Thursday 31 March 2022

A date with the young Jane Austen – courtesy of Brent Culture Service

 Guest post by Philip Grant


Karin Fernald as Jane Austen


Jane Austen is one of our great British women writers, who more than 200 years ago had a number of novels published (anonymously, at first). Many of you will recognised the opening words of “Pride and Prejudice”, either from reading the book or seeing it portrayed on TV or film:


The opening line from an early edition of “Pride and Prejudice”.


But even great authors (as well as much lesser ones who write blog articles!) have to develop their writing skills over time. Jane’s father, the Reverend George Austen, recognised his young daughter’s joy in writing. When she was a teenager, he gave her a notebook in which to write down her stories and short plays. He inscribed at the top of the first page:


“Effusions of Fancy by a very young Lady,
consisting of tales in a style completely new”.


Jane performed many of her stories to entertain her family. Now local residents have the chance to enjoy some of them too, in an event put on by Brent Culture Service at Willesden Green Library. “We fainted alternately on the sofa – Jane Austen in the Making, performed by actor and writer Karin Fernald, is on Tuesday 26 April, from 6.30 to 7.30pm. Tickets are £3, and can be booked HERE


Tuesday 29 March 2022

Heartless property company evicts church, nursery and foodbank

 The Pentecostal City Mission Church, long time occupier of 2 Scrubs Lane, Willesden, has been evicted by developers, Fruition Properties. The Mission is a registered Community Asset and operates a nursery, foodbank, dementia care and other local community services which leaves this vital community lifeline in jeopardy. See previous coverage of the threat to the church HERE.


The Mayor’s Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), local MP Andy Slaughter, the GLA’s Culture at Risk team and other community groups have been campaigning to save the church and the services it provides to one of London’s most disadvantaged communities. 


Fruition Properties, the developers who are looking to redevelop the site, sought planning permission in 2018. Critical to that permission was that Fruition secured replacement space for the Pentecostal City Mission Church and associated community services as part of the new development. 


OPDC, as the local planning authority, has always been very clear that its planning policy requires the re-provision of community floorspace for the Pentecostal City Mission Church within any future scheme on the site. 


It is understood that Fruition evicted without warning, on Wednesday 23rd March, entering the building at 7.30 in the morning and changing all the locks, leaving parents unable to drop off their children at the nursery and staff unable to retrieve personal belongings. 


Reverend Desmond Hall of Pentecostal City Mission Church said:

We are shocked and saddened that Fruition took possession of this beloved church and vital lifeline for so many community members. As well as a valued place of worship, many families and young children rely on us for support services and food donations. During busy times, we can cater to up to a 1,000 people across one day. What will they do now that Fruition have changed the locks? 


We won’t give up hope and with the support of the community, we’ll continue to fight for Pentecostal City Mission Church.


David Lunts, CEO of OPDC said: 


It is shocking that Fruition Properties have evicted the church. It's hard to believe that with so much local need for services such as this, especially at a time of increasing hardship, any developer could act with such heartlessness. It’s all the more outrageous as our planning policy makes quite clear that space for the church and its community facilities must be part of any redevelopment.


I have attempted to engage with Fruition to seek an amicable resolution with the Church, but they have refused to meet.


Andy Slaughter MP for Hammersmith said: 


It’s unacceptable and quite frankly unbelievable news to hear that a developer has evicted a church, nursery and foodbank at a time where so many families are under financial strain to put food on the table. I have made my position to Fruition abundantly clear on numerous occasions and they have refused to meet to reach a solution, despite the planning policy clearly requiring provision for the church. 


 Cllr Matt Kelcher said:

Councillors, Brent Council, the OPDC and local MPs are all in agreement on this issue and Fruition are doing themselves terrible damage by pursuing this – but there is currently a legal process that needs to be gone through first. When this is resolved we’ll be best placed to plan any next steps.


I’m pleased that in the meantime, Brent and OPDC are helping the church to find alternative local premises where possible.


Thames Water baulks at cost of clearing worst ever sewage pollution of the Wealdstone Brook

From Brent and Harrow Rivers Alliance  BHRA -  Harrow Friends of Wealdstone Brook  Supported by Brent Parks Forum.   




