Once upon a time there was a small hill or two with some water which was cleared of all the trees surrounding it, and a hamlet grew up.
Perhaps this hamlet was based on a Neolithic site, or there had been a hill-top fort here, or an Iron Age track had passed nearby, but the evidence is not clear and we cannot be certain that this happened.
What we do know is the Roman Watling Street passed through this area and by Anglo-Saxon times the hill-top hamlet was in existence.
There was a brook at Kilburn and the River Brent passing nearby. The Brent is one of London’s longest rivers at over 16 miles. It starts at the junction of Dollis Brook and Mutton Brook in Hendon and joins the Thames at Brentford. A Roman Road forded the Brent near Brentford Bridge.
The name Brent is Old English, from Celtic words meaning “sacred waters”. The River Brent divides Willesden and Wembley.
Sir John Betjeman knew the area well and wrote:
Gentle Brent, I used to know you
Wandering Wembley-wards at will,
Now what change your waters show you
In the meadowlands you fill!
Recollect the elm-trees misty
And the footpaths climbing twisty
Under cedar-shaded palings,
Low laburnum-leaned-on railings
Out of Northolt on and upward to the heights of Harrow Hill.
The area of Willesden remained leafy and sylvan for hundreds of years.
The far end of Willesden High Road links to Church End and from there the Church began to acquire the land around, and by the year 1000 St Paul’s Cathedral owned a very large chunk of this part of what is now known as the Borough of Brent.
GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of Willesden, in Brent and Middlesex | Map and description, A Vision of Britain through Time.
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Willesden like this:
WILLESDEN, or Wilsdon, a village, a parish, and a sub-district, in Hendon district, Middlesex.
The village stands 1½ mile N by W of Willesden-Junction r. station, and 7½ WNW of St. Paul’s, London; and has a post-office‡ under London NW, a police station, and fairs on Holy Thursday and St. James’ day.
The parish includes W.-Green, Dollis-Hill, Sherrick-Green Neasdon, and Harlesden hamlets, Brondesbury domain, and parts of Kilburn and Kensal-Green villages. Acres, 4,190. …
Real property, £28,401.
Pop. in 1851, 2,939; in 1861, 3,879. Houses, 642.
Pop. in 1869, about 15,000.
The property is much subdivided.
The manor was given by King Athelstan to St. Paul’s, London; and was known, at Domesday, as Willesdone. W. House, Brondesbury Park, Neasdon House, Dollis Hill, Harlesden House, Heathfield, Mapesbury House, Bramshill Lodge, Glyn-field House, and the Rookery are chief residences. T
he living is a vicarage in the diocese of London. Value, £320.* Patrons, the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s. The church is later English.
The rectory of Brandesbury and two p. curacies of Kilburn are separate benefices. There are an Independent chapel, a national school, and charities £27.—The sub-district consists of W. parish and Twyford-Abbey extra-parochial tract.