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Kentish Town Area Guide

Kentish Town Area Guide

Author: Julie, 21/07/2016

Kentish Town is an area of northwest London in the London Borough of Camden.

The most widely accepted explanation of the name of Kentish Town is that it derived from ‘Ken-ditch’ meaning the ‘bed of a waterway’. Kentish Town was originally a settlement along the River Fleet which flowed through the area, and today runs underground.

Kentish Town is first recorded during the reign of King John (1207) as kentisston. By 1456 Kentish Town was recognised as a thriving hamlet, and in this period a chapel of ease is recorded as being built for the inhabitants.

The early 19th century brought modernisation, causing much of the area’s rural charm, the River Fleet and the 18th century buildings to vanish, although pockets still remain, for example Little Green Street. Between the availability of public transport to it from London and its urbanisation, it was a popular resort.

Large amounts of land were purchased to build the railway, which can still be seen today. Kentish Town was a prime site for development as the Kentish Town Road was a major route from London northwards. Probably its most famous resident was Karl Marx who lived at 46 Grafton Terrace from 1856.

During the 19th century and early 20th century the area of Kentish Town became for many years the home of many famous piano and organ manufacturers, and was described by The Piano Journal in 1901 as “…that healthful suburb dear to the heart of the piano maker”.

A network of streets in the East of Kentish Town has streets named after places or persons connected with Christ Church, Oxford viz: Oseney, Busby, Gaisford, Caversham, Islip, Wolsey, Frideswide, Peckwater & Hammond. All these streets lay behind the Oxford Arms. Some of the freehold of these streets is still in the name of Christ Church Oxford.

A network of streets in the north of Kentish Town was formerly part of a large estate owned by St John’s College, Cambridge. Lady Margaret Road is named after Lady Margaret Beaufort, foundress of St John’s College. Burghley Road is named for Lord Burghley, Chancellor to Elizabeth I and benefactor of St John’s. Similarly, College Lane, Evangelist Road and Lady Somerset Road are street names linked to the estate of St John’s College.

Kentish Town Road contains one of London’s many disused Tube stations. South Kentish Town tube station was closed in June 1924 after strike action at the Lots Road power station meant the lift could not be used. It never reopened. The distinctive building is now occupied underground by a massage shop and on ground level by a ‘Cash Converters’ pawn shop at the corner of Kentish Town Road and Castle Road, although there have been proposals to rebuild the station.

Kentish Town has always been noted for its pubs and bars. Pub rock is usually traced back to the “Tally Ho”, a former jazz pub. Other music pubs include the Bull and Gate.  In more recent years the area has become noted as leading the trend for the resurgence of back-to-basics, real ale pubs like the CAMRA award-winning Southampton Arms, the Pineapple, and Tapping the Admiral which was the CAMRA North London Pub of the Year in 2013. Many of these are stocked with keg and bottled beers from the Camden Town Brewery, located in the arches under Kentish Town West London Overground station. A new bar opened on the brewery premises in March 2012. Kentish Town is also home to The Forum (formerly known as the Town and Country club), for many years well into the 1950s one of Kentish Town’s most popular and comfortable cinemas, and now a live music venue. The Lion and Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town is one of London’s leading Fringe Theatre venues.

Kentish Town has a fairly large boundary, stretching from Camden Gardens to as a far north as the Highgate Road/Gordon House Road junction near Dartmouth Park. Kentish Town generally includes the areas to the west, around Queens Crescent and to the east around Torriano Avenue. Many of the old buildings remain, albeit hidden behind the façades of modern shops or neglected, and it is still possible to get a good impression of Kentish Town’s heritage in present day NW5.

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