 From This:  Ducks and Wagtails feeding...



 To This:  60m and growing raw sewage left untreated with no source yet found  

Since around the 6th March there has been a constant flow of sewage into the Wealdstone Brook from a still unidentified site in Harrow.

The Environment Agency were immediately advised and have not responded to repeated updates of  the incremental thick raw sewage flow that continues unabated.   Thames Water - were also advised in the correct manner direct to their office after the contact Pollution Line was in effect blocked with calls about pollution events (we assume).

Brent Officers; and the CEO of Thames Water attended an unprecedented meeting at the Brook at Woodcock Park on 28th March and took part in a morning walkabout of the site and  saw for themselves the worst, longest running pollution event since recording has begun.

We are awaiting action from Thames Water who were concerned that they would have to deploy operatives from another job to attend the site and the cost of the job itself - which involves flushing a tank of clean water into the brook to move the daily increasing 50-70 m of sewage along! 

There was no  reaction from Thames Water to the imminent threat to the wildlife all the way along past the Civic Centre, three schools and into the River Brent through the Wildlife restoration Project that Thames21 runs. The pollution will slowly increase and move along the waterway!   Unless the source is found and remedied the threat to wildlife will be compounded.   As it has been left since the 10th March - 'vacuuming' - out the pollution is now out of the question - Thames Water do not have tanks large enough to cope with the volume that is increasing steadily.   A factory misconnection is suspected......

Now over 400 food packets (we think out of date), have been thrown into the Brook at the trash screen in Kenton - which has now got thoroughly stuck in the midst of the sewage and the bags are exploding open to feed the sewage fungus in the gel - sludge.   This amount of plastic in the sewage will act as fungus and e-coli carriers as they move towards the wildlife water improvement projects further downstream.   

Volunteers cannot reach them where they are located and have come to rest!  

Thames Water could send in operatives but they are concerned about the cost!   

We await some action to stop the sewage flow into what was a duck filled brook!  

We thank the Brent Engineer - who has visited and has now written a full report of the Brook and his findings.    We also thank Brent Parks Officers who are and continue to be supportive, within their capacity.   

It is possible that that the first signs of sewage were on 17th, 23rd and 27th February when reports to the Environment Agency mentioned murky brown water and silt. The sewage outbreak was reported on February 28th.  If an early warning system was in place Thames Water might have investigated much earlier and resolved the issue.

A Thames Water officer has indicated that the cause of the sewage  flow has been located and Friends of Woodock Park have emailed to confirm the location and the need for flushing.  They assume that the sewage currently visible from Becmead Avenue may indicate an equivalent amount underground at the source.

The Wealdstone Brook, marked in blue on an extract from an 1895 Ordnance Survey map

UPDATED: South Kilburn: Flagship or neglect?

Guest post by Pete Firmin, chair, Alpha, Gorefield and Canterbury Tenants’ and Residents’ Association.


Brent Council – with the support of planners and architects - likes to praise its regeneration of South Kilburn as a model for others.


Yet, beyond the issue of the dubious quality of some of the new housing built in the area, raised in Wembley Matters many times, there is also a big issue around general neglect of the area.


To be clear, the area described here, a small part of South Kilburn, is not due for `regeneration’ anytime soon. It does not figure in any masterplan. Not that, even if it was, this would excuse the level of neglect shown here.


Everything here has been reported to Brent Council, individual officers and Councillors dating back to November of last year if not earlier.


To start at the steps at the corner of Coventry Close and Kilburn High Road. These broken steps have been reported with no response received.



This rubbish dump has been growing steadily for the best part of a year and reported many times on the Cleaner Brent App. It just gets closed quickly with no explanation. It is not directly on Brent land but is clearly a health hazard.



This patch of ground (known to residents as the Bermuda Triangle) was created when regeneration hit the area 7 years ago. They still haven’t sorted out whether Brent or Catalyst is responsible for its upkeep, so it just accumulates rubbish.



Clearly Brent’s responsibility, overflowing like many bins along Cathedral Walk footpath.


Mattresses abound, this one was photographed by an estate officer two weeks ago. It is propped up by the metal frame for previous recycling bins. We were promised when they were replaced (a year ago) that they would be removed.



