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Gunhilda, the Hermit & Jersey Lillie. ‘What`s in a name?`

You may well ask for the Powell–Cotton connection.  Well, this is all about naming things.  The issue arose through the development of their London farms into desirable residences for a large number of artistic generations, from sculptors to musicians and comedians to architects. Their homes were built in roads given names with connections to Birchington, Quex Park and the African countries visited by the Major. Originally the area was farmland purchased in 1773 by John Powell, and inherited by his nephew John Powell Powell. From 1865-1900 the land was developed, and the properties rented out or sold. It covered a large area of Kilburn and Hampstead and the family had land similarly developed at Fulham.

Our research work has been enhanced by an enquiry about Kilburn Priory. With the help of our documents, maps and books from Birchington Heritage Trust and Camden History Society, some interesting facts have emerged. But what about Gunhilda and Godwyn, the Hermit?  Well, these people were amongst the founders of Kilburn Priory.  Originally a hermitage, as it was on the pilgrim route to St. Albans, quite probably it became a resting place, to change horses, more of a hostelry. The founders included three nuns, Emma, Gunhilda and Christina, together with Godwyn.

Somehow Gunhilda was connected to scandalous rumours which apparently only came to light when she was not nominated to have a road named after her.   Instead the road was named `Langtry Road`, possibly as attribute to the life and times of an Edwardian royal `friend` also known as ‘Jersey Lilly’.  A woman of somewhat dubious reputation herself, the name perhaps subtly reflecting a more local and contemporary scandal.

Emma de St. Omer was the Prioress at the time of Richard II, and in the church of St. Mary a fragment of medieval brass may be her portrait, for the church is said to have been built on the site of Kilburn Priory. The name `Abbey Road` has connections with Westminster Abbey, to whom these lands belonged until the time of Henry VIII and the Dissolution.  

Fulke Greville Howard bought Abbey Farm in 1819 and was a close neighbour of the Powell-Cotton family, even becoming one of their trustees. His name was originally Upton, until marrying the wealthy landowner, Mary Howard, when he took her name. He is remembered through the roads `Greville Place` and `Greville Road`. Nearby is `Hermit Place`, a tribute to Godwyn. A less salubrious memory surrounds the Priory tavern keeper, named as SS Death. However, the Upton descendants acted responsibly, championing local schools and the church.

Boundaries to the Abbey farm estate were said to be marked by four Mulberry trees, although only one has survived. From my document searches much of the newer 19th century developments were sold or rented to Banister Fletcher, a renowned architect and Professor of King`s College, London.

More obvious legacies have survived from the Powell-Cotton Estates with their Kentish and African road names. Quex Road is an obvious one, and was, interestingly at the boundary line marked by one of the trees. Birchington Road commemorates the village where Quex Park is situated, used at various times as the main or summer residence of the Powell-Cotton family. Other east Kent names applied to the London properties include:-

Hampstead and Kilburn - Quex Park properties developed in the 19th century, with Kentish or African Road names:-

1866 - Quex Rd, Birchington Rd, Mutrix Rd.

1875 - Kingsgate Rd.

1880 - Garlinge Rd.

1882 – Cleve Rd.

1880`s- Fordwych Rd, Minster Rd, Gondar Gardens, Westbere Rd, Sarre Rd, Skardu Rd,

Manstone Rd,  Rondu Rd, Woodchurch Rd, Acol Rd.

!890`s- Richborough Rd, Ebbsfleet Rd, Somali Rd, Asmara Rd, Menelik Rd,

1918- Westbere Rd (70 houses), further development of Somali, Menelik and Asmara Rds.

Further research is ongoing, with some 500 or more documents to be catalogued.

My thanks go to Birchington Heritage Trust, particularly Jennie Burgess, and to Christopher Date and Hazel Basford of Quex, as well as Camden History Society.

Eileen Mount.

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