Lets start at the beginning…
A map from 1754 shows that the overall area of Grahame Park and the surrounding areas consisted of meadows for grazing and possibly cultivation. This would, because of its closeness to London, have been an ideal location for the production of milk as even with a horse and cart it would not be too far to transport milk into the city on a daily basis. Each meadow had its own name so that the farmers/owners could identify them. Some of the meadow names recorded are Nearer Acre, Further Acre, Upper Lanacres, Long Mead, Tree Mead, Broad Field, Barn Field, and The Quakers, names that are still used today.
In 1910 A pioneer of British aviation, Claude Grahame-White, raised £10,000 and purchased 207 acres of pasture to establish his London Aerodrome. In 1911 he began a flying school and started an aircraft design and build factory in the hangers that he had constructed. Some of these now form part of The RAF Museum on Grahame Park Way. Also in 1911, the first airmail post delivery (35lbs/15kg) was made to Windsor, the first parachute jump from a powered aeroplane was performed, and in the same year Winston Churchill watched a mock display of bombing. In 1914 the airfield was requisitioned for the duration of the 1914-1918 Great War.
After the war ended in 1917, the Officers Mess was built. The mock tudor building still stands today and is part of Middlesex University halls of residence. In 1922 the airfield was taken over by HM Treasury and in 1925 bought from Grahame-White for £500,000 becoming RAF Hendon. Meanwhile in 1924, Colindale Tube station had opened, with the completion of the Northern Line to Edgware.
In 1919, on the south side of Aerodrome Road, the G-W London Flying Club was established where it remained until, 1935, when the site was sold and The Metropolitan Police Training and Driving Schools were established, both of which are still there today.
From 1920 to 1939 a number of RAF air shows were held here, about 16 (plus two or three in the early 1950’s), and with the opening of the tube to Colindale these shows were very popular with the general public with estimates of several hundred thousand people attending on each day. Also RAF Hendon was used, because of its good road connections into London, as a means of flying VIPs, diplomats (UK and foreign) and government ministers in and out of the country.
Up till 1941, Hendon had been a grass airfield but with the demands of World War II, three concrete runways were constructed. During the war Hendon was used by various units including some Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons during The Battle of Britain defending London. Also the King’s Flight was based here untill 1946 which would have had King George VI passing through on occasion.
As aircraft became heavier and faster and needing longer runways, and as the surrounding area became ever more built up with residential housing, it was decided that flying in and out of Hendon was becoming too dangerous and the last flying units left in 1957. RAF Hendon then became the Joint Services Air Trooping Centre, where service personnel, both UK and US were processed through and then bussed to other RAF bases such as RAF Northolt and flown out around the world.
In 1970 the airfield was sold to the Greater London Council for housing, but the RAF still kept two sites. The West and East Camps. The East Camp housed the RAF’s main stores computer centre and the West Camp was used for RAF and USAF housing.
In 1971 construction of the (Grahame Park estate) and our own Willow Gardens began. The Willow Gardens, which was then called Grahame Park West, was completed in 1973, with the first owners moving into Arran, Beaumont and Deal Courts in July 1972.
During the 1980’s the East Camp site was sold to Middlesex University to build their halls of residence and latterly, further down, Beaufort Park, next to Colindale Police Station. In the 1990’s, the West Camp was also sold for housing, and is entered via Eagle Drive off of the large roundabout.
The Modern Day
Over the years many people visiting our estate assumed that it was part of the Grahame Park council estate. So in 2000 the directors of the estate’s management company decided that with all the new private housing developments taking place having names and road names unconnected to Grahame Park we should also adopt a new name for our estate and the two roads that are exclusive to us (South Acre and White Acre) to give us a separate identity. After much discussion, meetings and consultation with all the owners, we settled on The Willow Gardens as we have a number of willow trees around our estate; Cherry and Hazel Close were picked mainly because they were tree names and non-controversial.
So to the present day. The council estate is about to be 80% demolished and rebuilt as a mixed use residential estate, having normal private ownership, low cost ownership and housing association social housing, all integrated together rather than the old way of separate estates or blocks. Building work has already started on the first phase on the green space on the north side of Lanacre and the whole redevelopment is expected to take about ten years to complete. More information about the new development can be found on the Grahame Park Regeneration page.