A decent-sized triangle of land next to Camden Road station, with the railway running through the middle of it, on arches.

Although it looks like it might be railway clearance, the triangle of land has been an open garden ever since the area was first turned from fields into houses by George Lever in 1811 who bought the land from the Marquis of Camden. It formed an enclosed private garden square for the residents of the houses.

Greenwood’s Map 1828

In 1827, the land was handed to the local vestry to manage, and then in 1846, the North London Railway cut through the garden for their new railway, which they built upon arches. They seem to have been a bad developer, with a lot of complaints about the garden being left unrepaired long after the railway had opened.

The railway arches also look like there’s some old railway missing, as the bridge over the road is much narrower than the arches over the garden. When Camden Road station opened in 1850, it was to the east of the current station, and in the late 1860s, a new railway line was built alongside the existing one, and that required a wider railway over the gardens.

It was controversial for the locals, as the Vestry didn’t consult them, and sold off a plot of land to the railway company, who then built on even more land than they had bought.

The arches were also blocked off, to be leased out to a butcher and for stables, but local protests eventually forced the walls to be removed and opened up again. And the gardens made good in 1872 as they had promised back in 1846.

Eventually, the London Squares and Enclosures (Preservation) Act of 1906 forbad any future development, preserving it forever.

Goads Insurance Map

There is another railway story though, as a long line of railway arches on the other side of Kentish Town Road collapsed in 1849 shortly after being completed. The contractor, Mr Hicks had to rebuild the whole lot again.

Illustrated London News – Saturday 24 November 1849 (c) Illustrated London News Group

Back to the gardens though, and in the turn of the 19th century, the garden included public urinals, and judging by the smell, the arches are serving a similar function today. During the 1970s the gardens became derelict again and later a haunt for vagrants and drunks. In 1987 the council agreed to fund £30,000 worth of repairs and to put up the railings that once again surround the site.

Today the gardens have a very municipal air to them, basic planting around the northern end, and some sorry looking metal planters on the southern side.

If it gets the go-ahead, then the proposed Camden Highline will start in Camden Gardens, and the gardens will get a massive makeover to accommodate the new staircases and lifts to get up to the railway. The railway arches will then doubtless be filled in with coffee shops, if they can find a way around that 1906 law.

Alternatively, there is an organisation planning to turn the garden into a sculpture park, which I note approvingly could include a disused railway carriage.

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  1. Thanks.

    This is certainly one of the places in London that are going to be enhanced by the ULEZ being expanded.

    Whilst visually the place is dominated by those brick arches, the place just collects traffic fumes. The electric trains pass by with a whisper, but the place stinks because of the cars, vans and buses.

    I happened by this park during Lockdown 1, and it was a shock to see how much nicer it was without the fumes.

    The same was also true of St Pancras Gardens.

    I also remember recently that a nightclub had caught on fire in the area and blocked traffic on Camden Street, again causing a temporary respite from the endless exhaust fumes that blight the otherwise pleasantness of Camden.

  2. Ben says:

    Something unfortunate happened there, either a rape or murder recently. This was always a dodgy park that people rarely strayed into. Hopefully the Highline project will make it safer and more welcoming.

    • Giles Stockford says:

      Yes a rape in 2017 when the gates had been left unlocked late at night which is very unusual. The rapist got life imprisonment and had a similar charge pending at the time. Shockingly he is due for parole next year 2022. However, in my knowledge, it’s never been known as “a dodgy park” and I’ve lived in the area for nearly 30 years. It’s a beautiful quiet green oasis in the middle of ultra busy Camden where locals absolutely enjoy the peace away from all the hustle and bustle. It’s a life-saver for neighbours who are mainly flat dwellers with no outside space of their own; where they can exercise their dogs and take their children. Since the “pocket park” has had £25 000 or thereabouts spent on it, it looks a shambles and is a laughing stock to those who view it. It’s now become rundown, plants/weeds unkempt and loads of foul graffiti on the new furniture that was brought in. Whoever implemented this “refurbishment” has not kept it looking neat and tidy and it’s a huge disappointment. The thought of the Highline making this area just another event in Camden taking away the tranquility from it’s neighbours is thoughtless and obscene. The Gardens are protected and I believe this whole area is a conservation area. I hope the Gardens weather this onslaught.

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