Broken pane of glass in door of Gorefield House, reported last November.


The wonderful bin store next to Gorefield House. Erected by Catalyst during regeneration. For their residents they put up a brick  bin store, but Brent tenants only get a wooden one, which has been falling apart since it was put up. Too near the flats, overflowing bins, never fully cleared. We’ve been told someone in an office worked out how many bins are needed for the number of households…..



5 of these 7 lights along a footpath created in regeneration have been out for more than 5 months. We’ve been told the issue has been escalated…..



Damage caused by the flash flood last July. Brent had to be pestered to do anything at all, but we have been left with this botched job which is causing accidents. 



I could go on, like the numerous street lights not working (one of which has never been connected to the mains), the lift out of order for over a year, and much else, but I hope you get the picture one of a Council which doesn’t seem to care.


Pete Firmin


EDITOR'S NOTE: Pete's problems in getting responses is well illustrated by this exchange that took place only yesterday.




Monday 28 March 2022

Greens back teacher unions in opposition to White Paper proposals on forced academisation, increased hours, narrowed curriculum and oppressive targets

 The Green Party has responded to the government’s new white paper on education which calls for all schools to join a multi-academy trust by 2030 and to be open for a minimum 32.5 hour school week [1]. Greens are backing teaching unions in challenging the lack of ambition for young people in this document, the focus on academic targets without the extra resources and oppose the academisation of schools.

Green Party Education spokesperson, Vix Lowthion, who is a working secondary school teacher, said:

The government is using the disruption caused by Covid as a way to push through their damaging educational agenda of tough academic targets and more testing, rooted in a longer school week and Ofsted inspections.  

This White Paper also resurrects the previously unpopular policy to force the academisation of our schools, when there remains no evidence that academies and free schools raise standards overall. By contrast, there is plenty of evidence that multi academy trusts, in particular, are syphoning public money without the accountability offered by local councils.

This is not the way to support children and teachers to recover from the disruption caused by the pandemic. A comprehensive recovery plan would include a focus on the rounded needs of children and students and an inclusive, creative and collaborative curriculum. Instead, we will see even more pressure heaped on teachers and students to achieve higher targets in English and Maths, resulting in even more school hours spent away from lessons in music, PE, humanities, technology and the arts. Young people need to be offered a broad and balanced curriculum to learn, show their potential and to succeed.

Young Greens co-chair Kelsey Trevett said: 

A focus on maths and English means the government once again fails to recognise the value of creative and humanities-based subjects, creating exam factories for the sole purpose of preparing young people to enter an exploitative profit-driven workplace.

Young Greens co-chair Jane Baston added: 

These standards also place an extra burden on teachers, taking them over their annual hours and placing them under even more pressure within a system which only sees academic achievement and grades, not people.




How to save on your energy bills. Chalkhill Community Centre 1pm-2.30pm Wednesday 30th March


Brent Council's confidential waste 'secure' during Veolia suspension

Brent Council CEO, Carolyn Downs, has confirmed that Brent Council's confidential waste is securely stored at Brent Civic Centre in Wembley, following the suspension of the confidential waste disposal aspect of the Veolia contract.

The suspension followed the spillage of confidential documents on the Croydon roadside during transit for shredding by Veolia.

Downs assured Wembley Matters that there was plenty of storage space at the Civic Cente. The council are now investigating the purchase of their own shredding equipment so that it will go to Veolia in unrecognisable form.

Dawn Butler assures constituents of continuity of service as she takes time out to recover after successful cancer operation

 Dawn Butler MP (Brent Central) issued the following statement today.  I am sure readers will join me in wishing her a successful return to her usual full fighting strength.

Back in early November, I attended a routine mammogram and a few weeks later the hospital informed me that they had identified breast cancer cells at a very early stage.

Of course, everything stood still as it does when you hear the dreaded C-word – it is a shock but an early diagnosis means that it is something that I will get through and over. The NHS has caught my cancer early, the operation was a complete success, and I will make a full recovery.

However, I now have to take time off work for my recovery. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a workaholic and I love what I do – but unless I listen to medical advice and recover well, I will not be able to give my best. I would like to thank Parliament, the Labour Party, local members and my team for their support throughout.

