Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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CAMDEN TOWN AND KENTISH TOWN.
Camden Town—Statue of Richard Cobden—Oakley Square—The "Bedford Arms"—The Royal Park Theatre—The "Mother Red Cap"—The "Mother Shipton"—The Alderney Dairy—The Grand Junction Canal—Bayham Street, and its Former Inhabitants—Camden Road—Camden Town Railway Station—The Tailors' Almshouses—St. Pancras Almshouses—Maitland Park—The Orphan Working School—The Dominican Monastery—Gospel Oak—St. Martin's Church—Kentish Town: its Buildings and its Residents—Great College Street—The Royal Veterinary College—Pratt Street—St. Stephen's Church—Sir Henry Bishop—Agar Town.
Camden Town, says Mr. Peter Cunningham, "was so called (but indirectly) after William Camden, author of the 'Britannia.' Charles Pratt, Attorney-General and Lord Chancellor in the reign of George III., created, in 1765, Baron Camden of Camden Place, in Kent, derived his title from his seat near Chislehurst, in Kent, formerly the residence of William Camden, the historian. His lordship, who died in 1794, married the daughter and co-heir of Nicholas Jeffreys, Esq., son and heir of Sir Geoffery Jeffreys, of Brecknock; and his lordship's eldest son was created, in 1812, Earl of Brecknock and Marquis Camden. Lord Camden's second title was Viscount Bayham; and all these names, Pratt, Jeffreys, Brecknock, and Bayham, may be found in Camden Town."
Camden Town, we may here remark, was commenced towards the close of the last century, Lord Camden having, in the year 1791, let out the ground on leases for building 1,400 houses. The houses in Camden Road and Square have perhaps the most aristocratic appearance of any in the district. The High Street, which originally consisted of a row of small shops with one floor above, and trim gardens in their fronts, separated by hedges of privet, have within the last few years been for the most part either rebuilt or enlarged, and are now on a par with the other business parts of London; and on Saturday evenings the upper part of the street, thronged as it is with stalls of itinerant vendors of the necessaries of daily life, and with the dwellers in the surrounding districts, presents to an ordinary spectator all the attributes of a market place.
At the lower end of High Street, facing Eversholt Street, is a marble statue of Richard Cobden, which was erected by subscription in the year 1863. The statue, which stands in a conspicuous position, is rather above life-size, and is placed upon a granite pedestal of two stages, about twelve feet high, the plinth of which is simply inscribed "Cobden. The Corn-Laws Repealed, June, 1846." The great politician is represented in a standing attitude, as if delivering an address in the House of Commons. He is attired in the ordinary dress of a gentleman of the present day, and holds in one hand a Parliamentary roll. The sculptor's name was Wills. Born at Dunford, in Sussex, in the year 1804, Cobden was brought up as a lad to business, and served behind a counter in a large establishment at Manchester. About the year 1840 he helped to found the Anti-Corn Law League, whose efforts in less than ten years' time set aside the restrictions imposed by the old Corn Laws on the importation of foreign grain, and eventually secured to the country the advantages of free trade. He was offered, but refused, all honours and offices; but he represented Stockport, the West Riding, and Rochdale from 1841 down to his death, in 1865.
Oakley Square, which lies on the east side of Eversholt Street and Harrington Square, is so called after Oakley House, one of the seats of the ducal owner, near Bedford. In this square is St. Matthew's Church, a large and handsome Gothic building, with a lofty tower and spire. It was erected in 1854, from the designs of Mr. J. Johnson, F.R.S., and is capable of seating upwards of 1,200 persons.
The "Bedford Arms," in Grove Street, on the west side of the High Street, has been a tavern of some note in its day. Formerly, the tea-gardens attached to the house were occasionally the scene of balloon ascents. The Morning Chronicle of July 5, 1824, contains an account of an aërial voyage made from these gardens by a Mr. Rossiter and another gentleman. The ascent took place shortly after five o'clock, and the balloon alighted safely in Havering Park, two miles from Romford, in Essex. The two aëronauts, having been provided with a post-coach, returned at once to Camden Town, and arrived at the "Bedford Arms" about half-past ten o'clock. On the 14th of June, 1825, as we learn from the Morning Herald, Mr. Graham took a trip into the aërial regions from these grounds, accompanied by two ladies. Their ascent was witnessed by a large concourse of spectators; and after a pleasant voyage of nearly an hour, they alighted at Feltham, near Hounslow. Of late years the "Bedford Arms" has added the attractions of a music-hall, called "The Bedford."
In Park Street, which connects Camden Town with the north-east corner of Regent's Park, is the Royal Park Theatre, a place of dramatic entertainment, originally opened about the year 1870 under the name of the Alexandra Theatre. The class of amusement generally given here consists of melodramas, farces, and opera-bouffe.
From a manuscript list of inns in this neighbourhood about the year 1830, we find that in Camden Town at that time there were the "Mother Red Cap," the "Mother Black Cap," the "Laurel Tree," the "Britannia," the "Camden Arms," the "Bedford Arms," the "Southampton Arms," the "Wheatsheaf," the "Hope and Anchor," and the "Elephant and Castle." The two first-named of these houses were, and are still, rival establishments at the northern, or upper, end of the High Street. The "Mother Black Cap" stands within a few doors of the corner of Park Street.
The "Mother Red Cap," observes Mr. J. T. Smith, in his "Book for a Rainy Day," was in former times a house of no small terror to travellers. "It has been stated," he adds, "that 'Mother Red Cap' was the 'Mother Damnable' of Kentish Town in early days, and that it was at her house that the notorious 'Moll Cut-purse,' the highway woman of Oliver Cromwell's days, dismounted, and frequently lodged." The old house was taken down, and another rebuilt on its site, with the former sign, about the year 1850. This, again, in its turn, was removed; and a third house, in the modern style, and of still greater pretensions, was built on the same site some quarter of a century afterwards.
Great doubts have been entertained as to the
real history of the semi-mythic personage whose
name stands on the sign-board of this inn. It has
been stated that the original Mother Red Cap was
a follower of the army under Marlborough, in the
reign of Queen Anne; but this idea is negatived
by the existence of a rude copper coin, or token,
dated 1667, and mentioning in its inscription,
"Mother Read Cap's (sic) in Holl(o)way." Further
arguments in refutation of this idea will be found
in the Monthly Magazine for 1812. Again, some
writers have attempted to identify her with the
renowned Eleanor Rumming, of Leatherhead, in
Surrey, who lived under Henry VIII. This noted
alewife is mentioned by Skelton, the poet laureate
of Henry VIII., as having lived
"In a certain stead,
She was, he assures us, one of the most frightful of her sex, being
"—ugly of cheer,
Her face all bowsy,
Her een bleared,
And she grey-haired."
