This is a glimpse of Fortess Grove, a wonderful, hidden-away cul-de-sac just a couple of minutes walk from Kentish Town station. Who knew! It's tiny - but a real treasure.
This post is about Fortess Grove and another nearby hidden wonder of NW5, Railey Mews, and the former commercial building that unites them.
So first let's get our bearings -
So we're on the east side of Fortess Road. This map is from the Camden planning site - because the building outlined in green is being redeveloped.
As you can see, this buiding stretches from Fortess Grove to Railey Mews - though there's otherwise no direct pedestrian access between the two streets. It was a large but undistinguished vehicle repair shop - the home of M. & A. Coachworks until towards the end of 2015.
The building is difficult to date and an estate agent has declared it - with a sense of the past that would merit a place in 1066 and All That - to be a 'Victorian coachworks building from the 1920s'. It's address curiously was 36-52 Fortess Grove, which suggests a fairly dense residential development before the building went up, whenever that was.
As of 2017, planning permission was given to redevelop the building - hollowed out and with a new roof - with a business floor, and with a total of ten 2-bed or 3-bed dwellings. And that work is now well underway.
This is what the site looks like from Fortess Grove -
And here's the view from Railey Mews - and just to help you get your bearings, we've included another of Kentish town's hidden delights, the Pineapple on Leverton Street -
Fortess Grove has the charm of a serpentine curving access from Fortess Road, which keeps the residential part of the street very much a secret -
I've been able to find out very little about the history of Fortess Grove except that a bomb fell here during the Second World War. But as you can see, it has real charm.
Railey Mews isn't a dead end, but it is if anything even more tucked away - a mews street with its cobbles in tact. Residential, though with a couple of former industrial buildings - but it seems that none of the initial mews properties survive in tact.
If you have a spare half-hour in Kentish Town, then come and take a look!
Yes, this is the Albert Hall - NW5 style.
I went on a Lockdown cycle ride this morning - a jaunt round a corner of Kentish Town which, shamefully, was new to me. This is the area east of Malden Road and south of Queen's Crescent. And wheeling along Bassett Street, I came along this extraordinary building in the middle of a row of three-storey mid-Victorian villas.
This is Kentish Town Evangelical Church, a 'Bible-believing 'congregation according to its website which has been based here for approaching fifty years. The building is of course much older, and with a bit (well, a lot) of help from the Camden History Society's Streets of Gospel Oak and West Kentish Town, I've been able to piece together some of its history.
So, Bassett Street was built in the 1860s and was initially known as Winchester Street. What is now the evangelical church was built by 1865 as a temperance hall, taking the name of the Albert Hall (Albert of course was Queen Victoria's consort and died in Deceber 1861) a few years before that other place with the same name.
Within a few years, the building had become a 'Strict' Baptist church - and it was used by several varieties of Baptist down to 1930. It subsequently became a children's mission.
The moniker of the Albert Hall didn't last for too long - but perhaps it's time for this rather grand title to be resumed!
Blustons is back!
It's back! The glory of Kentish Town high street has been reborn. It's fifteen months since Blustons - as traditional a purveyor of ladies' clothing (to men and women) as you could possible find - shut up shop. Since then this splendid, listed shopfront has had a forlorn look.
But it's now bounced back into business - and as a clothing store. A happier ending than any Kentish Towner had any reason to expect. There's no red-and-white polka dot dress in the window display, and are those male mannequins staring out on to the good people of NW5? -but then I suppose all things must pass.
The Camden New Journal is, of course, on top of the story - here is their interview with the new owner. When I passed by this afternoon there were rather more prospective customers in the shop than I ever saw in the old days ... so let's hope that the tills keep ringing at the new look Blustons.
Almost twenty years in NW5, and the area still springs surprises. Today I went along to an open day at a nature reserve I didn't know existed. It's squeezed beside the railway line at Gospel Oak - at the back of Mortimer Terrace, a development which is itself hidden away off Wesleyan Terrace, at the back of the Southampton Arms on Highgate Road. Hope you've got that?!!
It's a handful of acres, wooded, on a sloping railway embankment. There's a pond - which a couple of local primary schools visit regularly. And a remarkable shed - a water capture mechanism - and a bit of a clearing where volunteers and visitors gathered on this glorious summer Sunday.
An aerial photo of the Mortimer Terrace nature reserve, which is just to the north of the railway lines. The big building in the middle is Heathview, a 1930s block of flats which is now a housing co-op. On the other side of Gordon House Road is Kwikfit. Gospel Oak station is just out of shot to the left. You can just see part of Mortimer Terrace development on the upper right.
The land is owned by a construction company, but they have said they are withdrawing the licence in August - though given that there's nothing even approaching vehicular access, it's difficult to see what they could do with the site. The London Wildlife Trust has said it hasn't the resources to continue to support this small, but splendid, nature reserve. So its future is in doubt.
