‘Tween the five hills of Shoot-up, Childs, Hendon, Dollis and Dudden sits a valley through which the streams have long since ceased to flow, a section of a relentless Roman Road running in their place. A settlement of some description has existed along this stretch of the road, next to where the Crooked Wood once stood, for some 900 years, referred to in print for the first time as 'Le Crickeldwode' by the Normans.
Modern day Cricklewood is squashed not just by the five hills surrounding it, but sits in the armpit of the triumvirate of the London Boroughs of Brent, Camden and Barnet. When I wake up in the morning I am in Barnet, but turning left or right at the end of my street I immediately find myself in another part of London: do I want a curry from Camden or a burger in Brent?
The house I live in, and those around it, are a testament to Cricklewood’s eventual establishment as an urbanised area: in the fields which used to host bare-knuckle prize fights to the rear of the lonely coaching inn The Crown – offering respite from the mud and highwaymen to those travelling to and from London and the towns of Hertfordshire to the north, and (albeit rebuilt) still something of a focal point – streets and houses were swiftly thrown up in order to house workers when, in 1867, The Midland Railway build expansive railway sidings in Cricklewood, moving from the site in Kentish Town. There may not have been a venue for prize fights anymore, but it was in the huddles of garages behind the Crown that Smith’s Crisps were first made in 1912.
The rail workers have long gone, but this relatively young area of London has continued to be a place which attracts those arriving in the capital seeking work. For much of the 1900s it was the Irish, be they from Ireland or down the road in Kilburn, who fed the demographic, and more recently it is the Polish whose presence can be keenly felt. As perhaps no one group feels it is established enough to make a sole claim to the area, everyone seems to mix in with one another amicably. Perhaps all the comings and goings is what can give the area a relaxed, and occasionally bawdy, holiday camp feel.
“Cheap and cheerful,” is how I described the area to my grandmother when she asked whether Cricklewood is a nice place. It is nice, but perhaps only in comparison to places which aren’t nice, if that makes any sense. It’s not going to win any prizes on its own steam, but as you pick your way round the elderly Irishmen in suits who slump on the Broadway stinking of cider by midday or, on a moderately windy day, get pelted by the abundant litter that seems to coat every surface going, you still can’t help but feel life could be a whole lot worse. And even though there’s no sign of the streams anymore, all it takes is a smattering of rain to flood the bottom of Cricklewood Lane, giving you cause to sprint through the tunnel lest you should be drenched by the aquaplaning 189 bus to Brent Cross.
The final word should perhaps go to fellow resident and writer/poet Tobias Hill though, who captures it all better than I could hope to.
“...North of Kilburn (which has always been wilder), and West of Hampstead (which has always been richer)…walk down the Broadway on a Saturday evening, and you’ll see what Cricklewood is about. Here Kurdish butchers sit cow’s-cheek-by-carp’s-jowl beside Russian fishmongers, the Somali street-vendors sell Rolex Oysters outside the bagel bakery, and sallow-faced girls peddle freshly stolen hocks of ham at the bus stop by the Turkish pizzeria. This is not a picture Monet would ever have chosen to paint: but Hogarth would have, and Turner might have if he had ever been lost enough. It is essentially Londonish, metropolitan to the core, dirty and fabulous…”
5 weeks ago