The portrait of Eleanor on the frontispiece of an original edition of the "Tunning of Eleanor Rumming," by Skelton, will satisfy the reader that her description is no exaggeration.
Perhaps there may be more of truth in the following "biographical sketch" of the original Mother Red Cap, which we now quote from Mr. Palmer's work on "St. Pancras, and its History," above referred to:—"This singular character, known as 'Mother Damnable,' is also called 'Mother Red Cap,' and sometimes 'The Shrew of Kentish Town.' Her father's name was Jacob Bingham, by trade a brickmaker in the neighbourhood of Kentish Town. He enlisted in the army, and went with it to Scotland, where he married a Scotch pedlar's daughter. They had one daughter, this 'Mother Damnable.' This daughter they named Jinney. Her father, on leaving the army, took again to his old trade of brickmaking, occasionally travelling with his wife and child as a pedlar. When the girl had reached her sixteenth year, she had a child by one Coulter, who was better known as Gipsey George. This man lived no one knew how; but he was a great trouble to the magistrates. Jinney and Coulter after this lived together; but being brought into trouble for stealing a sheep from some lands near Holloway, Coulter was sent to Newgate, tried at the Old Bailey, and hung at Tyburn. Jinney then associated with one Darby; but this union produced a cat-and-dog life, for Darby was constantly drunk; so Jinney and her mother consulted together, Darby was suddenly missed, and no one knew whither he went. About this time her parents were carried before the justices for practising the black art, and therewith causing the death of a maiden, for which they were both hung. Jinney then associated herself with one Pitcher, though who or what he was, never was known; but after a time his body was found crouched up in the oven, burnt to a cinder. Jinney was tried for the murder, but acquitted, because one of her associates proved he had 'often got into the oven to hide himself from her tongue.' Jinney was now a 'lone woman,' for her former companions were afraid of her. She was scarcely ever seen, or if she were, it was at nightfall, under the hedges or in the lanes; but how she subsisted was a miracle to her neighbours. It happened during the troubles of the Commonwealth, that a man, sorely pressed by his pursuers, got into her house by the back door, and begged on his knees for a night's lodging. He was haggard in his countenance, and full of trouble. He offered Jinney money, of which he had plenty, and she gave him a lodging. This man, it is said, lived with her many years, during which time she wanted for nothing, though hard words and sometimes blows were heard from her cottage. The man at length died, and an inquest was held on the body; but though every one thought him poisoned, no proof could be found, and so she again escaped harmless. After this Jinney never wanted money, as the cottage she lived in was her own, built on waste land by her father. Years thus passed, Jinney using her foul tongue against every one, and the rabble in return baiting her as if she were a wild beast. The occasion of this arose principally from Jinney being reputed a practiser of the black art—a very witch. She was resorted to by numbers as a fortune-teller and healer of strange diseases; and when any mishap occurred, then the old crone was set upon by the mob and hooted without mercy. The old, ill-favoured creature would at such times lean out of her hatch-door, with a grotesque red cap on her head. She had a large broad nose, heavy shaggy eyebrows, sunken eyes, and lank and leathern cheeks; her forehead wrinkled, her mouth wide, and her looks sullen and unmoved. On her shoulders was thrown a dark grey striped frieze, with black patches, which looked at a distance like flying bats. Suddenly she would let her huge black cat jump upon the hatch by her side, when the mob instantly retreated from a superstitious dread of the double foe.
"The extraordinary death of this singular character is given in an old pamphlet:—'Hundreds of men, women, and children were witnesses of the devil entering her house in his very appearance and state, and that, although his return was narrowly watched for, he was not seen again; and that Mother Damnable was found dead on the following morning, sitting before the fire-place, holding a crutch over it, with a tea-pot full of herbs, drugs, and liquid, part of which being given to the cat, the hair fell off in two hours, and the cat soon after died; that the body was stiff when found, and that the undertaker was obliged to break her limbs before he could place them in the coffin, and that the justices have put men in possession of the house to examine its contents.'
"Such is the history of this strange being, whose name will ever be associated with Camden Town, and whose reminiscence will ever be revived by the old wayside house, which, built on the site of the old beldame's cottage, wears her head as the sign of the tavern."
The figure of Mother Red Cap, as it was represented on the sign, exhibited that venerable lady—whether she was ale-wife or witch—with a tall extinguisher-shaped hat, not unlike that ascribed to Mother Shipton; and it is not a little remarkable that two inns bearing the names of these semimythical ladies exist within half a mile of each other.
Although the tavern bearing the sign of "Mother
Shipton" is thus far off, at the corner of Malden
Road, near Chalk Farm, some account of the other
weird woman may not be altogether out of place
here. "The prophecies of Mother Shipton,"
writes Dr. C. Mackay, in his "Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions," "are still believed
in many of the rural districts of England. In
cottages and in servants' halls her reputation is still
great; and she rules, the most popular of British
prophets, among all the uneducated or half educated portion of the community. She is generally
supposed to have been born at Knaresborough, in
the reign of Henry VII., and to have 'sold her
soul to the devil' for the power of foretelling future
events. Though during her lifetime she was
looked upon as a witch, yet she escaped the
usual witches' fate, and died peaceably in her bed
at an extreme old age, near Clifton, in Yorkshire.
A stone is said to have been erected to her
memory in the churchyard of the place, with the
"'Here lies she who never lied,
Whose skill often has been tried;
Her prophecies shall still survive, And ever keep her name alive.'"
"Never a day passed," says her traditionary biography, "wherein she did not relate something remarkable, and that required the most serious consideration. People flocked to her from far and near, her fame was so great. They went to her of all sorts, both old and young, rich and poor, especially young maidens, to be resolved of their doubts concerning things to come; and all returned wonderfully satisfied in the explanations that she gave to their questions." Among the rest, Dr. Mackay tells us, who went to her was the Abbot of Beverley, to whom she foretold the suppression of the monasteries by Henry VIII., his marriage with Anne Boleyn, the fires for heretics in Smith field, the death of Cardinal Wolsey, and the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. She also foretold the accession of James I. to the English throne, adding that with him—
"From the cold north
Every evil shall come forth.
