THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON The River Westbourne 3) Kilburn
Kilburn Grange Park is one of those anonymous inner London recreation grounds where you'd go to recreate, but never to enjoy the view. It's got a children's play area, three tarmac tennis courts and a basketball space, plus an oval paddling pool that won't be borderline foot-dippable until the spring. There used to be a rather lovelier stream, long before the Municipal Borough of Willesden came along, long before any of the neighbouring streets bordering the High Road [photo] were laid out.
The first known inhabitant of Kilburn was a pious 12th century hermit named Godwyn, who hid out in the woods close to the spot where Watling Street was crossed by the Westbourne. The stream here was known variously as the Cuneburna, or Keleburne, or Kilbourne – from which the area eventually took its name. Godwyn's hermitage soon evolved into a nunnery, home to three royal maids of honour, with ownership passing to the Abbot of Westminster. One side of the convent was moated by the passing brook, which also fed a series of fish ponds. All proceeded swimmingly until the Dissolution, when on Henry VIII's orders the community was levelled.
Kilburn's prime location on a major road ensured later growth, with the efficacious springs of "Kilburn Wells" drawing spa-going crowds to the riverside BellInn during the 18th century. Some of the Priory's foundations were uncovered in the 1850s when the railway east of Kilburn High Road was widened. Discoveries included a selection of tessellated tiles, some ancient keys and a few disinterred bones. Other than these remnants, Kilburn Priory lives on only in the names of various local streets (Priory Road, Hermit Place, etc) [photo] and the title of a pub on the Belsize Road. [photo]
River-tracing is a little easier. Follow the contoured dip behind the High Road, past The Bird in Handboozer (now closed) and along the appropriately named Spring Lane. The Westbourne then ran between two places of entertainment, one the Kilburn Empire Theatre (now a pig-ugly Marriott), the other the Maida Vale Picture House (now The Islamic Centre of England). For 150 years a tollgate barred the High Road here, assisted by the stream as a natural barrier. A proper-old well behind KilburnPark station, in the middle of an unlikely council estate, is one final hint of the abundant waters that once drew spa-goers here in their thousands. [photo] Following the Westbourne: Kilburn Grange Park, Messina Avenue, Kingsgate Road, Quex Road, Mutrix Road, West End Lane, Belsize Road, Spring Lane, Kilburn Priory, Kilburn High Road.