William Perkins Warner became the landlord of the Old Welsh Harp tavern* in 1858. The tavern was in Hendon and accessible from London by a horse bus service. The enterprising landlord set about providing facilities to attract more customers, he leased adjoining fields and held special events and sports. On a meadow at Brent reservoir, Warner promoted the first velocipede race in England** which was held on Whit Monday 1st June 1868. The winner was Arthur Markham, who was riding a Michaux brothers velocipede, Markham was presented with a silver cup donated by Warner.
When the railway reached Hendon, Warner persuaded the railway company to build a station at Welsh Harp and he expanded his attractions to include a music hall, horse racing, swimming, greyhound racing, ice skating and a menagerie. There was great excitement when a bear escaped from the Welsh Harp in 1871. Thousands of Londoners visited the Old Welsh Harp on special trains.
The mid-1880's was the height of the popularity of the Welsh Harp and at Bank Holiday times more than 25,000 day trippers would go there. For 40 years the Welsh Harp was one of London's most popular leisure destinations.
In 1869 The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes held their carnival at the Welsh Harp on 24th August and bicycle racing was included in the sports. On August 28th 1869 a concert was held with an audience of 1,200 people and a velocipede race was held in the interval, the prize being a £6 velocipede.
There must have been more than one bicycle race at the Old Welsh Harp, but there is little information available about this.
William Warner died in 1889. His widow and his brother John carried on running the business for another ten years. The popularity of the Old Welsh Harp had declined by 1900 and the Midland Railway closed the Welsh Harp station in 1903.
John Warner retired in 1898 and at his testimonial, the Hendon and Finchley Times of May 6th reported Warner's rather sad comments on the demise of the Old Welsh Harp. "The value of the house has gone down considerably and for the past ten years he was sorry that he had ever seen it. The circumstances were very different to those that existed now twenty years ago. Bicycles had taken a great deal of the trade away, and the railway companies were now offering great facilities to Londoners. Instead of taking a trip to the Welsh Harp, they were now induced to pay their half-a-crown of so for a trip by train to Brighton or Southend or else by one of the various steam boats."
The Old Welsh Harp was rebuilt in 1937 but was demolished around 1970 to make way for the Staples Corner flyover extension of the M1 motorway.
* The Old Welsh Harp was also known as the Welsh Harp, the Lower Welsh Harp and for a brief time in the 1850s as the Irish Harp. It changed its name when another establishment called the Upper Welsh Harp Inn was built further North in Hendon.
** The velocipede race at the Old Welsh Harp was the day after the world's first velocipede race which was held at St Cloud west of Paris and won by the English rider James Moore.