Saturday, April 12, 2008


It is said that, a thousand years ago or so, there was once a man called Wemba who farmed and lived on a small area of Middleseaxan. He’d probably be a bit perplexed by the structure that sits on the site of his farm nowadays, and as Portsmouth and West Bromwich Albion trudged through their semi-final, I took a walk around the Brent Reservoir to the east of the stadium.

The damming of two brooks and flooding of hay meadows created the reservoir in the mid-1830s, so as to feed the stretch of the Grand Union Canal at Paddington. The decline in the demand for a canal system saw the reservoir shrink to a third of its peak size, but the reservoir remains as a conservation site.

Snow is threatening as I trudge along the sodden pathways, and I try to keep to the wooded areas as much as possible to shield myself from the biting northern wind. My creeping around seems to arouse suspicion amongst the water fowl, who honk their disapproval.

Great Crested Grebes.

The Victorians loved the reservoir, flocking to it in such thousands during fine weather that a railway station was specially constructed. It offered an escape from the city, and William Warner, the landlord of the local Inn The Welsh Harp, saw his chance to capitalise on this fact, tailoring his property to cater to these day trippers rather than those travelling to and from London on the Edgware Road. Extending his premises to include tea rooms and a banqueting hall, Warner also worked to make the area a popular fishing resort, ran horse races, and was responsible for making the area the unlikely location for Britain’s first ever greyhound race using a mechanical lure. Chaos reigned one day in 1871 when a bear escaped from the small zoo Warner had established, running amok in the nearby village of Hendon.

Looking south to Dollis Hill

Urbanisation saw to it though that the reservoir, like Wemba’s farm, became swallowed by the expanding metropolis to the south, and the area became less of an attraction once it was no longer seen as being part of the countryside. The train station closed, and the surrounding area became an industrial estate including, during the First World War, a tank factory which tested its aquatic models in the reservoir. The Welsh Harp Inn was eventually demolished in 1971 to make way for one of the ugly flyovers at Staples Corner, but its name lives on as many people continue to call the stretch of water the Welsh Harp.


Shane said...

It looks like the sort of place that Insp Jack Frost would be sent to, to meet with the SOCOs. You ought to be careful in places like that.

fwengebola said...

I spent 35 minutes reading that (I'm hammered), and I'd like that time back.
Ah, forget it.

Afe said...

Hello, Huw.

C said...

ah never has Dolis Hill seemed so romantic..