Last week, whilst strolling down the Kilburn High Road on a glorious sunny evening after work. I saw something that made me wonder why I like Kilburn and why I am proud to be, and hope to remain, a Kilburnian. Heading South, I reached the Willesden Lane Junction when I saw, on the pavement, a rat. Now I know we are never so very far away from a rat in London but it isn’t often we see them in the street. And usually if you do spot them they are running madly for a bolt-hole. Well this rat was ambling, not running or skirting along the gutter, but strolling down the middle of the road like an Edwardian lady on Brighton Promenade. But by the time I had got home I had completely forgotten Perhaps it is things like this that mean that there is never a lot of love for Kilburn. It doesn’t enjoy universal praise and seems rather like the poor cousin surrounded by the richer relations of Hampstead, West Hampstead, Maida Vale and Queens Park. It would seem that noone wants to live there. Surrounding districts, as portrayed by Estate Agents have grown and expended to engulf Kilburn. People would rather live in Brondesbury, Queens Park, North Notting Hill (yup, I have heard it) and West Hampstead so Kilburn itself has shrunk to virtually nothing. Nothing but a high road and a couple of stations that bear it’s name. Kilburn is the High Road, it would seem. The High Road was once 'Watling Street', one of the key Roman roads leading out from 'Londinium', the ancient Romans' British capital. Since those times, there has always been a busy 'High Road' running through Kilburn. Although all traces of the original Roman road have long since disappeared, visitors can still get a sense of history from the various pubs along the High Road, many of which had their origins as medieval inns. In particular this was the route north that the Pilgrims to the shrine of St Albans. The great potato famine triggered widespread emigration of
Irish people, many of whom found a new way of life in Victorian London. This, combined with the coming of the railways, began the social changes that have made Kilburn London's pre-eminent Irish quarter. Although why they chose Kilburn is still a mystery to me. Any ideas welcome. The high road today is a million miles from the Roman road or the pilgrim’s way it must once have been. It’s shabby, it’s not fashionable, there’s no Starbucks or Bierodrome, no Hennes or Benetton. But then it isn’t as low down as some of the other small high streets in the city. It has more chutzpah that Denmark Hill and better shops than Peckham High Street. But then it is not Hampstead either…..But that isn’t to say it is dull. Kilburn’s colour is its saving grace: it is always trundling along. There is always a little something going on and a chat to be had or a smile to be exchanged. The pubs always enjoy a bustle and despite the absence of some of the cooler emporiums, KHR has some splendid shops. The Kilburn Bookshop, for instance is a fine independent bookshop. The Traid charity shop has some extraordinary clothing bargains. There is a trendy little Sainsburys and a Marks and Spencer that mostly sells food and pant (what else is it good for?) also all manner of bargain shops and several respected small record shops. It is a jolly high street. Kilburn has great connections. It is difficult to complain about the huge variety of links than can be easily made. As far as the tube trains are concerned it is primarily on two lines. The Jubilee at Kilburn Station and the Bakerloo at Kilburn Park. Then there is also the very good overland train connections too provided by the Silverlink company. From Brondesbury you can make use of the North London line which stretches from Richmond to North Woolwich with connections to Leytonstone as well. From Kilburn High Road you can get trains into Euston which is a boon. Buses are pr
etty varied too. Of the major bus routes the 16 and 98 run up the High Road and wee buses such as the 316, 328 and the 189 cross it. I would hesitate before naming a North London district that has better links. Kilburn remains a famous Irish area and I would say that it hasn’t changed so much in this respect over the years. The one major manifestation of this is the proliferation of Irish boozers on the high road. I will just mention two of note. The first is Biddy Mulligans which has been recently refurbished and is surprisingly gaudy and tacky as an Irish pub. It is often graced with live music and bands and they also serve genuine Irish brewed Guinness for a premium. The other really great Irish pub is the Black Lion further upo the High Road. It is a big Victorian affair and has a more genuine Irish ambience. They had a wicked party on Paddy’s Night. But isn’t just the pubs, it is also the people. It is common to walk along the High Road and hear an Irish lilt. I find it rather comforting. There are two other place I would like to mention: the Gaumont State Cinema and the Tricycle Theatre. When it was opened way back when the Gaumont was one one of the most glittering cinemas in Britain with a fab organ and plush interior. It remains extraordinary inside but now it is a Mecca bingo hall and it is worth popping into the lobby to catch a glimpse of the style and extravagance. I also know that the organ still works because I live nearby sometimes on a Sunday afternoon I can hear music hall classics drifting across the car park. The Tricycle is just up the road from me and is a trendy theatre and cinema complex with an eclectic programme. It also has a pleasing café. Kilburn is a charming district and although one sometimes gets a little tired of the typically benign drunks in the street and wonders if Brent Council might not tidy it up a bit more I am pleased that I live there. Although it isn’t glamorous, it is
real. It is a pleasant district for shopping, for living, for browsing and also just passing through. It is well connected to the rest of town and also has some wonderful facilities and attractions of its own. Come up and see me sometime.