Neasden was first recorded as ’Neasdun’ in AD 939, derived from the Old English neos = ’nose’ and dun = ’hill’.
Neasden could be seen for afar as a ’nose-shaped hill’ in its rural past as it had been a countryside hamlet on the western end of the Dollis Hill ridge. The land was owned by St. Paul’s Cathedral. In medieval times, the village consisted only of several small buildings around the green near the site of the present Neasden roundabout.
In the 15th–17th century the Roberts family were the major landowners in the area. Thomas Roberts erected Neasden House (on the site of the modern Clifford Court) in the reign of Henry VIII. In 1651 Sir William Roberts bought confiscated church lands. After the Restoration the estates were returned to the ownership of the Church but were leased out to the Roberts family. Sir William improved Neasden House and by 1664 it was one of the largest houses in the Willesden parish.
During the 18th century the Nicoll family replaced the Roberts as the dominant family in Neasden. In the 19th century these farmers and moneyers at the Royal Mint wholly owned Neasden House and much of the land in the area.
Neasden was no more than a ‘retired hamlet’ when enclosure was completed in 1823. At this time there were six cottages, four larger houses or farms, a public house and a smithy, grouped around the green. The dwellings include The Grove, which had been bought by a London solicitor named James Hall, and its former outbuilding, which Hall had converted into a house that became known as The Grange.
The Welsh Harp reservoir was completed in 1835 and breached in 1841 with fatalities. It had a dramatic effect on the landscape as the damming of the River Brent put many fields and meadows underwater.
In the early 1850s, Neasden had a population of about 110. In the Victorian times the horse was the main form of transport, and as London grew, the demand for horses in the capital soared in the second half of the 19th century. Neasden farms concentrated on rearing and providing horses for the city. Town work was exhausting and unhealthy for the horses, and in 1886 the RSPCA formed a committee to set up the Home of Rest for Horses with grounds in Sudbury and Neasden, where for a small fee town horses were allowed to graze in the open for a few weeks.
The urbanisation of Neasden began with the arrival of the railway. The first railway running through Neasden — Hendon-Acton and Bedford — St. Pancras was opened for goods traffic in October 1868, with passenger services following soon. In 1875, Dudding Hill, the first station in the area, was opened, and the Metropolitan Railway was extended through Neasden shortly afterwards. Neasden station was opened on Neasden Lane
in 1880. New housing, initially for railway workers, was built in the village (particularly around Village Way
) with all the streets named after Metropolitan Railway stations in Buckinghamshire.
In 1883, an Anglican mission chapel, St Saviour’s, was set up in the village. Its priest, the Reverend James Mills, became an important and popular figure in late 19th century Neasden. In 1885 Mills took over St Andrew’s, Kingsbury and became vicar of a new parish, Neasden-cum-Kingsbury, created because of the area’s rising population.
Before Mill’s arrival, the only sporting facilities in Neasden had been two packs of foxhounds, both of which had disbanded by 1857. Mills became founder president of Neasden Cricket Club and encouraged musical societies. In 1893 a golf club was founded at Neasden House, however only 10% of its members came from Neasden.
In the 1890s change led to a conscious effort to create a village atmosphere. At this time, the Spotted Dog became a social centre for local people. By 1891 Neasden had a population of 930, half of whom lived in the village. Despite the presence of the village in the west, it was the London end that grew fastest.
In 1893 the Great Central Railway got permission to join up its main line from Nottingham with the Metropolitan. Trains ran on or alongside the Metropolitan track to a terminus at Marylebone (this is now the modern day Chiltern Main Line). The Great Central set up a depot south of the line at Neasden and built houses for its workers (Gresham and Woodheyes roads). The Great Central village was a "singularly isolated and self-contained community" with its own school and single shop, Branch No. 1 of the North West London Co-operative Society. It is now part of a conservation area. There was considerable sporting rivalry between the two railway estates and a football match was played every Good Friday. By the 1930s the two railways employed over 1000 men.
Neasden Hospital was built in 1894 and closed in 1986.
Apart from the railways, Neasden was dominated by agriculture until just before the First World War. In 1911, Neasden’s population had swelled to 2,074. By 1913, light industry at Church End had spread up Neasden Lane
as far as the station.
In the 1920s, the building of the North Circular Road, a main arterial route round London, brought another wave of development; it opened in 1922–23. The 1924–25 British Empire Exhibition led to road improvements and the introduction of new bus services. Together with the North Circular Road, it paved the way for a new residential suburb at Neasden. In 1930 Neasden House was part demolished. The last farm in Neasden (covering The Rise
, Elm Way
and Vicarage Way
) was built over in 1935. The Ritz cinema opened in 1935 and Neasden Shopping Parade was opened in 1936, and was considered the most up-to-date in the area. All of Neasden’s older houses were demolished during this period, except for The Grange, and the Spotted Dog was rebuilt in mock-Tudor style. Industries sprung up in the south of the area, and by 1949, Neasden’s population was over 13,000.
The post-war history of Neasden is one of steady decline; local traffic congestion problems necessitated the building of an underpass on the North Circular Road that effectively cut Neasden in half and had a disastrous effect on the shopping centre by making pedestrian access to it difficult. The decline in industry through the 1970s also contributed to the area’s decline. But nonetheless Neasden has survived, largely due to a succession of vibrant immigrant communities keeping the local economy afloat. Neasden Depot continues to be the main storage and maintenance depot for the London Underground’s Metropolitan line (and is also used by trains of the Jubilee line); it is London Underground’s largest depot and as such it is a major local employer.