Spotlight on Camden Town

Camden has come a long way since painter Walter Sickert used it in his gritty depictions of inner city life

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Camden Town gets so busy on Sunday afternoons, the Tube station has to be closed to incoming passengers to avoid a crush.

The shops and markets clustered around the high street and canal make this one of the most colourful of London neighbourhoods. Here is where north London teens mix with tourists from around the world, all there to soak up the atmosphere and to go home with a tattoo, a leather jacket or a pair of Doc Martens.

The main market was started in the mid-Seventies just as Camden Town’s streets of late Georgian and Victorian houses were being gentrified. The market was the brain-child of serial alternative entrepreneur Eric Reynolds, the man also responsible for container city, a community of people who live and work in old shipping containers at the mouth of the River Lee in east London.

Until the early 19th century this part of today’s London Borough of Camden was open fields. Development followed the opening of the Regent’s Canal in 1820 and the arrival of the railway, with the first line into Euston opening in 1837. But its prosperous beginnings didn’t last and the area went into decline, an era depicted in Walter Sickert’s gritty paintings of inner-city life and those of other members of the Camden Town group of painters active just before the First World War.

Camden Town swung back into favour in the Sixties when a generation of young, arty couples started turning seedy bedsits back into elegant homes in roads such as Gloucester Crescent, where the writer Alan Bennett lived for 30 years and where, for a while, the Lady in the Van took up residence in his front garden.

The lives and loves of these early Camden Town pioneers was hilariously satirised by cartoonist Mark Boxer in his Life and Times in NW1 in which he poked fun at an imaginary radical chic couple Simon and Joanna Stringalong.

Properties for sale in Camden Town

There are late-Georgian and early-Victorian houses and villas, many with fine period features. The larger houses are usually converted into flats. In the Camden conservation area there are modern — often striking, architect-designed — houses in Murray and Camden mews. There are also loft-style flats around the canal. The most expensive house currently for sale is a four-bedroom house in Gloucester Avenue, on the market through John D Wood (020 7871 4438) for £3.5 million.

The area attracts: the fine architecture and the area’s liberal reputation still attracts people in the media and the arts although these days high prices mean that buyers tend to be older or are buying with family money. Estate agent, Matt Poore, from the Camden Town branch of Chesterton Humberts says people think of Camden as busy and noisy, but a few streets away from the bustle of the markets there are quiet roads of dignified houses.

Gloucester Crescent, Camden
Classic Georgian homes in Gloucester Crescent, one of the most expensive streets in the area

Staying power: the fact that families live here for generations speaks volumes for the attractions of the neighbourhood. For example the writer Beryl Bainbridge lived in Albert Street with a stuffed water buffalo in the hall from the 1960s until her death two years ago.

Best roads: the most expensive roads are Gloucester Crescent and Regent’s Park Terrace, but Camden Square, North and South Villas and Albert Street are almost as desirable. The Camden Square area is particularly popular with parents trying to get their children into the popular girls’ comprehensive Camden School for Girls.

What’s new: St Pancras Way (0843 470 6662) between St Pancras Way and Royal College Street is a development by housing association The One Housing Group of 24 one and two-bedroom flats with prices starting at £324,950.

Up and coming: Elm Village is a little-known enclave of 1980s houses tucked away off St Pancras Way where two and three-bedroom houses sell for between £450,000 and £500,000.

Schools: there are three state primary schools judged “outstanding” by the government’s education watchdog Ofsted: Holy Trinity and St Silas CofE in Hartland Road and Richard Cobden in Camden Street. Camden School for Girls (girls ages 11 to 18, with boys in the sixth form) is a popular girls’ comprehensive with a big following and an “outstanding” Ofsted rating. Haverstock (co-ed, ages 11 to 18), on Haverstock Hill, the next most popular comprehensive, is judged “good”. North Bridge Prep School (co-ed, ages eight to 13) in Gloucester Avenue and Cavendish (girls ages two to 11, with brothers to age seven) in Inverness Street are the two local prep schools. Cavendish also has a senior school taking pupils up to age 16. Francis Holland (girls, ages 11 to 18) is a high achieving girls’ private school in nearby Regent’s Park.

Sophie Evans
Shop assistant Sophie Evans, 21, from the Arc period shop

Shops and restaurants: Camden Town, with the markets that have grown up around the original Camden Lock, is a major shopping centre and international tourist attraction. With its brightly coloured shop fronts decorated with giant dragons, boots, angels and trainers it is far removed from a world of sanitised shopping centres. It is a magnet for younger shoppers looking for vintage fashion, original designs, ethnic jewellery or mid-century furniture all served up to the aroma of street food.

Gilgamesh is an exotically decorated mega-restaurant and bar in the Stables Market serving pan-asian food. The Engineer is a long-standing gastro-pub on Gloucester Avenue.

For more local restaurants, pubs, bars, theatres, cinemas or attractions; or to book a table or tickets for a night out, visit

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Open space: Regent’s Park connects Camden Town by foot to the West End and there are views south over London from Primrose Hill. Along the Regent’s Canal there are surprisingly quiet walks to the zoo in Regent’s Park.
Leisure and the arts: Camden has a lively night-time economy, with top music venues including Koko, Barfly, the Jazz Café and the Roundhouse. There is also a five-screen Odeon cinema on Parkway.

Travel: Camden Town and Mornington Crescent (both Zone 2; annual travelcard £1,168) are on the Northern Line. Camden Road is on the Overground (the former North London Line) with trains to Islington, Hackney, Shoreditch High Street and Canada Water.

Council: London Borough of Camden (Labour-controlled; Band D Council Tax £1,328.25 in the current tax year).

The Roundhouse, Camden
Camden has a thriving music scene, with the Roundhouse one of the area's most popular venues

Pictures by Graham Hussey

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