I would like to reassure people that my office remains functioning in my absence; my dedicated staff will continue to support constituents, make representations and will still hold regular surgery appointments. If you live in Brent Central and need advice or support, you can continue to contact me via: and 020 7219 8591.

Hopefully, my recovery won’t take too long. But in the meantime, please bear with me and thank you very much in advance for your support.

I want to end my statement by thanking the NHS and everyone who is soldiering through. I have seen first-hand how the NHS is under enormous pressure – The Royal London seemed full, people were waiting on chairs in A&E for beds, the staff were exhausted in the NHS and many were suffering from PTSD.

Covid-19 has taken a lot out of them. So many people have missed appointments (many through no fault of their own), results are delayed and operations postponed. If we are to show our appreciation for the amazing NHS workers and rebuild our health service then we need to properly invest in the NHS, both structurally and in the very people who keep it functioning.

Sunday 27 March 2022

Cllr Shafique Choudhary (Barnhill ward) denounces his 'deselection' and cites 'nepotism' as a factor


Cllr Shafique Choudhary, currently a councillor for Barnhill ward, has taken to the community site Next Door to correct what he says are being told about him on the doorstep, as Labour campaigns for the upcoming Council elections.

He says that it is not true that he has retired as claimed but in fact he was 'deselected' by the Labour Party. In the recent boundary revision Barnhill was allocated only two councillors having previously had three representatives.  As Labour Party rules say that one must be a woman it meant that there was only one  male position.

I understand that all positions were contested this year so Cllr Choudhary could not have expected automatic re-selection for the post he has held for two years. Furthermore, selections are made by rank and file members at a special ward selection meeting and not by the 'Labour Party'. It appears that he was 'not selected' rather than deselected.

His claim that  'Nepotism is one cause' is an interesting suggestion. Neither of the new Labour candidates, Robert Johnson and Kathleen Fraser, are related to senior Brent councillors  as far as I know, although there were at one time unsubstantiated rumours that the other current male Barnhill  councillor, Mansoor Akram, was related to Council Leader Muhammed Butt.

Robert Johnson is a former Brent officer who was involved in the redevelopment of the Chalkhill Estate and Kathleen Fraser is a former Labour councillor and Chair of Chalkhill Residents Assoication.


 Cllr Choudhary flanked by Barry Gardiner MP, Cllr Muhammed Butt (Brent Council Leader), David Lammy MP and London Mayor Sadiq Khan at the Barn Hill Memorial for murder victims Bibaa Henry and Mina Smallman.


I live in Barnhill ward so Cllr Choudhary is one of my local councillors and he has been responsive on many issues I have raised.  We worked together for some time in the cross-party and non-party Brent Cross Coalition that opposed the redevelopment  on the borders of Brent Cross shopping centre. A search on this blog will give you the background.

Recently I have worked with Divest Brent on persuading Brent Council to divest its pension fund from fossil fuels. Cllr Choudhary is chair of the Pension Fund Committee as well as Kingsbury Brent Connects.

On Next Door Cllr Choudhary tells readers that the situation is not reversible and goes on:

I am using this media to say all of you thank you from bottom of my heart. Your community is an intelligent community prefer to live kind of of united Group. Also, you know well that you are the custodian of your area, you have a positive vision for both community enhancement and welfare of Barnhill. You have extraordinary strong and intelligent community representatives - nothing matching anywhere in Brent. I have with your kind help and generosity laid strong foundations for further future to build upon and carry on with the progress so far achieved. Please carry on with no hesitation.


Saturday 26 March 2022

Fryent Country Park extra! – Horse racing at Bush Farm

I am grateful to Philip Grant for this latest investigation into our rich local history 

Two years ago, I wrote the first of a series of articles about the history of the area which is now Fryent Country Park. In six parts, this told its story from more than 1,000 years ago up to the present day, but there are always new things which can come to light.


As a result of a reader’s comment, the “Cold War” story of the bunker on Gotfords Hill was uncovered in an “extra” article. Now, an enquiry from William, who is researching the history of horse racing in Victorian times, has led to the discovery of another piece of Fryent Country Park’s story that we didn’t know before.


