diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 16, 2011

Random borough (28): Camden (part 1)

Camden's a rum mix. It stretches from bustling Holborn to the heights of Hampstead Heath. It includes cultured Bloomsbury and hip, youthful Camden Town. Its housing stock combines exclusive avenues with Modernist council blocks. Its MPs are called Frank and Glenda. And it's also somewhere I've written about a heck of a lot over the years, because it's one of my favourite boroughs. Here are six more reasons to visit.

Somewhere retail: Camden Markets
Something about the Chalk Farm Road draws Europe's youth here in great numbers. It could be the music, what with famous venues like the Roundhouse along its length. It could be the canal, and the opportunity for a waterside slouch. But it's probably the endless succession of outlets selling edgy accessories and offbeat tat. Throw in a wok-load of sizzling ethnic food and you have the perfect post-adolescent mooch zone. Boots on, piercings tweaked, and let's go.

I pity the visitors who discover 'The Camden Market' a few yards north of the tube station and decide to spend all their money there. This is actually Buck Street Market, and its warren of 200 tightly-packed stalls is nothing special. Clothes and jewellery, mostly, plus alleyways narrow enough to persuade even the hardiest shopper to turn round and try somewhere else. The good stuff, relatively speaking, is all to the north of the canal. The renamed Camden Lock Village Market, for a start, hemmed in between the railway viaduct and the towpath. This was ravaged by fire three years ago and has since reopened in a more sanitised style, although at least this makes it easier to walk round. Bit of art for your bedsit wall, maybe? T-shirt splashed with comic character or witty slogan? Or perhaps one of those plastic shoulder bags I used to stuff with gym kit in the 1970s which are suddenly inexplicably trendy. One nice touch is the row of decapitated scooters overlooking the canal, used as somewhere to sit by folk who've just purchased a tray of food.

Camden Lock Market's the famous one. It started in 1974 as a temporary outlet on threatened land, and soon grew into the biggest Sunday attraction for miles. Nowadays it's busy most of the rest of the week too, courtesy of foreign visitors who don't need to skip college to attend. I was expecting crowded mayhem on my visit, but was pleasantly surprised how manageable the place was (Saturday in January? perfect timing). Plenty of space on the quayside, room to circulate on the upper walkway, and circulatory ease in the indoor market halls. Nothing here I felt I had to own, however. Most of the over-40s wandering around still had a trace of alternative youth about them, be that rocker hair, vintage jacket or clompy boots. They still need somewhere to buy Clash artwork and candles, and I guess I don't.

But it was the Stables Market which amazed me. I though Camden already had enough market space but seemingly not. Since I was last here this place has expanded to almost theme-park size, with fibreglass horses and fake red phone boxes littered around a multi-level maze. Dig deep enough and there are antique stalls, even a second-hand bookstore. But most are here to browse for something they could wear, or carry, or poke through an available orifice. Retro-clothing's big, like those 2003 trainers you can't get any more, as well as accessories for every leftfield occasion. And food. The markets' entire economic model revolves around the fact that everyone stops for food eventually. If you yell hello at enough passers-by and wave a fork of indeterminate gloop in their face, they may just stop and give you cash for noodles. Incidentally "The Best Shop In The World" isn't - no shop that smells of incense could be in my book.

The Stables is probably as far north as most visitors dare to tread. Go much further and you reach Morrisons, which isn't really where the average beardyteen or mohawkgirl wants to end up. No need, there's plenty of room to hang out and be seen in the newly-expanded markets - or at least there is in mid-January.
by tube: Camden Town, Chalk Farm

Somewhere random: Where Kenneth Williams lived
I wonder how Kenneth Charles Williams would react to the news that his local council have set up a walking trail linking together his former homes. Desperately proud, yet simultaneously hideously embarrassed, I expect (but that's Camden for you, a borough so hip that the Mayor did a DJ set at the Barfly last night). Misunderstood egomaniac Kenneth grew up in the backstreets south of King's Cross, and carried on living there or thereabouts for the rest of his life despite moving house several times. He grew up in Cromer House - a brick tenement which would have been new at the time, and still looks far more appealing than the shiny glass apartments on the opposite side of Cromer Street. It's still a very residential area, though families have more than one room to themselves these days, and it's not quite the poverty-stricken backwater it was pre-war. KW's first school is round the corner - now Argyle Primary. It's very Edwardian, and five storeys high to cram in as many classrooms as possible in a restricted space. Kenneth's first public performance was from the roof, apparently.

The Williams clan later moved 'up in the world' to Marchmont Street, close to what's now the Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury. Dad Charlie had bought the barber shop at number 57, so the family moved into the rooms above with Kenneth on the top floor. It's still a hairdressers today... but they do waxing, threading and male grooming, which wouldn't have been the Williams style at all. A blue plaque was unveiled above the shampoo-stacked window last autumn, with much pizazz, and with Nicholas Parsons amongst the invited guests. Kenneth's successful radio career enabled him to move out (circa 1956), returning first to Argyle Square and its environs, then further along the Euston Road towards Baker Street. From 1972 onwards he lived alone at 8 Marlborough House, Osnaburgh Street, close to the eastern edge of Regent's Park. There used to be a plaque here too, marking the flat where the manic depressive actor was found dead in 1988, but you won't find it today. The entire block's been knocked down as part of the Regent's Place development - a major landgrab for "office, retail and leisure space", almost but not yet fully complete. On the Osnaburgh Street side there's a new community theatre where a replacement commemorative plaque has been installed, but it's not one that many people will ever see. The entire 18 acre site looks uninspiring and bland, in my opinion, but I guess that's the way Central London's going. Kenneth wouldn't have been impressed, not bona at all.
by tube: King's Cross St Pancras, Great Portland Street

Kenneth's south Camden stomping ground isn't an especially well known part of town, so I was relying on my special Camden map to guide me around. Mistake, because the map turned out to be a fairly useless way of working out where the hell I was going, even in conjunction with two pages of written instructions. I think that's because it's merely a snapshot of a guided walk which took place last October, led by actor David Benson. He's written about the walk here, and you can watch snippets in this YouTube summary. Looks informative, looked wryly amusing. There are several more 'Love Camden' walks here, and their associated videos here. Puts your council's website to shame, doesn't it?

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream