Inventory Site Record

Welsh Harp or Brent Reservoir, Welsh Harp Open Space and Neasden Recreation Ground (Brent)

Brief Description

The Welsh Harp or Brent Reservoir originated as a canal feeder of 1810. In 1833 Regent's Canal Company decided to build the reservoir, which opened in 1838. Before this the area had been grazing land either side of Silk Stream and River Brent. From 1859-1899 the Reservoir was a fashionable destination for recreation and entertainment, largely due to the popularity of the Old Welsh Harp Pub, from which some say the area takes its name although another school of thought suggests the name arose from the shape of the reservoir, which resembled a Welsh Harp. The old inn building was replaced in 1938 but eventually demolished in 1971 for road construction. Willesden (later Brent) Regatta was held here until the 1960s. Although much of the area was built up, in 1972 a large tract of land was kept undeveloped and used for a variety of purposes including recreation, nursery gardens, allotments and marshland. Neasden Recreation Ground was created in 1927 on land donated by developers of the adjoining land. Welsh Harp Open Space was created in 1965 as a nature reserve, with new paths and other facilities in the late C20th.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Kingsbury Reservoir, Brent Reservoir
Site location:
access via Birchen Grove and Aboyne Road
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Open Land;, Public Park
Open to public?
Opening times:
Special conditions:
Car parks. Water sports, play areas (Neasden Recreation Ground, West Hendon Playing Fields)
Healthy Walks Programme
Public transport:
Tube: Wembley Park then bus; Brent Cross, Hendon Central (Northern) then bus; Neasden (Jubilee) then bus. Rail: Hendon. Bus: 12, 83, 142, 32, 183, 182, 112, 245, 297, 302 (+ walk)
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.brent.gov.uk; www.canalrivertrust.org.uk

Full Site Description

The public open space along the edge of Brent Reservoir had originated as a canal feeder of 1810. In 1833 the decision was taken by the Regent's Canal Company to build a reservoir in order to provide water for the Grand Union (Junction) and Regent’s canals. The Company commissioned William Hoof of Hammersmith to undertake the work, which began in 1834. He had agreed to complete the work in 4 months for a sum of £2,740 6s but it took until November 1835 to be completed; a small extension was added and the reservoir opened in 1838 although the dam partially collapsed in 1842 (Snow has January 1841), which led to the building of an attendant's cottage. Before this the area had been grazing land on either side of the Silk Stream and the River Brent and an old track is shown across the valley on John Rocque's map of 1762, bisected when the reservoir was built. Short metal posts along the shore of the reservoir today, decorated with the Prince of Wales's feathers, mark its fullest extent of 400 acres in 1854. In the 1890s the water level was lowered reducing the reservoir to 195 acres, and in the C20th it was reduced to 110 acres. Although officially called the Kingsbury Reservoir, it became widely known as the Welsh Harp in the second half of the C19th.

Between 1859 and 1899 the Reservoir was the site of numerous recreational activities largely as a result of popularity of the Old Welsh Harp Pub, the site of an older inn that dated from the early C18th. One theory is that it became known as the Welsh Harp in the early 1800s as a result of being patronised by Welsh cattle drovers on their way to Smithfield market. From medieval times the Welsh drovers had been coming into England to trade their cattle at the great fairs and markets. The valley of the river Brent was favoured by the drovers because of the pasture and meadow-land, used for grazing and hay-making. A painting dated 1810 shows the hay-makers, and two Scots pine trees in the grounds of the inn. The Welsh drovers were known to plant Scots pine trees as way-mark signs along their trade routes, on hills and at farms and pubs where they would find a welcome.

The inn flourished under the management of William Perkins Warner who became landlord in 1858/9 and ran the pub until 1889. It included pleasure gardens, a concert hall, menagerie, facilities for bowling, skittles, shooting, water sports and racing and the wide range of entertainments included balloon ascents. It was a fashionable haunt and had its own station on the Midland Railway from 1870-1903. On the morning of Easter Monday in 1881 trains brought some 5,000 day trippers to the Welsh Harp. Popularity declined as the area was urbanised, particularly after the North Circular was built adjacent in 1926. The old building was replaced in 1938 but this was eventually demolished in 1971 when the flyover at Staples Corner was constructed. The Upper Welsh Harp pub was built in 1865 at the junction of Cool Oak Lane and Edgware Road.

In the 1850s the area was sparsely inhabited with 662 people recorded in Kingsbury in 1876, but by the 1890s the area was largely built up. In its heyday the pub was a fashionable place that offered its crowds of visitors a range of entertainments. Willesden (later Brent) Regatta was held here until the 1960s and it hosted the 1948 Olympic rowing events. In 1972 some 138 hectares were kept as undeveloped land and were used for a variety of purposes including recreational, nursery gardens, allotments and marshland.

Welsh Harp Open Space was created in 1965 as a nature reserve, with new paths and other facilities in the late C20th. It has had ornithological interest since the mid C19th, made known by such as Frederick Bond, who founded the 'Zoologist' magazine and who observed a number of rare birds here. James E Harting published his 'Birds of Middlesex' in 1866 in which he described Brent Reservoir as 'a paradise for an ornithologist'.

Adjacent to the south is Neasden Recreation Ground, which was created in 1927 on 1.62 hectares of land donated by Richard Costain and Sons Ltd when adjoining land was being built over for housing. The Council purchased a further 6.68 hectares with grants from the Middlesex County Council and National Playing Fields Association. The former Neasden Library adjoins the recreation ground.

Today Brent Reservoir is one of the largest breeding grounds of the Great Crested Grebe in the UK and the Welsh Harp Conservation Group maintains 2 bird hides. The Welsh Harp Environmental Education Centre is in the north-west corner of the site and provides an opportunity for local children to experience and use the Welsh Harp for environmental education.

On 2 July 2012, British Waterways ceased to exist in England and Wales and in its place the Canal & River Trust was set up to care for 2,000 miles of historic waterways.

Sources consulted:

Wembley History Society (Geoff Hewlett), 'The Welsh Harp Reservoir 1835-1985'; Ian Yarham, Meg Game 'Nature Conservation in Brent, Ecology Handbook 31', London Ecology Unit, 2000; Len Snow 'Brent, Wembley, Willesden and Kingsbury' (Phillimore, 1990); Welsh Harp / Brent Reservoir Management Plan, November 2008. See www.llundainfach.co.uk for information about the Welsh cattle drovers; Hazelle Jackson, 'Welsh Harp Controversy, Which Came First, the Reservoir or the Inn?, see www.londongardenstrust.org.features/welshharp.htm

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ211870 & TQ213867 (521351,187280)
Size in hectares:
WHR 170; WHOS 9.43; NRG 13.43
Site ownership:
LB Brent, LB Barnet and Canal & River Trust
Site management:
Friends of Neasden Recreation Ground/Welsh Harp Conservation Group/Welsh Harp Joint Consultative Committee/Welsh Harp Sailing Association
1830s; 1965
Listed structures:
LBII: Welsh Harp Bridge
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Tree Preservation Order:
Not known
Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Metropolitan Importance
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:
SSSI on southern side of reservoir bordering North Circular Road (Neasden Recreation Ground)

Welsh Harp or Brent Reservoir, Welsh Harp Open Space and Neasden Recreation Ground

Welsh Harp Open Space and Reservoir, near entrance from Bircham Grove, June 2001. Photo: S Williams

Welsh Harp Open Space and adjacent Woodfield Park, June 2001. Photo: S Williams
Welsh Harp Open Space and Reservoir, June 2001. Photo: S Williams
Welsh Harp Open Space, June 2001. Photo: S Williams
Welsh Harp Reservoir, near entrance north of Cool Oak Bridge, June 2001. Photo: S Williams
Welsh Harp Open Space, 1950. Courtesy of Brent Archives
Welsh Harp Fields, 1920. Courtesy of Brent Archives
The Fall, Kingsbury Reservoir, Neasden end of Welsh Harp, 1890s. Courtesy of Brent Archives
Welsh Harp (1880), reproduced from Edward Walford, 'Greater London' vol. I, 1898

Click a photo to enlarge.

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