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Down memory lane

Over 500 photos of long-gone Kentish Town and Camden Town offer a rare glimpse into the area’s past. Dan Carrier takes a nostalgic peek

18 April, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Advertising hoardings in Kentish Town Road, now Regis Road

THE photographs, stored for decades in a cupboard, show time-trodden streets – many long gone.

They are the product of a hobby by Richard Lansdown and Gillian Tindall, and come from a collection of more than 500 pictures taken in the 1960s around Kentish Town and Camden Town.

Gillian, author of the seminal social history book The Fields Beneath, and her husband Richard, a photographer, gave the pictures to the Camden Local Studies Archive – and they have now been reproduced in a book published by the Camden History Society.

The couple were living in a rundown house in Kentish Town in the early 1960s, and had taken to exploring the area armed with a camera.

At this point in time, Gillian had written two novels while Richard was working as a teacher.

“We took them over a period of three years – and then carried on sporadically. It wasn’t organised – we went out when we felt like it, and photographed what took our fancy,” says Richard.

Bargain-hunters descend on Inverness Street market

By the mid-60s, swathes of Kentish and Camden Town were suf­fering from planning blight and a culture where the Victorian and Geor­gian homes were seen as unfit for modern living and demolition rather than repair was favoured.

Large chunks of housing, now under the control of the newly formed Camden borough, melded together from St Pancras, Hampstead and Holborn councils, were waiting to be redeveloped – meaning scores of Victorian and Georgian homes were left empty.

“In a high-handed way [Sir Leslie] Abercrombie’s London Plan, [drawn up in 1943 to plan a post-war city] said this is an area ripe for change, we’ll have this here, that there,” recalls Gillian. “There was no reference to the historic streets. The whole of west Kentish Town was due for demolition – and all of the Crimea streets area [Inkerman Road, Alma Street, Willes Road].”

It gave their photographic wanderings an air of urgency – though the pace of redevelopment was slow. “The local authority simply didn’t have the money to do it in the late-50s and much of the 60s – and by the time they did, there was a realisation of how important these streets were and the conservation movements had grown,” adds Gillian.

C Morgan and Sons in Camden High Street

It did not save large parts of Gospel Oak, nor the Georgian streets of Cumberland Market – and many of the pictures show the disdain planners felt for the historic, if run-down, fabric of Camden.

“One day, we found a little row of country-style cottages in Bayham Street – they dated from the mid-18th century and were beautiful, with long, large front gardens,” recalls Gillian. “They were demolished soon after we photographed them.”

Other aspects of the streetscapes of the 60s stand out – for example, the disorderly approach to advertising.

“There were so many more hoardings on façades in those days,” adds Richard. “We didn’t consciously takes pictures of adverts, but when you look at them 50 years later, you realise how interesting they were.”

From the typography that was in fashion to the goods they were selling – there are plenty of adverts for cigarettes and alcohol in public spaces – the streets look at once familiar, yet very different.

Another feature is the number of small independent shops from this pre-supermarket age.

Alfred Kemp’s menswear shop, pictured in 1968

In Kentish Town, many grocers hailed from Wales. “There were a number of Welsh grocers called Thomas, Morgan or Evans,” remembers Richard. “We took pictures of things not just at risk if disappearing, but which simply took our fancy.

“We felt a lot of the shops were just rather sweet.”

Above all, the photos are a stark reminder of what should be worth preserving.

“We chose pictures for the book as we wanted to show the destruction of Kentish Town. There are many areas people believe must be bomb sites – but were actually the work of local authorities after the war.

“For example, the Talacre open space was never hit by a bomb. Instead, a set of perfectly good houses were demolished.”

Morris’s grocery store in Falkland Place, pictured in 1965

The story is repeated across NW5 and NW1 – streets and streets of working people’s cottages, which would now be coveted, wiped out by the swipe of a red pen across a drawing board.

“It has been said the East End was not destroyed by the Blitz, but instead broken on a planner’s wheel,” says Gillian. “This book, in general, is not very polite about such planners.”

And the images feel like a message from the past, urging us to respect the present and preserve it for the future.

“With time, mean­ing and nostalgia have accrued to many of them, they have, we feel, achieved the destiny we envisaged for them long ago, and hope that they may provide interest and information for future generations,” they add.]

Camden Changing: Views of Kentish, Camden and Somers Towns 1960s and 70s. Words by Gillian Tindall. Photographs by Richard Lansdown. Camden History Society £7.50

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