It’s not often that I’m glad about bad weather but if the sun had been shining I might never have discovered one of Camden Town’s cultural gems – more of which later.
It’s been ages since I’ve visited Camden and I’d forgotten all about the crazy in your face vibe that seeps into your consciousness when visiting this part of Middlesex. Bold, brash and constantly evolving, Camden Town was made famous by films such as Withnail & I as well pop legends Amy Winehouse and Madness. However, the area had slightly more demure beginnings.
Until 1780 it was a small hamlet at the fork where the roads northward to Hampstead and Highgate diverged, known as the ‘Village of Mother Red Cap’ after its best-known public house which later became known as The World’s End (which was on the same site as the modern day pub from the late 18th century).
The area gained it’s name from Charles Pratt, 1st Earl of Camden in 1795 whose earldom was styled after his estate, Camden Palace near Chiselhurst in Kent and who began developing the area as a residential district from around 1791.
In 1870-72, John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Camden like this: “Camden Town, a suburb of London, a sub-district, and three chapelries in St. Pancras parish and district, Middlesex. The suburb adjoins the north-east side of Regent’s Park, 3½ miles NW of St. Paul’s; is intersected by the Regent’s canal and by the North London and Northwestern railways; and has a railway station of Camden with telegraph, a railway station of Camden-Road, and three post offices, Camden-Town-High-street, Camden-Town-Park-street, and Camden-Road…”
The area continued to grow becoming a centre for the piano, organ and furniture industries. The 19th century saw development of an industrial site of distilleries and warehouses which produced world renowned gin!
The Regents Canal fed goods up to seagoing ships at the Limehouse basin for transportation to over parts of the UK and overseas.
However, the continued development of the railways and roads eventually made transportation by canal uneconomic. The warehouses overlooking the canal began to close down and the lock area fell into decline until the early 1970s when Dr Bill Fulford and Peter Wheeler bought what was then a run-down timber yard belonging to T E Dingwalls and, beginning with just 16 stalls, transformed the area into what is now known as Camden Lock Market
Many people think of Camden Market as just one destination, but there are at least 6 markets in the area – Camden Lock (probably the best known), Camden Stables Market, Canal Market, Buck Street Market, Inverness Market and one inside Electric Ballroom.
The walk up to Camden Lock Market along Chalk Farm Road from the station makes a good introduction to the general wackiness of the area. If you look up you’ll see some of the unusual facades on the buildings above the shops.
I tried a taster of some of these lovely gooey deserts at Inverness Street Market which you’ll pass on the way – definately worth a stop to indulge.
In the market itself, you’ll find a big selection of street food from all over the world. Just a shame that the weather was so wet so standing outdoors was not a comfortable experience and I didn’t see too many places where you could sit under cover.
After a bite to eat I spent the rest of my time wandering around the different stalls. If you’re a fan of arts, crafts, music and fashion you’ll find plenty to keep you interested.
The market has a sculpture of Amy Winehouse who used to work at Camden Market in the days before her fame.
Many of the streets in the area are also great for street art.
By the afternoon, the cold and damp started to get a bit much so I decided to get under cover and head over to Albert Street. Albert Street itself has a couple of Blue Plaques marking the former residences of notable people – namely for John Desmond Bernal a scientist who pioneered the use of X-ray crystallography (a technique for determining the atomic and molecular structure of a crystal) and George MacDonald, Scottish poet and author of fantasy literature whose writings were said to have influenced well known authors, such as W H Auden, C S Lewis & T R R Tolkien.
129-131 Albert Street is also the home of the Jewish Museum. At this point I was glad to get somewhere warm and dry.
Having been outside for a while my hands were starting to turn numb. Fortunately, the Jewish Museum has a nice little cafe where I could warm up with a hot chocolate. The museum is a fantastic place to spend a couple of hours learning about the Jewish faith.
Here you learn information such as the background to regular rituals like the Sabath (Judaism’s day of rest and seventh day of the week, holy days such as Yom Kippur (atonement and reconciliation through fasting) and the festival of Purim ( the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, who was planning to kill all the Jews). You’ll hear the stories of people from the earliest East End Jewish communities and details of their day to day lives and work. You’ll also view some beautiful items of Jewish ceremonial art.
At the time of my visit, there was also a very moving exhibition charting the experiences of Leon Greenman and his family who (despite their British nationality) were deported to the Nazi concentration camp of Aschwitz-Birkenau in 1943.
Table Top (1850) with Picture of the New Synagogue, Bishopsgate
It was still raining when I left the museum just before closing at 5pm but I had had a really satisfying afternoon here. The Jewish Museum isn’t the best known of attractions in Camden but I’m so glad to have spent some time here. It’s great to know that even for a been there, done that local, such as myself, there are still fascinating museums like this waiting to be discovered. I would go so far as to say that this museum should be on every Camden visitor’s list of places to see being as much a reflection of this colourful community as some of the more expected pulls such as the market and pubs/clubs.
Jewish Museum London
Raymond Burton House
129-131 Albert Street
+44 (0)20 7284 7384 – Open Monday to Sunday 10am-5pm
Nearest Tube Station: Camden Town, Northern Line
Camden Lock Pl, NW1 8AF – Open Monday to Sunday 10am-7pm
Watch this short You Tube clip to learn more about The Jewish Museum.