Camden Town through History

This is the draft opening page for a planned web site for Camden Town’s history.   You can read of Camden Town’s origins, development, nineteenth century life, and concerns for conservation for the future.

And read my dissertationA Georgian suburb: revealing place and person in London’s Camden Town


Fossils of mammoths and hippopotomi from Neolithic times have been found in  Camden Town.

Fossils from Camden Road, 1840s (Natural History Museum)
Fossils from Camden Road, 1840s
(Natural History Museum)

The land is described in Domesday book. The manor house of Cantlowes stood overlooking the River Fleet in the parish of St Pancras. [William Cantlow, member of the Mercer’s Company, was Sheriff of London, 1448-9.]

William Cantlow in heraldic portrait
William Cantlow in heraldic portrait

After the Reformation, the land was bought by John Jeffreys, a City Mercer who traded tobacco from America.

Tobacco and slaves in Jamestown, America
Tobacco and slaves in Jamestown, Virginia

The estate’s pasture provided hay for London’s horses.There was an inn (Old Mother Red Cap) and a farm at the former Cantlowes manor house (by Pancras Workhouse).

Rocque map 1765. Orange - Camden's land; Red - houses; Blue - River Fleet
Rocque map 1765.
Orange – Camden’s land; Red – houses; Blue – River Fleet

Charles Pratt, who became Lord Chancellor and Earl Camden, married Elizabeth Jeffreys in 1749. After her sister Frances Jeffreys died in 1785, Lord Camden became the owner.  He entailed the land to his son, John Jeffreys Pratt, Viscount Bayham and daughter-in-law Frances Molesworth.

Viscount and Lady Bayham
Viscount and Lady Bayham (Gainsborough, Reynolds)

An Act of Parliament in 1789 allowed Camden Town to be built – first in the south, with houses along Hampstead Road (becoming Camden High Street) and the Veterinary College by old St Pancras church.

High Street Camden Town, 1888
High Street Camden Town, 1888

Further developments were at the northern edge near to Kentish Town, now Jeffreys Street, and on the former manor house, which became Randolph and Prebend Streets – named after the Prebendary of Cantlowes who was joint landlord with Lord Camden.

Daniel's map, section for Jeffreys and Randolph streets (1834)
Daniel’s map, section for Jeffreys and Randolph streets (1834)

The Regent’s Canal was opened in 1820, bridged by new roads including Camden Road in 1825, which stretched uphill towards the northern crest of the estate at Maiden Lane.

Building was overseen by architects – importantly, Joseph Kay from 1823-1847 – and undertaken by ‘speculative’ builders, who (rather than Lord Camden) stood the costs of construction, which they regained on sale of the 99-year leases to other landlords.

The northern developments either side of Camden Road included green areas, of varying shapes, some as gardens and some as nurseries.

George Lever, gardens plan 1825
George Lever’s plan for Camden Gardens, 1825

In 1849 a railway was built, on a viaduct, across the central area and in 1860s another was tunnelled beneath. Building of houses was completed by 1870.

Life in Camden Town

Smaller terraces housed working class families, artisans and tradesmen; in larger villa houses lived  middle classes. Places of workship were built,  schools for boys and girls and also adult education.

Camden School girls
Camden School girls

Camden Town is referred to in the contemporary literature and became a residence for people in the arts, sciences and in music. As well as skilled trades, such as engraving and making musical instruments, there was employment at the canal wharves and the railways and in factories for printing.

Goodall card factory, College Street
Goodall card factory, College Street

After the First World War much of the housing was sold to private investors and to the Church Commissioners.  After the Second World War, parts of the estate were demolished for rehousing; but from the 1960s (with changing law enabling tenants to buy their freehold) the remaining Georgian housing was improved by both private owners and the Council.

Canal Terrace and Lawford's Wharf
Canal Terrace and Lawford’s Wharf, Rosamund Tweedy (London Borough of Camden)

Re-organisation of London administration in 1965 brought together the former boroughs of Holborn, St Pancras and Hampstead as the new Borough of Camden. Yet the present political ward boundaries and the conservation areas take little account of the historical pattern of Camden Town.

Administration maps purple lines - local electoral ward boundaries; solid yellow - conservation areas
Camden administration maps
purple  – local electoral ward boundaries         solid yellow – conservation areas                   orange – Camden Town

Further pages are in preparation

Mark McCarthy