Up and down Kilburn High Road


We recently moved to a new neighbourhood, Kilburn in London and the last weekend we ended up spending most of the time exploring our new surroundings. It’s only one tube stop or 2.5km away from Willesden Green where we lived before but it’s still something new.

Busy Willesden Lane

Above is the view from the living room looking down Willesden Lane towards it’s intersection with Kilburn High Road. Kilburn is centered around Kilburn High Road which is one of the main arteries into London. These days it’s part of the A5 but it dates back to what the Roman’s called Iter II and even further back in to the haze of history as the road between what is now Canterbury and St. Albans.

Martin, a friend of mine from university was in town and Friday we embarked on a trip up the High Road to try some of the many interesting pubs. We managed to tick a few but there are still some left to visit another time. The best surprise was the 5-6 musicians playing traditional Irish music at Sir Colin Campbell, a very unpretentious pub as you can see below. The low point must have been the horrible karaoke at The Cock Tavern.


Sunday the Gaumont State Theatre was open to the public. This is the theatre is right next to us and every time we take the bus into central London we drive by it. I was very curious about what was inside so since there was a chance to get inside we went for it, and wauw was it impressive! The place was finished in 1937 and at that time it was the biggest cinema in Europe with room for more than 4000 people.


Throughout it’s heyday the cinema has hosted an impressive list of stars like Frank Sinatra, Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Who.

Wurlitzer by @LollyGee

The cinema also has one of the few remaining and operating Wurlitzer organs. A Wurlitzer is an amazing musical instrument with four keyboards, 1200 pipes and 2000 electro-pneumatic motors that can create all sorts of sounds. We got a couple of small samples of what the organ sounded like on the day it opened by David Neale one of the few people left who actually knows how to mend these incredible machines.


The cinema was used as a bingo hall for 20 years until 2007 when that was closed. Many local Kilburnites (that’s what we are called) were worried that the place would fall into disrepair and eventually be torn down. In the end that didn’t happen. A christian group called Rauch Ministries bought the buildings and has since been working on renovating and converting it from a bingo hall to a place of worship. A similar fate has come to Kilburn National Ballroom up the road that was once a grand music and cinema venue and today is used as a church. As our tour guide later told us when we were walking up the road: These mega churches seem to be the only type of organisation that can make a viable business out of filling these huge venues on a regular basis.

The people from the church that we talked to were all friendly and we heard one song from their big choir which sounded good. Martin was very impressed by the set up for the amount of technical gear they had with cameras and a boom crane. Some day I should to go check out a service there, they said that they usually get around 2000 people attending. Maybe even one of the “Ruach Super Sunday” – it sounds more like a boxer promoter gone mad than the what I’m used to in a church.

After seeing the Gaumont Cinema we met up with Orkida and went for breakfast at Small and Beautiful before going on a guided tour down Kilburn High Road.


Our guide was Ed Fordham local historian and politician who knew a lot of the history and development of the area. I expected it to be a 30 min walk around a block but it turned into 2 hours very interesting local history from Roman times to today.

He told of how the river Kilburn and the Roman road had fared through the area up through times. Some of the pubs are still in more or less the same places as they have been for many centuries since this was the last stop before leaving the guarded area and venturing into the dangerous woods on the way to St. Albans. The Red Lion Pub can be traced back to 1444 as can be seen on the front. And is probably near the site of where Kilburn Priory once was.

In modern times Kilburn has been a transitional place for various groups of immigrants as they arrived to London. And you can still see this today when you take a walk along the road and look at all the different shops.

An old cigarette ad on the side of a building

Ed told stories of many of the buildings as we walked by them. I especially like the story of William Friese-Greene who is one of the pioneers of motion pictures. He was grated a patent for his invention of a chronophotographic camera in 1889 but eventually went bankrupt and died poor. A local property developer was a patron of Friese-Greene and on a couple of buildings he built in the late 19th century there is a small ribbon by the window with a film roll. Probably as a tribute to Friese-Greene and his invention.

Ribbon of a role of film on a house in Kilburn

An interesting walk in an interesting area that’s our home for now. Not sure I got all the facts right but I have tried to link to pages with more in depth information.

Later we went for a walk in the park where Kilburn Festival was on before we said goodbye to Martin and Orkida. Ann and I had a grand finale of the weekend at the Royal Albert Hall where Ann had won tickets to Camina Burana.