Inkerman Area History. A brief account and links to resources.

(I’m not sure where this came from! Let me know if you know!)

Kentish Town used to be the principal settlement in the parish of St Pancras, which stretched from what is now Tottenham Court Road to Highgate, and from York Way to Regent’s Park.

St Pancras Old Church in St Pancras Way is one of the oldest churches in London. It is thought to have been built on the site of an even older building. A settlement was probably already established in the vicinity of the church by AD400.

However, the river Fleet, which flows down from the heights of Hampstead and Highgate frequently flooded the land around the church, and the inhabitants gradually moved to dryer ground further upstream.

A chapel of ease was founded in Kentish Town probably by the 13th century and certainly by 1297. The site is uncertain. Another chapel on the west side of the road (now Nos.207-209 Kentish Town Road) replaced it. The third Kentish Town chapel was built on its present site in Highgate Road in the 18th century.

Kentish Town village did not develop as a compact cluster but as individual buildings strung out along the road to Highgate, which followed the course of the river. It probably took this form because of the various inns established to serve the many travellers passing through on their way between London and the North, and stretched from where the The Castle was (now Ringleys Estate Agents) to Swain’s Lane.

Although the land around was good, Kentish Town was not just a farming community. William Bruges, the first Garter King of Arms, had a magnificent house at the south end of the village in the early 15th century and other well to do Londoners followed. Gradually, the village established a reputation as a convenient and healthy retreat from the increasing congestion of the City.

As London expanded westwards in the 18th century, Kentish Town also changed and grew. More houses were built, but still on the main road, rather than in the fields behind. The farms concentrated increasingly on the production of milk for sale in the City, and hay to feed the growing number of horses.

Inns began developing extensive pleasure grounds as Londoners visited the area on day-trips to the country. The most important of these in the mid-18th century was The Castle mentioned above, whose gardens now lie beneath Kelly Street, Castlehaven Road and Clarence Way.

Later, the Assembly House surpassed it (formerly called the Black Bull and briefly The Flask) which boasted two acres of garden, paddocks and a bowling green.

Pollution of the Fleet River became an increasing problem in the 18th century. Ponds first started being created around 1589. A century later the ponds were leased to The Hampstead Water Company in 1692/3 who then built a number of additional ponds over the next 100 years. This reduced the flow in the river, whilst effluent from the new houses increased. Lower down, towards Holborn and Clerkenwell, it became known as the Town Ditch. The river was gradually culverted over.

It remained comparatively clean in Kentish Town until the end of the 18th century but was still capable of flooding and by the 1850s it had been culverted as far north as Holmes Road.

The northern section remained open until 1872 when, prompted by a particularly bad outbreak of cholera in 1866, the Metropolitan Board of Works encased it.

In 1791, Lord Camden obtained an Act of Parliament that enabled him to develop land along the east side of Camden High Street, which he sold on leases of 40 years rather than the 99 that was customary in better areas south of the New Road (today’s Marylebone and Euston Roads). The grid of streets between Albert Street was laid out and rapidly filled with cheap houses. The development soon linked up with the southern end of Kentish Town; Jeffrey’s Street and the nearby terraces were all built around 1800. Further north, Mansfield Place (now Holmes Road) and Spring Place were built out into the fields during the same period. By the early 1820s, houses had been built in Gloucester Place (the western end of Leighton Road) and there were a few villas along the recently opened Fortess Road, but otherwise, Kentish Town retained its essentially linear pattern.

Within a period of 25 years, from the mid- 1840s to 1870, Kentish Town was transformed. The sale of Lord Southampton’s land in 1840 and subsequent laying out of streets between Kentish Town and Haverstock Hill caused much of the initial development.

Prince of Wales Road is shown on the 1849 Parish map linking the two areas. The fields on either side were filled with houses and the railways carved their several paths through the area.

First came the North London Line, built on a massive brick viaduct above the southern end of Kentish Town in 1850. In 1849, a retirement home for aged and infirm governesses was built in Prince of Wales Road (later Richard of Chichester Catholic Secondary School), followed by the construction of the Hampstead Junction Railway on a viaduct at roof level, fifty yards to the west.

