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Forensics, Farms, and Fauna

In my work I am cataloguing ancient documents written around 200 years ago, on vellum, (calf or goatskin).These are scrolled with beautiful squid coloured ink, in spidery calligraphy, in a neatness I can only envy. I am constantly reminded of the sheer forensic aspect of their detailed analysis from lawyers and clerks alike. Each item of land and property, be it meadow or mansion is dispassionately detailed, as if it were a pattern on an Arabic carpet, ` signed, sealed and delivered`, and now being re-read, conserved and refolded after being gently brushed of the dust of ages.

These documents crackle as each fold unfolds from a foot square package to a chronicle that fills the whole of our newly acquired massive desk, appropriately red leather covered, reflecting the riches that each parcel represents. Each `skin` contains clear evidence of property ownership, and is `signed, sealed and delivered`, with red, green and blue sealing wax, often signed with a flourish or even an `x`, a reminder that not everyone could sign their names.

In the Kilburn and Hampstead property deed collection many documents are augmented with architect`s maps. There are also many Thanet road name connections, including Quex, Acol and Birchington Roads, so much so that you might think you were in Kent. Many reflect the property origins but are centrally located, abutting the Edgware Road. This reminds us that this was once prime farmland, serviced by coaching inns and breweries, with industries of tile-making gradually replaced by railway and transport trades.

As well as the normal transfers of property and farmland for rent or occupation, some importance is evident in this part of London towards animals. We are not talking of a menagerie or museum like Quex today, but of the need to utilise them for transport, and to feed the city. We have much evidence of pastureland for sheep and cows, stabling for horses, (included in several pre-nuptial wedding contracts), and of course the horses for the inns and the Kilburn brewers’ drays.

Monies from the Powell-Cotton properties also went towards social and community projects such as building churches, a fire station, sewage and water systems, and towards providing access for the railways and later the Underground. The story is of rapid industrialisation, whilst the family were keeping 52 acres or more of farming land here, this was alongside mansions with pleasure grounds, yet with urban frontage being hidden behind ancient trees and woodland.

After a morning of transcribing and recording I was privileged to walk in Quex Park gardens, amongst the peachy blossom of our magnificent copper beech trees and with fragrant pines towering above me. The promise of leafy splendour is still to come from the foxglove, bean and the Japanese pagoda tree awaiting an invigorating burst of spring sunshine.

Who would leave these secret gardens? John Powell Powell did, answering the call of the sea, and so did the Major, exploring deepest Africa and Asia. They gave us their stories, which we are now able to pass on to you. Come, hear and see for yourself!  

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