1973 and the First Sign of Revival in Camden Town

Northside Developments Ltd

Two old school friends, Peter Wheeler (a professional valuation surveyor) and Bill Fullwood, who was a psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital, had formed a company called Northside to develop and convert houses on the north side of Clapham Common. In 1971 they became interested in Camden Lock, then a derelict site blighted by the threat of a new road. The road plan aroused such a protest that eventually the extension of Westway to Camden Town and so right through to the east of London was shelved, but it was a near thing. Had the plan gone through, the centre of Camden Town would now look like Spaghetti Junction.

A long series of protests and enquiries cast a blight over the area for years, so that no long-term planning was possible. In this situation, Northside Developments Ltd bought the last seven years of Dingwall’s lease cheaply for £10,000. It consisted of about an acre of derelict buildings and granite cobbles extending from the canal to the private road called Commercial Place (now Camden Lock Place). T.E.Dingwall's had been there from 1946. Before that there had been John Walker and a printer on the site and earlier still it was storage for Anglo-American oil drums. A photograph of Dingwall’s about this time shows rather a decrepit yard, but this impression may be pure hindsight. Timber yards are not famous for their beauty or smartness.1

Northside reckoned on being able to extend the lease later if they so wished. If and when the motorway scheme was dropped there could be long-term development, but until then short-term use must at least cover the rent and rates. It was this short-term vital energy and the need to develop fast, that launched Camden Lock.

John Dickinson, the architect who worked on Camden Lock from the start and who later designed the new Market Hall, had known Peter Wheeler for years. Before John Dickinson qualified as an architect, he had worked on Peter Wheeler’s first development scheme, so they started together. That project was to convert a row of houses on Clapham Common Northside into self-contained flats. Later, by an odd coincidence, they converted a row of houses and a coach house in Muswell Hill, into flats. These were opposite Cranley Gardens, on the site of what was once the market garden of the Woodside Estate. I have dealt with this estate in my book The Growth of Muswell Hill and printed the old auction sale plan.2

This estate was owned by Frederick Lehmann, the grandfather of Rosalind, Beatrix, and John Lehmann, and father of Rudolph Chambers Lehmann, who was a liberal MP and humorous writer. Frederick and his wife Liza held a literary and musical salon there so that Dickens, Wilkie Collins and many other writers and musicians probably stabled their horses on this site. To add to the coincidence, an estate agent offered to sell me the converted coach house only a few months ago -  irrelevant but odd.

In 1971, Eric Reynolds joined Peter Wheeler and Bill Fullwood, the original pair and each of the three brought his particular skills to the enterprise. Peter Wheeler was the original deal-maker; Bill Fullwood was the consolidator and organiser; while Eric Reynolds became the hands-on promoter and manager of activities. John Dickinson was the architect.

 


The Development Strategy

The first task was to attract people to the Lock and generate activity. If the Lock was to succeed it had to become the talking point of London, yet all they had was an empty industrial site, a romantic but derelict canal, and a lot of very worn cobble-stones. Being practical people, they used what they had. All early development had to be very cheap as the lease was for only seven years and everyone expected the motorway to come thundering past on the other side of the canal well within this time.

There were three cobbled yards which could have been used for car parking. Instead, they were packed with covered stalls selling all manner of goods. Stalls were quick and easy to erect and brought in quick cash. Each weekend they were rented out to all manner of people selling anything and everything and on Monday there was cash in the bank. Immediately the market atmosphere generated energy and interest. And there were unusual things to see. It wasn’t an ordinary market. There were things you could not get anywhere else. There was rubbish too - ‘a real flea market’ - but there were craft objects that were unique and also cheap.

The stables in the West Yard, divided naturally into small units suitable for shops, cafes, or craft workshops. Individual craftsmen and students leaving college needed workshops but had no capital, so they were happy to rent workshop areas by the week. Spaces were let rapidly and cash flow began. Thus what was an advantage to the craftsman, was also an advantage to the developers, because at once there was money coming in for small improvements. At the same time, the organisers were selective, choosing people on the basis of what they had to sell, and attractiveness to the public, rather than on pure rent.


Artists and Craftspeople

For young artists the Lock workshops offered a rare opportunity to rent space at a low price and provide a possible outlet for retail sales. Cabinet makers, jewellers, potters, repairers of antique furniture, blacksmiths, glass workers and others, had small bays where they could work and where their customers could see the work being done. This is a rare thing in a modern London, bereft of industry, where goods arrive in plastic bags from remote galaxies.

