Kentish Town

Kentish Town, Camden

A tarnished but characterful district situated north of Camden Town, primarily residential but with some commerce and industry

Hidden London: Fruit Bowl, Kentish Town underground station, by Ungry Young Man

The dis­tric­t’s name is of obscure Sax­on or Celtic ori­gin and is more like­ly to have been relat­ed to a man called Ken­tish than to the coun­ty of Kent.

The set­tle­ment evolved as a rib­bon devel­op­ment on the road to High­gate and there is some evi­dence that it moved north­wards to its present loca­tion, hav­ing first begun near St Pan­cras Church – indeed it may be that St Pan­cras and Ken­tish Town were orig­i­nal­ly one and the same place. William Bruges lav­ish­ly enter­tained the Emper­or Sigis­mund at his coun­try house in Ken­tish Town in 1416.

In the 17th and 18th cen­turies high­way­men made the sur­round­ing area noto­ri­ous­ly dan­ger­ous. Their attacks became so fre­quent that a group of vig­i­lantes was formed for the pro­tec­tion of trav­ellers.

The anti­quar­i­an Dr William Stuke­ly was one of sev­er­al men to seek out a rur­al retreat in Ken­tish Town in the mid-18th cen­tu­ry. Lat­er in the cen­tu­ry the intro­duc­tion of reg­u­lar coach ser­vices, oper­at­ing on improved roads, made Ken­tish Town increas­ing­ly con­ve­nient and it ben­e­fit­ed from a pleas­ant set­ting beside the High­gate trib­u­tary of the Riv­er Fleet.

Lord Nel­son is sup­posed to have lived for a while at the Cas­tle Inn, “in order to keep an eye on the Fleet.”

As late as 1840 this was still a half-rur­al vil­lage with a com­mu­ni­ty of artists and engravers but it was almost entire­ly built over dur­ing the fol­low­ing 30 years. Its pop­u­lar­i­ty was aid­ed by a Lon­don doc­tor who praised the healthy air and clean water – call­ing Ken­tish Town “the Mont­pe­lier of Eng­land” – and came to live here him­self. Mary Shel­ley, how­ev­er, con­demned the place as an “odi­ous swamp.”

The last graz­ing land dis­ap­peared in the 1860s, when a sta­tion opened near the Bull and Gate coach­ing inn, form­ing a con­ve­nient trans­port inter­change. Under­ground sta­tions opened at South Ken­tish Town (now closed) and Ken­tish Town in 1907.

Dur­ing the first half of the 20th cen­tu­ry parts of the dis­trict became run down and the coun­cil cleared the first set of dilap­i­dat­ed prop­er­ties in the ear­ly 1930s.

Plans for aggres­sive rede­vel­op­ment were tabled after the Sec­ond World War but a milder ver­sion was imple­ment­ed and by 1960 the mid­dle class­es were begin­ning to redis­cov­er Ken­tish Town.

Today the pop­u­la­tion is a typ­i­cal inner-north Lon­don mix of blue-col­lar work­ers and young pro­fes­sion­als, along with some bet­ter-off own­ers of refur­bished Vic­to­ri­an prop­er­ties. Com­mu­ni­ty groups con­tin­ue to press for improve­ments to Ken­tish Town Road, which tele­vi­sion news pre­sen­ter and long-time res­i­dent Jon Snow has described as “one of the slum­mi­est high streets in Lon­don.”

“Men begin in Kentish Town with £80 a year, and end in Park Lane with a hundred thousand. They want to drop Kentish Town; but they give themselves away every time they open their mouths.”

Professor Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’, 1912

Postal district: NW5
Population: 13,417 (2011 census)
Stations: Thameslink and Northern line (Kentish Town, zone 2); London Overground (Kentish Town West, zone 2)
Website: Kentishtowner (exceptionally good and updated almost every day)
Further reading: Martin Plaut and Andrew Whitehead, Curious Kentish Town, Five Leaves, 2014
and Gillian Tindall, The Fields Beneath: The History of One London Village, Eland, 2011 (reissue of a splendid 1977 study)
See also: Maitland Park
* The picture of Fruit Bowl, Kentish Town underground station, at the top of this page is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Ungry Young Man, at Flickr, made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.