Laid out as a residential district from 1791 and originally part of the manor of Kentish Town and the parish of St Pancras, Camden Town became an important location during the early development of the railways, which reinforced its position on the London canal network. The area's industrial economic base has been replaced by service industries such as retail, tourism and entertainment. The area now hosts street markets and music venues that are strongly associated with alternative culture.
Camden Town stands on land that was once the manor of Kentish Town. Sir Charles Pratt, a radical 18th-century lawyer and politician, acquired the manor through marriage. In 1791, he started granting leases for houses to be built in the manor. In 1816, the Regent's Canal was built through the area. Up to at least the mid-20th century, Camden Town was considered an "unfashionable" locality. The Camden markets, which started in 1973 and have grown since then, attract many visitors. A 1993 bomb blast injured 18 people on Camden High Street. On 9 February 2008, Camden Canal market suffered a major fire, but there were no injuries. It later reopened as Camden Lock Village, until closed in 2015 for redevelopment.
At the end of the 20th century, entertainment-related businesses began moving into the area, and a Holiday Inn was built abutting the canal. A number of retail and food chain outlets replaced independent shops, driven out by high rents and redevelopment. Restaurants with a variety of culinary traditions thrived, many of them near the markets, on Camden High Street and its side streets, Parkway, Chalk Farm Road, and Bayham Street. The plan to redevelop the historic Stables Market led to a steel and glass extension, built on the edges of the site in 2006, and increased the market's capacity.
Camden street markets
Camden is well known for its markets. These date from 1974 or later, except for Inverness Street market, for over a century a small food market serving the local community, though by 2013 all foodstuff and produce stalls had gone and only touristy stalls remained. Camden Lock market proper started in a former timber yard in 1973, and is now surrounded by five more markets: Buck Street market, Stables market, Camden Lock village, and an indoor market in the Electric Ballroom. The markets are a major tourist attraction at weekends, selling goods of all types, including fashion, lifestyle, books, food, junk/antiques and more bizarre items; they and the surrounding shops are popular with young people, in particular, those searching for "alternative" clothing. While originally open on Sundays only, market activity later extended throughout the week, though concentrating on weekends.
The Regent's Canal waterbus service
Camden Town Tube station is near the markets and other attractions. It is a key interchange station for the Bank and Charing Cross branches of the southbound Northern Line, and the Edgware and High Barnet branches of the northbound Northern Line. The station was not designed to cope with the volume of traffic it handles since the area increased in popularity. It is very crowded at weekends, and, as of 2011[update], is closed to outbound passengers on Sunday afternoons for safety reasons.[needs update]
London Underground has made many proposals to upgrade the station. In 2004 a proposal requiring the compulsory purchase and demolition of 'the Triangle'--land bordered by Kentish Town Road, Buck Street and Camden High Street--was rejected by Camden Council after opposition from local people; of 229 letters, only two supported the scheme. Chalk Farm and Mornington Crescent tube stations also serve the area. It was later planned to redevelop the station entirely between 2020 and 2024/5, with less demolition than proposed previously, but the redevelopment was postponed in December 2018 by TfL "until we have the funds we need".
Camden Town tube station is exit-only at times when market-related traffic would cause dangerous overcrowding on the narrow platforms; as of 2018[update] on Sundays from 13:00 to 17:30. At these times, alternative stations within walking distance are Mornington Crescent, Chalk Farm, and Kentish Town.
The area is a major hub for London Buses. The following London Buses routes all serve Camden Town: 24 (24 hour), 27, 29, 31, 46, 88 (24 hour), 134 (24 hour), 168, 214 (24 hour), 253, 274 and Night Bus Routes N5, N20, N27, N28, N29, N31, N253 and N279.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, from about March 2020 roadworks were carried out to make many side roads more suitable for cycling and reduce vehicle traffic. This led to traffic jams described as "gridlock", and opposition.
The London-wide Santander Cycles cycle hire scheme operates in Camden Town. There are several docking stations, including at Camden Road railway station (Bonny Street) and Camden Town tube station (Greenland Road).
Cycle counters on Royal College Street to the north of Camden Road railway station recorded over 375,000 journeys between August 2017 and July 2018.
A warm summer day at the Camden Lock
Regent's Canal runs through the north end of Camden Town. Canal boat trips along the canal from Camden Lock are popular, particularly in summer. Many of the handrails by the bridges show deep marks worn by the towropes by which horses pulled canal barges until the 1950s, and it is still possible to see ramps on the canal bank designed to assist horses that fell in the canal after being startled by the noise of a train. Camden Lock is a regularly used traditional manually operated double canal lock operating between widely separated levels. A large complex of weekend street markets operates around the Lock. The towpath is a pedestrian and cycle route which runs continuously from Little Venice through Camden Lock to the Islington Tunnel. A regular waterbus service operates along the Regent's Canal from Camden Lock. Boats depart every hour during the summer, heading westward around Regent's Park, calling at London Zoo and on towards Maida Vale. Sightseeing narrow-boat trips run from Camden Lock to Little Venice.
Camden catacombs(see also Catacombs of London), not true catacombs but an underground area largely underneath the Camden markets, originally used as stables for horses and pit ponies used to shunt railway wagons. Not open to visitors due to danger of flooding.
The Hawley Arms is a pub and music venue which became well known in the 90s as a hub for the indie and alternative music scene in London. It was Amy Winehouse's favourite pub when she lived in Camden Town, and she was rumoured to get behind the bar to pull pints and serve drinks.
Bronze statue of Winehouse in Camden Town, London unveiled in September 2014
B. R. Ambedkar (social reformer, jurist and LSE graduate) lived at 10, King Henry Road, Camden Town, now known as Ambedkar House, in 1921 and 1922.
Richard Ryan lived in Camden Town from 1819 until his death in 1849.
Charles Dickens's second London home was in Bayham Street in 1822. He later moved to 112 Little College Street (now College Place), where he boarded with Elizabeth Roylance, a family friend, whom Dickens later immortalised as "Mrs. Pipchin" in Dombey and Son.
Poet Dylan Thomas owned a house at 54 Delancey Street from 1951 until his death in 1953. There is a plaque on the house today.
Singer Amy Winehouse lived in Camden Town, first on Prowse Place and then on Camden Square, where she was found dead in July 2011. Winehouse was strongly associated with Camden Town. Since her death she has been entitled as "The Queen of Camden" and a bronze statue of her was placed in Stables Market on what would have been her 31st birthday, 14 September 2014.
Hip-hop trio N-Dubz are from and grew up in the area.
Music Band Madness are from and grew up in Camden Town and surrounding areas.
To the north of Camden Town station and running along the canal is a modern pop art complex designed by Terry Farrell as the studios of the former TV-am, now used by MTV but retaining TV-am's eggcup sculptures along the roof line. Associated Press Television News has its head office in a former gin warehouse near Camden Lock called "The Interchange".
The Camden New Journal is a free, independent weekly newspaper that covers the London Borough of Camden.