Does Camden Town have a soul? Well there is history…

Thursday, 4th August

• JOHN Gulliver’s question – Does Camden Town have a “soul”? – is answered by film-maker Jasdip Sagar’s probing of the workings of Camden, but this response would not be complete without some consideration of its industrial / commercial past.

This week I was chatting to a lady who comes to help me care for my daughter. We got talking about our jobs while still at school.

Hers was to find her way to Anglers Lane after leaving Rhyl Street for the day where her mother was employed as a machinist in a clothing factory.

She was taught how to do button holes and was kept busy at that until her mother’s shift was finished and then they would make their way home. The factory is no more, turned into apartments.

At the bottom of my back yard there used to be a “garage”, their main line of business was to “do up” insurance write-offs, reregister and then sell them, on a deferred payment arrangement, to ex-inmates of Pentonville Prison who used them to earn a living as mini-cab drivers. They didn’t have to be registered in those days.

Prior to that the site was occupied by stables for the horses who used to deliver sacks of coal. Today the site is occupied by what must be one of the last genuine workshops left in Camden, Lead & Light.

From my front window I can see what used to be a small factory that made shoes and handbags. It’s owner had the place converted into apartments built over office space and retired.

From my back window I can see some more new apartments, built on land that was occupied by a clothing factory then sold off to a developer when the owner retired and returned back to his home country: next door the story was repeated, an Italian catering supplier decided to call it a day and sell out, again to a developer, who also brought up the filling station on Chalk Farm Road and proceed to cram 75 students apartments on to the site.

Up towards the Roundhouse I used to queue up on a Sunday afternoon to buy my kids ice creams made on the premises. Marine Ices is now but a memory, the site used to build, yes, more apartments. There can hardly be a street in Camden Town which does not have a similar story to tell.

Most days I drive up Royal College Street to Kentish Town Road and on the way pass two building sites which used to be the premises of electrical and plumbing wholesalers, more apartments are going up.

Further on I pass the old Dunn’s hat factory on my left, again more apartments. A similar tale is to be told of the old railway arches at the back of St Pancras station.

While there is no clear way of measuring the “social impact” aspects of these forces, the changes on the ground are there for all to see: the Jewish Free School and St Richard of Chichester, both excellent secondary schools, are no longer there.

The income required to rent or pay off the mortgage for much of this accommodation can only come from two adults working full time, so no children on the way. Is this the true tale of Camden Town?

PETER LYONS, NW1

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