THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON The River Westbourne 4) Maida Vale
From Kilburn the Westbourne dog-legged south through open farmland. Two hundred years ago its meadowed banks were lined by cattle-filled fields, with Kilburn Bridge Farm and Parsonage Farm providing dairy-based sustenance for London's growing population a few miles downstream. Arcadia didn't last. In the late 1850s the Westbourne was piped underground to create the Ranelagh sewer, allowing a tide of upmarket housing to engulf the area. This new district was named Maida Vale after a local pub – “The Hero of Maida” – itself named after a famous 1806 victory over the French.
Two broad avenues were built to follow the stream's former course, forming the cornerstone of the new estate. One's now Kilburn Park Road, the other Shirland Road, and the right-angled corner where they join was once the entry point of a tributary flowing down from Queen's Park. Kilburn Park Road marks the boundary between the boroughs of Brent and Westminster - a divide that made more sense when this extra-wide avenue was a watery brook. Shirland Road [photo] is a little narrower, and a little more desirable, and further from the council blocks that dominate the top of the hill. At the junction with Elgin Avenue a pronounced dip betrays the Westbourne's former course, with the riverside Warwick Farm Dairy a late Victorian reminder of the Vale's rural past. [photo]
Step into Fourteen Acres Field today and you'll find the BBC's Maida ValeStudios, built inside the shell of an Edwardian “Roller Skating Palace” [photo]. Only the rink's ornate doorways survive, topped off by white faux-marble carvings, each with a classical face staring out above the central arch [photo]. The building's more functional than glamorous inside, and far larger than it first appears. Studio 1 is one of the UK's largest recording spaces, home to the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and there are three other slightly lesser studios strung out alongside. The Beatles have recorded here, and various soon-to-be famous bands for John Peel sessions, and even I laid down a tape once with my school choir. If your band has similar aspirations, better hurry along fast before property developers knock the place flat. Following the Westbourne: Oxford Road, Rudolf Road, Kilburn Park Road, Shirland Road, Formosa Street.