On 11th August 1901, before electricity had come to Willesden, Fr. George Cologan, Rector of Our Lady of Willesden, cycled past the farms along Harlesden Lane (now Road) and said what was probably the first Mass ever in Willesden Green at No. 30 Chapter Road (now St. Paul’s Avenue). Here, 20 years earlier, had been open country: for Willesden Green was a mushroom suburb.
Willesden had an unbroken history of agricultural village life from Saxon times; ‘the Green’ in 1879 was a village with a population of 100, some outlying farms, patches of woodland and a few scattered manor houses such as Brondesbury Manor and Roundwood House. Neighbouring Kilburn, Harlesden and Cricklewood, served by earlier railways, were already built up; but when the Metropolitan Railway was extended from Hampstead to Willesden Green in that year, there were almost no buildings along that part of Willesden Lane which is now the High Road, except for the ‘Spotted Dog’ and some cottages facing what had once been a green and is now Gateway Stores and car park.
The frequent services of steam trains to and from the City changed everything: ‘genteel villas’ appeared around Christchurch (built 1866), along the south side of Willesden Lane and in Heathfield Park; elsewhere, for Willesden was outside the range of Metropolitan building regulations, speculators began erecting crowded rows of small houses. The farms belonged almost entirely to St. Paul’s Cathedral, an association recalled by Dean Road and Chapter Road. The land was sold to developers and by the time of the Ordnance Survey, 1893, the houses along the upper end of Chapter Road, Dean Road,
Poplars Avenue, Lechmere and Huddlestone Roads, Villiers Road and Chaplin Road had been built and the High Road was a shopping centre. Between 1890 and 1900 some 50,000 people moved into Willesden, now emerging as a factory area! But there were still open spaces left in Willesden Green: in the triangular area between Walm Lane, Cricklewood Broadway and Kilburn & Brondesbury Station there was almost no housing, only the railway, cutting across country; while Willesden Library and the western end of Brondesbury Park did not exist; west of the Manor House (now Manor House Drive) there was continuous open ground all the way to the Crownhill Road Convent.