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Brent Reservoir

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Title: Brent Reservoir  
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Subject: London Borough of Barnet, River Brent, High Elms Country Park, Rowley Green Common, Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve
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Brent Reservoir

Brent Reservoir
Site of Special Scientific Interest
Area of Search Greater London
Grid reference
Interest Biological
Area 68.6 hectares
Notification 1985
Location map Magic Map

The Brent Reservoir (popularly called the Welsh Harp) is a reservoir which straddles the boundary between the London boroughs of Brent and Barnet and is owned by the Canal & River Trust. The reservoir takes its informal name from a public house called The Welsh Harp, which stood nearby until the early 1970s. It is the only Site of Special Scientific Interest in Barnet and Brent.

The reservoir is fed by the Silk Stream and the River Brent, and its outflow is the River Brent. It is said to contain enough water to fill 3 million baths, and in 1994 when the reservoir was drained, more than 6,700 lb (3,000 kg) of fish were captured, 95% of which were roach. However, fishing is prohibited.

The reservoir has a sailing centre, home to BTYC Sailsports, Wembley Sailing club, Seahorse Sailing Club, the Sea Cadets, and the University of London Sailing club. In 1960, it also hosted the Women's European Rowing Championships.


  • Construction of the reservoir 1
  • Sport and recreation 2
    • Water sport 2.1
    • Cycling 2.2
    • Ice sports 2.3
    • Miscellaneous 2.4
  • Transport 3
  • War history 4
  • Wildlife and nature conservation 5
    • Birds of the reservoir 5.1
    • Insects 5.2
    • Mammals 5.3
    • Neasden Recreation Ground 5.4
    • Welsh Harp Open Space 5.5
  • Gallery 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9
  • Further reading 10

Construction of the reservoir

Plans for the construction laid in 1803 were abandoned because of cost. However canals continued to develop in the early 19th century and there were water supply problems. By 1820 there was not enough water to supply the Grand Union Canal and the Regent's Canal so under an Act of Parliament in 1819, the Regent's Canal Company decided to dam the River Brent and create a reservoir.

The reservoir was constructed by William Hoof between 1834 and 1835. The water flooded much of Cockman’s Farm, to supply the Regent's Canal at Paddington. It was called Kingsbury Reservoir and its 69 acres (280,000 m2) spread between Old Kingsbury Church and Edgware Road. Hoof, who was awarded the tender for the work (including the construction of a bridge) received the sum of £2,740 and six shillings.[1]

Construction did not proceed without problems; in August 1835, a few months before completion, four brothers named Sidebottom drowned in an accident.

Brent Reservoir.

Additional building was completed in December 1837 to extend the reservoir. In 1841 after seven days of continuous rain the dam head collapsed, killing two people.[2] It was after this that a supervisor was employed for the first time, with a cottage near the dam. This cottage still exists.

At its greatest extent it covered 400 acres (1.6 km2) in 1853, but was reduced to 195 acres (789,000 m2) in the 1890s, and subsequently reduced to 110 acres (445,000 m2).

Sport and recreation

During the second half of the 19th century the area became a destination for recreation and evening entertainment, almost entirely due to W.P. Warner (1832–1899), who in 1858 became licensee of the Old Welsh Harp Tavern. The tavern stood on the Edgware Road, near where it crossed the Brent. Warner, who fought with distinction in the Crimean War, created the tavern along the lines of the London Pleasure gardens (ironically at the same time when the most famous of all, the Vauxhall finally closed). For 40 years, Warner made the Old Welsh Harp Tavern one of London's most popular places and it was celebrated in song by the music hall star Annie Adams as 'The Jolliest Place That's Out'.

The amusements were focused not just on the inn, but around the reservoir. Warner operated a race track until an Act of Parliament made it illegal. The first greyhound races with mechanical hares took place here in 1876. In 1891, there was an attempt by Capazza to launch his Patent Parachute Balloon, which failed to leave the ground. Accounts record 'nasty incidents' among the 5000 spectators. These activities attracted a mixed clientele and crime and violence were not uncommon. One observer described the races as a 'carnival of vice'. The reservoir, like nearby Hampstead Heath, was also famous for Bank Holiday fairs. There was an incident during its Victorian heyday when a bear escaped from the menagerie.

Water sport

The reservoir was popular for speed boat and other water sports, until its size became unsuitable. The reservoir has a sailing centre, home to BTYC Sailsports, Wembley Sailing club, Seahorse Sailing Club, the Sea Cadets, and the University of London Sailing club. In 1960, it also hosted the Women's European Rowing Championships.[3] More than 200 competitors and officials attended, with 5,000 spectators.[3] The BBC and Eurovision televised the event.[3]


The first formal cycle race was held at the Welsh Harp on 1 June 1868.[4] It was won by Arthur Markham. He received a silver cup from the licensee of the Welsh Harp Hotel, who had sponsored the race.[5] For many years Markham had a bicycle shop at nearby 345 Edgware Road.

The race was held the day after what is often referred to as the world's first race, in the park at St Cloud west of Paris. It was won by another Englishman, James Moore. His grandson, John, believes Moore is buried near the reservoir.[6]

Ice sports

In winter, the reservoir froze for skating; national and international ice-skating events were held. In February 1893, Jack Selby drove a coach and four horses across the reservoir. Towards the end of the 19th century, urbanisation led to the end of this hedonistic chapter.[1]


Naturists gathered at the Welsh Harp from 1921, until in June 1930 about 250 sunbathers were attacked by 200 objectors.[7] This is referred to as "The Sun-Bathing Riots".[8]


The Midland Railway built its Welsh Harp station in 1870 on its new line from Bedford to St.Pancras. The area lost its attraction with the development of West Hendon between 1895 and 1915 and the station closed in 1903.