On a subsequent visit, she is said to have uttered another prophecy, which, perhaps, may be realised during the present century:—
"'The time shall come when seas of blood
Shall mingle with a greater flood:
Great noise shall there be heard; great shouts and cries,
And seas shall thunder louder than the skies;
Then shall three lions fight with three, and bring
Joy to a people, honour to a king.
That fiery year as soon as o'er
Peace shall then be as before;
Plenty shall everywhere be found,
And men with swords shall plough the ground.'"
It is the wont of superficial writers to say that James despised this and other prophecies of the like kind; but it is a fact that under him all sorts of legal enactments were passed which forbade any further additions to London in the way of building. Though these enactments were defied to a very great extent, yet no doubt they helped for many a long day to keep the metropolis within very manageable limits down to the time of the Great Fire of 1666.
We learn from the Morning Post, of 1776, that the open space opposite the "Mother Red Cap" was at one time intended to have been made a second Tyburn. "Orders have been given from the Secretary of State's office that the criminals capitally convicted at the Old Bailey shall in future be executed at the cross road near the 'Mother Red Cap' inn, the half-way house to Hampstead, and that no galleries, scaffolds, or other temporary stages be built near the place."
At the beginning of the present century the "Mother Red Cap" was a constant resort for many a Londoner who desired to inhale the fresh air, and enjoy the quiet of the country, for at that time the old tavern—which, by the way, was also known as the half-way house to Highgate and Hampstead—stood almost in the open fields, and was approached on different sides by green lanes and hedgeside roads. At that time, too, the dairy over the way, at the corner of the Chalk Farm, or Hampstead, and the Kentish Town Roads was not the fashionable establishment it afterwards became, but partook more of the character of "milk fair," as noticed by us in our account of Spring Gardens, (fn. 1) for there were forms for the pedestrians to rest on, and the good folks served out milk fresh from the cow to all who came.
The Grand Junction Canal, after leaving the Regent's Park, passes through Camden Town. It is spanned on the Chalk Farm Road by a fine bridge of cast iron. A little further to the east it crosses the Midland Railway, or rather the latter is carried under it. This work was effected by a triumph of engineering skill almost unparalleled. The waters of the canal are drained off every year for exactly seven days, in order to clear its bed; during this period so strong a force of men was put upon it that between one Saturday and the next a tunnel was dug under the canal, and bricked and roofed over before the water was sent back into its channel.
Running parallel with High Street, on its eastern side, is Bayham Street, which is worthy of notice, as having been the first home of Charles Dickens in London, when he came up thither from Chatham with his parents in the year 1821; and here he took his first impressions of that struggling poverty which is nowhere more vividly shown than in the commoner streets of an ordinary London suburb. It is thus described in Forster's Life of Dickens:—"Bayham Street was then about the poorest part of the London suburbs, and the house was a mean, small tenement, with a wretched little garden abutting on a squalid court. Here was no place for new acquaintances for him; no boys were near with whom he might hope to become in any way familiar. A washerwoman lived next door, and a Bow Street officer lived over the way. Many times has he spoken to me of this, and how he seemed at once to fall into a solitary condition apart from all other boys of his own age, and to sink at home into a neglected state which had always been quite unaccountable to him. 'As I thought,' he said, very bitterly, on one occasion, 'in the little back garret in Bayham Street, of all that I had lost in losing Chatham, what would I have given (if I had anything to give) to have been sent back to any other school, and to have been taught something anywhere!' He was at another school already, not knowing it. The self-education forced upon him was teaching him, all unconsciously as yet, what, for the future that awaited him, it most behoved him to know."
An old inhabitant of this neighbourhood, and one who likewise spent his early childhood in this very street, questioned the accuracy of the above narrative, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph. The writer, who signed himself "F. M.," remarked:—"Fifty years ago Camden Town, like some other London suburbs, was but a village. Bayham Street had grass struggling through the newly-paved road. There were not more than some twenty or, at most, thirty newly-erected houses in it. These were occupied by, No. 1, Mr. Lever, the builder of the houses; No. 2, Mr. Engelheart, a then celebrated engraver; No. 3, a Captain Blake; No. 4, a retired linendraper, one of the old school; No. 5, by my father and his family; No. 6, by a retired diamond merchant, two of whose sons have made their mark, one as an artist and another as the author of 'True to the Core.' At No. 7 lived a retired hairdresser, who, like most others there, had a lease of his house. In another lived a Regent Street jeweller; and so I could enumerate the inhabitants of this squalid neighbourhood. When Charles Dickens lived there it must have been about the year 1822; and if he lived over the way, the description given by his biographer of its character is a perfect caricature of a quiet street in what was then but a village. I was then a boy of some six years of age, and, to my childish apprehension, it was a country village. Mr. Lever's field was at the back of the principal row of houses, in which haymaking was enjoyed in its season, and it was, indeed, a beautiful walk across the fields to Copenhagen House. Camden Road then was not. The village watchman's box was at one end of the street by the 'Red Cap' teagarden. Old Lorimer, who lived in Queen Street—then with gardens and a field in front of but one row of houses—was the only constable. Occasionally robberies of articles in the out-houses caused some consternation, but gas had not then arrived to enlighten the darkness of this squalid neighbourhood."
The above account of Bayham Street and its residents was supplemented by two other letters in the Daily Telegraph, which we take the liberty of quoting. In the first, which was signed "C. L. G.," the writer says: "As a boy I was a constant visitor at one of the houses occupied by the late Mr. Holl, the celebrated engraver, the father of Mr. Frank Holl, and of the late William Holl, engravers, and of Mr. Henry Holl, the actor and novelist. Mr. Charles Rolls, another artist of note, in addition to Mr. Engelhart, and to Mr. Henry Selous, the painter, and Mr. Angelo Selous, the dramatic author, resided in Bayham Street. The private theatricals at the late Mr. Holl's residence will not be forgotten, as all the gentlemen just named took parts therein, as also another actor, who is no more, Mr. Benjamin Holl. The houses in Bayham Street were small, but the locality half a century since was regarded as a suburb of London. Fields had to be crossed to reach it, on which the best houses of Camden Town have been since erected. The description of Bayham Street by the late Charles Dickens must have been prompted by personal privations. What a romance he could have created out of the house occupied by Mr. Holl, where was concealed for months young Watson, who was implicated in the treasonable attempt for which his father and Thistlewood were tried and acquitted—the latter not taking warning by his escape on that occasion, for he afterwards concocted the Cato Street conspiracy, for which he was executed at Newgate. Young Watson shot a gunmaker in Snow Hill, for which his comrade Cashman, the sailor, was hanged. Mr. Holl was a Reformer in days when it was looked upon as treason to differ from the Government. He gave shelter to young Watson, having been on intimate terms with his father, Dr. Watson. Mr. Holl contrived the escape to America of Watson, junior, disguising him as a Quaker. Bayham Street was occupied by men of advanced political opinions, some of whom lived to see their notions realised."