The volunteers and those who live near by are clearly determined to save this special, hidden spot - let's hope they succeed.
Bluston's last Saturday
It's such a sad sight. Bluston's window display - usually so pristine and shining - is reduced to this. The red polka dot dress which has had pride of place in the display ever since, it almost seems, I moved to NW5 is gone. I hope it's found a good home. Today is Bluston's last Saturday - the shop closes on Tuesday or Wednesday. What a painful loss for Kentish Town's high street.
I popped in to wish the own Michael Albert and his colleague well - this shop has been part of Kentiish Town since 1931. With the wonderful charm which matches the (listed, happily) shop front, I was offered a small glass of sherry and a sweet.
There's talk of a move to 'save' Bluston's - and keep the premises going as a clothes and fashion shop, with space still for the sepia portraits of the founders (you can just see that of Jane Bluston, Michael's grandmother, in one of the photos above) which are such an icon of the store.
Whatever the fate, on its last Saturday, we wish Bluston's a fond, respectful and moist-eyed farewell!
St Martin's, Gospel Oak, is once again showing a glorious index finger to the world. This most maverick of London's parish churches has got its turret back. And on Easter Sunday, the minister Chris Brice is going to preside over a special service and ceremony to mark the full gothic restoration of this wonderfully mad piece of clerical architecture - not just the Grimms' style turret, but the four smaller corner pinnacles too.
So, the back story - this 1860s church was built through the munificence of a Midlands glove manufacturer, who turned to the distinctly outlandish Edward Buckton Lamb as the architect. He delivered Morris & Co stained glass, a truly amazing wooden roof, mosaic panels, alabaster everywhere - and a curiously narrow tower topped off with a range of pointy things which are more Liechtenstein than north London.
Bomb damage (which nearly did for the stained glass too) disturbed the turret and pinnacles, and those still in place in 1945 were too insecure to be left up there. But now Chris Brice has - and what a splendid achievement - not only raised the money to restore the tower to its original design (Lottery money helped, I believe), he's also managed to oversee execution of the work.
St Martin's is, as so rarely is the case for a Victorian parish church, Grade 1 listed - though among connoisseurs of ecclesiastical architecture, opinions vary. Pevsner described it as 'the craziest of London's Victorian churches' - and I'd go along with that - while Elizabeth and Wayland Young, less generously, compared it to a duck-billed platypus.
Whatever - it's lovely to see turret and pinnacles back on the Kentish Town skyline. Hallelujah!
'Curious Kentish Town'
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
Lest we forget!
A century on, here's the very telling and wonderful memorial plaque on College Lane in Kentish Town, photographed this evening. It's now only party legible, but bears the names of ten local (very local, largely College Lane residents) men who died in the First World War. There's more details here. It's a rare type of memorial - not municipal, not church, just the local community, and placed on the outside wall of a house.
It is one of the most colloquial and so powerful testaments to the grief and suffering occasioned by what contemporaries came to call the Great War - not great as wonderful, but great as profound and terrible.
It's a brave developer that alights on a web address which might arouse adverse comment in the locality in which they are building. So is it wise of Four Quarters - as you can see, busily developing the former British Rail Staff Social Club site adjoining the marvellous, much treasured College Lane in NW5 - to set up a website: http://fqkentishtown.com/? If you don't see the problem, say the address out aloud ... But at least it's better than '4Qkentishtown'.
If you go to the site at the moment, you get nothing beyond a 'coming soon' message. Yes, we can see that! So, what exactly is coming soon to College Lane? Well, here's what's on the board just by the site:
Family homes are much needed - but the development will certainly change the tone of College Lane, a pleasing straggle of more than twenty houses and cottages, developed piecemeal through the nineteenth century, which front not on to a road but simply a path. And as we mark the centenary of the First World War, College Lane is home to one of the most modest and telling local memorials to the war dead - if you haven't, do go and see it (look out for the pink painted buiding almost in the middle of the run of houses, and look up a little above head height).
The shorter and prettier Georgian Little Green Street, the only vehicle access to the construction site (unless I've missed something), is also clearly anxious about what the future holds - the 'Save Little Green Street' banner is back on display.
How will things develop? Watch this space ...
Hoppers in Alma Street
If you like a good street fair, get yourself down without delay to Alma Street in Kentish Town - just about the best, most friendly, most gastronomic such gathering around.
We had a good stroll around, found out more about tour guiding in Camden (why not?!!), got the latest 'Kentish Towner' and ate a wonderful, freshly cooked, Sri Lankan hopper, coconut flavour, and great value at £1.50. Don't ask me to describe a hopper - hop down and get your own, you won't be disappointed!
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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