around 1791 Earl Camden and others began to develop land on
both sides of the southern part of what is now Camden High
Street, but which was then an old coaching route to Hampstead
and the north. Before this time there were only a couple of inns
(including the Mother Red Cap where the World's End pub now
stands), and a few other isolated buildings in this area of
open countryside outside London. Certainly the area around
Camden Lock was agricultural land right up until the time
the Regent's Canal was built to link the Grand Junction Canal
at Paddington with the River Thames at Limehouse.This enabled
goods to be moved by barge more easily from the industrial
Midlands to the London docks. (The canal was first suggested
by Thomas Homer in 1802; the necessary Act of Parliament was
passed in 1812, and the canal was opened in 1820.)
the canal was being built an experimental 'hydro-pneumatic
lock' was proposed in order to save water which was not readily
available to top up the canal. The new invention failed to
work and so conventional double locks were installed, and
are still functioning today.
and widening the Chalk Farm Road bridge, 1876.
barges carrying goods on the canal were originally pulled
by horses along the towpath. A bridge, used by these horses
to cross the canal still survives, and is one route visitors
may take into the market.
and other businesses were constructed along the canal banks
in the following few years, and were operated successfully
until the end of the first canal era around the beginning
of the 1950s when road transport killed off most of the waterway
traffic, and the canals fell into decline.
1971 some of these unwanted industrial buildings and land,
including T.E.Dingwall's timber yard, were leased from British
Waterways Board by three young men with new ideas, and in
1972 they sub-let some of the old buildings on short leases
as craft workshops, and soon afterwards a weekend market was
started on cobbled open yards nearby. The market's accent
was on traditional crafts, but soon broadened to include a
wide variety of goods including antiques, and clothing with
a scattering of food stalls. The old railway bridge over Chalk
Farm Road next to the site was painted with a 'trompe l'oeil'
image which has since become the icon for Camden Lock.
market soon began to attract large numbers of Londoners and
tourists because of the character and quality of the goods
on sale, and because of the uniqueness of the location. Boat
trips and walks along the canal, or just watching the barges
pass through the lock gates from the Dingwall's beer garden,
became, and are still important parts of the attraction of
trading was permitted on this private site when it was not
allowed in many places elsewhere and this also contributed
to its success. By 1985, so popular had the area become that
three other markets had opened on or near Chalk Farm Road,
and most of the businesses between Camden Town and Chalk Farm
Underground stations had changed hands and become shops and
restaurants catering mainly for visitors rather than locals.
The building of new studios, with its famous giant eggs and
cups on the roof, for Britain's first Breakfast TV station
(TV-am), and now the London home of MTV, set a pattern for
the arrival of an increasing number of international media
companies which have changed the business face of Camden Town
over the past 10 years.
1990 many of the old buildings at the Lock were renovated
and a new Market
Hall with three floors of small shops and other businesses,
was built over one of the previous open market areas of stalls
next to the main road. The East, Middle and West Yards and
the newly named Camden Lock Place remained open air areas
for stalls, lined with interesting small shops and workshops.
The design for this fine building was based on a classic Victorian
trading hall with wrought iron railings and tiled floors,
so well done that few visitors realise it is relatively new.
One building used for stabling canal work horses has been
carefully preserved and is now known as Dingwall's Gallery,
next to the Market Hall. Most of the shop units created in
the rebuilding were taken on by previous stall holders to
preserve continuity. There are no chain stores here.
the past few years the main change has been the development
of seven-day trading at Camden Lock Market and other markets
in Camden are following suit with many stalls to be found
any day of the week, 52 weeks a year. In addition most Camden
shops are now staying open seven days a week.
1997 the approach to the market from Camden Town Underground
was much improved for pedestrians by widening of the pavements,
and the introduction of seating and other landscaping features.
This has been done in a most skilful and attractive way which
has made the area a pleasanter place for traders and visitors
for the future, what can we expect? Sensible and more environmentally
sustainable transport policies should lead to more freight
slowly finding its way back to the canals from the choked
road system. Perhaps there will soon be even more to see at
Camden Lock in the second canal era. In any case Camden Lock
Market, already over 25 years old, is likely to continue to
be an exciting place to visit for many years to come.
used include Camden Town 1791 1991 A pictorial record. London
Borough of Camden Leisure Services Department 1991.