The Edgware Road was originally a Roman road, which the Saxons called Watling Street.
It may be that Burnt Oak was the location of a small settlement known to have been on the Edgware Road called Sulloniacis.
In 1971 an excavation of Roman rubbish pits in the garden of a house in Thirlby Road found coins dating from the 3rd and 4th centuries. Unfortunately as the area was completely built over during the 1920s and 1930s it is unlikely that we will learn much more.
There has been some discussion as to how Burnt Oak got its name - some claim that it derives from the Roman method of marking a boundary by burning a tree, but as the earliest known use of the name is 1754 and the area was known as Red Hill before the 1860s, this is unlikely.
The Edgware Road was improved by the Edgware-Kilburn turnpike trust in 1711, and a number of the local inns functioned as a stop for coaches. Hay was the dominant crop in the area.
During the 18th and 19th centuries May Day was celebrated at the Baldfaced Stag and the local beer houses, with a meeting of hay carters from Middlesex and Hertfordshire. The carts and horses were decked out with ribbons and brasses, and local children would make extra pocket money by selling wild flowers for further decorations. Often there were competitions and prizes for the best cart. The Baldfaced Stag, The Royal Oak and the Prince of Wales were all rebuilt in 1930.
In 1838 Hendon Union Workhouse, sometimes known as 'Red Hill' workhouse, was built on the field north of Burnt Oak Field. This large institution provided for the poor of Edgware, Harrow, Hendon, Kingsbury, Pinner, Great Stanmore, Little Stanmore and Willesden. In 1930 it passed into the control of the Middlesex County Council, and was later rebuilt as Edgware Community Hospital.
In 1844 a Mr Essex bought the Burnt Oak Field and laid out North, East, and South Street. Not wanting his new development to be called after the union workhouse, he named his development Burnt Oak instead of Red Hill. By 1874 Burnt Oak was recognised as a place name, with a single general shop run by Emma Dufton as one of the earliest addresses. In 1882 Burnt Oak was provided with a tin hut for use as a church and an elementary school.
By the 1890s there were a few more shops and a thriving, if small, community, and there was even a small fire station (1900 - 1925). A tram service to Cricklewood commenced in 1905, and there was a small amount of building as a consequence, such as Queens Terrace, but the area still only numbered about a thousand in 1921.
A new station was opened on 27th October 1924 with a small booking hall suitable for a rural area, and a little later the London County Council announced that it was going to build the Watling Estate. The tube station was rebuilt in 1928.
In 1929 Jack Cohen opened the first branch of Tesco's in Burnt Oak, and the Regent Cinema, later Burnt Oak Cinema, was opened (closed in February 1972). The shops on Watling Avenue were constructed in 1930. In 1930 costermongers, people who sold goods from barrows, started to set up stalls along Watling Avenue, which developed by 1936 into the Burnt Oak Market.
By 1931 the population of the Burnt Oak ward, including the Watling Estate, had grown to 21,545 people.