Tolmers Village, Camden

An urban community in West Euston, centred on Tolmers Square

Tolmers Square - Square Tavern

Tolmers Square today is stupendously dull but not so long ago it was a crucible of anti-​​​​capitalist protest and direct action

Tolmers Square was laid out with housing from 1861 to 1864 on land belonging to the New River Company, and named after a Hertfordshire manor near the river’s source. The square’s site had previously been filled with water: latterly in the form of a reservoir, which the New River Company had created from a large, pre-​​existing pond.

The properties of Tolmers Square were built to a standard that was designed to attract the middle classes, but with its close proximity to the noise and grime of Euston station (and a foundry behind the houses on the south side) this was an irredeemably poor quarter, and the homes were soon subdivided for multiple occupation.

By 1871 5,000 people were crammed into a twelve-​​acre area, which continued to evolve in a piecemeal fashion with many properties undergoing several changes of use. The square’s central chapel became a cinema in 1923.

Greeks and Cypriots came here after the Second World War, followed a few years later by the first Asians, who began to open restaurants on Drummond Street.

From the late 1950s the neigh­bourhood attracted the interest of property developers who saw the potential for the replacement of houses with offices, and residents began a long campaign of resistance.

In the early 1970s the struggle to save Tolmers Village – as it was dubbed – became a cause célèbre with the left, and students from nearby University College joined with squatters and trade unionists in resisting evictions.

The activists failed to prevent the destruction of much of the original housing, but succeeded in persuading Camden council to compulsorily purchase the site from the property company Stock Conversion. Plans to construct half a million square feet of commercial space were abandoned and Tolmers Square was rebuilt with council flats, plus one small office block with a pub on the ground floor. Originally called Tom Tiddler’s Tavern, it is now The Square Tavern, a Young’s house.

Postal district: NW1
Further reading: Nick Wates, The Battle for Tolmers Square, Routledge, 1976 (reissued in hardback 2012, paperback 2014)

 

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