Friday, 21 December 2012

Higgins, Kensal Green

Walking today along Kilburn Lane, it is hard to imagine that until the 1960s, near the junction with Sixth Avenue, one could hear cows moo. Yet a couple of elements subsist to trigger one's imagination: firstly, a set of former industrial buildings arranged around a central courtyard and now known as The Old Dairy, and secondly, for those patient enough to decipher it, a ghost sign with the name of the original company and the nature of its business. Actually there are two ghost signs at this location, but the text of the second one has disappeared and if I managed to reconstitute the first line, it is thanks to a postcard from the first decade of the 20th century.

Between the mid-18th century, if not earlier, and the second half of the 19th century, this was the site of Hodson's Farm. The information about it is a bit patchy but the construction of the London and Birmingham Railway's line (later part of the London & North Western Railway) out of London Euston in 1833 must have cut the farm into two because a private bridge spanning the railway was subsequently erected. Until the 1870s the area remained largely rural, with much land dedicated to farming. If only a few acres were dedicated to dairy farming before 1864, their number grew rapidly after an Act of Parliament made it illegal to keep cattle within the limits of the metropolis. However this boom of dairy farming did not last for long. By the 1880s the outward expansion of London reached the Kensal Green area. Pockets of urban developments already existed at the eastern end towards Kilburn and a handful of houses had already been built along Kilburn Lane, but within a few years most farmland was sold to property developers. Still a few farms subsisted, albeit on a much reduced scale. Rows of houses spread across most of Hodson's Farm but on a narrow plot tucked away between Kilburn Lane and the railway line a complete set of new buildings required for dairy farming, including milking rooms, was erected. This certainly happened after the land had been purchased by William Higgins. The earliest mention of Higgins's dairy I found dates from 1890 but it may have been established ealier.


Apart from a few references in professional journals, there is virtually no information about Higgins Bros. However as an independent dairy, Higgins Bros must have found it hard to compete with larger concerns. Changes in consumers' habits in the 1950s and 1960s certainly had a negative impact on its finances. In October 1957, Higgins Bros was taken over for the sum of £10,000 (equivalent to £210,000 in 2012) by a new company called Higgins Bros. Dairies Ltd in what looked like a desperate attempt to improve the financial health of an ailing business. The last mention of Higgins Bros I found dates from 1967. Although the full text is not available online, it may well have been to announce it had ceased trading.

While something can still be read on the ghost sign above, by the entrance to the courtyard, the one facing the street, which is much more exposed to the elements, has completely faded.

Higgins Bros.

Both ghost signs appear on a postcard from the early 20th century but the quality is not good enough to read what was on the second sign.

In 2003 an application was made for the redevelopment of the site of the Higgins Bros' dairy. The different buildings would have been demolished to make way for two three-storey blocks of flats. This project did not go through for several reasons, one being that the redevelopment would result in the loss of attractive buildings with un-altered architectural features and of historical merit.

Location: Kilburn Lane / Pictures take in December 2011

No comments: