The fashion for taking ‘medicinal waters’ in the 18th century came to Kilburn when a well of chalybeate waters (water impregnated with iron) was discovered near the Bell Inn in 1714. In an attempt to compete with the nearby Hampstead Well, gardens and a ‘great room’ were opened to promote the well, and its waters were promoted in journals of the day as cure for ‘stomach ailments’:
Kilburn Wells, near Paddington.—The waters are now in the utmost perfection; the gardens enlarged and greatly improved; the house and offices re-painted and beautified in the most elegant manner. The whole is now open for the reception of the public, the great room being particularly adapted to the use and amusement of the politest companies. Fit either for music, dancing, or entertainments. This happy spot is equally celebrated for its rural situation, extensive prospects, and the acknowledged efficacy of its waters; is most delightfully situated on the site of the once famous Abbey of Kilburn, on the Edgware Road, at an easy distance, being but a morning’s walk, from the metropolis, two miles from Oxford Street; the footway from the Mary-bone across the fields still nearer. A plentiful larder is always provided, together with the best of wines and other liquors. Breakfasting and hot loaves. A printed account of the waters, as drawn up by an eminent physician, is given gratis at the Wells.
—The Public Advertiser, July 17, 1773
The following information on the waters was found in The Domestic Encyclopaedia Vol 4 by A. F. M. Willich, which was published in 1802:
Kilburn-Water, is a saline mineral fluid, obtained from a spring at Kilburn-well, about two miles from the end of Oxford-street, London. This water was formerly in great repute, but is at present seldom employed. Nevertheless, it promises to be serviceable in cases of habitual costiveness, where powerful laxatives would be productive of dangerous consequences ; as it may be used with safety, till the intestines have recovered their natural tone. It may farther be advantageously taken by persons of sedentary lives, who are peculiarly subject to hypochondriasis, indigestion, and other disorders arising from relaxed habits. The dose is from one to three pints, which should be drunk at short intervals, till it produce a purgative effect : and, as its operation is very slow, it appears to be eminently calculated for persons, whose stomachs are delicate or impaired.
Kilburn had grown up on the banks of the Westbourne – a stream which has been otherwise known variously as Cuneburna, Kelebourne and Cyebourne. From the 1850s it was piped underground and is now one of London’s many underground rivers.
The name Kilburn was first recorded in 1134 as Cuneburna – the source was referring to the priory which had been built on the site of the cell of a hermit known as Godwyn. Godwyn had built his hermitage by the Kilburn river during the reign of Henry I, and both his hermitage and the priory took their name from the river.
Kilburn Priory was a small community of nuns, probably Augustinian canonesses. It was founded in 1134 at the Kilburn river crossing on Watling Street (the modern-day junction of Kilburn High Road and Belsize Road).
Kilburn Priory’s position on Watling Street meant that it became a popular resting point for pilgrims heading for the shrines at St Albans and Willesden. The Priory was dissolved in 1536-37 by Henry VIII, and nothing remains of it today. The priory lands included a mansion and a hostium (a guesthouse), which may have been the origin of the Red Lion pub, thought to have been founded in 1444. Opposite, the Bell Inn was opened around 1600, on the site of the old mansion.
After the heyday of the Wells, in the 19th century they declined, but the Kilburn Wells remained popular as a tea garden. The Bell was demolished and rebuilt in 1863, the building which stands there today. The Kilburn stretch of Watling Street, now called Edgware Road and Kilburn High Road, was gradually built up with inns and farm houses.
The only evidence that remains today of the existence of the former Wells is a commemorative paving stone, on the corner of Belsize Road and Kilburn High Road.