In the other letter referred to, which appeared with the initials of "E. P. H.," we get a different account of Bayham Street. The writer remarks:—"I have a perfect recollection of Bayham Street thirty years ago, and took a stroll up it this morning to see if I could trace the house to which Mr. Forster refers. On entering the street from Crowndale Road I literally rubbed my eyes with astonishment. There is a public-house at the corner, the sign of which is the 'Hope and Anchor.' When last I noticed it the name over the door was 'Barker,' now it is 'Dickens.' Who shall say that this is not a world of strange coincidences when a Dickens comes to Bayham Street to live just at the time when we get the record of a greater Dickens having once trotted round the corner where that public-house stands? 'F. M.' seems to me to be in error about Bayham Street having been so respectable many years since. The block of houses to which he refers was at one end; then came fields; and, lower down towards the Old St. Pancras Road, a lot of small houses or cottages with gardens in front, in one of which I presume the parents of Charles Dickens to have resided. There are still two houses remaining, near Pratt Street, which I remember as being old houses twenty-five years ago."
Camden Road is a broad thoroughfare, running north-east from the top of High Street to Holloway. At the top of this road is the Camden Town Athenæum, an institution which has been established to meet the intellectual requirements of this district. The building, which was erected in 1871, is Italian in style, and was built from the designs of Mr. F. R. Meeson. Externally the edifice is of brick, with red brick plinth, stringcourses, cornices, &c., and the enrichments are of red terra-cotta. The building consists of a large hall, suitable for lectures and other entertainments, a reading-room, library, &c.
At the junction of Camden Road and Great College Street is the Camden Town Station of the North London Railway, near which the line branches off to Gospel Oak and Hampstead, forming a junction with the London and NorthWestern Line at Willesden, and with the West London Railway at Kensington Station.
Not far from the Chalk Farm station, at the foot of the slope of Haverstock Hill, near the entrance to Maitland Park, are the Tailors' Almshouses, consisting of six residences and a small chapel, built in red brick and stone in the Gothic style, and standing in the middle of a garden of about an acre and a half. They were founded and built in 1837–42, by the late Mr. J. Stulz, of Clifford Street, Hanover Square, for the support of aged tailors of every nation in the world, irrespective of creed. Each pensioner, besides his rooms, receives £20 a year, in addition to coals and candles.
A few steps further northwards brings us to the almshouses for the parish of St. Pancras. They were founded in 1850, by Mr. Donald Fraser, M.D., for decayed and aged parishioners. The buildings consist of a row of ornamental cottages, with pointed roofs, and red-brick facings; they are separated from the roadway by a light stone wall and a spacious and well-kept lawn.
The grounds of the above institutions abut upon Maitland Park, where there is another edifice devoted to charitable purposes—viz., the Orphan Working School, which was originally established in the east end of London, as far back as the year 1758, but was removed here when it had nearly completed a century of existence. Here orphans and other necessitous children are clothed, educated, and wholly maintained, from seven years of age until they are about fourteen or fifteen; and the number of children usually in the school is about 400. At the age of fourteen the boys are apprenticed, and the girls, who are all trained for domestic service, remain for a year or two longer. The annual income of this institution is about £10,000, the larger half being derived from voluntary contributions. On leaving the school, outfits are provided for the children, in money value—to the boys of £5, to the girls of £3 3s.; and to encourage them to keep the situations which are provided for them, annual rewards are given, from 5s. to 21s., depending upon the length of service, for the seven years after they leave the school. The education imparted is unsectarian, and of a thoroughly practical character, fitting the children for useful positions in life. Many of the former pupils, it may be added, are governors and liberal supporters of the charity.
The Dominican Monastery, close by, stands at the foot of the hill which ascends to Hampstead. Its first stone was laid by Cardinal Wiseman, in the presence of nearly all his clergy, in August, 1863, and the building was opened two years later. It is a large edifice in the Early-English style of architecture, with a lofty bell and clock tower. The buildings surround a quadrangle, and have altogether an imposing appearance. At present, the church, as originally designed, is incomplete, and the future library of the convent has been made to do duty in its place for celebrating religious services. Attached to the monastery is a plot of ground, which the monks themselves are employed in cultivating. This monastery is a branch of the Order of St. Dominic, whose headquarters in this country are at Woodchester, near Stroud, in Gloucestershire. St. Dominic, the founder of this Order, is known to history as the author of the devotion called the Rosary. His feast day is kept on the 4th day of August. He was of the noble family of Guzman, and was born in Old Castile in 1170. He conducted the preaching crusade against the Albigenses in the south of France, and dying in 1221, was canonised about twelve years later by Pope Gregory IX. His monks, called the "Black Friars" from the colour of their dress, were numerous in almost all the west of Europe, and in England and Scotland, and especially at Paris and Oxford, where they held the chairs of theology. It is to the honour of this Order that it produced the great doctor of theology, St. Thomas Aquinas; and Chambers tells us that, in spite of its losses at the time of the Reformation, the Order in the eighteenth century could boast of possessing a thousand monasteries and convents, divided into forty-five provinces, who all revered St. Dominic as their founder.
From the neighbourhood of the Dominican monastery and Gospel Oak a thoroughfare named Fleet Road leads away north-west to Hampstead. It is named after the Fleet rivulet, which till lately ran behind the houses, through green fields, in its way townwards, but it is now nearly dry, and what water passes down it in winter finds its way into a sewer. We shall have occasion to mention the Fleet River again, when we come to St. Pancras.
