908 London Olympic Games, as this grainy photograph (from a microfilm copy of the “Evening Standard” for 11 July 1908) shows, with another belt of trees on Barn Hill in the distance:

As Uxendon Farm had very poor road access in 1908, the Metropolitan Railway built Preston Road Station so that competitors and spectators could get to the event. The temporary wooden platforms for this “halt” (the trains stopped “by request” only) were used until the current station was built, on the opposite side of Preston Road, as part of a 1930’s suburban development. West Hill, Uxendon Hill and the roads between them were built around the same time on the site of the shooting ground, after the farm was demolished to make way for a railway extension to Stanmore, which opened in 1932 and is now the Jubilee Line.

Uxendon Farm’s history has provided the names for two local primary schools. At the time of our first Queen Elizabeth, it was the main house and farm of Uxendon Manor, the home of the Bellamy family. They were Roman Catholics, and often provided shelter for visiting priests. One who was arrested there around 1590 was Robert Southwell, who at a time of religious intolerance was tortured, charged with treason and horribly executed for the “crime” of being a Jesuit. He was one of forty “English Martyrs” chosen by the Catholic Church in the 20th century, to represent many more who had been killed for their faith in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Half a mile to the east, Hill (or Hillhouse) Farm in Salmon Street was the main manor farm of Kingsbury Parish, from the 1300’s up until 1950. Old St Andrew’s Church has a remarkable record of the Shepard family, the farmers there in Tudor times. A memorial brass to John Shepard, who died in 1520, shows him with his two wives, Anne and Maude. He must have remarried when his first wife died, after bearing him seven sons and three daughters, while his second wife gave him a further five sons and three daughters, all depicted in brass (in their “Sunday best” clothes) on his tombstone.

The trees and fields of Fryent Country Park, and its adjoining areas now built on, have so many stories to tell. I hope you have enjoyed discovering a few of them, as the result of the loss of just one such tree. Happy New Year!

Philip Grant


Anonymous said...

Really fascinating, never knew any of this! Thanks

Philip Grant said...

I am glad that you found it of interest. There are several ways you can find out more about the history of the area we live in.

Brent libraries have a number of books, often featuring old photographs of local scenes, in their local history sections - non-fiction at reference 942.185.

The Brent Archives website at: www.brent.gov.uk/archives
has a link on its home page to its "local history articles" section, where there is a list of illustrated articles on a wide variety of subjects you can choose from, to read online or download.

You can visit the very good local museum, on the second floor at the new Willesden Green Library, which also has temporary exhibitions in a separate gallery (currently "We are the Lions", about the Grunwick strike 40 years ago).

Finally there are monthly talks at Wembley History Society and at Willesden Local History Society, and occasional local history talks at local libraries.

I hope that this encourages you to discover more about the many interesting stories from Brent's history.


Unknown said...

Thanks philip :) really helpful. Will try to make one of the history society talks.

Was born in barn hill in 1987 but never really explored the history so enjoyed residing the blog and your guidance here