Heather Park Open Space
Heather Park Open Space, known from 1940 to 1970 as the Gipsy Field.
The part of the Gipsy Field that is still not built on is the Open Space between Heather Park Drive, Kenmere Gardens, and Beresford Avenue.
Everywhere must have a history – even if it is ‘nothing happened here’. At least we can account for 1200 years for Alperton. The Manor of Harrow included Wembley and Alperton as far as the River Brent. It was owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury from 847 to 1545 when Henry VIII seized it. The Manor of Harrow was sold to Sir Edward North in 1547 who then sold on in 1630.
In the banner map above is an Anglo-Saxon depiction of the Alperton area.
'Albert's Farm' (Ealhberhington) is centred on Alperton Green (roughly the Alperton Station and the school next to it). The main fields are shown stretching towards Horsenden Hill. The main road to Harrow passes through Harlesden and Wembley. It crosses the River Brent at what will become Stonebridge. Heather Park would be roughly above the 'o' in ...ton.
[Heather Park is a typical 1930s name implying pleasant countryside. Such names were applied to estates, houses, and thoroughfares across NW Middlesex.]
For the whole country development was hindered by lack of a decent transport system up to the 1700s. Then canal systems were built to cover the country. This guaranteed reliable movement of goods, and barges could carry large amounts of material from one place to another. But it was not speedy. Nor was it suitable for places some distance from the canal. When the potential of railways was apparent most of the development effort transferred to railway building.
In the map below ignore the straight criss-cross lines. They are the fold lines of the original cloth map. The canal is shown from the Manor Farm Road bridge to the Brent Vally aqueduct. The Brent has a distinctive loop which allowed a stone bridge to be built close to the old Coach and Horses pub. This was a stopping place on the Paddington to Harrow Toll Road. The Toll Road would quickly become redundant once the London to Birmingham Railway had been built 1834 to 1837.
Our Open Space is just in Brent Field about half way along the River Brent between the Aqueduct and the Harrow Road.
The main Grand Union Canal did not serve London directly as it finished at Brentford, so the 13.5 mile Paddington Arm was constructed on a 100 foot contour level which removed the need for locks.
It opened in 1801. It passed through Alperton on its way to Paddington Lock. Alperton would never be the same again. To maintain the 100 foot level a large amount of earth fill was required to raise
the Brent Valley in order that an aqueduct could be built which was not too long. Earth was extracted from the small area to the north of the aqueduct bank, and at Alperton, and at Horsenden next to
the canal where Sudbury Golf Course is now. Brick earth was found at Alperton. Alperton now had a basis for commercial activity making tiles and bricks at a time when London was expanding at a fast
rate. Wharves were constructed close to the brickfields. For almost a century Alperton would be important commercially.Wembley had next no commercial activity.
There are no contour levels on this map, but one can imagine the slope all the way from Woodstock Road down to Mount Pleasant, then Beresford and the Gipsy Field to the Brent. Poor drainage so I doubt it was ever ploughed. Farmers back then described the clay subsoil with little top soil as ‘porridge in winter and baked hard in summer’. It took 30 years to get decent drainage on the Woodstock Playing Fields.
In the map it’s the Harrow Road on the right, then the wiggly Wembley Brook, then the future Seven Arches with railway lines, and what’s left up to the canal is Heather Park Estate and the Northfield Industrial Estate. On the west bank is the Abbey Industrial Estate, then the Abbey Estate, and the pecked lines are the Ealing Road going south and apparently finishing at Vicars Bridge.
The next map is the 1877 Ordnance Survey. It shows what 60 years development had brought.
Being an O S Map it shows all detail that existed at ground level (but not subterranean constructions). There are several Honeypot Lanes in Middlesex - a name denoting a clay base which became sticky in winter wet weather. Here it finishes at Alperton Cottage, a farmhouse built by 1854 to tend the fields around it. It still exists in Mount Pleasant next to the southern entrance to Lyon Park School. It is now a base for the Neighbourhood Police, but is not a Police Station.
The other building (it's coloured pink so it's brick) is Canal Cottage on the non-towpath side. Access to it seems to be by the diagonal path across the field on the right, then along the edge of the next field.
The London to Birmingham Railway built 1834 to 1837 was an engineering feat compared to building the pyramids... it was said. Like the canal it had to cross the wide Brent Valley so the embankment material came from the Oxhey cuttings. This cut and fill operation maintained the local level of the track. The original bridge is still there as one of the current seven arches.
It is just possible to make out the extra two tracks laid in 1875 beside the original 1837 pair.
[I now borrow from A History of Wembley edited by Geoffrey Hewlett. This book may never be surpassed for the fullness of information in it. I have added some phrases which bring the 1978
publication up to date.]
