Spoke 307 – Chalk Farm Mystery

Friday 16th October 2020 (3 min read)

I didn’t know it before I set out, but today I would be mostly linking up farms. I can’t point you to a historical ‘Chalk Farm’, but the name suggests the rural vibe of the area before London swallowed it in the nineteenth century. Here cockneys came to ruralise, and slighted gentlemen might seek redress beyond the gaze of the law.

Later, I was excited by an article titled ‘Chalk Farm Mystery’ in the South London Press, 1899. But I was disappointed when I realised its subject was ‘Dr Williams’ pink pills for pale people’. A reminder that the social media age didn’t invent fake news.

I ruralised across Primrose Hill before gaining Finchley Road where I photographed The North Star, bombed by the IRA in 1973. Then I walked rail lines to Cricklewood.

Clitterhouse Farm was the highlight of this spoke with its licensed graffiti and plans for a cafe community hub. The farmland and part of the adjacent Handley Page Aerodrome (in the 1920s you could fly from Cricklewood to Paris) was bought by Hendon council in the 1920s and is now playing fields.

The farm was still a going concern in February 1918 when Mr R Keevil advertised for a cowman: ‘first-class milker; good wages’. Its last days were tragic ones. Captain Cecil Keevil, whose parents owned the farm, was killed on 13th June 1917 in a Gotha raid. It was the deadliest bombing raid of the war and killed 162 civilians including eighteen children at Upper North Street School in Poplar. Cecil Keevil was an observer in a plane which took off to challenge three Gothas ‘straggling over Ilford’. He was shot through the neck by machine-gun fire from the ground. The pilot landed safely. Before the war, Cecil had looked after the dairy side of the family business at 94 Cricklewood Broadway. His funeral drew several hundred people.

Brent X shopping centre was once the site of a factory which made photographic chemicals. The Johnson family, based in the City, had been making chemical salts of silver and gold for Fox Talbot’s photographic process since 1839 and set up in Hendon in the twentieth century. I love that. Photography has always been used to sell stuff. I imagine the photographer slipping a coin into her pocket, ducking under a cloth, and Brent Farm Cottages disappearing in a puff of choking smoke.

I followed the river through Brent Park, alongside the North Circular Road (1925). The Abbots of Westminster may have built the lake as a duck decoy. Decoy Farm disappeared in the 1930s but not before its gables, chimneys, and billowing creeper had been captured in oil by Charles Paget Wade.

At the confluence of the Dollis and the Mutton Brook, I followed the latter through parkland and swung right uphill for home.

It was nearly dark by the time I reached The Spaniards. I don’t know if Spaniards Farm, flattened by Winnington Road, was named after the pub or vice versa. Perhaps solving the Chalk Farm Mystery was enough for one day.

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