A short history of the area – rough draft

Please note that almost nothing here is original research and is drawn from the resources in the other page on this website of Local History Resources. Some of those need buying at Owl – by phone now – or via Abebooks for second hadn copies.

So this is a very compressed version to get you going.

What is free and immediately available is the Conservation Area Statement. This link may work: https://www.camden.gov.uk/inkerman-conservation-area-appraisal-and-management-strategy 

This surprising point about the early history of Kentish Town is that the village was not actually where it is now.

If you go down towards St Pancras station, on the left you will see “Old St Pancras Church“ up some steps, with a large churchyard all around it which contains some very interesting graves. It was in this area where the original village of Kentish Town grew up in the 13th century.

However, the River Fleet runs through that area which is comparatively low lying and marshy and it flooded it continually – to the point that people seem to have drifted northwards – following the River Fleet up to slightly higher and therefore drier land where we are now.

By 1449 there was enough of a population in our area for a small church, a “chapel-of-ease“, to be built so people didn’t have to take the wet lanes down to the church. The original one was across the road from the Owl Bookshop as it were and the later one was probably on the site of the Owl Bookshop. 

(Old St Pancras church was gradually abandoned – and, being remote, was used for Catholic worship during times of persecution of that faith. It was “restored“ – i.e. pretty comprehensively rebuilt – in the 19th century. )

The village that grew up in this area.

Gillian Tindall makes it very clear that the reason that Kentish Town actually exists is that it was on a road going north, following the River Fleet for at least some of the way and that basically a string of pubs or inns formed the essence of the village – with houses being built around them and buildings with associated support industries.

Which brings us to the first two streets that are clear on the map.

Anglers Lane was actually a lane running down from the High Street down to the River Fleet. This river rises on the Heath and runs through our area as you willl see below. Anglers Lane met it at the bottom of Willes Road. The river continues across Prince of Wales Road to run down behind the houses on the east of Castlehaven Road.

(It used to run past the “Jolly Anglers” pub that was seriously unjolly and is now Nandos.)

Of immediate significance is that one of the inns mentioned above was The Castle which was still a pub fairly recently. When it was a pub, the back garden ran down to the Fleet river which was presumably clean enough to support angling. Lord Nelson allegedly stayed at the Castle Inn leading to predictable jokes about how he sat and reviewed the Fleet.

It is now the rather smart office of Ringleys, the estate agents. They had taken over the derelict pub, pretty much smashed it up, although it was in a Conservation Area and, after a lot of local outrage, were forced by Camden council to spend a pots of money on its present very smart restoration.

https://pubwiki.co.uk/LondonPubs/StPancras/CastleTavern.shtml

The second significant road coming off the High Street and into our area is now called Holmes Road. It goes across land that was originally owned by the farmer, Richard Holmes. You will see it on the 1801 map where it is referred to as Mansfield Place and Spring Place.

Lots of side roads off that road supported local industry and it ran down to the end where it was called Spring Place and touched the River Fleet. On the 1834 map there is the brewery so I hope the water was still fairly clean.

You will see from the map that Prince of Wales Road was originally just Grafton Place and only went as far as the bottom of Anglers Lane in the 1834 map but in the 1854 map it was showing as more extended and it has got its current name.

In the 1834 map thgere is a lane shown as leading north west – which goes quite straight and then into a curve. It was then also called Anglers Lane so that lane was in fact L shaped – or there were two lanes.. or a mislabelling ?

This layout is reflected in the layout of Willes Road and appears from the map of 1860 to be the first major development in our area.

Just where the curve happens, at the top of the striaght bit, there is the fine building of number 38 Willes Road and Vivienne, who now lives there, has title deeds showing that it was there in 1851/52 when it was called Bradlow Villas. [New information]

The later maps of 1849 and 1860 show the slow building up of Alma, Raglan and Inkerman.

The thing to note is how they were constructed around the River Fleet. This runs south under Cathcart Street, a slight curve westwards is reflected in a few yards of Inkerman Road, and then it continues south for the length of Lower Willes Road.

The names are a very obvious clues that these were all being built during or just after the Crimean war (October 1853 to February 1856) and the names relate to that hideous pointless war where we and the French fought the Russians. And won – that time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimean_War#:~:text=The%20Crimean%20War%20was%20a,part%20of%20the%20Ottoman%20Empire.

One quote of which is “the view became general of the war was stupid and unnecessary, and effected nothing … The Crimean war remained as a classic example … of how governments may plunge into war, how strong ambassadors may mislead weak prime ministers, how the public may be worked up into a facile fury, and how the achievements of the war may crumble to nothing.”

Willes was the name of the Lieutenant-General James Willes, Commander of the Royal Marines in that war.

Alma refers to the Battle of the Alma (River) 20 September 1854, more details of which will be in a separate section on the website. Briefly one of those great victories where 1,600 French soldiers died , British 2,000, the Egyptians 503, and the Russians some 5,000.

Alma Street is one street we have done some fairly detailed original research from the Rate Books. The first four houses at the eastern end, to the left as you enter Alma St were first built and were called Alma Road and were on the Rate Books by 1855

The rest of Alma St first appears in the Rate Books at 1856.

There is more about our research on Alma St in a separate article on this website. That may also give some ideas about future research. [Well it will be – as at 26.12.2020]

Inkerman Road is named after another battle in that rather awful war and used to contain our local pub – appropriately named The Crimea.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Inkerman “casualties were: 2,573 British, of whom 635 were killed, and 1,800 French, of whom 175 were killed. Russia lost 3,286 killed within a total (including men taken prisoner) of 11,959 casualties.”

Leading off Inkerman obviously is Cathcart Street named after Sir George Cathcart who one history book describes as a man who died heroically at the Battle of Inkerman, he is dying words were “I feel we are in a mess.“

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Cathcart

Raglan St you will see from the map was built along the line of the field coming off Anglers Lane. It was named after Lord Raglan who was commander-in-chief of the British Army in the Crimean war. The existing houses were largely built in the 1860s although opposite was an interesting area with small rows of houses which are marked as being very low-grade on Booth’s map of London. There are details about that map and book elsewhere on the website.

Field Marshal FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, 1st Baron RaglanGCBPC (30 September 1788 – 28 June 1855) “After an early success at the Battle of Alma, a failure to deliver orders with sufficient clarity caused the fateful Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava. Despite further success at the Battle of Inkerman, a poorly coordinated allied assault on Sevastopol in June 1855 was a complete failure. Raglan died later that month, after suffering from dysentery and depression.”

The only major road left there for is Ryland Road whose appearance is much later – about 1870.

The present impressive building, Hamstead Gates, was originally The Governesses Institution, details of which are elsewhere on the website.

When the building of the railway and the increased noise and pollution drove out the governesses, their garden was built over with Ryland Road whose architecture is somewhat different to the other streets in the area.

The small side turning off it, Perrens Street the named after its builder, Richard Perrens.

Near this whole area and on the site of the fairly recently converted warehouse, Brinsmead, was the site of the famous piano factory and there is an article elsewhere on the website about that. 

More later…..as at …. . 26.12.20