Bush Farm stables, at the entrance to the Country Park from Slough Lane.


Steeplechases organised by John Elmore of Uxendon Farm in mid-Victorian times were mentioned in Part 2 of The Preston Story. As early as April 1830, Elmore was involved in organising a private race match between the wealthy owners of two top horses, “Niagara” and “Wonder”, for a stake of £300 each. “Niagara”, with Captain Martin Becher (whose name now graces a famous Grand National fence at Aintree) in the saddle, won the four-mile contest for the horse’s owner, Mr Caldecott.


A Harrow Steeplechase from 1864 pictured in a sporting paper. (Courtesy of William Morgan)


The cross-country course from Brockley Hill to Elmore’s farm on the northern edge of Barn Hill became the scene of further high stakes steeplechases. Another course, around the fields of Uxendon and Forty Farms, also proved popular with spectators, although a water jump across the Wealdstone Brook proved fatal to several horses before the approach to it was improved. John Elmore continued as organiser of and host to racing at Uxendon until the early 1860s.


The original enquiry Wembley History Society received was about the racecourse at Hendon, run by William Perkins Warner, the landlord of the Old Welsh Harp. I wrote about him in Part 2 of the Welsh Harp Reservoir Story, and mentioned that he had organised big horse racing meetings as part of the attractions that brought thousands of visitors to his tavern. What I didn’t realise at the time was that his steeplechases, that went across the fields of Kingsbury, were not run from the Welsh Harp itself!


The Grandstand at Warner’s Welsh Harp racecourse. (From the late Geoffrey Hewlett’s collection)


Warner had taken on the lease of the tavern, and the fishery on its adjacent reservoir, in 1858. By February 1862, he was one of the promoters of a horse race meeting, with a course that began and ended in a field beside the inn. A report on this experimental meeting, in the “Bell’s Life” sporting newspaper, said that it was: ‘just sufficiently satisfactory to prove that something much better might, with judicious management, be brought to issue.’


A two-day race meeting in September 1862 drew large crowds to the Welsh Harp, and by 1864 this Hendon fixture was a regular feature of the racing calendar. “The Era” wrote in 1865: ‘the Meeting held on the ground in the rear of the Welsh Harp, Hendon, on Thursday and Friday, must be pronounced the very best ever seen under the auspices of Mr Warner, who has done all in his power to place the affair on a respectable and permanent footing.’ 


By this time, Warner had begun organising steeplechase races, over artificial fences, on his course beside the Welsh Harp, but these did not do as well. In December 1866, in conjunction with Edward Topham (the famous handicapper, who staged the Grand National at his Aintree course), leased land from Joseph Goodchild of Bush Farm, and put on the “Metropolitan Grand Steeplechases, Kingsbury (Edgware)”. 


A hedge between two fields on the Bush Farm land, with Harrow Hill in the distance.


The course they designed for the two-day meeting was described by the “Sporting Times” as one of the best around London. The oval-shaped course was a mile and a quarter long, and each lap included seven natural fences. These would have been existing hedges between the farm’s hay meadows, cut down to a manageable size for the horses to jump, along a course marked by wooden posts. But where exactly did this race course go? 


The site of Bush Farm still exists, and its fields were saved from housing development by Middlesex County Council, who bought the land from All Souls College in 1938, to create the Fryent Way Regional Open Space. Although the course never appeared on any published map, a series of sketches from a meeting in September 1875, published in “The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News”, did supply some clues.


“Kingsbury Showers”, some sketches from a rather wet autumn race meeting in 1875.
(Courtesy of William Morgan)


Several of the sketches showing racegoers at this Kingsbury meeting include details of the landscape in the background. I decided to take some of these images with me, when I went for a walk on the Country Park on a bright January day, to see whether I could identify where the artist had been standing when he drew them. I believe that I had some success!


The approach to Bush Farm from Slough Lane, 1875 and 2022.


I’ve coloured in the landscape details on an extract from the sketches, to help with the comparison. I’m certain that racegoers approached the course up the driveway to the farm from Slough Lane. The present Stables building is in the same place as a farm building in the sketch, and may even still have part of the earlier structure within its construction.