Several students who had known each other at college, Hornsey School of Art, Camberwell and elsewhere, came together, moving into Camden Lock as a kind of postgraduate annexe. Three potters from Camberwell managed to save enough to buy a kiln. Rents began at £1 a square foot, so that, by combining, it was possible for beginners to start, but over the years rents rose and became a problem.

Some crafts people made a great success, moving off to bigger premises. Some combined their work with teaching, while others failed and moved into completely different fields of work. Whether they succeeded or failed in the end, it was their energy that gave birth to Camden Lock. A vital group of entrepreneurs and artists had suddenly come together and the place began to buzz.

The jeweller, Sarah Jones, who was to become a member of the Goldsmiths’ Company, and has had successful shops now for many years, began on a stall at Camden Lock. On her first day she took £16 and could not believe her success. Roger Stone, who began in the same way, still has a popular jewellery shop and workshop in the West Yard.


Jeremy Gane making delicate adjustments to a tiny watch movement
Camden Lock News, Summer 1987

Early Craftsworkers

Danny Lane, who now has an international reputation for his abstract glass furniture and sculptures, came to England in 1975 from his birthplace in the USA. He studied at the Central School and took space at Camden Lock. It was here that he began to create his extraordinary furniture which borders on the bizarre. Some of his tables and chairs are made of thick armoured glass with ‘broken’ edges, sandblasted, and supported on legs twisted and distorted like unregarded scrap metal. Powerful, dramatic, ephemeral, comfortable it is not. He moved from Camden Lock to a studio in the disused X ray department of a Hackney Hospital.3
 
Jeremy Gane set up as a clock repairer. Lead & Light (or ‘The Glass House’) began on a stall in the market and expanded to take over the complete first floor in the centre block.. This was a wooden addition to the old stables, for almost all the early additions were in wood. Wood was cheap and T.E.Dingwell’s had left their large woodworking machines on site. Large circular saws and planing machines, all with three-phase motors, were there, available, so it was natural to build in wood.

The market opened only at the weekend, allowing the craftspeople to create work in their workshops during the week and open to customers on Saturday morning. During the week, for example, Eric Reynolds built his 30 foot racing yachts in the wooden shed by the canal and, on Friday nights he winched them up to the ceiling to erect market stalls below, ready for Saturday. Glass workers, jewellers, furniture makers, wood carvers, musical instrument makers, toy makers, weavers, makers of scented candles, artists and a hundred other creative people appeared. Suddenly, in a derelict area where a year before you could have sat undisturbed in the middle of the road with your newspaper, there was excitement. Something to see. Some new thing each week. Fresh, alive, different. It was the place to be.


The Glass House, Camden Lock
 

Sarah Jones Silversmith ltd.,
14 Basington Street,
London EC2

 

Gina Moore produces designer clothes
in her tiny workshop - like this cream
fitted jacket (£45) and navy & cream
striped short gathered skirt (£35), both
in cotton jersey. The workshop is open
every day - wholesale enquiries welcome.

 

  Early Craftsworkers

Food

The craftspeople would produce things to see, discuss, buy, an ever-changing shop window. Having shopped, people would need food. The Company decided that food could become a great attraction but it must be of a good quality, well above the standard generally expected in street markets. To ensure that the food stalls and restaurants were of a suitable quality and type, Northside set up partnerships with individual managements. Here they were fortunate in finding June Carrol, who opened Mother Huff's on a shoestring and her food set the standard. She has stayed 22 years, in the Lock and in nearby restaurants and later controlled The Everyman Cinema in Hampstead.

Later came Rose Antoine who has provided vegetarian and organic food, mainly cakes and bread, for many years. Later still Do Bighn, who had escaped on a rice boat from Vietnam, provided authentic North American food. All of these had been carefully selected for quality and their success expanded the Lock.

As the Lock opened only at the weekends, these restaurateurs were free to open shops nearby and the influence of the Lock began to spread down the High Street. They kept a foothold on the Lock but its vitality was spreading. Shops up to the Tube station and beyond, which had been let at peppercorn rents a few years before, slowly became desirable. Thus stalls begot restaurants and many local eating places with neat napery began in far more humble circumstances.