The branch that cuts through west Kentish Town up to Gospel Oak and Hampstead Heath followed in 1860, by which time the streets south of Prince of Wales Road and Rochester Road had been largely built-up. Streets in the Gospel Oak area were also laid out, but the new railways reduced prospects of attracting good tenants, and few houses were built until many years later. The layout of each development followed the old field pattern: many of the oddly shaped building plots, road alignments and changes of direction reflect the boundaries between one land holding and another.

The Conservation Area land is shown on the 1834 map marked as ‘Bakers Nursery’ and the beginning of construction is shown on the 1849 map where Grafton Road, Anglers Lane and Holmes Road (formerly Lower Mansfield Place) can be seen.

The core streets of the Conservation Area; Willes Road and part of Inkerman Road, were laid out in the early 1850s. The streets were built over two fields on either side of the river Fleet, between Holmes Road in the north and Prince of Wales Road in the south. Their names commemorate various battles, generals and politicians of the Crimean War.

By 1860 Willes Road, Grafton Road, Inkerman Road and Alma Street were fully laid out.

Cathcart Road was in the process of being laid out, as was Raglan Street, both were completed by 1868.

Ryland Road and Perren Street were not laid out until later (after 1875). In the 1870’s, the governesses moved out of the retirement home and the subsequent construction of Ryland Road, across part of its gardens began. The gardens can be seen on the 1875 Ordnance Survey map. More houses were then built behind the retirement home on Grafton Road (Nos. 33-53). On the west side of Kentish Town Road, the Midland Railway swallowed up all of the remaining unbuilt land between Holmes Road and Highgate Road for sidings, workshops and train sheds.

To the south, St Pancras and its associated goods yards wiped out Agar Town, a tract of cheap houses thrown-up on short leases around 1840.

Thus, many of the displaced inhabitants crowded into northern Kentish Town, accelerating the area’s decline from a genteel suburb for those of modest means to a crowded working-class district

The railways also brought new industries to the area. A massive coal depot was established in Holmes Road. Kentish Town and Camden Town became the main centre for piano making, with dozens of factories in the area, the largest being in Grafton Road, employing 300 workers.

Other large factories were built in the second half of the 19th century, producing such things as false teeth (Angler’s Lane), furniture, wallpaper (Highgate Road) and artists’ materials (Malden Crescent and Spring Place). Many of these buildings are still there, converted to other uses.

Numerous laundries, metal works of all sorts and suppliers to the building trades thrived in the back streets of west Kentish Town.

In the latter half of the 19th century, as Kentish Town became fully urbanised, schools, public baths and churches were erected, sometimes demolishing existing buildings.

In the Conservation Area the St Pancras Public Baths were built in 1898, designed by TW Aldwinckle (now Kentish Town Baths). A photograph shows the demolished corner shop at the junction of Grafton Road and Prince of Wales Road where the Baths were built.

A Board School was built in 1873 on Holmes Road (later part of Kingsway College, now the French School – Collège Français Bilingue de Londres).

Horse-drawn trams were introduced in the1870s, replaced by electric trams around 1908, and the Northern Line was opened in 1907.

Kentish Town Road became an important shopping centre. Most of the older houses along Kentish Town Road were converted or rebuilt as shops.   bomb damage

One resource that may be of interests is Booth’s Map of Poverty. These have been scanned in by the LSE – London School of Economics.

Please see another section on this website.

The Maps Descriptive of London Poverty are perhaps the most distinctive product of Charles Booth’s Inquiry into Life and Labour in London (1886-1903). An early example of social cartography, each street is coloured to indicate the income and social class of its inhabitants.

Life and Labour of the People in London was a multi-volume book by  Charles Booth which provided a survey of the lives and occupations of the working class of late 19th century London. The first edition was published in two volumes as Life and Labour of the People, Vol. I (1889) and Labour and Life of the People, Vol II (1891). The second edition was entitled Life and Labour of the People in London, and was produced in 9 volumes 1892-97. A third edition, running to a grand total of seventeen volumes appeared 1902-3.

1889 one digitised by University of Michigan:

Booth made his maps by walking the areas with policeman who gave him their views as to the residents. The original notebooks have been scanned in  And the notebooks