Not to be confused with the Borough of Camden, Camden Town is known for its markets, music venues and alternative cultures, it’s a place that attracts younger people with a zest for a more unorthodox style of living. If you’re into Punk, Goth. or Emo, then you’ve come to the right place.
Camden is named after Charles Pratt, the first Earl of Camden who took his title from Camden Place, his estate near Chislehurst in Kent (now part of the outer London Borough of Bromley).
Originally a part of the manor of Kentish Town, the Earl acquired the manor through marriage, and in 1791 started to change its appearance from a quiet, rural village on the road north out of London towards Hampstead, by granting leases for houses to be built.
Chalk Farm Road and Camden High Street are the main roads through Camden Town which still form part of that very same route, and at the Camden Town Tube Station junction is a pub called the World’s End, which was a rural hostelry as far back as 1690, but these days is an ideal place to go if you you’re looking to get a headache.
The good Earl’s plans for creating a residential area must have been thrown into disarray when in 1816 the Paddington to Camden section of the Regent’s Canal was opened.
Although it took another four years for the canal to be completed, the area around Hampstead Road Lock (more commonly called Camden Lock these days) started to become an industrial hub – and even more so when the railway arrived.
The land around the canal and railway became full of warehouses and distilleries, such as Gilbey’s Gin which opened here in 1872.
The area became, shall we say, unfashionable, but the canal did provide employment, at least until the railway, and then a better road network, made it uneconomical as a means of transporting goods.
By the early 1970’s the canal and the land around it had become a wasteland full of empty warehouses, and it was around this time that the area came to the attention of a few individuals who saw the potential for opening up some stalls on the derelict site for selling a few arts and crafts.
At around the same time there was also a burgeoning music scene with places like Dingwalls (which was situated in an old warehouse next to the lock) where punk bands like The Clash, Sex Pistols, and Stranglers all performed.
As is often the case, music sets fashion, and the ‘Camden Look’ was ripped Levis and a pair of Doc Marten boots. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before these items of clothing found their way onto the stalls of Camden Market.
The music scene wasn’t confined to punk music though, and many other famous acts have found their way to Chalk Farm Road and Camden High Street – Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and The Doors all played at The Roundhouse, the Electric Ballroom entertained bands like The Smiths, U2, and Red-Hot Chilli Peppers, and there were countless others.
These days there are any number of venues where all sorts of music can be heard – for instance Underworld (the club under The World’s End) is a magnet for heavy metal fans, or if you prefer mellower tones why not visit the Jazz café where people like Adele and Amy Winehouse have performed.
The list goes on and on, and a walk up Camden High Street provides those of us who enjoy ’People Watching’ plenty of material.
The road must look a lot different from the Earl of Camden’s days with its souvenir shops, tattoo parlours, and cosmopolitan cuisine, and I haven’t even described the markets yet.
Camden Town still has an edginess to it, but you’re just as likely to be rubbing shoulders with tourists as much as you are meeting beggars with placards saying “Help get a Punk Drunk”.
You don’t have to be young to enjoy Camden Town, and neither do you have to belong to a sub-culture, but it helps if you’re one or the other – and preferably both.