It’s question we’ve all asked, as we weave through the estates, pass under the dank viaducts on the way to Parliament Hill Fields, or pop for a pint to the Southampton. Well let me tell you something: it existed once!
So, if you’re oak-curious, here’s how to find the spot. Take a right out of busy old Gospel Oak station, glancing at the bridges made famous by Sinead O’ Connor in her titular 1997 EP, and walk past the toy shop to the most north-westerly point of NW5 (a short hop from The Stag, in fact).
There, on the corner of Southampton Road and Mansfield Road, eyeing up NW3 like its life depends on it, you’ll find the Dunboyne Road estate. And larks, the nominal tree grew just near its gated entrance, apparently a popular place for outdoor preaching (although specific references are rather scant). The bad news is that the tree had disappeared by 1821; the last record of it was on the parish map in 1801.
But, as you can see from the pics, it’s still worth a trip to Dunboyne Road, especially if you’re an architecture nut, as it’s now the recently Grade II-listed Neave Brown modernist estate, comprising of 71 two bedroom houses, designed in the late 60s, but not completed until 1977.
British Listed Buildings praises it ‘both in style (concrete construction, geometric layout and composition) and in its communitarian ethos (non-hierarchical dwellings and shared gardens).’ And even on a grey March morning, its combination of stark white structures and overgrown foliage feels quite magical; Barbary Lane-esque even.
In a footnote to this jumble of history and hearsay, back in June 1998 Oak Village resident Michael Palin attempted ceremonially to plant a ‘Gospel Oak’ on the fringes of nearby Lismore Circus – but the tree has not survived.
And therein, my chums, lies a typical Kentish Town tale of faith, loss, hope and ambition.
Words & pics: Stephen Emms