The Gospel Oak Fields, a little to the east of the monastery, are now built over with numerous streets, crescents, and circuses. The Midland Railway emerges from the Haverstock Hill tunnel in the middle of these streets, about half a mile to the west of the Kentish Town station.
In these fields a rural fair, called "Gospel Oak
Fair," was held as lately as 1857. There are
many "Gospel Oaks" in various parts of this
country. Mr. John Timbs, in his "Things not
Generally Known," tells us that these Gospel oaks
are traditionally said to have been so called in
consequence of its having been the practice in
ancient times to read aloud, under a tree which
grew on the parish boundary line, a portion of the
Gospel, on the annual "beating of the bounds"
on Ascension Day. These trees may have been,
in some instances, even Druidical, and under such
"leafy tabernacles" the first Christian missionaries
of St. Augustine may have preached. The popular,
though mistaken, idea is, that these trees were so
called because the parishioners were in the habit
of assembling there at the era of the Reformation
in order to read the Bible aloud. Herrick thus
alludes to the real derivation of the term in the
502nd of his "Hesperides:"—
"Dearest, bury me
Under that holy oak, or gospel-tree,
Where, though thou see'st not, thou mayst think upon
Me when thou yearly go'st in procession."
The pagan practice of worshipping the gods in woods and trees continued for many centuries, till the introduction of Christianity; and the missionaries did not disdain to adopt every means to raise Christian worship to higher authority than that of paganism by acting upon the senses of the heathens to whom they preached.
Beneath one of the trees in the Gospel Oak Fields, of which we are now speaking, Whitefield, the Methodist, and companion of Wesley, is said to have preached to crowded audiences of the working classes.
Close by, in Dale Road, so named after the late poet, Canon Dale, some time Vicar of St. Pancras, is the Church of St. Martin, a Gothic structure in the Decorated style, with a lofty tower, and a fine peal of bells. It was erected and endowed about the year 1866, by Mr. John Derby Allcroft, who also built a handsome parsonage and schools adjoining it.
"At the foot of the Hampstead hills," writes Mr. Larwood, in his "History of Sign-boards," "the noisiest and most objectionable public-house in the district bears the significant sign of the 'Gospel Oak.' It is the favourite resort of navvies and quarrelsome shoemakers, and took its name, not from any inclination to piety on the part of its landlord, but from an old oak-tree in the neighbourhood, at the boundary line of Hampstead and St. Pancras parishes—a relic of the once usual custom of reading a portion of the Gospel under certain trees in the parish perambulations equivalent to 'beating the bounds.'" "The boundaries of the parish of Wolverhampton," says Shaw, in his "History of Staffordshire," "are thus in many points marked out by what are called 'Gospel Trees.'" The old "Gospel Oak" at Kentish Town was not removed, we may add, till it had given its name to the surrounding fields, to a group of small houses (Oak Village), and to a chapel, and a railway station, as well as to the public-house mentioned above.
Kentish Town, which lies on the east side of Gospel Oak, and is approached from the "Mother Red Cap," at Camden Town, by a direct road called the Kentish Town Road, is described in gazetteers, &c., as "a hamlet and chapelry in the parish of St. Pancras, in the Holborn division of the hundred of Ossulston." The place is mentioned in Domesday Book as a manor belonging to the Canons of St. Paul's; and it gives title to the Prebendary of Cantelows (or Kentish Town), who is Lord of the Manor, and holds a court-leet and court-baron. Moll, in his "History of Middlesex," on noticing this hamlet, states: "You may, from Hampstead, see in the vale between it and London a village, vulgarly called Kentish Town, which we mention chiefly by reason of the corruption of the name, the true one being Cantilupe Town, of which that ancient family were originally the owners. They were men of great account in the reigns of King John, Henry III., and Edward I. Walter de Cantilupe was Bishop of Worcester, 1236 to 1266, and Thomas de Cantilupe was Bishop of Hereford, 1275 to 1282. Thomas was canonised for a saint in the thirty-fourth year of Edward's reign; the inheritance at length devolving upon the sisters, the very name became extinct." The place itself is named, not after Kent, as might be possibly imagined, seeing that Lord Camden's property lies mainly in that county, but after that manor in the hundred of Ossulston, known as Kantelowes or Kentelowes, which appears sometimes to have been called Kentestown. In this, doubtless, we must seek the origin of Ken (fn. 2) (now commonly called Caen) Wood, the seat of Lord Mansfield, between Hampstead and Highgate. We may, however, add that the thoroughfare now known as Gray's Inn Road is stated to have led northwards to a "pleasant rural suburb, variously named Ken-edge Town and Kauntelows," in which we can discern the origin of its present name.
The situation of Kentish Town is pleasant and healthy; and it is described by Thornton, in his "Survey of London," 1780, as "a village on the road to Highgate, where people take furnished lodgings in the summer, especially those afflicted with consumption and other disorders."
That old gossip, Horace Walpole, who probably never went so far afield from the metropolis as the place of which he writes, tells his friend, Sir Horace Mann, in 1791: "Lord Camden has just let ground at Kentish Town for building fourteen hundred houses; nor do I wonder, nor do I wonder. There will soon be one street from London . . . to every village ten miles round." The place is described by the author of "Select Views of London and its Environs," published in 1804, as "a very respectable village between Highgate and London, containing several handsome houses, and particularly an elegant seat built by the late Gregory Bateman, Esq., and intended as a kind of miniature of Wanstead House, in Essex." The limits of the village, we may add, have within the last few years been considerably extended by the erection of new streets and ranges of handsome houses, so that altogether the place is now one of considerable importance. It can now boast of having two railway stations, in addition to two or three others on its borders, besides a line of tramway, and a service of omnibuses connecting it with Fleet Street, the West End, Charing Cross, and other parts of the metropolis.
Kentish Town was inhabited long before Somers Town or Camden Town were in existence. It is not certain that there was a chapel here earlier than the reign of Elizabeth; and little or nothing is known in detail concerning it. Norden refers to a chapel of ease as existing in his time in this village, as he says, speaking of the old parish church, "Folks from the hamlet of Kennistonne now and then visit it, but not often, having a chapele of their owne." And the chapel (now converted into a church, and known as Holy Trinity) was erected by Wyatt in 1783—a dark age for church architecture—but has since been rendered more suitable for Christian worship, having been enlarged about the year 1850, and altered to the Early Decorated style, from the designs of Mr. Bartholomew. It has two lofty steeples, and a large painted window at the eastern end; the altar recess has some elaborate carved work. In this church is buried Grignion, the engraver.
