#149: Kentish Town 27/09/2022

Kentish Town Station

Why, Oh, why is this the end of the line? That’s a good question and not one I’d ever imagined having to answer…until I visited Orpington Station earlier this year.

The answer is a bit patchy and unresolved, but in the interest of exploring London, I decided it was worth a visit. There’s some evidence that a limited number of peak-time Thameslink trains to Orpington start here or at West Hampstead. I did ask the ticket lady on platform 1, but she had little knowledge about the originating station other than confirming trains to Orpington did leave from there.

Maybe I should visit West Hampstead too. Let’s wait and see.

The station has four platforms, but from my day’s brief experience, platform four isn’t used. Platforms two and three are island platforms connected to the other platforms via an overhead footbridge that also connects to the underground station of the same name on the Northern Line. There are also fast lines with non-stopping West Midlands Railway services.

The station’s geography creates a limitation in that only eight carriage services can stop here. This limitation is because, within a kilometre of the station, the railway lines pass under five bridges/tunnels, thereby making the possibility of extending the station’s platform lengths prohibitive. The railway line passes under Kentish Town Road/Leighton Road Junction, Islip Street, Caversham Road and Gaisford Street/Oseney Crescent before passing under Camden Square Park.

Here’s the history: The station opened on the first of October 1868, but sadly none of the original station was retained when it was rebuilt in 1983. It’s now a fairly nondescript station with a shared entrance on Kentish Town Road with the Northern Line’s entrance.

Kentish Town 

A view seen from the station platforms and from the footbridge.
A view seen from outside the station.

My immediate impression of Kentish Town was that of an area typified by London’s cosmopolitan mix. And as I explored further, hidden behind the main street, there were narrow streets that looked cosy and homely, although the volume of parked cars put a strain on the space for passing vehicles.

But first, fancy a coffee? As I was trying to compose the Welcome to Kentish Town shot (above) with the bicycle in the foreground, I spotted Victoria and Sam from the Bean About Town coffee stall parked on the corner. They were kind enough to pose for a few shots in-between serving their regular clients, one of whom was enjoying their company too.

I’ve often wondered about the place name’s derivation, which, as it turns out, has nothing to do with the county of Kent. Instead, the area sits along the now subterranean River Fleet, from which the Middle English name evolves. The area’s growth began in the 15th century as it matured from a settlement to a thriving hamlet.

The railway’s emergence in the 19th century brought about the most significant change with land bought for development. To this day, parts of the area are still owned by the same landlords, once associated with Oxford and Cambridge Universities, whose names are enshrined as street names.

Step aside from the main road, and you’ll be amazed by the colourful scenes. Not one or two brightly coloured houses, but whole streets awash with bright and pastel colours. I wonder if there’s a clause in their covenants that demands such colour. Here are a few examples.

Gigi at No. 5 Falkland Road. This delightfully bright yellow townhouse is undoubtedly proud of its colour statement, besides other pastel-coloured houses.
‘Rainbow Street’ – This is Kelly Street, where all the houses are painted in an array of pastel shades; fair to say, though, some are more looked after than others.

However, only some things in the garden are rosy. There are parts of the area where social housing dominates the skyline, and (re)development is evident. I respect local authorities’ efforts to balance available resources against a growing demand for affordable living spaces. And those who live in Elsfield, the 1960s-built multi-occupancy block, may feel they are well served. But I have to be honest; the outward appearance would challenge that belief. So I say to LB Camden – ‘you can do better than this.’

Kentish Town Road

The road runs for almost a mile and forms part of the main A400 road out of central London from Camden Town underground station to where it splits into Highgate Road and Fortess Road just north of Kentish Town station. 

A high proportion of independent shops serve the community’s needs, from fruit and veg and national stores interlaced with hair and beauty salons. And let’s not forget the variety of charity shops that sit in an almost uncomfortable harmony with financial stores. But here’s a snapshot of what I saw.

Garden Footprint: Next to the fire station is a small oasis of calm where you are encouraged to ‘green up your footprint’ created as part of the Transition Kentish Town project.
Look up above 235/237 Kentish Town Road and enjoy the bizarre artwork on display. I couldn’t see the artist’s tag, so apologies for not mentioning you.
Look up above 235/237 Kentish Town Road and enjoy the bizarre artwork on display. I couldn’t see the artist’s tag, so apologies for not mentioning you.

A History of Piano Making

A casual glance down an alley reveals an almost forgotten industry once coined the Centre of the Universe for Piano Making.

I walked past the Bull & Gate pub on the junction of Highgate Road and Fortess Road and onwards to the O2 Forum a little further down the road. But as I did, I saw an attractive development called Hurley Apartments down a cobbled alleyway which I returned to capture. I thought no more about the photo until I later discovered it was once a piano factory.

A hundred yards or so along Highgate Road, I’m drawn into Piano Yard with its gated entrance and pastel-coloured, albeit a little faded, buildings. It’s just beyond the fire station. There’s more history to investigate.

And as I meander through to Fortess Road, I see The Piano Works, a former Piano warehouse now converted into a collection of ‘boutique style apartments.’ And around the corner into Fortess Grove, there’s a delightful mews which may have served as piano factory workers’ homes. 

Researching the area’s rich history and popularity didn’t take long. And also, its demise as a consequence of World War I, the introduction of the minimum wage, trade restrictions and, more lately, the advent of cheaper imports from China. The factories have long stopped producing pianos and, by and large, have been converted into fashionable apartments. Here are a few more links that may be of interest to you:

Imperial Works, Perren Street

John Brinsmead, Grafton Road

Charles Dibden, Camden, and 

Heckscher & Company, Camden

Picture of the Day – Red Lines

This was one of those moments that I knew once I’d seen this view, it would be my Picture of The Day. The striking red lines against the pure whitewashed wall were stunning, and the parked car’s central positioning helped provide the context.

I have played with the colouring slightly to heighten the colours and what has worked well is that the colour of the damp pavement complements the car’s metallic paint perfectly. While lining up to take the picture, I was also keen to capture the pavement rumble strip that marks out the downward gradient as the pavement nears the road.

It did get some quizzical looks from those coming out of the Greenwood Centre behind me. But after a few brief seconds, they became more intent on lighting their cigarettes.

  • Location: Back wall of Shurgard Self Storage, Greenwood Place
  • Date/Time: Tuesday, 27th September 2022, 11:54 AM
  • Settings: Camera – Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture -f/6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/250; Focal Length – 21mm; Film Speed – ISO100

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