Looking west across Bush Farm’s Home Field, 1875 and 2022.


I think that this second pair of “then and now” images are again viewed from about the same place. The shape of the distant hills against the skyline is very similar, as is the slope of the land. The course was described as having an uphill run-in to the finish of 300 yards, and you can just make out the “matchstick” figures of two horses and their riders approaching the final fence at the far side of the field. That would fit with the distance from the bottom corner of Home Field to where the grandstand appears in the 1875 sketch. 


The original steeplechase course was described as a pear-shaped oval, with the stand at its narrow end. As Bush Farm was leased from All Souls College, all of its fields will have been within Kingsbury Parish. Using all of this information, I have set out what I believe is a possible route for the mile and a quarter (ten furlongs) course, which does cross seven hedges.


Possible 1866 Kingsbury Vale steeplechase course (in brown), marked on an 1895 O.S. map.


Overnight rain between the two days of the original race meeting at Bush Farm in December 1866 ‘reduced the ground to the “slough of despond” ’. If you’ve taken a walk on Fryent Country Park in winter, you’ll understand the problems that wet clay, especially when churned up by galloping horses, would have caused. A low-lying field, like “Honey Slough” (on the left as you come down Fryent Way from Kingsbury Circle, after passing Valley Drive) did not get its name for no reason!


Future December meetings here were often troubled by wet ground or frost, and by competition from a Christmas meeting at Kempton Park (which still continues), but Spring and Autumn race meetings proved popular. This kept the Bush Farm course, known as “Kingsbury Vale”, in use for a dozen years. The course was lengthened to two miles, by going over the fields north of Barn Hill as far as Uxendon Farm. Part of its appeal was the open hay meadows and natural hedges, and racing papers such as “Bell’s Life” referred to it as ‘the charming Kingsbury Vale.


Looking north-east across Meade and Warrens fields on ‘the charming Kingsbury Vale’ course.


Crowds of 10.000 were not uncommon at the course, despite the lanes leading to it being narrow and in poor condition. Part of the attraction was the number of runners, including some good quality horses, attracted by the prize money offered by Warner to the winners. You can see him (with the beard) in one of the 1875 sketches above, alongside the caption “Cup presented by the owner”. 


The drink which was freely available (also supplied by Warner, from his Welsh Harp tavern) and the opportunity for betting, on races that (as far as Warner could ensure) were not “fixed”, were also reasons why these race meetings were popular. But they were not popular with everyone! By 1873, letters from local residents were appearing in “The Times”, and other papers, complaining about the ‘ruffians’ and ‘thousands of the biggest scoundrels and blackguards’ which the race meetings attracted to Kingsbury.


Warner found himself before the Magistrates Court several times for allowing illegal cash betting to take place on the course. Prosecuted for this offence at the December 1877 meeting, he was fined £7-10s plus costs, despite providing evidence that he’d done his best to prevent it. The fine was relatively small, but a bigger blow came when the Edgware magistrates refused him a licence to sell refreshments (alcohol!) at his race meetings. 


The loss of income from drink sales meant there was now little profit for Warner from this horse racing venture. The final straw came when the December 1878 meeting had to be cancelled because of frost, and the Kingsbury Vale course was abandoned. It would have become illegal anyway, under the Racecourses Licencing Act of 1879, which banned unlicenced horse racing within 12 miles of Marble Arch.


I’m glad that dealing with the enquiry has helped to identify where the Kingsbury Vale race course was. It has also given me the chance to share its story with you. I am grateful to William Morgan for allowing me to use information from his forthcoming book, “Strongholds of Satan” (volume 1 – covering the lost Victorian race courses of the south-east and East Anglia), to help tell that story.


Young people enjoying a horse ride on Fryent Country Park. (Photos courtesy of the Bush Farm Collective).


Horse racing at Bush Farm ended more than 140 years ago, but there are still a few horses kept at the stables on its former site, which continue grace the fields of this part of Kingsbury. Now, they are not ridden to jump the blackthorn hedges, but to give enjoyment to youngsters (and some adults) for recreation, as part of the many attractions of Fryent Country Park.

Philip Grant.