In 1841, at which time the population of Kentish Town numbered upwards of 10,000, there was only one place of worship belonging to the Established Church; the erection of a new church was proposed and erected upon the estate of Brookfield, the greater part of which is in the hamlet of Kentish Town, and the remainder in the adjoining chapelry of Highgate. The building is erected in the Early English style, and has a fine tall spire; some of the windows are enriched with painted glass. The site of the church was given by the proprietor of the ground whereon it stands, Lady Burdett-Coutts gave the peal of bells, and other grants were made towards the fabric.
In 1848 a large Congregational chapel was built here, in the ecclesiastical style of architecture of the fifteenth century. It has several richly-traceried windows filled with stained glass, including a splendid wheel-window fifteen feet in diameter. Messrs. Hodge and Butler were the architects.
In Fortess Place is the Roman Catholic Chapel of St. Mary. A mission chapel was built in the Highgate Road in 1847, and a schoolroom attached to it. In 1854 the chapel was, however, closed by order of the diocesan, and from that time for several months the Passionist Fathers from The Hyde served the place. In 1855 a piece of freehold ground was purchased (funds being provided by Cardinal Wiseman), and three cottages which stood upon the land were converted into a temporary chapel, capable of accommodating about 200 persons. The new church, which is in the Gothic style, has since been erected in its place.
The historical memorabilia of Kentish Town, we need scarcely remark, are comparatively very scanty. We are told how that William Bruges, Garter King-at-Arms in the reign of Henry V., had a country-house here, at which he entertained the German Emperor, Sigismund, who visited England in 1416, to promote a negotiation for peace with France. This is literally all the figure that it acts in history down to quite recent times, when we incidentally learn that the Prince Regent was nearly meeting with a serious accident here, in December, 1813, through a dense fog, which would not yield even to royalty. On his way to pay a visit to the Marquis of Salisbury, at Hatfield House, Herts, the Prince was obliged to return to Carlton House, after one of his outriders had fallen into a ditch at the entrance of Kentish Town, which at that time was not lit with gas, and probably not even with oil.
The road through this district, however, even when no fog prevailed, does not seem to have been very safe for wayfarers after dark, in former times, if we may judge from the numerous notices of outrages which appear in the papers of the times, of which the following may be taken as a sample:—
The London Courant, August 8, 1751, contains the following:—"On Sunday night, August 5th, 1751, as Mr. Rainsforth and his daughter, of Clare Street, Clare Market, were returning home through Kentish Town, about eight o'clock, they were attacked by three footpads, and after being brutally ill-used, Mr. R. was robbed of his watch and money."
A few years later, the following paragraph appeared in the Morning Chronicle (January 9, 1773):—"On Thursday night some villains robbed the Kentish Town stage, and stripped the passengers of their money, watches, and buckles. In the hurry they spared the pockets of Mr. Corbyn, the druggist; but he, content to have neighbours' fare, called out to one of the rogues, 'Stop, friend! you have forgot to take my money.'"
The result of these continual outrages was that the inhabitants of the district resolved upon adopting some means for their protection, as was notified by the following announcement in the newspapers:—"The inhabitants of Kentish Town, and other places between there and London, have entered into a voluntary subscription for the support of a guard or patrol to protect foot-passengers to and from each place during the winter season (that is to say) from to-morrow, being old Michaelmas Day, to old Lady Day next, in the following manner, viz.:—That a guard of two men, well armed, will set out to-morrow, at six o'clock in the evening, from Mr. Lander's, the 'Bull,' in Kentish Town, and go from thence to Mr. Gould's, the 'Coach and Horses,' facing the Foundling Hospital gate, in Red Lion Street, London; and at seven will return from thence back to the 'Bull;' at eight will set out again from the 'Bull' to the 'Coach and Horses,' and at nine will return from thence to the 'Bull' again; and will so continue to do every evening during the said winter season, from which places, at the above hours, all passengers will be conducted without fee or reward."
Kentish Town, in the middle of the last century, could boast of its Assembly Rooms, at which the balls were sufficiently attractive to draw persons from all parts of the neighbourhood of London. In fact, it became a second "Almack's" (fn. 3)—in its way, of course. It was a large wooden building, and stood at the angle of the main road, where the Highgate and Holloway Roads meet, and on gala nights it was lighted up with numberless lamps. In 1788 the house was taken by a person named Wood, who issued the following advertisement:—"Thomas Wood begs leave to inform his friends and the publick in general, that he has laid in a choice assortment of wines, spirits, and liquors, together with mild ales and cyder of the best quality, all of which he is determined to sell on the most valuable terms. Dinners for public societies or private parties dressed on the shortest notice. Tea, coffee, &c., morning and evening. A good trap-ball ground, skittle ground, pleasant summerhouse, extensive garden, and every other accommodation for the convenience of those who may think proper to make an excursion to the above house during the summer months. A good ordinary on Sundays at two o'clock."
By the side of the roadway, facing the old Assembly Rooms, was an elm-tree, beneath whose spreading branches was an oval-shaped marbletopped table, the edge of which was surrounded with the following inscription:—"Posuit A.D. 1725 in Memoriam Sanitatis Restauratæ Robertus Wright, Gent." The old tree was struck by lightning in 1849.
A little further from town, in or about the year 1858, some gardens were opened as a place of public amusement on the Highgate Road, near the foot of Highgate Rise. But the place was not very respectably conducted, and after a run of about a year the gardens were closed, the magistrates refusing a spirit licence to the proprietor, a Mr. Weston, the owner of a music-hall in Holborn.
In 1833 races were held at Kentish Town, the
particulars of which, as they appeared in the Daily
Postboy, are reprinted in Mr. Palmer's "History of
St. Pancras." These races in their day drew as
much attention as did Epsom then, but all memory
of them has long passed away. There was also at
one time established here a society or club, known
as "The Corporation of Kentish Town," an institution, there is little doubt, much on a par with
that which we have already described as existing at
"The Harp," in Russell Street, Covent Garden,
which is denominated "The Corporation of the
City of Lushington." (fn. 4) The club is referred to in
the following announcements which appear in the
newspapers of the period:—
The Officers and Aldermen of the Corporation of Kentish Town are desired to attend the next day of meeting, at Two o'clock, at Brother Legg's, the "Parrot," in Green Arbour Court, in the Little Old Baily, in order to pay a visit to the Corporation of Stroud Green, now held at the "Hole in the Wall" at Islington; and from thence to return in the evening to Brother Lamb's in Little Shear Lane, near Temple Bar, to which house the said Corporation have adjourned for the winter season.
