Walking along the Regent's canal this afternoon near Camden Lock, I got a final peep at the wonderful street art which once distinguished the Hawley Wharf area. It won't be there much longer. I wouldn't say this was the highlight of the area's artwork, or close to it, but it was nice to have one last glimpse
And still there on the canal side nearer to Camden Lock, and apparently immune to the development work, is this stunning piece of political art:
I don't claim to be a great photographer - but I guess when you capture hundreds of images, simply the law of averages means a few have something special about them. See what you think ...
A wonderful relief bust of the Belgian King - a tribute to his memory from 'the Belgian colony in Great Britain'. It's in a side chapel of a Catholic church - and by design or good fortune, the natural light from the roof fell on the bust as I was taking this photograph. And Belgium's colours are proudly, and touchingly, on display.
It's almost entirely forgotten now - but the influx of Belgians during the First World War, 250,000 of them, was perhaps the biggest torrent of refugees Britain has ever accommodated. Most went back - indeed were fairly forcefully told to go back - in the months after the war's end. And while here, many Belgians lived in separate colonies - where Belgian money was used, and in some cases directly under Belgian authority.
This bust of King Albert is in the Belgian church in Camden Town - a church whose links to Belgium persisted until just a few years ago. A Belgian missionary order, the Scheut fathers, moved to London a century ago - and after the war, the priests who remained in London wanted to establish a church which both served a local need and could be a focus for the Belgian Catholic community in London.
That's how Our Lady of Hal (named after a much venerated shrine in Belgium) came to be established in Camden - and it remains a well used, and much loved church, with a cosmopolitan congregation (though no longer any Belgians).
And in the chapel which houses a replica of the wooden Our Lady in Hal is this marvellous bust. There will be more about the church in Curious Camden Town, which I am co-authoring with Martin Plaut, to be published later this year.
The redevelopment of Hawley Wharf, just north of the canal in Camden Town, is now well underway - claiming some splendid Victorian villas fronting Hawley Road, and in due course a veritable mecca of street art beside the railway tracks on Leybourne Road.
If you like street art, get their quick. It's just a couple of minutes from Camden Lock - though few of the tourists and shoppers venture to these so much more interesting back streets just yards away. Here's how to find you way.
And when you have feasted on these relics of the post-industrial age, then pop round to Two Doors Down on Kentish Town Road, really close by, and feast on a coffee and one of Richie's warmly recommended speciality sausage rolls.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's connection with Camden is slender. I'm not sure that Sherlock Holmes ever ventured here (do put me right if he did). But his creator came to Rochester Square, in that curious-and-difficult-to-pin-down-why locality just off Camden Square. Conan Doyle was a keen spiritualist and he laid a foundation stone in 1926 at what became Rochester Square Spiritualist Temple - temple is perhaps a bit over blown for this rather anonymous building, said to be built in the arts and crafts style but there's not much visible evidence of that.
The Temple is, to the untrained eye, semi-derelict. But that may not be the full story. In March 2014, the Standard reported that what it called a squatter sect had moved in there, believing that the church had closed for good when it was simply shut for maintenance.
There was not much sign of squatters, spiritualists or maintenance work when I passed by this morning. If I find out more, I'll tell you.
Walking up Camden Street this afternoon with a bright, low, winter sun, I was struck by the elegance of what's now the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of All Saints.
The building dates to the 1820s, built in what architects call a neo-Greek style. It became known as Camden Chapel.
After the Second World War, as more Greek Cypriots settled in this area, it began to be used for Orthodox services, and was eventually bought by the Orthodox church. It became a cathedral in 1991.
All Saints is listed Grade 1 - and you can see why. It's certainly the stand out piece of clerical architecture in Camden Town (not that I can think of a lot of competition) - and one of the best in the borough.
The building was open as I walked past, so I had a peep inside. Very much in the Orthodox style, its charm slightly dented by a sense of being a bit crowded by all the trappings of worship. A building of this elegance needs a sparse and dignified interior. Though the cathedral is clearly well patronised, and the building cared for, so let's just be thankful for that.
I mentioned that Greek Cypriots provided the drive to establish a Greek Orthodox church here. A Camden History Society publication records that in 1956, an assistant priest at All Saints was deported on suspicion that he was raising funds for EOKA, which was fighting the British and aimed to reunite Cyprus with Greece. After Cyprus gained independence in 1960, the Cypriot leader Archbishop Makarios came to London several times, and conducted services here.