Honeypot Lane, later renamed Mount Pleasant, was formerly a cul-de-sac which led to Alperton Cottage which had been built by 1852 for tending local fields. The farmhouse is now a base for local Community Policing, but is not a Police Station. It is next to the southern entrance to Lyon Park School. Henry Haynes built workmen’s cottages (now 124-146 Mount Pleasant) which front the Abbey Manufacturing Estate. About 1890 the lane was the centre of prize fighting and bird matches on Sunday mornings. It was chiefly frequented by gipsies who took possession of some houses belonging to the Parish Clerk. Another Parish clerk, Mr Dell, commented in 1917 that ‘gypsies used to sleep there and when they roistered they broke the windows; it was generally a rough place’. In earlier years, the village had gathered a distasteful reputation for fights which were common among the brickfield labourers.
[Excerpt from The History of Wembley ends.
Local history note: Names like Honeypot Lane and Porridge Pot Hill were given to Middlesex lanes that became impassable in wet winter months owing to the clay subsoil.
Before World War I, the mansion house in Stanley Avenue, which had been completed about 1880 and renamed Alperton Hall later, was used for schools. During the Great War, Alperton Hall was used by the Government, and with augmented accommodation housed 150 Royal Engineers. The fields adjoining (including the present school’s sports ground) were used for training purposes. Trench warfare was practised, to the detriment of those residents who were unfortunate enough to live within its range. Several houses suffered by the repercussions, resulting in broken windows. Chemical research work in relation to the effect of poison gas and liquid fire was also undertaken at an experimental site further towards the Brent Valley.
To serve this experimental facility an extra single-line bridge was constructed just to the south of the main line bridges. The line ran parallel to the main line and after about 200 yards turned ninety degrees left and came to buffers about 150 yards towards the canal. Strangely these buffers were still in position on the Gipsy Field in the late 1940s. Local boys used the crossbar as a swing a long time before the playground at the bottom of the field was in action! I haven’t seen a photo of these buffers, but in dry summers you can see parch marks where the rails ran.
In the 1950s one factory in Heather Park Drive was still receiving deliveries from the single track. It was bulk orange juice in, and bottles of orange squash out.
The rails and buffers crop mark (Summer 2010). At the further end they run towards 93/95 Beresford.
The buffers (photo taken elsewhere) with the cross board in position. The crossbar for swinging can just be seen running crossways.
There is no direct evidence now of the World War I chemical testing facility. But there are clues to be found. The first is the pair of cottages at 213/215 Lyon Park Avenue. They are entirely
different to all the mid-30s houses in the neighbourhood. A 1950s resident told me that all the windows were steel framed. The construction was far from new. At the end of the short garden was a
workshop, not a garage.
I haven't the heart to ask the hard-pressed Brent Property Department to look for the earliest papers. Further evidence comes later in this local history.
In 1934 the Gipsy Field witnesses a tragedy.
Here is a transcript of an article in the Wembley News of 27 July.
BOY DROWNED AT PLAY
FELL FROM PLANK WHEN COMPANION JUMPED OFF.
A boys’ prank which ended in tragedy was described at the Inquest on Monday in St John’s Hall, Wembley, on Walter Edward Dean (8), 102 Lyon Park Avenue, Wembley, who was drowned in the reservoir in the Standard Telephone Company’s grounds at Wembley on Friday afternoon. The inquiry, conducted by Dr G A Cohen J.P., revealed that Dean and another boy floated out to the middle of the water on a plank, and Dean fell in while they were playing.Walter Thomas Dean, 102 Lyon Park Avenue, a journeyman carpenter, identified the dead boy as his son. To his knowledge, he had never been to the reservoir before, he said.
PUSHED THEMSELVES OUT
Albert Collier (6), 100 Lyon Park Avenue, said that he and Dean, and with a boy named Kenneth Hopkins, went to the reservoir. “We saw a plank of wood about as big as a door lying in the water next to the bank,” he said. “Dean and I took our shoes and stockings off and jumped on to it. Kenneth stayed on the bank. We pushed ourselves out to the middle of the water with a stick. We were playing about with the water, and Walter was leaning over the side of the plank. I jumped off on to the wall, and Walter fell in. Kenneth and I didn’t tell anybody, but went home.”
Kenneth Hopkins (7), 145 Lyon Park Avenue, said he did not go on the plank, but stayed on the bank and watched the other two.Dr Cohen: Did you see Walter fall in? – Yes.
Did the plank tip up? – I didn’t see it.
Wouldn’t the fact that Albert jumped off make the other end of the plank tip up? – I didn’t see it.
