Part of my nostalgia for Camden came from reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In my mind there is a long descriptive scene where the charater Bob Cratchit runs through London on his way home for christmas. The paragraph is actually much shorter and reads:
“The office was closed in a twinkling, and the clerk, with the long ends of his white comforter dangling below his waist (for he boasted no great-coat), went down a slide on Cornhill, at the end of a lane of boys, twenty times, in honour of its being Christmas Eve, and then ran home to Camden Town as hard as he could pelt, to play at blindman’s-buff.” (Dickens, A Christmas Carol)
Maybe it is because I can imagine the man’s progress so vividly that I made up such a route? For I went, from bank at 16:57 into Poultry, noticing the Midland Bank Limited cut into the stone and gilded, next to a roughly bricked-up ‘hole in the wall.’ At the crossroads I was crossed by a lady wearing a fashionable pinny-dress; I progressed into Cheapside. I passed a man carrying a Toblerone and a building site with a sign reading ‘Caring, Cleaning, Considerate and Co-operative.’
I came to Saint Martin’s Le Grand. On the left an unfinished stairwell dwarfed the dome of Saint Paul’s, and then was lost behind a big yellow truck. Into Newgate Street, a banana skin lay in a bus shelter, a man went by with long grey hair and there was a large hunk of chocolate sponge lying in the bus lane?
I passed the London Stock Exchange and crossed to the sunny north side on a temporary traffic island within an old traffic island. I turned right into Giltspur Street and passed a Stag from 1907 and a gilded Cherub on my left; then I crossed the road and narrowly missed being run down by the no.56 to Whipps Cross.
The Haberdashers Hall begins West Smithfield where bikes are parked against a wall. I went under the glass roof of Smithfield Market, along Grand Avenue and progressed into Cowcross Street, where it is the layout, not the inhabitants, that charm the street. With Farringdon Station on my left I followed the new traffic layout into Turnmill Street, passed a heavy van named Islington Drug Addiction Response Team, and crossed Clerkenwell Road into Farringdon Lane.
Onto Farringdon Road, over Bowling Green Lane with the ever-closed Bowler Pub. I saw the white outline of a pitched roof painted onto the side of a big, red-brick building on the corner of Rosebery Avenue. On my right Exmouth Market was closing down for the day. Workmen were still having tea in the dilapidated, Royal Café as I carried on along Farringdon Road, enjoying the sense of openness created by Mount Pleasant’s car park. The I headed down the hill past Snippetts Hair-do, and a place offering Berlin Snacks and into Kings Cross Road.
A short traverse along the bottom of Pentonville Road passing The Poor School, Americana Cosmetics and then across the front of King’s Cross Station, Saint Pancras Station and past a man biting open a sachet of milk. Turning right into Midland Road a dog with a frisbee sidled past and I entered the leafy section of the road by Saint Pancras Old Church and around Goldington Cresent. That Nice Laundrette was still washing, but the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Association trough had not seen water in a century. Progressing forward into Crowndale Road, passing Mornington Cresent; I followed the Camden Palace (KoKo) right into Camden High Street at 17:43.
Let’s take a trip, I said. We sat drinking tea in the newly opened coffee shop in the newly reformed Heritage Quarter, also known as Gravesend High Street. It is one of the town’s oldest streets, a dead-straight thoroughfare leading directly from Town Pier and linking the river to the centre of town. It must have once pounded and echoed with the hauling of goods from the riverboats. Tradesmen and merchants disembarking at their ships’ first stop as they made their way to London; fishermen pulling their day’s catch home; boys boughed down under the weight of the day’s shrimping by the pier.
This is just a romantic version of gritty reality, of course. The ferry that now crosses the river Thames several times a day is called Princess Pocahontas. It’s been running between Kent and Essex since 1855. The terminal is tucked away down an alley next to what used to be a pub. We walked to the riverside, and there it was: a chugging passenger ferry, its footbridge still down. There was no-one in sight.
We stood on the deck. The air was freezing and salty: it made our cheeks feel tough and our noses ran. We watched the water churning brownly as the ferry slowly pulled itself out from the quayside, lurching into the river. Its engine was noisy and the air started to stink of fumes as it gained momentum, and now it was surging forward across the river, spraying and twisting the water into white curls of foam against the side of the boat. The gulls screamed to each other and circled in the sky.