My luck was in at the Oxfam bookshop in Kentish Town this morning - I came away with this fine first edition of Anthony Cronin's lively, comic account of life in Dublin and Camden Town, The Life of Riley. It's from 1964, part of the remarkable boom in novels, and especially London novels, which stretched from mid-fifties to mid-sixties. At £20, Oxfam got a decent price - but I'm very happy to have such a nice copy.
The jacket design is by Margaret Eastoe, about whom I have been able to find out very little beyond that she illustrated quite a few books in French, and about France, in the early 1960s.
The cover notes say of this ribald tale: 'Of The Life of Riley it might be said that it's as refreshing and titillating as the froth on a pint of Guinness, or perhaps as strong and inebriating as a tumblerful of the best Irish whiskey.' So as you will have gathered, there's an ample dash of the Celtic about this book.
The scaffolding's up at 88 Parkway. The home of the petite, retrobeat 'Sounds that Swing' record store. But fear not, the best visual pun in north London is not about to get covered up.
If you have been along Parkway dozens of times and have never stopped to admire Johnny Cash, well, shame on you. Why is it special? Well, first of all you don't expect an ATM on the outside of a second-hand record store. But more than that, there's a lovely touch of mischief in garlanding a cash machine with an outsize portrait of Johnny Cash.
Neil, who runs 'Sounds that Swing' and the associated 'No Hit Records', says they had the cash point put it in to take a bit of the strain off paying the monthly shop rent. "It said in big bold letters above the machine ‘CASH’ so we thought, what about if we put the words Johnny above it and a picture of Mr Cash. I cut a piece of ply wood and got our very talented artist mate Ski Williams to knock up a picture of JC and the rest is history. It’s amazing how many people don’t notice it though."
As you can see, it's a really good likeness of 'The Man in Black' - not surprising, as Ski Williams has quite a reputation as a designer of record sleeves and similar, with a particular taste for that psychedelic style of lettering which I associate with West Coat bands of a certain vintage.
That scaffolding, though, is because the flats above need a bit of attention. Johnny Cash is safe - the record store, now almost twenty years old, is still swinging. Its bestseller? Stormy Gayle's 1959 'Flipsville'. And here it is ...
Currently at the printers, and in the shops in under a month - Curious Kentish Town, a copiously illustrated 92-page book about thirty or so places in and around NW5 and the unlikely stories attached to them. There's more details here - and the map below indicates the range of locations featured ... and you can get more of a clue from the titles of the various entries posted below the map.
There will be a launch - we hope at Owl bookshop on November 10th. Watch this space!
1: Dust-up in Islip Street
2: "Hey Ho, Cook and Rowe"
3: The Caversham Road Shul
4: A Country Cottage
5: The Poets' Meeting House
6: Rocker's Newspaper Kiosk
7: A Celtic Saint
8: The Smiling Sun of Hargrave Park
9: 'Catering for Beanfeasts'
10: Borough Control
11: The Drapers' Ghost
12: The River in a Rusting Pipe
13: Ghana's Revolutionary President
14: The Great War in College Lane
15: St Martin's - still crazy after all these years
16: At Home with Karl Marx
17: The Secret Horse Tunnels of Camden Lock
18: The Artist Colony in Primrose Hill
19: Ready Money Drinking Fountain
20: Matilda the Absurd
21: A Bridge over Nothing
22: The Antidote to Blue Plaques
23: The Strangest of Poets
24: Two South African Revolutionaries
25: The Elephant House
26: When Baths were Baths
27: Find HOPE
28: Pianos for all the World
29: Protect and Survive
30: The Crimea Commemorated
31: Boris the Cat
How could I have missed this for so long? A wonderful pane of window glass in what is now a pizzeria on Parkway, close to Camden tube station. It's the centre of three charmingly dated (I'd say 1950s if you pushed me) glass panels which once graced a camera shop.
Parkway has some magnificent shop fronts, notably Palmers 'Regent Pet Stores' - the business survives, though the property with the splendid signage is now a cafe. A quick web search didn't reveal anything about this camera shop - anyone know anything?
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