By order of the Court,
T. L., Recorder.
October 1, 1754.
Corporation of Kentish Town, 1756.
Your Company is desired to meet the past Mayors, Sheriffs, and Aldermen of this Corporation, the ensuing Court Day, at Mr. Thomas Baker's, the "Green Dragon," in Fleet Street, precisely at Two o'clock, in order to go in a body to Mr. Peter Brabant's, the "Roman Eagle," in Church Street, Deptford, to pay a visit to our Right Worshipful Mayor who now resides in that town.
By order of the Court,
J. J., Recorder.
The Company of the Aldermen of Stroud Green, the Loyal Regiment of British Hussars, and the Brethren of the Most Antient and Noble Order of Bucks, will be esteem'd a great favour.
The "Castle" Tavern, in Kentish Town Road, stands upon the site of an older house bearing the same sign, which had the reputation—true or false—of dating its origin from the time of King John. The front of the old building had the familiar and picturesque projecting storeys, supported originally by a narrow pier at the side of a bolder one. The interior of one of the rooms had a fireplace of stone, carved with a flattened arch of the Tudor style, with the spandrils enriched with a rose and a leaf-shaped ornament terminating in a snake's tail. This fireplace had been for years hidden from view by a coat of plaster. It is possible that, in their ignorance of Gothic architecture, the good people of Kentish Town ascribed a Tudor arch to the early part of the thirteenth century.
Another old building at Kentish Town was the Emanuel Hospital, an establishment for the reception of the blind, which was burnt down in 1779. The house had been purchased by a Mr. Lowe, who was one of the chief promoters of the charity, and who took every possible method to forward the establishment and procure subscriptions. He was entrusted with the management of the design, and the receipt of subscriptions, which flowed in largely; and he insured the house for £4,000. Circumstances having occurred to show that the destruction of the building was not caused by accident, suspicion fastened upon Mr. Lowe; but before he could be secured and brought to justice, he put an end to his life by poison.
Among the "worthies" of Kentish Town we
may mention Dr. William Stukeley, the celebrated
antiquary, who formerly lived here. We shall have
occasion to mention him again when we reach St.
Pancras. He was called by his friends "the
Arch-Druid," and over the door of his villa a
friend caused to be written the following lines:—
"Me dulcis saturet quies,
Obscuro positus loco,
Leni perfruar otio,
These lines may be thus translated:—
"Oh, may this rural solitude receive
And contemplation all its pleasures give
The Druid priest."
The word "Chyndonax" is an allusion to an urn of glass so inscribed in France, in which the doctor believed were contained the ashes of an Arch-Druid of that name, whose portrait forms the frontispiece to his work on Stonehenge. Dr. Stukeley's reputation, however, as an antiquary is not great at the present day, as he has been proved by Mr. B. B. Woodward, in the Gentleman's Magazine, to have been equally credulous and superficial.
Here, too, lived an eccentric old bachelor and miser, Mr. John Little, at whose sudden death, intestate, in 1798, about £37,000 of property, 173 pairs of breeches, and 180 old wigs were found in a miserably furnished apartment which he allowed no one to enter. These and his wealth all passed to a brother whom he had discarded, and whom he had meant to disinherit had not death prevented him.
It is generally said that Charles Mathews the elder was a resident in Kentish Town; but his home, Ivy Cottage, was in Millfield Lane, in the hamlet of Brookfield, of which, as well as of St. Anne's Church, Brookfield, it will be more convenient to treat in our notice of Highgate. At present we have no intention to climb the breezy "northern heights of London."
At No. 8, in Lower Craven Place, lived, for some time, Douglas Jerrold. He afterwards removed to Kilburn, where he died in June, 1857. (fn. 5)
One of the peculiarities of this district, and one which it retained down to a very recent date, was its slate pavement. It certainly, on fine days, looked very clean, and was pleasant to the tread; but in wet and frosty weather it became slippery and dangerous in the extreme. It has now been superseded by the ordinary pavement of stone-flags.
During the last few years the green fields which fringed one side of the road at Kentish Town have passed away, and unbroken lines of streets connect it with the Holloway Road. Many new churches and chapels have been erected, and the once rural village now forms, like Camden and Somers Town, but one portion of the great metropolis.
Great College Street, by which we return to the eastern side of Camden Town, in the direction of old St. Pancras Church, is so named from the Royal Veterinary College, which covers a large space of ground on its eastern side. This institution was established in 1791, with the view of promoting a reformation in that particular branch of veterinary science called "farriery," by the formation of a school, in which the anatomical structure of quadrupeds of all kinds, horses, cattle, sheep, dogs, &c., the diseases to which they are subject, and the remedies proper to be applied, should be investigated and regularly taught. Of the foundation of this institution we gather the following particulars from the Monthly Register of 1802:—"To the agricultural societies in different parts of this kingdom the public is greatly indebted. It will be matter of surprise to men of thought, that the improvements in the veterinary art, instead of originating with the military establishment to which it is so important for the benefit of the cavalry, has been chiefly promoted by an obscure association at Odiham, in Hampshire, which entertain the design of sending two young men of talents into France, to become students in this new profession. Monsieur St. Bel, in the year 1788, was driven from that country, either from his own pecuniary embarrassments, or by the internal disorganisation which then prevailed. He offered his services to this society, in consequence of which the college was instituted, and he was nominated to superintend it, and some noblemen and gentlemen of the highest rank and consideration in the country were appointed as managers of the undertaking. Monsieur St. Bel, possessing, however, many excellent qualities, was not precisely suited to his situation; his private difficulties impeded his public exertions. In 1792, to ascertain his ability to discharge the duties of his situation, he was examined by Sir George Baker and several other physicians and surgeons, and was considered competent to his duties. Whether these gentlemen, comparing the merits of Monsieur St. Bel with the ordinary farriers, imagined consummate skill in the profession not necessary to the success of this new enterprise, we will not determine; but it is certain, however ingenious he might be in shoeing and in the inferior branches, with the pharmaceutic art, or that which respects the healing the diseases of the animal, he was wholly unacquainted. In August, 1793, Monsieur St. Bel died, and it is probable that the fatal event was accelerated by the disappointment he felt at the ill success of the establishment he conducted.
