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The Bobbed Haired Bandit and Ruby Sparks

This story begins in West Hampstead in the 1920s and leads to a study of two famous criminals.

West Hampstead burglaries
In August 1926, West Hampstead Police Station which was then at 90 West End Lane near the Railway Hotel, received a tip-off about an intended local house burglary.
Photo of West Hampstead Police Station
Detectives Parlett, Heath and Smith went to Fairfax Road and took up observation. After half an hour they saw a powerful Swift motorcar, license plate LM 7311, arrive with three men and a woman with short bobbed hair. She got out and went into No.4 Fairfax Road which was currently unoccupied. Shortly afterwards she returned to the car and it drove away. The police waited and about 20 minutes later the car returned and parked nearby. Two of the men went into the house while one man pretended to be cleaning the car, and the woman kept watch in the street nearby. After a while, the men returned carrying a suitcase and they started up the car. Just as it was moving away, th…
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Hampstead from the Kilburn Road

In our first book ‘Kilburn and West Hampstead Past’ (Historical Publications 1999), we showed an engraving from Edward Walford’s 1878 ‘Old and New London’ Vol. 5, which was entitled, ‘Hampstead from the Kilburn Road’. At the time we believed the artist’s viewpoint was looking from the Kilburn High Road down West End Lane over the small bridge across the Kilbourn Stream at that point, with St John’s Church in Hampstead on the hill.

In September 2020 we found a painting on the Art UK website, entitled ‘Hampstead from the Kilburn Road’ by AW Sharp, 1824. This must have been used to produce the engraving in Walford, but the engraver has made a few changes including the bridge.

The painting is in the Camden Local Studies and Archive Centre so we asked archivist Tudor Allen if he would kindly look on the back of the painting for any provenance and check the records. Unfortunately, there was nothing on the back.

The only reference Tudor and his staff found was that the Hampstead Library Commi…

The Kilbourne Stream

Kilburn derived its name from the ancient stream which passed through the village until the 1860s. The stream was part of the Westbourne, which started in Hampstead and flowed down the hill through the village of West End (now West Hampstead) to Kilburn. In ancient documents, Kilburn is spelt in various ways such as, Kyllbourne, Kelebourne, Kilebourne, Kilbourne, Kulleburne. The meaning of the name has been the cause of much debate but is probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon Kyle (cold) and Bourne (water).

The stream was never a large river, and the locals called it a brook or a bourne. It went through what is now the Grange Park and ran parallel to the High Road along what is today’s Kingsgate Road, before passing under the High Road (the Edgware Road) at Kilburn Bridge.

In November 1860 a deputation from Kilburn presented a letter to the Metropolitan Board of Works which complained that the lives of the inhabitants were jeopardised and the value of the property was most seriously de…

Wartime Heroes in the Battle of Britain

Today we are commemorating Battle of Britain Day which occurred 80 years ago on 15 September 1940 when the Luftwaffe launched a massive attack on London hoping to draw out and destroy the RAF fighters. Although War was declared on 3 September 1939 and there was an air raid warning, the Germans did not bomb London during the so called ‘phoney war’ until a year later when the Blitz began on 7 September 1940.

Here we look at two war heroes from Kilburn and West Hampstead.

Gordon Wedlock
Gordon Victor Wedlock was born in December 1918 when his parents William and Edith were living at 64 Gascony Avenue in Kilburn. About 1926 they moved to 9 Homestead Park near Gladstone Park in Willesden. Gordon was a pupil at Dudden Hill School and then won a scholarship to Kilburn Grammar School. He joined the Electricity Department of Willesden Council in 1936, working under the aptly named Mr Spark and the following year, signed up for the RAF Volunteer Reserve. This meant many of his evenings and most w…

Kilburn Heroes in the Blitz

It is 80 years since the Blitz, which lasted from 7 September 1940 to 11 May 1941. The intense night bombing of London damaged buildings and killed or injured thousands of civilians. We have discovered that two people from Kilburn were awarded medals for their bravery in 1941.

Clifford Stratton
Seventeen-year-old Clifford Stratton was an electrical engineer’s assistant who lived at 42 Buckley Road in Kilburn (later in the 1950s and 60s he is shown at No. 48). He had been a volunteer warden for six months.

On the night of Wednesday 16/17 April 1941, 685 German bombers attacked London. This was the largest attack since the Blitz began and some planes made two or even three sorties that night. A huge number of buildings were destroyed, and 1,720 Londoners were killed in what became known as 'The Wednesday'.

Clifford was part of a team of stretcher bearers who rescued a man and two girls trapped on the fourth floor in flats in Portpool Lane, off the Grays Inn Road Holborn. The buildi…

The Nutters: from Kilburn to The Beatles and Elton John

In the story we look chronologically and alternate between what was happening to David and his brother Tommy Nutter.

David Nutter was born in Edgware in May 1939 and Tommy four years later in April 1943 while his parents were living in North Wales. Their great grandfather had been a builder in Kilburn and their mother Dorothy (Dolly) Bannister was born there. In 1937 she married Christopher Nutter who worked as a seating upholster in the de Havilland aircraft factory at the Stag Lane aerodrome in Edgware. After their marriage he and Dolly ran ‘John’s Café’ at 7 Handel Parade Whitchurch Lane in Edgware for his brother-in-law John Cross. When Christopher was discharged from the Army in February 1946, the family returned to Edgware where they lived over the café. By 1961 the family had moved to 24 Eresby Road, one of the houses built in Kilburn by Dolly’s grandfather, Edward Tribe. The entire road, which ran from Kilburn High Road to Kingsgate Road, was demolished as part of the building …

The Kilburn Dispensaries: providing health care for the poor

In the Victorian era diseases like smallpox, TB, syphilis, and ‘King’ cholera meant that infant mortality was very high, and children were lucky to reach their fifth birthday. The average life expectancy for a middle-class man was 45, but for working-class men this halved. The Silent Highwayman (Punch July 1858)
The ‘Great Stink’ in the summer of 1858 when the Thames was contaminated with untreated sewage forced Parliament to cover the windows with curtains soaked in lime. The government finally decided to fund Joseph Bazalgette’s scheme to build a system of sewers. The initial cost was £2.5M, but the final cost was £4.2M (today worth about £400M).  Work began in the early 1860s in Kilburn as he worked his way across London putting some of the rivers and streams, such as the Kylebourne, in underground culverts.  The huge construction, which was not completed until 1875, carried the sewage to treatment centres and out to the Thames at Beckton in east London. Although this greatly…