Canons Park is the remnant of the grounds of a stately home belonging to the 1st Duke of Chandos, James Brydges. He lived from 1673 to 1744, and had his title bestowed in 1719. He acquired the house and grounds through marriage and proceeded to create a magnificent ducal palace and hired some of the best builders, landscape gardeners and other craftsmen. The grounds were particularly fine, and contained fountains, canals, pools, lakes, avenues, formal gardens and a kitchen garden. Today we can see the avenue that led from the palace to the church (St Lawrence's) in the form of a raised causeway along which the Duke and his family would proceed to church every Sunday. The basin on what is now Canons Drive was one of the Duke's pools. The Brydges family mausoleum can be seen adjoining the church (open to visitors on Sunday afternoons). St. Lawrence is also notable for the fact that famous composer George Friedrich Handel was hired by the Duke to take charge of the music at the church from 1717 to 1720, and the original keyboard from Handel's time can be viewed in the church, where you can also see the Brydges family balcony and some fine interior decoration.
James Brydges lost some of his vast fortune in the South Sea Bubble, and the second Duke was unable to maintain the house and had to abandon Canons. The house fell into ruin, and was rebuilt on a smaller scale in about 1754 by William Hallett, a prominent cabinet maker of the time. Much of this building still exists as part of the North London Collegiate School which now occupies the site.
That part of the grounds remaining undeveloped was acquired by Harrow Council in 1936 for the present public park, and the George V Memorial Garden was created at this time.
Aaron Graham, following some research into the Chandos papers in the USA, has written an interesting article about the Duke of Chandos, and his financial dealings, a short summary of which is shown below. Also, have a look at the A-Z page for some interesting facts about Canons Park and the area around.
THE DUKE OF CHANDOS, Corruption and Canons:
The Duke was, until the South Sea Bubble in 1721, one of the wealthiest men in England. His fortune may have been around £712,000 (equivalent to about £102 million in today's money). This fortune probably derived from his office of Paymaster of the Forces Abroad between 1705 and 1713. The British army was deployed across Europe at this time to fight against the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. Every penny for the army went through Chandos' hands; the office was a byword for corruption and the suspicion was that Chandos enriched himself at the country's expense, and he certainly spent extravagantly at Canons.
Research done in the last 50 years or so shows that one way he did this was to indulge in what today would be called insider trading, using his knowledge of war plans. He also played international exchange rates to his advantage. Perhaps his most profitable scheme was to rake off a percentage of all monies that went through his own account to the troops abroad. However, this is not as straighforward a case of corruption as it seems. The remittance of money abroad through official channels was a very slow process, and Chandos was able to guarantee that troops would receive their pay on time, sometimes taking risks by using his own money until Treasury money was forthcoming. For this, the armies abroad were prepared to accept a percentage take for the Duke. So perhaps he was guilty of greed and corruption, but what he did helped to make sure the war effort was successful and save Britain's independence.