Today people remember their first visits with nostalgia. Before Sunday opening laws were changed, the Lock was the only place open and buzzing. To plan what to wear, arrive in your exotic, stylish dressing-up clothes was the pepper. Mods, Rockers, Skinheads, Goths, Rockabillies -everyone could find their particular fashion. People spent a couple of hours going through the rails of clothes, haggled the price of a jumper down from perhaps fifteen pounds to thirteen and went off well pleased. They looked through the records at Rock On, the shop which stocked the records W.H.Smith banned, and also rare old discs. Tray after tray of 45s and 78s which trace the history of music and pop. They became experts at sliding the record out of the sleeve, holding it against the light to judge the wear, and so hear the damage with their eyes. Rock On stayed until 1996 when rising rent forced it out. At last, feeling hungry, the crowds would move towards the smell of food.
 
This was served from a long line of covered stalls, with the steam condensing on the tarpaulin roofs and dripping on to the cobbles, or hissing as it hit the hot-plates. The area was a huge meeting place where you could be sure to find friends and acquaintances, swop stories, compare outfits, tell lies about your bargains. It appeared that anyone could set up a stall and sell their wares, but there have been rules about markets for centuries. Two young girls who had visited Camden Market for several years, decided to set themselves up as cake makers. They stayed up all one night baking rock buns, put them in a bag on wheels and took an early bus to the market. Just after six in the morning they put their names down for a stall and were told to come back later. They wandered up and down the road, returning every half-hour, but were never granted a stall. They met all their friends and by two o’clock had eaten half the stock. The rest they took home. Neither seemed too put out by their failure to sell, putting it down to experience.
 

A young man’s memories of Camden Town

To young people Camden Lock was a magnet. Just listen to one account:-

“Out of Camden Town Tube Station and down the High Street we come to the Electric Ballroom, full of records, clothes, anything. The ‘EB’ was mainly for the rockers, punks and weirds. Mods like us very seldom went there, except for the occasional 60s record fair, or the odd gig in the evening. Looking in from the street, it was dark even in the daytime. The music always blasted out from the lower main floor, but the entrance and balcony were full of trinkets, badges and dark-looking clothes.

Just beyond the Electric Ballroom were some good shoe and suit stalls which marked the beginning of the First Market, opposite Inverness Street. There were long, close-packed rows of black leather boots and shoes of all types - industrial, army, fifties, sixties, seventies - even forties, thirties and twenties . Often shiny, with the strong smell of boot polish. About 1984, I also bought some good two and three-piece suits from the early sixties and a beautiful black leather box jacket for about £15. I remember, paying not more than £20 each for good trench coats, in black and beige, which lasted at least a couple of years.

There is a popular myth that all the best bargains are found in the back stalls, hidden away from the ugly masses, but these front stalls were some of the most consistently good ones. The rest of the market was a low, deep, ground floor cavern of rusty racks and drug paraphernalia, candles, beads, old watches and lots and lots of records. The best record store in Camden, bar Rhythm Records, but I cannot remember its name. It was always hard to move because everywhere was narrow. When it rained you got wet from the humidity, not the rain. Steamy long-haired middle aged men and women sat in corners reading books.

For anyone who wanted to smoke cannabis this was a good place to come. Pipes, bongs, hubbly-bubblies, gauze and stash boxes, scales, incense holders and incense to disguise the smell, rolling mats and machines, Rizzla cigarette papers, were everywhere in different colours, patterns and sizes. Some looked like currency (American dollars), some rainbow colours, and in all different thicknesses and weights. I saw some called ‘Camouflage’, with its packet showing a cowboy smoking a huge ‘cigarette’ in the desert. They looked just like the real thing. I kicked myself for not buying them. The only food stalls here were on the outside, looking on to the street. I can’t remember the food, but there were always chips. I can’t remember buying many records from the big right-angled stall which marked the end corner of the market, but it was always very busy. The stallholders were loud and sometimes menacing men in benny hats and thick jackets. They always kept their eyes on their goods and commanded respect from the people around.

The second market had its entrance at the end of a long wall. Huff’s food stall ran a long way down the right hand side. It had a tarpaulin roof which was always catching the steam coming up from the urns. Sometimes when it rained the water would drip through the gaps and sizzle on the hot plates. Huff’s made the whole market smell of onions and hamburgers, tea and coffee. It always seemed busy and generated a lot of noise. Maybe people had to shout above the cookery noises just to be heard.

