Agar Town, Somers Town, Camden Town and Camden New Town all began life not as villages but as housing developments. They fell in the ancient parish of St. Pancras, which stretched from the present-day site of the Holloway Road and Kenwood House in the north to Tottenham Court Road and Bloomsbury in the south. As shown on the map below, its eastern fringe was what is now York Way, Camden Square and Kentish Town whilst its western border equates to the Broad Walk in Regents Park.
This ancient parish had come into the possession of the canons of St Paul’s Cathedral in Saxon times. Sometime before 1066 they had split it into rural manors, each of which funded one of the Cathedral’s prebends (senior clergy). The Doomsday Book of 1087 reports three of these manors within the parish – Cantelowes or Kennistoune (Kentish Town), Tottenhall and Rugmere. As the name suggests Tottenhall was centred on present-day Tottenham Court Road, whilst that of Rugmere roughly equates to present-day Primrose Hill, Chalk Farm and the eastern third of Regents Park. The Doomsday Book also noted a fourth lay manor, St Pancras, which may originally have formed part of Cantelowes but passed into non-church hands long before the Norman Conquest – this included what would become Agar Town and Somers Town.
The rural nature of the area was still largely unchanged over 600 years later. Jean Rocque was the son of French Huguenots who had fled to England after Louis XIV revoked France’s toleration of Protestantism in 1685. Between 1741 and 1745 he surveyed London and the countryside within a ten-mile radius of the city centre, publishing his results in 1746. That map (below) shows the Mother Red Cap pub (now The World’s End in central Camden Town) and empty fields north of an isolated Old St. Pancras Church.
Fifty years later a map c. 1800 shows the River Fleet flowing towards the Thames through the scattered houses of the small country hamlet of Kentish Town. Some of the country lanes there, running through fields, were the resort of highwaymen preying on travellers. An ancient roadway, then a coach road and now Kentish Town Road, ran from London to the more populous village of Highgate. However, houses now lined what became Camden High Street. This quiet rural scene was set to change with remarkable speed as increasingly many people left the countryside to move into towns and cities.
An 1834 map of St Marylebone, Paddington and St Pancras shows that by then the ancient parish of St Pancras was divided between thirteen landowners, the two largest of which were Charles Fitzroy, 1st Baron Southampton, and Charles Pratt, 1st Earl of Camden, who in the late eighteenth century began to build Camden Town. 1 To serve their housing developments they also built major new streets and roads such as Camden Road in 1826. By 1834 what is now central Camden Town was linked to Park Street (now Parkway) to link to the Camden-Limehouse section of Regents Canal (opened in 1820) and to Regents Park (first opened to the public in 1835).
Mary Sokol and Edward Smith.
- Streets of Camden Town, Camden History Society, 2003. ↩