Thomas Keen, 102 Murray Road, South Ealing, painter, said he was working on a
house in Lyon Park Avenue when two women ran by and called out there had been an accident at the reservoir. “I went over there,” he went on “and saw two workmen and some children standing on the bank. I jumped in and got the body out.”
Dr Cohen: You deserve thanks for your actions.
Richard William Wood, 215 Lyon Park Avenue, caretaker to the Standard Telephone Company, said that there was a brick wall and a barbed wire fence put up to keep people away from the reservoir. Many children came there, however, and he had even had to turn them off since the tragedy. The water was about 200 yards from the main road, and one had to trespass to get to it.
P C Allen said he was told of the accident, and when he arrived he tried artificial respiration without success.
Dr Ian Frazer, 53 Ealing Road, said the boy’s death was due to drowning.
Dr Cohen: Was there any mark on the body to indicate he was pushed in or received any blow?
Not the slightest.
A verdict of Accidental Death was returned.
In the following week’s paper there was a letter.
Sir, - We have had yet another catastrophe in this seemingly forgotten area of Alperton, resulting in the death of a poor little fellow. Are we to have another verdict “against the child”, or will the powers that be shoulder their responsibility?
We are on the map of Wembley not only for assessment purposes but also for the general welfare of the whole community, not forgetting the children.
D G Morritt, 66 Woodstock Road, Alperton.
At the Inquest above it mentions a reservoir that was 12 foot deep. It must be assumed they did not know of the site's World War I history. STC probably bought the site for development of a factory. No work had started so protection was a brick wall and barbed wire. STC's caretaker lived at 215 Lyon Park Avenue making it part of the total holding.
We now move on to 1936 when the site had been bought for an estate development. The owners and developers took the trouble to invest in aerial photographs of building progress.
The road plan showed Heather Park Drive, The Grange, Kenmere Gardens, Beresford Avenue, and Highcroft Avenue. It seems all the names were chosen for their non-suburban appeal!
The built stock is the two bedroom maisonettes in Heather Parrk Drive; half the one bedroom maisonettes in Kenmere on both sides; the two bedroom maisonettes between Kenmere and The Grange; and The Grange houses. These will be the only houses on the estate. The houses in Craigmuir Park and Newcombe Park were built by a different developer.
In the photograph above, about ¾ along the bottom edge from the left there is a white road going towards the canal cottage on the bend of the canal. This will be Highcroft Avenue. The only building so far is the electricity sub-station at the bottom end. But to the left of the road there is a triangular structure. This was a testing tank at the experimental facility.At the Inquest it was called a reservoir because they could not have known the history of the site. The tank is 12 foot deep. Users of the Britain from Above website will be able to zoom in and get a much better look. There’s no charge; just register and start your search with ‘kenmere’. ]
When the development of the Heather Park Estate started in 1935 someone remembered the previous gipsy activities, and started the name of Gipsy Field which acknowledged the previous users of the area.
Then in 1939 it was becoming more and more obvious that Germany was up to something. So the field was bounded by a wooden fence like the ones the back gardens had; and some gardens still have! That boundary fence disappeared during the War – it made good firewood!
The back alley fences 1939.
Such simple pleasures; running up and down.
During the War some tenants converted their half of the back garden into chicken coops. This was a very effective way of supplementing wartime rationing of food.
From the 1950s on, families who could afford a car might put up a garage. There was just room! This was also a time when motorcycle combinations became popular. The man drove and the woman sat in the side-car. Other men might have a shed for doing carpentry.
About 1950. Speedway was very popular at this time, and the Wembley Lions could attract crowds of 40,000+ at Wembley Stadium. National events would get crowds of up to 70,000.
There was a vast surplus of wartime manufacture and one item was ball bearing 'races'. These were quickly found to be excellent wheels for making up wooden scooters. Racing could now take place on road surfaces. Yes, there was so little traffic this event was almost safe. As more boys acquired bikes (usually second-hand) we would race on the Gipsy Field. One of the tenants in Kenmere had a camera, and gauntlets and a helmet were made available. Boy, did we feel special!
Towards the end of the war, piles of rubble were dumped on the Gipsy Field leaving only the top third towards Kenmere clear. Eventually the rubble was taken away, and I'm not sure how but the thistles and nettles went as well. We were left with a gradually improving grass coverage.
The top end being the flatter and longer part of the field was taken over on Sunday morning by usually about sixteen of us for a relaxing game of football. The later-to-rise ones got there about 11am and sides were picked in the traditional way. The two captains picked their team one at a time. The piles of coats were placed as goalposts and we played until we'd had enough. The final score was typically 15 - 13.
So a field of mostly grass it has remained... and you can't say it had no history!