This market was full of antiques and things of metal - watches, rings and ear-rings, belts, buckles, drinking flasks, walking sticks with fancy handles, cigarette cases, old maps, stamps, stuffed animals, old fashioned cards, etc. They were stored in large hinged glass cabinets with dark brown wooden frames. You could spend ten minutes looking at just one case. They always seemed full and each was only slightly different from the next.

Going up the side of the cabinets would be brass rubbings, horse shoes, brass buckles and old metal street signs. I even saw glass Underground signs for sale. There must have been sixty stalls in total and each one had its own tarpaulin roof. When it rained the gaps between the stalls would leak water. This made it a constant challenge to stay dry. But as well as the drips, the roofs could take only a so much weight of water, so that if it rained all day the roofs would have to be emptied a few times. Maybe this was a private joke for the stall-holders, but they never seemed to give much warning before they moved the water down the roof by poking it with a stick and tipping it over to the ground. The tarpaulins held a lot of water and someone, but never the stall-holder, got wet.”


Entertainments

Camden Lock had been opened on 1973 by Jock Stallard, the local MP, with a three-day display of work by craftsmen and a fireworks display on the Monday. Dances, events, concerts, boat trips, performances, charity events, were organised and widely advertised, especially on local radio. These attracted more and more people and with them the cash to make improvements. The buildings were still gaunt and grimy, but the atmosphere was alive. In 1974 the Evening Standard said, ‘Two years ago Camden Lock boasted only a disused timber yard across the road from the Council’s rubbish dump and today -----’.

Dingwalls and the Music Scene

A long, narrow building ran down the centre of the old site. It had been a set of double-storey stables, with a horse slope, or creep, along the side so that horses could reach the upper stables. This has now been converted into the steps by Jongleurs. The fact that the building had very few windows meant that it was an ideal place for making a lot of noise, although its narrow shape was a problem. The stage was at one end and the bar far way at the other end, with dancing in the middle. When you were at the bar it was difficult to know what was going on: if you were near the stage you were gasping for a drink. At one time a TV screen showing the stage was installed, near the bar, but this was still not the same as being part of the action. And action there was.

Opened in 1973, no rent was charged until the dance hall was up and running, but in 1973, Dingwall's was the only venue open in North London, so crowds flocked there. It was the place to be. Of course it was accused of attracting drunks and undesirables, but weathered these standard protests. There is a long, detailed account of the early days of Dingwall’s in ‘The Rock and Roll Years Guide to Camden’, which cannot be bettered here.4

The fame of Camden Lock had travelled far from London even in those days. One young man said:-

“Before I came down to London from Doncaster to find work, I had heard of Camden Town because of a film I saw called ‘Withnail and I’. It was about two unemployed actors, and it was set in Camden Town, in about 1968. It was reviewed in Face, but that was all I knew. I was struck with the idea that there was a town inside another town, so it was a puzzle and it stuck in my mind.”

“When I got to London I heard someone in a bar say, “You don’t want to go to the suburbs. Soho and the centre is all right, but steer clear of the suburbs. North London is very dangerous. All those football hooligans. Arsenal and Tottenham. Stay in the centre”

“So North London was far too dangerous for me. But it was Dingwall’s that brought me to Camden Town. The thing about Dingwall’s was that they had solved the Sunday drinking problem. At that time all the bars closed at three o’clock on a Sunday, but at Dingwall’s you could drink from 11 to 11 provided you had a bag of chips. Whenever you liked for a bag of chips, or some other food. When you bought food they gave you a string of raffle tickets and they entitled you to buy drinks when you wanted.”

“The music show then was, ‘Talking Loud, Saying Something’, with the promoter Giles Peterson. Great! It was Giles Peterson and the chips brought me to Camden Town and I found it was just like Blackpool. Full of tourists - people there for the day and gone tomorrow. People you could have a laugh and a drink with and never see again. That’s why I went to Dingwell’s - lots of people. And then one day there was this girl and we got close and that was that. We met at Dingwall’s and that’s where it happened.”

“Camden was very dirty then - really scruffy. It’s cleaned itself up a lot today. There seems to be more fresh paint and a lot more prosperity so that every little corner’s being developed and started up. One piece in Hawley Crescent, next to Breakfast TV, was a dump for years. Fly posting and rubbish sacks. Over two weekends they've turned it into a smart restaurant. Behind the razz-me-tazz there’s real money being taken and old shops are being forced out by the rents. Then it was cheap, but it was real grim. All a dull type of grey. But the bars were good and the music was bouncing. Bang, bang - it was really thumping.”

