However, there is beauty and sanctuary in Neasden and a stunning example lurks in the one place you'd least think of looking. The North Circular itself.
The Grange Museum of Community History claims to be the only museum in the world on a roundabout - surely a claim too unlikely to be untrue. The building was purchased by Willesden Borough Council in 1962, with the intention of developing a local history museum site, but faced closure in 1970 as it was in the way of the planned new roads leading to Neasden Underpass. Local residents objected and the plans were amended, leaving the museum in the middle of a newly-created roundabout.
Large signs advertising the Grange vie for the attention of disbelieving motorists as they whizz past, but the unlikelihood of a museum in such a place deters the average casual visitor. Even as one approaches the site over a typical, arching 1970s walkway, the scepticism remains. Neasden roundabout looks like any of a hundred similarly misguided planning nightmares from 20 years ago. But this one really is different.
A farmhouse has been on the site since 1700, and the museum is in an old stable block, inside which comprehensive exhibitions illuminate the populus of Brent and its Irish and West Indian background. The star exhibit is an entire draper's shop, removed from Willesden High St when it closed in 1978 and reassembled piecemeal. It is almost unchanged from the 1890s, and has some splendid posters, including one for stockings ("Morley nylons... superb!") and another featuring a youthful Roger Moore flogging Hamilton scarves.
More hidden treasure in Neasden lies just off Brentfield Road - the Hindu Temple. The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir initially looks very odd in its suburban setting - the fluttering red and white flags over the gold-topped temple give off an air of optimism missing from the dull suburban semis which surround it. It has been described as Neasden's answer to the Taj Mahal, and while it may not be quite as awe-inspiring as that, its intricately-carved, slightly squat beauty makes it worth a western-style pilgrimage. What's more, the garden of contemplation allows the troubled a few minutes of Diana-style contemplation.
In the spirit of the giant branch of IKEA just down the road, the temple was shipped over and reassembled, piece by piece. Fifteen hundred sculptors from west India carved 3,000 tons of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tons of Italian marble which was then put together in Neasden to the surprise of local residents. The temple contains no steel or lead, as it was feared this would interfere with divine vibrations, and is open to all-comers. Tourists and Hindus can wander meditatively in their stockinged feet and even find themselves genially encouraged to take part in thrice-daily, incense-rich services.
Private Eye has traditionally mocked Neasden's suburban identity, but against an unlikely backdrop - the roar of the North Circular and the twitching of net curtains - lie some extraordinary sights.Reuse content