"In the time of Monsieur St. Bel a house was taken at Pancras for the purposes of the institution. Since his decease the professorship has devolved to Mr. Coleman, and a handsome theatre has been prepared, with a museum and dissecting rooms for the use of the pupils, and for their examination; and for other purposes a medical committee has been appointed, comprising Dr. Fordyce, Dr. Bailie, Dr. Babington, Dr. Relp, Mr. Cline, Mr. Abernethy, Mr. A. Cooper, Mr. Home, and Mr. Houlstone.
"In consequence of the new regulations pupils are admitted for the sum of twenty guineas, and they are accommodated in the college with board or otherwise, according to their own convenience. For this sum they see the practice of the college, and by the liberality of the medical committee are admitted to the lectures of those who compose it gratis; and in the army the veterinary surgeons are advanced to the rank of commissioned officers, by which condescension of the commander-in-chief the regiments of English cavalry have, for the first time, obtained the assistance of gentlemen educated in a way to discharge the important duties of their situations."
The Duke of Northumberland was the first president of the college. A school for the instruction of pupils in veterinary science is carried on under the direction of a duly-qualified professor; and diseased horses are admitted upon certain terms into the infirmary. Such is thought to be the national importance of this institution, that Parliament has liberally afforded aid when the state of the college's finances rendered a supply essential.
Lectures are delivered daily in the theatre of the college during the session, which commences in October and ends in May; to these only students are admitted. The fee for pupils is twenty-five guineas, which entitles them to attend the lectures and general practical instructions of the college until they shall have passed their examination. On Tuesday evenings there are discussions on various subjects connected with the veterinary art. The buildings are of plain brick, and have an extensive frontage to the street, within which they stretch back to the distance of more than 200 yards. The theatre for dissections and lectures is judiciously planned; and in a large contiguous apartment are numerous anatomical illustrations. The infirmary will hold about sixty horses. There is likewise a forge, for the shoeing of horses on the most approved principles, and several paddocks are attached to the institution.
Not far from the Veterinary College lived, in 1802, Mr. Andrew Wilson, a gentleman who is described as "of the Stereotype Office," and who took out a patent for the process of stereotyping. He was not, however, the original inventor of the stereotypic art, nor was he destined to be the man who should revive it practically or perfect it. As early as the year 1711, a Dutchman, Van der Mey, introduced a process for consolidating types after they had been set up, by soldering them together at the back; and it is asserted that the process, as we now understand it, was practised in 1725 by William Gedd, or Gedde, of Edinburgh, who endeavoured to apply it to the printing of Bibles for the University of Cambridge. It is well known that the process was, half a century later or more, carried out into common use by the then Lord Stanhope, at his private printing-press at Chevening, in Kent.
Pratt Street, as we have already stated, is so called after the family name of Lord Camden. This is one of the principal streets in Camden Town, and connects Great College Street with the High Street. In it is the burial-ground for the parish of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, together with a chapel and residence for the officiating clergyman. The site formed originally two fields, called Upper Meadow and Upper Brook Meadow, and was purchased from the Earl of Camden and Dr. Hamilton, Prebendary of Canteloes, in accordance with the provisions of an Act of Parliament passed for that purpose, and the cemetery was laid out and consecrated by the Bishop of London in 1805. Here lies buried Charles Dibdin, the author of most of the best of our naval songs. Charles Knight speaks of him, somewhat sarcastically, it must be owned, as a man who, "had he rendered a tithe of the services actually performed by him to the naval strength of his country under the name of a 'Captain R.N.' instead of as a writer, he would have died a wealthy peer instead of drawing his last breath in poverty."
Among the residents in Camden Town in former times, besides those we have named, was the veteran composer, Sir Henry Rowley Bishop—the last who wrote English music in a distinctive national style, carrying the traditions of Purcell, Arne, Boyce, &c., far on into the present century. Born towards the close of the last century, he had as his early instructor Signor Bianchi. In 1806 he composed the music for a ballet performed at Covent Garden Theatre, and shortly afterwards commenced to write regularly for the stage. From 1810 to 1824 he held the post of musical director at Covent Garden, and subsequently became a director of the Concerts of Ancient Music. He received the honour of knighthood in 1842, but it was a barren honour; and in spite of a knighthood and the Professorship of Music at Oxford, added to the more solid rewards of successful authorship, his last days were spent in comparative poverty. Such are the rewards held out in this country to professional eminence! In every house where music, and more especially vocal music, is welcome, the name of Sir Henry Bishop has long been, and must long remain, a household word. Who has not been soothed by the melody of "Blow, gentle gales," charmed by the measures of "Lo! here the gentle lark," enlivened by the animated strains of "Foresters, sound the cheerful horn," or touched by the sadder music of "The winds whistle cold?" Who has not been haunted by the insinuating tones of "Tell me, my heart," "Bid me discourse," or "Where the wind blows," which Rossini, the minstrel of the South, loved so well? Who has not felt sympathy with "As it fell upon a day, in the merry month of May," or admired that masterpiece of glee and chorus, "The chough and the crow," or been moved to jollity at some convivial feast by "Mynheer von Dunck," the most original and genial of comic glees? Sir Henry Bishop died in 1855, at his residence in Cambridge Street, Edgware Road.
As we pass down Great College Street, we have on our left, stretching away towards Islington, a sort of "No man's land," formerly known as Agar Town, and filling up a part of the interval between the Midland and the Great Northern Railway, of which we shall have more to say in a future chapter. On our right, too, down to a comparatively recent date, the character of the locality was not much better; indeed, the whole of the neighbourhood which lay—and part of which still lies—between Clarendon Square and the Brill and St. Pancras Road, would answer to the description of what Charles Dickens, in his "Uncommercial Traveller," calls a "shy neighbourhood," abounding in bird and birdcage shops, costermongers' shops, old rag and bottle shops, donkeys, barrows, dirty fowls, &c., and with the inevitable gin-shop at every corner. "The very dogs of shy neighbourhoods usually betray a slinking consciousness of being in poor circumstances," is one of the appropriate remarks of "Boz;" and another is to the same effect—"Nothing in shy neighbourhoods perplexes me more than the bad company which birds keep. Foreign birds often get into good society, but British birds are inseparable from low associates."