“Now its getting a bit respectable I think. The tourists are still there in every sort of gear, but there’s more to Camden Town than just tourists I know one girl comes from Australia to buy leather coats. Must sell them I think, the number she buys, but she’s always pleased with what she gets.”

Development

The 7 year lease of Camden Lock had cost £10.000 and development £60,.000 (£250,.000 at 1986 prices). This development was done in stages as the money came in from day to day activities. Fire escapes, lavatories, and other services were necessary, but all building was kept simple and small scale. Thus the atmosphere of a Victorian industrial site being used for a week-end party was retained, largely because there was not the money for a general clearance. The canal boats passing through the lock, mooring in the market, decanting passengers into the centre of the stalls, Children from the Pirates' Club under the bridge, messing about in canoes; the never-ending lines of people on the Diagonal Bridge over the Canal, photographing and photographing and photographing, created its own theatre. People were happy to stand and watch the antics of everyone else, criticise and plan to copy their clothes, their boots, their hair, hats and their unending differences. Lining the processional walls were artists, hair-plaiters, musicians and vendors. This was street theatre with the audience as the actors.

Fashion writers realised this and haunted the place, so that what had been started by a couple of little girls could be on the cat-walks next season. And these fashions do spread. When I was a teacher I had some West Indian girls who had come to England late and found the English winters harsh. To my amusement, they appeared wearing long over-stockings with no feet, in brilliant colours. When I asked, they claimed to have knitted them themselves. The stockings added to the gaiety of the school for several cold months. I doubt if these girls had originated the idea, but certainly they were the first ones I had seen. Within a year the leg warmers were high fashion. Over time one could watch older and older women adopting them, but long before the grandmothers took over, the girls had moved to newer styles.

The Road Blight Removed

When the motorway blight was removed in 1976, British Waterways wanted to erect a huge office block on the site. Office Block frenzy had gripped the architectural scene. The theory was that one could erect tall building with large, open trading floors on a restricted site. Local authorities saw them as a chance to increase their rate income; architects were anxious to gain large, simple contracts; developers saw them as quick loot. New modular buildings were thrown up, corners cut, basic architectural principles ignored and office towers sprouted everywhere. Had British Waterways built their office block, it would have been empty by the 1980s, with its windows blind, like a hundred others. It might never have been occupied at all and the vitality of Camden Lock, which was the only thing Camden Town had in its favour, would have been lost. The whole atmosphere is caught in this quotation.

‘Parkway, the one way road from Regent’s Park, has the Jazz cafe. This is one of the major jazz clubs in London. All of the world’s best played there when they were in London. Further up was the Dublin Castle, a large trade pub with thick stair carpet and old wallpaper. At the back was a small door which led to a back room with a bar at one end and a bar at the other. Always full, it was the place to be in the 1980s and still may be. I remember coming out one evening and seeing the band Madness sitting at a large round table. It was said to be always their table.
  Below the railway arch in Chalk Farm Road was the Caernavon Castle, a hotbed of culture. Both Mods and Rockers went there to listen to music ranging from blues to rock and roll. It was quite rare for a pub to play host to two opposing cultures. Further up, next to Mornington Crescent is the Camden Palace, the biggest club in Camden. Each evening it set a different style – 60s, 70s, Gay, House, etc. Wednesday evenings were Sixties Nights, when the whole area became alive with people dressed to the nines in their best 1960s clothes.’

The Music Scene at the end of the Century

At this time there were a dozen music venues in Camden Town, offering music of all kinds, always changing, starting fashions and creating new followings as the disc jockeys and bands come and go. The variety was bewildering - House, Garage, Hip Hop, Trip Hop, Drum and Bass, Moves and Grooves, Salsa at the HQ, Indie, Funky, R’n’B (Rhythm and Blues) and Jazz. What will future generations make of all these modes and what could older people make of them even then?

Each venue offered a different style and these changed all the time. Indie music used to be Independent Labels later and became Mainstream. Earlier styles came back into favour and Jazz went on for ever. Audiences followed disk jockeys, or were loyal to a particular venue on a particular night, but would not consider going there on another day, for another crowd, or a different style of music. It was a complicated ebb and flow, not controlled even by the moon.


Entertainment at Camden Lock

Hugh Casson.

In 1983, ten years after Jock Stallard had opened the Lock, there was a five week Festival of Entertainment. Midsummer Night was celebrated by a three-day weekend packed with shows and events. Orchestras, dance companies, Royal Opera House workshops; an enormous chess game with human pieces; jazz; street performers; Punch and Judy, and fireworks; a musical entertainment based very remotely on Moby Dick, and the programme illustrated by Hugh Casson.

