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The Radioactive House in Kilburn

In the Summer of 1972, No.41 West End Lane was demolished because of the levels of radioactivity. This is the story of what caused the radioactivity and some of the interesting people who lived in the house previously. The large, detached house, was built in the early 1870s as ‘The Lodge’ towards the Kilburn end of West End Lane. The first person to live there in 1871 was Peter Clarkson Reed. He was a barrister who had qualified in 1859 and practised in Calcutta. He died at the house in 1876 and left £16,000 to his son John Lindsay Reed of Inner Temple, a barrister who at one time lived in Willesden. Patrick John Benson was at ‘The Lodge’ from 1884 until his death in 1895. Benson was a ‘professor of fencing and gymnastics.’ About 1875 he opened ‘Benson’s Gymnasium and School of Arms’ in Orchard Street, Portman Square. This was a successful business, and when he died he left £21,847 (worth about £2.3M today) to his son Charles, who took over the gym.  At the time of the 1911 census the
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British Homophone and The Banba, Kilburn

British Homophone was a recording studio behind the present day Sainsbury’s and Superdrug in Kilburn High Road. It later became the famous Irish dance hall The Banba. St Margaret's Before British Homophone opened their recording studio in 1929 this was the site of a large house called St Margaret’s. The last owner and occupier of St Margaret’s was the builder Robert Allen Yerbury who rented the house about 1877. He soon bought the freehold as well as a large piece of land adjoining his grounds. He used the garden in front of the renamed St Margaret’s Lodge as the site for a terrace of shops. Although completely hemmed in by the shops on the High Road, Yerbury was able to rent the house to a series of tenants. By 1903 a hall and conservatory had been added to the back of St Margaret’s Lodge. ‘Professor’ Sidney Bishop ran ‘The Athenaeum’ for dancing there from 1902 to 1914 before moving to nearby Quex Road. During WWI it was used as a Forces recreation room and in the 20s the Hall be

William Roper and the Kilburn Bon Marche

The Bon Marche was a large draper’s shop situated between the Old Bell and the Black Lion in Kilburn High Road. Today the site has been demolished and redeveloped. William Roper was born in 1839 in Harkstead, a small village in Suffolk, the son of a farmer. He became a draper and moved to London, where he married Stephanie (Fannie) Delbart on 10 Sept 1864 at St Marylebone Church. She was a dressmaker from France and her father Alphonse Delbart, was a perfumer. Fannie lived in St Georges Hanover Square, and in 1869 as Madame Roper she opened a dress shop at 31 Somerset Street. This was a very fashionable area of London near Portman Square and today it lies under Selfridges. At the same time William Roper opened a drapers in Kilburn, probably using inheritance money from his father who had died at Harkstead in 1864. Beginning with just one small shop, over time William expanded until he had Nos. 36, 36a and 40 Kilburn High Road. Business was good, and by 1881 there were 31 staff livi

Pig Singing in Willesden - Guaranteed to make you laugh

I had never heard of the pig singing competition until I found this amusing story.  In July 1896 Mr CF Rowley of Lillie Road Fulham appeared at the Harlesden Police Court. He had been summoned by Sir Richard Nicholson, the clerk to the Middlesex County Council (MCC). Rowley who said he was an auctioneer, was charged with having set up a marquee tent at Tooley’s cricket field in the Harrow Road at Willesden, without obtaining a 5-shilling music licence. He was a ‘cheap jack’ who travelled around holding auctions six nights a week. The large canvas tent could hold between 1,500 to 2,000 people and was lit by gas which ran up the central poles. At one end was a caravan which was made into a platform for the auctions and entertainment. To attract people who were charged 3d admission, Rowley advertised a Grand Baby show where the prize was a ‘silver-plated tea and coffee set for the mother of the finest baby under 12 months old.’ Men could enter the comic pig singing competition. They had t

Joseph Rotblat, The Atomic Man

The nuclear physicist and peace activist, Joseph Rotblat, lived in West Hampstead for over 50 years. Joseph Rotblat was born in November 1908 in Warsaw the eldest of five children. His father Zygmunt Rotblat owned a large haulage company specialising in delivering newsprint paper. His earliest years were spent in comfort, but the First World War brought ruin to his father’s firm. The business slumped and the horses were requisitioned for the Army, and the family slipped into poverty. Rotblat recalled that at one point they were reduced to eating frozen potatoes and distilling and selling illegal vodka. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to an electrician. But after a few months he set up his own electrical repair business. He became interested in science and attended evening classes at the Free University of Poland to take a degree in physics. After graduating with a master’s degree in 1932 Rotblat obtained a post as research assistant with Prof. Ludwik Wertenstein at the Radiol

A German Spy in Kilburn and the Three Barbers

Gustav Steinhauer was the German spymaster before and during the First World War. He had worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Chicago and had been the Kaiser’s bodyguard when he visited London in 1901 for Queen Victoria’s funeral. In disguise, Steinhauer travelled to England several times to set up a spy network before the War.  Gustav Steinhauer in Naval Uniform He recruited three German hairdressers, Karl Gustav Ernst, Wilhelm Kronauer and Otto Kruger, who acted as intermediaries to receive and forward letters from his agents. Ernst had a shop at 402a Caledonian Road, Kronauer was at 31 Fortune Green Road (near today’s famous Nautilus fish restaurant in West Hampstead), and Kruger was at 334 Kilburn High Road. During the Kaiser’s visit to England in May 1910 to attend the funeral of King Edward VII, Special Branch followed a senior German officer to Ernst’s shop where he stayed overnight. This was suspicious, so a Home Office Warrant (HOW) was issued, and the GPO intercepted

I Am the Egg Man: what happened to Kusel Behr?

Newspaper photo of Kusel and Linda Behr Kusel Behr and his brother Samuel were partners in a very successful company of egg importers called Behr & Mathew in Southwark. They imported millions of frozen eggs from their factory in Shanghai for use in food products across Europe. They had other factories in Berlin, Paris and Hamburg. In 1920 the Behr brothers bought out the Mathew’s family interests. The Behr family had originated in Lithuania. Kusel had married Linda in 1909 and they had four children. Kusel and Linda travelled extensively and lived in America, South Africa and for seven years in Shanghai. They had come from Shanghai to London in May 1923 and later bought No.368 Finchley Road. This was a large house called Lyndale Hall, opposite Lyndale Avenue just north of the Hendon Way. Today this has been replaced by a block of flats. 1954 OS Map  Up until 1923 Kusel had generally been in good health, but at the end of December that year he had a bad attack of bronchitis and went