Harlesden – it’s mentioned in the 11th century Domesday Book and originally meant Herewulf’s Tun or farmstead – is in the borough of Brent, North West London. Before the political boundary changes in 1965, Harlesden was in the borough of Willesden. Hence, confusingly if you’re not in the know, the station, Willesden Junction is actually in Harlesden. There were political boundary changes n in Brent during the general election in 2010. Liberal Democrat, Sarah Teather deposed Labour’s Dawn Butler and is now the MP for the newly formed Brent Central.
Associated with gun crime – it has been called London’s version of the Bronx – and poverty – it is one of the top ten most deprived areas in the UK – Harlesden is an incredibly vibrant hub of activity. The High Street is awash with fresh fish shops, hair shops, hairdressers, barbers, and an array of grocers that sell a stunning range of vegetables from okra to ackee. And there isn’t a Starbucks in sight. There is no danger of high street conformity here. No wonder Prince Charles was so keen when he visited in 2007. ”I don’t think I have enjoyed myself so much for a long time going down the high street and popping into one or two shops. I’m sorry I couldn’t go into more of them,” he said enthusiastically.
Harlesden is also one of the most ethnically diverse places in Britain. In the 1960s, the Irish and Afro-Caribbeans (mainly Jamaicans) arrived to work everywhere from the McVities biscuit factory to the railway and the hospital, but now if you walk around – there are Somalis, Afghans, Tamils, Pakistanis, Polish, Brazilians, Portuguese and more. Harlesden’s richness and aliveness comes from this ever-changing mixture of cultures that live and trade side-by-side.
It is also known for its successful boxing culture – two Olympic gold medallists come from Harlesden: Audley Harrison won the gold in Super-Heavyweight at Sydney, 2000, while James Degale won the gold in the Middleweight section at Bejing 2008.
One of the most significant and recent changes in the area, has been the demolishing of the 1960s tower blocks – the two final ghost shells came down in 2010 – in Stonebridge (where gangs and crime were rife, and the police seemingly helpless) to be replaced with low-rise housing. New housing has also been built in another problem area – Church End estate. It will be interesting to see what long-term changes this makes to the community.
There is a feeling of optimism in the air. In March 2010, Labour transport minister, announced the plans for a new high-speed railway line (£17 billion, to start being built in 2017) from Euston to Birmingham and the north. An interchange station connecting Heathrow and Euston would be built at Old Oak Common just down the road from Willesden Junction. This may have a major economic effect on Harlesden.
*Originally a Saxon settlement on a well-watered woodland clearing on a hill.
*In the 15th century, a brick and tile works thrived here.
*For the next few centuries, Harlesden was a small village at the edge of a green, which bordered on Harrow Road.
*Much of the land was owned by All Souls College, Oxford.
*In 1839, the London to Harrow coach passed through Harlesden every day.
*In 1855, the omnibus service to London ran from the Royal Oak Inn.
*In 1866, Willesden Junction Station opened.
*The developing public transport systems encouraged industries to start developing here.
*The finely crafted, landmark Jubilee Clock was built in 1888 to honour Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.
*At the turn of the 19th century, Harlesden was mainly middle-class, there were nine churches, a court, a library, a sub fire station, Roundwood Park, several cinemas and a telephone exchange! There were still farms, granges and dairies.
*In 1907, the Willesden Hippodrome Theatre opened.
*In the early 20th century, cheap housing was built and gradually the middle-classes moved out. Poverty started to be mentioned and in 1936, the Curzon Street estate is built.
*Now the middle classes are moving in again. They can find cheaper houses here than other areas in West London. There has been a considerable media migration from Portobello Rd.