History of West Hampstead
The mid 13th-century le Rudyng, a name which indicates a woodland clearing, was by 1534 called West End, because of its position in relation to the central demesne lands. West End was then the name of a freehold estate, later called Thorplands, belonging to Kilburn priory. There was a house on the estate by 1646.
The road junction at which West End lies appears to be later than the hamlet but West End Lane and Mill Lane (Shoot Up Hill Lane and Cole Lane), although not named until later, probably existed as access in the Middle Ages since they formed the boundaries of several ancient estates.
In 1644 Hillfield abutted on Northwood apparently without Frognal Lane, called West End Lane in the 18th century, separating them but presumably there was always a route from West End hamlet to the parish church.
A proposal to bring Finchley Road to West End Lane in 1824 failed and the new road, east of the hamlet, had little immediate effect. The only building was of a few houses at New West End, on the east side of Finchley Road, in the 1840s. A National school and cottage for the schoolmistress was built on the north side of the village, on part of the grounds of Cholmley Lodge, in 1844.
In 1851 West End was a hamlet mainly of agricultural labourers, gardeners, craftsmen, and tradespeople for daily needs, with an innkeeper and two beershop keepers and a schoolmistress; the few gentry included Rear-Admiral Sir George Sartorius (1790-1885) of West End House, a retired ironfounder, a surgeon, some civil servants, and a clergyman. Industry, in the form of Thomas Potter's foundry on the south-west side of West End Green, arrived in the 1860s, followed by Potter's Buildings or West Cottages for its workers.
The transformation of West End came with the building of three railway lines south of the village, crossing West End Lane. Large sections of several estates were sold to the railway companies: in addition to the lines themselves, sidings, yards, and rubbish tips occupied much space and the remaining farm- and parkland was cut into segments, determining the subsequent street pattern.
Most of the land north of West End Green and around Fortune Green belonged to the Flitcroft estate, 20 a. of which were sold to the parish in 1875 for a cemetery, thereby holding back housing in the area for a decade.
Apart from the Hillfield Road estate, the only building was on a small estate west of Finchley Road, owned in 1841 by Francis Lovel, where between 1870 and 1878 Charles Cannon, a dye merchant who lived at Kidderpore Hall, converted an old footpath into Cannon Hill, and West House and Wellesley House were built west of the junction of Finchley Road and West End Lane (See below for more on Charles Cannon and the development of our site).
The period of greatest development was in the 15 years from 1879, beginning with the opening of the third railway, the Metropolitan & St. John's Wood, with a station in West End Lane (West Hampstead). Stations on the other two lines opened in 1880 and 1888.
The first to exploit the railway was Donald Nicoll, M.P. and owner of a gentlemen's outfitter's in Regent Street, who leased Oaklands Hall from Charles Spain from 1861 to 1872 and owned portions of the Little estate to the north and west, together forming a 23-a. estate which he called West End Park.
Nicoll was a director of the Metropolitan and St. John's Wood railway from 1864 to 1872 and, in anticipation of its plans, laid out a road (Sherriff, then called Nicoll, Road) on the line later taken by the railway, for which he received substantial compensation. He then sold West End Park to the London Permanent Building Society, which was connected with Alexander Sherriff, a fellow M.P. and railway director, who gave his name to the northernmost road on the estate.
In the period from the late 1870s to the 1890s West End, hitherto a village with grand houses, became increasingly working-class. At the end of the 1880s some big houses remained, classified as wealthy, upper middle-, and middle-class, but on the western side of West End Lane a 'fair proportion' of people with good, ordinary earnings was mixed with the middle class and residents in the West End Park estate were only 'fairly comfortable'.
Most houses in West Hampstead, where building was 'still fast increasing', were for the 'better class of artisans, clerks, railway men, policemen, travellers and a few professional men'. Railways influenced the timing and character of West End's growth but probably more important was the fact that West End Lane formed a boundary between large estates on the east and small and fragmented ones to the west.
The few sizeable estates to the west had tended to break up before the railway lines divided them and reduced them still further, the owners being content to take the immediate profit of selling to a land company or speculative builder.