Introduction

I have travelled through Camden Town all my life and now I walk in its packed streets daily. Each time I see Camden Town it is different. As a child it was the way to the Zoo, with a peep into Palmer’s Pet Shop in Parkway first, as a taste of what was to come. Later, Camden Town was the on way to the West End, with its shops and theatres. For years it was my way to work. To the thousands of tourists who see it afresh each day, it is a unique experience. It is a place on holiday. A crowded, vibrant, thrusting place, with a spirit of well-being. It has all the exhilaration of a street market and yet the goods are not trash. There are serious artists here, doing serious work. The food is good. There are plenty of restaurants and interesting shops and the music plays into the early hours. Fantastic fibreglass figures climb up the buildings. There is champagne in the air. To other people it is a centre for the media, full of TV studios, picture libraries and camera crews. Yet all of this has been true for only the last few years, and was undreamed of earlier. In the 1960s, before the present period of bustle, it was a place of depression - bleak, empty of work, dead. It had been full of industry, but when the factories closed, there had seemed to be no hope. Camden Town became a backwater.

 In earlier years Camden Town was a transport hub; the centre of the biggest drinks firm in the world; a place of factories making a thousand things; a district noisy day and night with carts and vans, railway engines and the tread of factory and railway workers. To the navigators who built the Canal two centuries ago, it was just another length of canal to be dug and puddled with clay. To the railway builders it was a mass of brick arches and the Roundhouse, still set in lush meadows. Earlier still it had been five streets of a New Town, planted outside London, with the nearest houses in Bedford Square, Bloomsbury. And two hundred years ago it did not exist. Then, Camden Town was not even a name. There had been an ancient village of Kentish Town, but no old village of Camden. Instead, there were just a few fields of heavy clay and a fork in the road. Two muddy trackways, one to Highgate and one to Hampstead, divided at what is now the Tube Station.
 
We each have our own starting point when looking at Camden Town. I have looked in many ways over the years and that is the story of this book. I hope that readers will begin where they like in the story, working forwards and backwards as they choose. The history of Camden Town is the story of two hundred years of change in Britain. The planting of Camden Town as a New Town; the rise of Industry in the period when Britain was dominant and made goods for the whole world, and its decay, which began well before the Second World War. British Industry was getting old and creaky, unable to compete, so that Camden Town’s piano trade, among other industries, faded. The destruction of heavy industry began when the country sold everything to pay for the Second World War. Then came the final destruction of our heavy industry when accountants took charge and it was more profitable to asset strip some firms than to modernise the factories. Other companies were completely reorganised on green-field sites, miles away. The death of the canals and the railway hit Camden Town heavily and industry collapsed, or fled from London.

From 1960 there was a period of desolation in Camden Town. Huge buildings stood empty and derelict. Hundreds of young families had moved away to the New Towns. The railway lines were ripped up and a projected motorway cast a blight on everything. No development looked possible. Then, from 1973 when Camden Lock opened, the first glimmerings of a revival could be seen. A few market stalls - some young people selling original fashions - a few artists making and selling their goods - new music (and Rock began in Camden Town they say) - clubs which opened late. Then the media invasion started. It is a story of an area finding a new path, a new way to earn a living, and a new purpose. Those few market stalls started it all, but for the details you will have to read the book.
  
‘In the beginning Camden Town was not even a name’, - - - now read on.

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Early Camden Maps
(Page 1)