We went back in and sat on the old benches in the waiting room. A hard-faced woman sitting opposite stared at us, or perhaps out of the window behind us. The noise from the engine filled the room. We sat there, looking at each other in silence as the ferry pulled through the tide.
The landing station at Tilbury was deserted and the few passengers from the boat quickly disappeared. We crossed the iron bridge; everything was quiet, as we traced the river’s littered shore. It was strange to be on the other side for the first time, looking back at the town.
We passed the World’s End pub on the way to the fort. Tilbury Fort was built in the 16th century to defend London from attack from the sea. Apparently, the worst bloodshed the Fort ever saw occurred after a Kent-Essex cricket match in 1776, when a fight left a cricketer and the fort’s sergeant dead.
The fort was already closed when we arrived there. Kept out, we started back towards the ferry landing to wait for the boat. We passed no-one on the road.
How better to experience the city than through sheer unbridled panic? At about 3:30am some four years ago on a weekday I was midway along Eversholt Street. Coat collar pulled up high on my cheeks and hands stuffed into my pockets, tired but wary. It was too much to wait for the night bus and I’d have to walk at the other end anyway.
By the tower I passed some shadies talking together, I thought nothing of it as they appeared to be engrossed. At the cross of Oakley Square I was aware of someone behind me but I saw nothing at Mornington Crescent to raise the alarm and so for a moment I decided whether to take Camden High Street or my preferred route, where I could be alone with the city, the quieter Mornington Terrace. I decided the latter and cut around the station into Mornington Crescent, and onto Mornington Place.
I hear feet behind me,
I didn’t, I glanced over my shoulder, a broad man was approaching behind me, left hand out ready to grab and I noted, right hand down by his side where something twinkled in the street light. A screech and I see a straggly girl running to catch up with the man. I think, definitely a scaggy (I’ve spent enough time round Euston to know a drug addled woman when I see one) and surely that shiny thing in the man’s hand is a knife?
I looked round again and rather feebly mumble, “No, I can’t” and began to run as fast as I could.
While running I reached for my phone. Who to call? Police, parents, people at college, My house mate Tom?
I began, unlock, star, menu select, phonebook select, call number select, name beginning with T find, Tat , Tet, Tim, Tom select, call mobile select, you are about to call Tom Mobile on your mobile select. Finally it was ringing.
By now I was almost home. I looked round and nothing was there but with the fear and adrenalin coursing through my blood I did not stop. I was in my road, still ringing. I was outside the front door,
“Tom, hi. Could you let me in?”
“Its 3:30am, where’s your key?”
“In my pocket. Can you let me in?”
"I’m sorry but someone just tried to mug me. Can you let me in?”
Lucy Wood describes her journey into the wild history of Borough High Street.
Take Courage, the inviting words still bright on the red sign dangling from the side of a forgotten old pub on Newington Butts. The Cricketers, it must be, even though only a couple of letters still cling to the rotting sidewall.As I walk down Kennington Park Road, onto Newington Butts, towards the Elephant the sign catches my eye, it seems to look down on the residents almost mockingly as they scurry towards the underpass.
Courage & Co, whose first brew house was in Bermondsey, just down the road, closed its largest brewery in 2010. And it would seem Elephant and Castle’s closure has been announced to make way for upwardly mobile, young urban professionals.In one of London’s most unlovely areas, thought of by most as just a roundabout, you can witness
The Caledonian Road, fabled for filth. A trunk road, not a residence, do not live there its nowhere. I used to have a beautiful red mountain bike before I took it to the Caledonian Road.
I locked it outside the pub at about 6 o’clock on a Wednesday and went in for an after work drink with my boss. One drink turned into many and we did not leave till we were kicked out. By that time some lady had taken a shine to the boss and was trying to get us to go to a club. I had not given the bike a thought, I had put two locks round it and removed the saddle. I walked to where I had left it and it was gone.
A stake for growing a sapling against lay on the floor with my discarded locks.
“F**K! Oh, I knew it, why? Damn. F**K! F**K!” I burst into tears.
“Come on Andrew, it’s alright, you have insurance.” My boss put his arm on my shoulders
The girl appeared, “You guys coming? Come on, let’s go to the club.”
“Just leave us alone, can’t you see he’s had his bike stolen?”
“Alright.” She left.
There we were two lads one holding a saddle drying his eyes, the other holding him round the shoulders. A man passed and as he did so went to pick up the locks and judge their worth.