Category Archives: London

Books History London Politics

When Camden had a thriving, mixed local economy

I’ve been reading recently about the importance of local economies, and how money can be kept in them and its benefits multiplied, in the New Economics Foundation Plugging the Leaks programme. I’ve also been reading, courtesy of my local (threatened by cuts library) The Growth of Camden Town: AD1800-2000 by Jack Whitehead.

It’s not the best-organised book of local history ever written, but the passion of the author for this area of London, and the depth of his research, is obvious, and it is a must-read for anyone interested in Camden. The illustrations are also fascinating (although unfortunately only in black and white).

It’s mostly non-political, a narrative account rather than statement of what Whitehead would like to see, but the feelings occasionally slip through: “About 1970, when industry in Camden Town was almost defunct, I cleared out part of an old piano factory… The owner was retiring because of rising rents and falling business. His mews factory was being refurbished and restored as part of an urban renewal programme. This included a new roof of Welsh slates at £3 each. At a time when huge new factories and trading estates were being erected on green-field sites, with roofs in corrugated iron, this inner-city factory was being treated like a stately home and priced out of any future manufacture…. The planners were working to the ideas current at the time. Industry should be zoned away from housing, preferably in a New Town beyond the Green Belt…. With the best will in the world and hoping to improve people’s lives, planners were destroying industry. The same thing was happening all over London… Within a few years the delicate network of local employment was shattered. London, which in Victorian times had been the biggest industrial city in the British Isles, had lost its industry. Instrument making in Islington and Clerkenwell, gunsmiths in Paddington, furniture in Hoxton, metal casting in Bayham Street, brewing in Hawley Street – industry withered or fled.” (p. 59)
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Environmental politics London Politics

Somers Town area forum

A belated report from last month’s meeting, as I dig into my to-do pile.

We heard about the planned bicycle hire scheme for Zone 1 in London (along the line of Paris’s Velib). Although no contractor has yet been selected, it is planned to begin in May 2010.

There will be 400 sites in all, the majority in Westminster, with 39 in Camden. The main theory is to alleviate Tube congestion.

Camden has 4.24 suqare km in Zone 1, and there is to be 9 docking stations per square kilometre, and a total of 1064 bicycles.

The theory goes that space will not be taken from pedestrians or existing cycle parking, but will be “buildouts” into the road. (Except that we were then told that of the four proposed locations in Somers Town one was on an existing carriageway and three were on footway.)

Two are on St Pancras Road just north of St Pancras station, on either side of the footway, one in Doric Way and one near the top of Eversholt St.

We then heard a briefing about the demographics of Somers Town: 56% of local people are from ethnic minority backgrounds, (compared to 40% London and 13% England). A total of 120 languages are spoken in the ward. 25% of the population is under 16 (17% London, 20% England). 87% are under 65 (85, 67). 64% of men and 48% of women are economically active (London 75/60, England 74/60). 3.6% of people are longterm unemployed (Camden average 2%). 55% of Somers Town children get 5plus good GCSEs (Camden 50.7%).

Male life expectancy is 70.3, the lowest in London – 11 years younger than Hampstead. (Women 78 – London average 81.2).


How to solve a problem of some leaflets

Handy tip: If you have multiple boxes of leaflets to shift across London (a lot more than will fit on a bicycle), ring up Addison Lee.

I called this morning at 8, they did the pickup at 9 and I had them at 10 – all for £20. The alternative would have been faffing around with minicabs or getting a car club car and getting hopelessly lost in central London – it was good value. And you don’t need an account – which is usually what stymies such arrangements.

(And no, I don’t own any shares in the company.)

London Politics

Some hard facts

Presented in a very comprehensive briefing by Camden council staff at the St Pancras and Somers Town “area forum” last week.

The London borough of Camden has just under 16,000 people on its housing waiting list, and 1,420 statutory homeless households living in temporary accommodation. Thirty per cent of Camden households are overcrowded (national figure 7%). A total of 2,691 households on the housing register are overcrowded.

About 9,000 properties in Camden have been sold under right to buy.

The population is predicted to grow by 20% (10% by 2016), mostly in the 15-59 age group.

Seventy-four per cent of inquiries to councillors were about housing.

A total of 195 “affordable” homes were built last year. (The prediction for 2007-8 is 180. About 250 starts of affordable housing are predicted in the King’s Cross development – I asked if it was thought this would be affecting by the credit crunch and the claim was that it wouldn’t be.)

History London

Wandering the Renaissance and more at the V&A

Today I threw up all of the things I should have been doing for a chance to enjoy London – choosing the V&A for the Blood on Paper: The Art of the Book exhibition, which I’ve reviewed over on My London Your London.

But it is hard always to stick at one thing, and with the medieval and Renaissance galleries now closed for refurbishment (reopening scheduled for November 2009), I kept falling across them everywhere. Up on the fourth floor is a small display on Makers and markets, looking at the development of one period into the other. There are spectacular Giambologna bronzes and Limoges enamels, but as so often I find the more humble pieces much more interesting, including the German stoneware from the Rhineland, which was exported all over northwest Europe.

There’s this pitcher c 1573 by Jan Emens Mennicken (who is also represented at the British Museum, including this spectacular wine vessel for a wealthy household



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The London community

I’ve never really been sold on the “there’s no community in London” tale – if you’ve moved here from Bangkok the place looks like a positive model of civility and goodwill.

And I proved it again on Sunday night, carrying a not so much heavy as awkwardly shaped 1930s oak library table on the train from somewhere in the depths of south London to home.

So thank you very much to the young man of Asian extraction who helped me with it off London Bridge train station, and to the Polish lady who helped me on to the Tube. Two great examples of community spirit in a great city.