This intriguing story takes us off our usual area to Stonebridge Park.
In 2017, Nick Grealy, CEO of London Local Energy (LLE), applied for a fracking licence to drill for shale gas on the old White Heather Laundry site at Stonebridge Park. Not surprisingly, this caused considerable opposition from local environmental groups. Brent Council along with Sadiq Khan the mayor of London, were also against the idea, and it does not appear to have gone any further. LLE was registered at Companies House on 9 May 2017 and dissolved on 16 October 2018.
But why did LLE choose the site?
The White Heather Laundry was established in Alric Avenue in 1898, apparently by three young men from Oxford or Cambridge University (newspaper reports differ). In January 1911 they sank a well to supply water for the laundry on their two and a half acre site. At 2,225 feet this is one of the deepest artesian wells ever drilled in this country, and is reflected today by the name of a road on the old site, Artesian Close.
In 1912 Walter Bridges, a consultant engineer to the White Heather Laundry, told the press they had found water above the London clay but it was too muddy to be used for washing, so they continued drilling. After encountering hard water in the chalk layer, they found softer water suitable for their needs at a greater depth. They were very surprised when on 9 September 1911 they found traces of petroleum at a depth of about 1,700 feet. The company decided to continue searching and if successful, Bridges said this would be the first oil well in Britain. But their efforts failed to find enough oil to make its extraction commercially viable, and the well was only used to provide water to the laundry.
The White Heather Laundry provided a high-class laundry service for many years. But when the ladies of London sent their undergarments to be ‘got up’ or cleaned in Paris, business at the Laundry suffered a downturn. In 1905 as clever publicity stunt, they held an exhibition of washing of ‘Fine Lingerie’ in the Grafton Art Galleries to show they could compete with Paris. They subsequently won contracts to deal with the laundry of the royal family, and in 1926 the Duke of York visited the works at Stonebridge Park where he saw the King’s shirts being ironed in the ‘royal wing’. Over time they held several Royal warrants, including those for The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The London Gazette records that the White Heather Laundry (London) Ltd was wound up in 1973.
In his application Grealy chose the old White Heather Laundry site for LLE fracking because of the oil found here.
In 1947 a second attempt to find oil was made in the centre of the Gibbons Road Recreation Ground, which was only about 400 metres away from the White Heather site. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company paid £8,000 (worth about £300,000 today), to their subsidiary D’Arcy Exploration, to drill the well with a 94-feet high derrick. D’Arcy had previously drilled exploratory wells in several parts of the country.
The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company became British Petroleum (BP) in 1954.
On YouTube there is a short film clip by Pathe News about the well. The commentator wrongly says that four years ago oil was found on a nearby laundry site. In fact, the White Heather Laundry well was sunk 36 years earlier.
Once again it seems that they found insufficient oil to make it a commercial venture.
Despite opposition, recently fracking licences have been granted to several companies who are looking for shale gas around the country. Their operations are being closely monitored for any disturbances in the earth. The national news reported that on 26 Oct 2018, Cuadrilla halted their fracking at Preston New Road near Blackpool for 18 hours, as the British Geological Survey monitors registered a small quake of 0.8 magnitude two kilometres underground, which was over the prohibited limit of 0.5. It remains to be seen if any of the schemes proves viable.
Rather oddly, there is also a Willesden Green in Alberta Canada, situated between Calgary and Edmonton, where there is considerable oil drilling.
We would like to thank John and Sandra Westbrook and John Mann for alerting us to the story about drilling for oil in Willesden in 1947.