War history

The Mechanical Warfare Department, part of the War Office based nearby in Cricklewood, used the Welsh Harp for secret tests of a new weapon from 1916 - the Tank, especially the amphibious Mark IX tank. Early film of these tests was shown on British Television in the late 1990s. During the Second World War, a seaplane kept on the reservoir was rumoured to be an escape route for the Prime Minister. Local residents have recounted swimming to the plane.[1]

Wildlife and nature conservation

During construction, the Welsh Harp attracted uncommon birds. National Lottery bids.

The reservoir and much of its shoreline is a Site of Special Scientific Interest,[9][10] mainly due to the diversity of breeding waterbirds. The reservoir and surrounding area are a Local Nature Reserve[11][12] and a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation.[13][14]

Birds of the reservoir

The reservoir is an important site for breeding waterbirds such as great crested grebe, gadwall, shoveler, common pochard, tufted duck and common tern. At one stage, the reservoir was second only to Rutland Water for the most breeding pairs of great crested grebe in the UK. Other breeding birds include eight species of warbler. In 2008, the first nesting attempt by great cormorant took place as well as the first nesting attempt by grey heron for several years, neither attempt was successful.

The reservoir has always enjoyed a reputation for rare birds. As well as those documented above, it attracted two black-winged stilts in 1918; the first great white egret in London in 1997; the blue-winged teal in 1996; the lesser scaup in 2003; and penduline tits in 1996 and 1997. Remarkably for an inland site, it also attracts rare warblers, notably the aquatic warbler in 1955; Hume's warbler in 2004; and yellow-browed warblers in 1994 and 2003; however, most significant was an Iberian chiffchaff on 3 June 1972, the first recorded in the UK.

The current list of birds recorded at the reservoir numbers 250 species.[15] The most recent species added to the list was the great skua in 2011.


Many other forms of wildlife have also been studied and were documented in the WHCG book. There have been 28 species of butterfly at the reservoir, including breeding marbled white and ringlet, the closest site for these to the centre of London. Scarce species include a single dark green fritillary in 1999. Prior to the construction of the reservoir, marsh fritillary used to breed. Dragonflies have been studied and 15 species have been seen, of which 12 breed at the reservoir.

View from Neasden Recreation Ground of swans on Brent Reservoir


Few mammals are seen, the grey squirrel the most obvious; the red fox is common but mostly nocturnal. Muntjac have been present since the beginning of the 21st century but are shy, their presence noted mainly by tracks, although there were a few sightings during the day in 2008. The reservoir is notable for bats, with three species of pipistrelle, noctule, Leisler's bat, serotine and Daubenton's bat all recorded on a single day in September 2007. Regular bat detection evenings throughout 2008 have shown that Nathusius' pipistrelle is present and may be breeding at or near the reservoir.

Neasden Recreation Ground

Neasden Recreation Ground is a park of 4.5 hectares (11 acres) on the southern shore of the reservoir. It is mainly grassland with woods, a sports ground and a children's play area.[16] There is access from Aboyne Road and from the North Circular Road, opposite Brook Road and close to Staples Corner.

Welsh Harp Open Space

Welsh Harp Open Space is a park and nature reserve of 9.43 hectares (23.3 acres)[17] on the north west shore. It was established as a recreational area in 1965,[18] and received a Green Flag Award for 2010-11. There is access from Birchen Grove. In the late 19th century, this area was served by the Welsh Harp railway station.


See also


  1. ^ a b c Birds of Brent Reservoir, 2001 ISBN 0-9541862-0-6
  2. ^ Defra:
  3. ^ a b c The Brent Magazine, November 2011, p.27
  4. ^ Cycling Record, UK, 1968
  5. ^ Firth, Malcolm retrieved 5 September 2008
  6. ^ Procycling UK p107
  7. ^ "History of British Naturism". 
  8. ^ "Call that a summer?". BBC News. 2 September 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  9. ^ "Map of Brent Reservoir SSSI". Natural England. 
  10. ^ Brent Reservoir SSSI description
  11. ^ "Brent Reservoir/Welsh Harp". Local Nature Reserves. Natural England. 1 March 2013. Retrieved 22 January 2014. 
  12. ^ "Map of Brent Reservoir/Welsh Harp". Local Nature Reserves. Natural England. Retrieved 22 January 2014. 
  13. ^ "Brent Reservoir (Welsh Harp)". Greenspace Information for Greater London. 2006. Retrieved 8 September 2012. 
  14. ^ "iGiGL – helping you find London’s parks and wildlife sites". Greenspace Information for Greater London. 2006. 
  15. ^ Brent Reservoir Bird List
  16. ^ Brent Council, Neasden Recreation Ground
  17. ^ London Gardens Online, Welsh Harp or Brent Reservoir, Welsh Harp Open Space and Neasden Recreation Ground
  18. ^ London Borough of Brent, Welsh Harp Open Space

External links

  • The Welsh Harp Conservation Group
  • Barnet Council's page on Welsh Harp, checked March 2007
  • Brent Council's page on Welsh Harp Reservoir
  • "Brent Reservoir (Welsh Harp)". Greenspace Information for Greater London. 2006. Retrieved 4 September 2012. 

Further reading

  • Hewlett, Janet (1997). Nature Conservation in Barnet. London Ecology Unit.  

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