The land that became Camden Town was once fields outside London, between St Giles and the hills of Hampstead and Highgate to the north
Lands in the Parish of St Pancras were recorded in the 1086 Domesday Survey. William Cantlow, member of the Mercer’s Company, was a Sheriff of London, 1448-9. The Cantlowes manor and farm, of about 210 acres, were described in the Parliamentary survey of Church properties in 1649. St Paul’s Cathedral gave the income as landlords to one of its clergy.
The land lease could be traded, and was bought by a physician, Sir George Ent, in 1667. In 1682 he sold it to John Jeffreys, a City merchant who imported tobacco from north America. The Jeffreys inheritance passed through three generations down to Elizabeth Jeffreys, who married Charles Pratt, future Lord Camden.
TheRiver Fleet flowed in a shallow valley towards the Thames, and the estate’s pasture provided hay for London’s horses.
The name ‘Camden’ originated with William Camden, notable historian of Britannia in the Elizabethan period. Charles Pratt bought the house that Camden had built near Chislehurst, Kent, and later took the name for his title as Lord Camden.
Charles Pratt’s father Sir John Pratt had been an MP and Chief Justice, with a country house near Sevenoaks, Kent, but Charles was his third son in a second marriage and did not inherit directly.
Charles Pratt, however, was also a successful lawyer and in the 1750s was taken up by William Pitt as Chief Justice and then Lord Chancellor. He was made a knight, Sir Charles Pratt and then a baron, as Lord Camden. In 1788 he became Earl Camden, with his son John Jeffreys Pratt titled Viscount Bayham. Lord Camden died in 1794.
John Jeffreys Pratt married Frances Molesworth in 1785.
He was made Marquis Camden in 1812. His only son, George Pratt, who was first titled Lord Brecknock, in 1835 married Harriet Murray. He was succeeded by his son John, the fourth earl, in 1866, who died at the young age of 32 in 1872.
[‘Lord Camden’ in these pages is Charles Pratt up to 1794, John Jeffreys Pratt to 1840, and thereafter George Pratt.]
Henry Eeles’ Lord Chancellor Camden and his family (London, Allan, 1934) remains the only book-length biography.
The Thames basin was created around 450,000 years ago. The sea level has both risen and fallen, leaving levels of deposited clay and gravel. The river’s tributaries, including the River Fleet, cut through the land, which is seen therefore in ‘steps’ of different periods.
Gravels and brick-earth were common in the earth of Camden Town. In 1858, a Palaeontologist sent the British Museum fossils that had been unearthed when men were digging sewers in the 1840s. The fossils – including mammoth and hippopotamus tusks – are from the Paleolithic period, around 100,000 years ago. This is the only record of Paleolithic period remains for central Camden.
A quite different archaeological finding, in 1991, was of a Mediaeval hearth at the site where the Cantlowes manor house stood.
The Archaeological Protection Area, currently limited to Kentish Town High Street, should be extended to cover the whole of Camden Town either side of the Fleet River.
Camden Town did not start as a traditional English village centred on a green, such as Hampstead and Highgate. Nor was it a strip development along a main road, such as Kentish Town and Islington. It was, in the words of architectural historian of London, John Summerson, a ‘Georgian suburb’, newly created on fields either side of the River Fleet through permission of an Act of Parliament in 1788.
Early maps show the countryside to the north of London – St Giles, Marylebone, Tottenhall Manor and Pancras (‘Marybone Park’ was the hunting ground of Henry VIII that later became Regent’s Park) – and upwards to the hills of Hampstead and Highgate.
The Roque map of 1746 shows the Fleet, roads and fields. The road from Tottenham Court to Hampstead passes to the northwest. It divides at the Mother Red Caps inn, also called the ‘halfway house’, and crosses the Fleet. Kentish Town is a straggle of houses along the road. Here, the inn and workhouse are identified as red, the River Fleet in blue and the Cantlowes demesne land is outlined in orange.
The Manor of Cantlowes was one of four in the Parish of St Pancras recorded in Domesday. It stretched from Kentish Town to Highgate. At the south end, land of about 220 acres around the Manor house was a ‘demesne’, the land retained by the landlord for private use. St Paul’s Cathedral held the Cantlowes demesne land as a ‘prebend’ – that is, the Cathedral allocated the income from its lease to a non-resident canon, called a prebendary.
The estate is shown as the ‘Demesne Land of Cantlowes’ on this syncretic map produced by the Survey of London /London County Council in the 1930s.
The manor and farm are described in the survey of Church properties by Parliament in 1649. The land was sold to Richard Utber, a City draper who had other properties in Middlesex. It reverted to St Paul’s at the restoration. In 1666 it was sold to Sir George Ent, a physician.
It was bought from Dr Ent by Jeffrey Jeffreys in 1681, who died next year. His executor, Lewis Jeffreys, passed ownership to John Jeffreys, whose money had earlier paid for it.
John Jeffreys was one of the richest merchants of his time, estimated gaining a wealth of £300 000. He held this primarily in land – farmland around Brecon in south Wales and manors across England. Cantlowes was a small part of the full lands. He had not married and had instead passed his trade to two nephews, themselves brothers, who respectively became Sir Jeffrey Jeffreys and Sir John Jeffreys.
Sir Jeffrey’s younger son, Nicholas, married Frances, the daughter of another merchant family, the Eyles. Nicholas inherited the Cantlowes part of the Jeffreys’ land but took no active part in its management. He died in 1747 and his wife and four children inherited the family’s wealth equally.
Of three daughters, only the second daughter, Elizabeth, married – to the then unknown barrister Charles Pratt. The only son, Jeffrey, married a cousin, Mary, who outlived him. So by the 1670s, there were five women (including mother Frances) who were equal inheritors of the Jeffreys’ estate.
The chronology of the inheritance can be pieced together. There is an unexpected finding of lunacy within the family. The accounts for the estate also show the relative portion of income from Cantlowes / Camden Town compared with other sources for the family.