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I Love Kentish Town

Anyone who has the dubious fortune of knowing me in real life, knows that I love my neighbourhood – Kentish Town in North London.  For those who don’t know it, it’s just north of the tourist trap that is Camden Town and south of the millionaires’ paradise that is Hampstead. I have lived here since 1998; it has been the constant backdrop to a series of life changes.

The postcode is NW5 and Camden stalwarts Madness  wrote a rather wonderful song about it:

The track comes from their recent concept album about London called The Liberty of Norton Folgate, which is actually pretty cool, if slightly less well known than their old stuff. Here’s something you’ll probably know a bit better – the video for their hit record Baggy Trousers, filmed in Kentish Town Primary School.

Got to love Madness.

The Kentish Town of the 70s is the one that probably still lingers in the popular imagination. A predominantly working class area – with a few mildly gentrified bits. Salt of the earth. A large Irish community. Solidly Labour. Nothing poncey.

In many ways, Kentish Town has not changed all that much since the days when Madness were doing their thing. There is still a relatively large amount of social housing – in addition to the estates, quite a bit of the Victorian housing stock is council or housing association owned. A typical Kentish Town street will be a mix of privately owned, privately rented and social housing; a mix of Victorian terraces often converted into flats and small estates. It’s a mixed community in that a lawyer, doctor, dustman, journalist, teacher, mini-cab driver and unemployed single mother can all live side by side. Kentish Town is a place that values everybody – it’s not snooty or snobbish like some parts of London.

Today, I had a lovely time at the Alma Street Fair, which in many ways represents all that is great about Kentish Town – great community spirit, fun for all ages – you name it. My husband and I took the kids and tucked into a load of delicious food. It being Kentish Town, you kind of knew everyone – no shortage of people to chat to in our neighbourhood.

It was a gorgeous day so I took a few snaps to capture the flavour of the event.

I purchased one of these rather fabulous bags at a school fete the previous week and was glad to see them on sale again.

Here are child 1 and child 2 playing in the paddling pool – very welcome on a boiling hot day

Here’s a rather wonderful rainbow cake – there were a lot of wonderful cakes on sale but this one particularly pleased me

And here’s the obligatory bunting and children playing round a bubble machine:

Maybe the more eagle eyed readers among you may have detected a slight note of caution with the use of the word ‘obligatory’ to describe the bunting. I would also use it to describe the vast number of cupcakes and crafts on sale as well. Which is probably a little bit cynical. But then I am a little bit cynical.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a whale of a time at Alma Street and think these type of events are very important for a local area – they bring everyone together and provide local entertainment for families. However, I suppose there was a slight concern in my head that it was all a bit Richard Curtis – a kind of heritage view of London which only the affluent can enjoy. Houses in Alma Street go for nearly a million quid and although the festival obviously catered for a much wider area, I worried that there was an exclusive air to it. Child one wanted a burger so we bought him one – it cost £6.50! Call me a tight arsed skinflint but I think this is quite a lot.

I guess what the festival did was make me wonder about the whole idea of gentrification – something that has been an ongoing process in much of London since my own childhood (70s/80s). Basically London was bombed to buggery in WW2, making inner London a very undesirable place to live in the immediate post war period. Even places that are now super posh – ie Notting Hill and Islington – were rundown slums

and anyone with any cash cleared off to the suburbs.

Very forward thinking and fashionable types moved into Islington, Notting Hill and Camden in the 60s and 70s (I’ve written about this in a previous post) while during the 80s, previously decaying bits of South London such as Battersea and Clapham became popular with wannabe Sloane Rangers.

It was rumoured – albeit humorously that Battersea was nicknamed ‘South Chelsea’ by estate agents, while Streatham became St-Reatham and Stockwell  became St-Ockwell. I’m not sure any of this is actually true, but the jokes were definitely made back in the day.

Obviously after the giddy heights of the 80s property boom came the 90s crash, followed by the insane escalation in property prices ever since. I was lucky enough to grab Reese Towers (a 3 bed flat) in the late 90s and have stayed here ever since. I could no way afford to buy it now – chance would be a fine thing. On paper it’s probably worth quite a bit, but what does that actually mean? It’s only really worth a bit if I want to cash in my chips and leave London. Which I don’t. Despite its many faults I love this city and will hopefully be carried out of it in my box!

What makes me sad is I know that a younger version of Reese could no way afford to buy a place like mine – not without the intervention of a sugar daddy (yuck), a lottery win (don’t play the lottery) or a lost lost millionaire relative (don’t have any of those).  A Reese the age I was when I bought this place (29) would be not only crippled by mountains of student debt but about as likely to get a mortgage that would cover the cost of buying a fairly mediocre flat in Kentish Town as Britain winning the Eurovision Song Contest.

So I guess that means the place would be bought either a)for investment or b) for the children of someone with a few quid. I can’t imagine a banker living in here (it’s too small and crap) but no one on anything other than megabucks would be able to afford it. In addition to this, lots of poorer residents who were claiming housing benefit for rented accommodation have been driven out of the area by the benefit cap. My fear is that the neighbourhood will become hollowed out.

I guess my main concern with all of this is the effect that it has on the local community. If the only people living here are super rich then they won’t be using the local schools and facilties and therefore won’t give a stuff about them. I don’t want Kentish Town to become the next Notting Hill. I like the fact that Kentish Town is inclusive and literally takes all sorts.

I guess I’m wondering for how much longer this will be true.

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This entry was published on May 27, 2012 at 10:23 pm. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “I Love Kentish Town

  1. Excellent piece. Even in two years walking to school through Kentish Town (particularly up Patshull Road or Gaisford Street) I noticed more and more front doors taking on those ubiquitous pastel shades that are synonymous with gentrification. I think Kentish Town must have already changed dramatically in this respect, but unlike a lot of areas it still has a long way to go before it’s completely ‘gentrified’, and it’s not Notting Hill yet!

    The other thing that’s so great about Kentish Town is that it’s still peppered with little bits of industry – some of the old workshops are still there whereas in other places they’ve become luxury developments; there’s all the van hire stuff up on Bartholomew Road and of course there’s the newer Regis Road, which is plainer and tackier but still makes it a more diverse area than if it was just home to a few more bankers’ pads.

    To continue with the theme of Kentish Town songs here’s Imelda May’s contribution. Some people sneered a bit and said it romanticised; and I think Richard Osley commented on the fact that it only showed the indie-ish places on the high street and not Iceland! But I think it’s brilliant and captures the Kentish spirit, the local Irish tradition and a sense of both transience and homeliness if that could possibly make sense! And it’s so different from pretty much everything else she’s done. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mY02Tz5cHlo

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