 

On another occasion there was a Festival of Clocks., designed by Richard Loan. Camden Lock was turned into an enormous water clock, with the gates set to allow water to run out at a steady rate all day. The time was shown by a giant golden key floating in the dock. The key told the time. It sank slowly with the water level in the dock and, as it did so, it passed a series of keyholes marked with the hours.

A Shadow Clock - a 150 foot banner attached to a weather balloon - cast a shadow over North London, with the time marked on the buildings surrounding the Camden Lock. In addition, The Price’s Candle Clock - a candle 20 feet high - was calibrated to count the night hours.

In Spring 1984, St George’s Day was celebrated with a Fair, backed by Capital Radio 194, and their appeal ‘Help a London Child’. The headline was,

"WHO IS GOING TO TAKE OVER THE WATERBUS?"

and Dr Who arrived by narrow boat in the famous Police box.




Gerry Cottle, Christmas 1985

Gerry Cottle's Circus performed
at Camden Lock Place at Christmas 1985

Gerry Cottle's Circus performed at Camden Lock Place at Christmas 1995 and, in 1997, Webb-Foote Productions brought a Summer Spectacular to Camden Lock. A 17th Century wedding is taking place when a Recruiting Sergeant arrives to enlist the bridegroom. The bride nobly volunteers to go in his place and so does her mother-in- law and so does the pig. Audience participation, a lot of water splashing about, sword fighting, and the Great Cannon being fired - it was the very spirit of Camden Lock.


The old programmes are full of similar details, events, shows and stunts.

As this book went to press in February 1999, Jerry Cottle's Circus was appearing in Camden Lock yet again, this time at the Roundhouse.

 

 

 

The Recruiting Sergeant
Webb-Foote Productions


The Camden Town Mural

In Spring 1985 there was an enormous mural, 32 feet high and 30 feet across, displayed at the end of Camden Lock Place where it created a sensation. It was shown on Blue Peter but was too large for the studio and had to be shown in pieces. This colourful design incorporated many of the architectural features and styles of familiar Camden Town buildings.

Regent's Canal Tranquility

The Birds

In yet another occasion, The Framework Theatre produced an exotic version of ‘The Birds’, by Aristophanes. A huge, multi-layered set climbed up over the roofs of West Yard. Twelve main actors, thirty birds and twenty-five extras, performed on four successive days at 9 p.m. and at dawn (3.30 a.m.) on Sunday, June 30th. To sustain the audience in the hours from midnight to dawn, there were showings of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ and Roger Corman’s ‘The Raven’. As ever at Camden Lock, there was no entrance fee.


The Birds, Midsummer 1985

The Portable Foundry

David Reid, a New Zealander and a skilled foundry man and teacher, set up a portable foundry in half an hour. Using two piles of sand, a few bricks, a cut-down 45 gallon oil drum, a gas cylinder an a few simple tools, he was ready for work. Reid invited members of the public to try their hands at bronze casting . Using the ‘lost wax’ process’, the first-time artists moulded a piece to their own design and carried through the whole process, so that they had a solid bronze sculpture to take home with them the same day.


Phosphor bronze casting in
Camden Lock

At this time the road plans were abandoned. Public protests had been so strong and so many councils had listed important building along the proposed route that the road lobby gave up. The threat of a spaghetti junction at Camden Town had gone.


New Building Plans at the Lock

With the motorway threat removed, and after long negotiations, Northside Developments Ltd signed a 125 year lease, which allowed them, for the first time in seven years, to think well ahead. In 1974 Northside submitted plans to develop the site by demolishing the north eastern corner of the west yard and build 12 two-decker shops with three storeys of flats above on the Chalk Farm Road frontage. The existing craftsmen protested that this would increase their rents by up to 300% with very stringent restrictions attached. Existing tenants could not afford these prices and were in negotiation with another council to move en bloc to another site. The Inquiry Inspector rejected the plans because they would kill a lively area. Northside appealed and submitted a new plan.

This scheme envisaged the restoration of Victorian industrial architecture instead of a modern building. It would be in the blue industrial brick and yellow London Stocks, echoing the design of canal architecture of two centuries earlier. The craftsmen, who had formed their own Committee, proposed their own plan, but both were rejected.

Plan followed plan in a bewildering stream. A dozen combinations were submitted. A combined theatre and puppet theatre; studio flats and small office units above craft workshops; taller buildings, shorter buildings. Every variety can be found in the records, but all were rejected. Seifert, who had built the Pirates’ Bridge and constructed buildings for the British Waterways Board at other sites along the canal, proposed 40,000 square feet of craft workshops, offices and entertainment centres. This aroused particular opposition and the Transport on Water Committee swung behind the existing craftsmen.

Finally, on 22 May, 1981, a much altered plan submitted by Northside, was allowed by Michael Heseltine, against his Inspector’s advice.

 

pic16
Whole Model Full Size Picture
of the Model
Full Size Picture in New Window

Model of the New Building on Chalk Farm Road, set in its site.

The building was started in 1988 when the Company was well established

 

The New Market Building

The new building was designed to merge in with the old Victorian industrial scene. Built in yellow London Stock bricks, edged with blue bull-nosed industrial brick, and large factory-type windows, it could have been built a century or two earlier. Everything is solid and built to last for ever. In the centre is a large open space, clear to the roof and lit from above. The ceiling is painted match-boarding and the whole supported on semicircular arches which could have come from some Victorian railway station. But look very closely.

The pillars and the capitals on which the semicircular arches rest are not in cast iron, but in steel. The capitals, which one expects to be in some classical design - Corinthian perhaps, or Ionic - are thick pieces of steel welded to the columns. The arches seem to be riveted together, as the Victorians would have made them, but instead are curved I-shaped steel joists, with ‘rivet heads’ in plastic, glued on. Round the balcony and in the spandrels above the arches are new cast iron panels which are in keeping with the rest. Staircases, outside and in, are copies of Victorian work, very strong, generous in their nature, and good to handle. Floors are in modern ceramic tiles, solid, attractive, hard-wearing and easily cleaned. The building fits in perfectly with the old canal scene, links the existing buildings comfortably with the new and absorbs the thousands of people who pass through each year, easily and safely. Even the outside access staircase is new, but hardly anyone realises this and some will argue fiercely that it has been there as long as the canal.

All this truth did not happen by accident. John Dickinson, the architect, looked round for real Victorian examples of buildings of about the bulk he needed. In West London, where Ladbroke Grove crosses the canal, was a most attractive building which has since been demolished. It was opposite where the new Sainsbury supermarket now stands. The proportions and outside appearance of the old canal building have been echoed in the new Camden Lock building, except that the original had no window in the gable.

The inside of the new Market Hall has been copied from Gas Hall, Birmingham. This was built as a sales department for the Gas Company, but is now a Birmingham art gallery. The Camden Market Hall has the same roof, the same balustrading, and the same filigree spandrels above the arches.

The Chalk Farm Road facade copies the original pillars and heavy cast iron beams of the original building, but the new building is in ferro-concrete, with a brick skin. The pillars and beams are not in cast iron, but in fibre glass. Similarly, the brick arches are not whole bricks, but brick tiles glued to the ferro-concrete beams This accounts for the fact that they are laid like bathroom tiles, with no bonding, as one would find in real brickwork. It seems possible that the building could have been built at the same cost, or even cheaper, using traditional methods and materials. However, this is a time of ferro-concrete building and what we have is a very attractive and efficient pastiche.

Market Hall was opened on 1 August 1991 by Simon Callow, who lives on the Camden Town/Kentish Town border. Lester May, who was the Corporate Director of Cable London, had co-ordinated an exhibition called ‘Camden Town 200’, to celebrate two hundred years of the history of the area - a forerunner of this book - and that exhibition was the first event held in the Market Hall.


Internal perspective of the Retail Hall, by John Dickinson, derived from
the design of The Gas House, Birmingham.

pic16
Whole Drawing Full Size Drawing Full Size Drawing in New Window

The Chalk Farm Road Facade of the Market Hall

The building was constructed in two phases. The first half (shown above) was completed and occupied by the market traders before the second half was started.

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Footnote

  1. Camden Town and Primrose Hill Past, by John Richardson, Historical Publications, 1991, p. 31

  2. The Growth of Muswell Hill, by Jack Whitehead, p. 100

  3. Crafts, Mar/April 1986, pub. by the Crafts Council.

  4. The Rock and Roll Guide to Camden, by Ann Scanlon, pp. 64-75.
The Roundhouse from
the Eighteen-sixties

The Pirates’ Club