first of a series of guest posts by Wembley History Society member, Philip
of you may be thinking of our beautiful local country park as a peaceful place,
where you can go for fresh air and exercise while still “social distancing”.
Others are looking forward to spending some time there, once we are no longer
asked to ‘stay at home’. But have you ever wondered how we came to have this
special open space, or what it was like here 100 or 1,000 years ago? Over the
next few weekends I hope to share its story with you.
1. Looking north across Little Hillcroft Field, towards
were people first living on what is now the country park? There is evidence
that there was a farm in Roman times near Blackbird Hill. An ancient trackway,
that crossed the River Brent (a Celtic name) by a ford at the bottom of the
hill, continued northwards, just to the west of the modern Fryent Way. You can
follow it as a footpath, branching off on the left about 100 metres north of
the Salmon Street roundabout. The Saxons called this route “Eldestrete” (the old
road), and in the 10th century they used it to mark the boundary
between Harrow parish (where the land was owned by the Archbishops of
Canterbury) and “Kynggesbrig”, now Kingsbury (a place belonging to the King).
2. Harvesting in the 11th century. (From a manuscript, probably in the British Library)
was already some farming here by AD1085, when King William I’s Domesday Book
survey was conducted, but much of the land was still woodland. This was enough
to feed 1,000 pigs in the larger Tunworth manor, given by the Conquerer to one
of his knights, Ernulf de Hesdin, with enough woodland for 200 pigs
(‘silva.cc.porc.’) in Chalkhill manor, owned by Westminster Abbey (‘abbé
S.PETRI’) after a gift by King Edward the Confessor.
extract from the Domesday Book, including the Westminster Abbey land in
the Harrow side of Eldestrete, there were some common fields by this time. Here
crops were grown on ploughed strips of land, each a furrow long (hence the old
distance of a furlong, or 220 yards). Some freemen rented fields, where they
could graze sheep or cattle. Hilly ground such as Barn Hill was still wooded,
and villagers who kept pigs could pay “pannage” (one penny per pig) to the lord
of the manor, to let them feed there.
in the 11th century. (From a manuscript, probably in the British Library)
1244, about 300 acres of Chalkhill manor were gifted to a religious order, the
Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem. To help provide food for
their priory in Clerkenwell, they established a farm on Church Lane (where the
Co-op now stands) which became known as Freren Farm, after the Norman French
word for “the brothers” (monks and lay brothers) who farmed it. The modern
name, Fryent, comes from that farm.
1300, parcels of land in Tunworth manor, had been let out to tenants who cleared
small fields out of the woodland, a process known as “assarting”. Three of
these landholdings to the west side of Salmon Street became farms that lasted
until the mid-twentieth century; Hill Farm (at the top of the rise near the
junction with Mallard Way) and two named after the original farmers, Edwin’s
(later Little Bush Farm) and Richard’s (which became Bush Farm, opposite the
junction with Slough Lane). There were thick hedgerows between the fields and
some woodland remained.
increase in farming activity suffered a set-back in the mid-14th
century, when a great plague, carried by rats and called the “Black Death”,
spread across Britain killing over one million people, around 40% of the total
population. The records of Kingsbury’s manor court for 1350 alone show 13
deaths ‘at the time of the pestilence’.
country got through that pandemic, just as we will the present one, and the
farming community on what is now our country park recovered. In 1439 much of
Tunworth manor (together with land in Edgware and Willesden) was bought by
Archbishop Chichele of Canterbury. He donated it to a new theological college
he set up in 1442, All Souls in Oxford, which collected rents from the tenant
farmers for the next five hundred years. The Archbishop also had an oak wood in
Harrow cut down, to supply timber for the college roof, which meant some of his
tenants lost their supply of firewood, and acorns for their pigs!
5. The brass
memorial to John Shepard and his wives in Old St Andrew’s Church, Kingsbury.
more than 100 years, the tenants at Hill Farm were members of the Shepard
family. We know that they became quite wealthy, from the earliest surviving
memorial in Old Saint Andrew’s Church. This is to John Shepard, who died in
1520, and shows him flanked by his two wives, Anne and Maude, with the eighteen
children he had by them, all depicted wearing fashionable clothes.
All Souls College had a map of its lands in Kingsbury drawn in 1597, it showed
Thomas Shepard as the tenant of Hill Farm and many of the nearby fields.
Edmund, John, Richard and William Shepard were among other tenants in
Kingsbury. The Hovenden Map, named after the Warden of the College, is a
remarkable record of the area, giving the names and sizes of the fields, and
who was the tenant of each.
map extract below shows the farm and the Hillcroft fields, and you can walk
across this part of Fryent Country Park along a footpath. Treat the short
section of Eldestrete, in the top left corner of the map, as if it were Fryent
Way. At the brow of the hill you will find the footpath, which takes you along
the ridge, with lovely views over the fields, to Salmon Street, near its
junction with Mallard Way.
Hillcroft fields on the Hovenden Map of 1597. (© The Warden and Fellows of All Souls College, Oxford)
the walk, or at least looking forward to it, and I will take up the story again
next week. If you want to ask any questions, or add some information, please
leave a comment below.
LINKS TO OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES