Once upon a time, near leafy pub George IV on Holmes Road, watercress beds lay where the tributaries of the River Fleet converged. And so, at the dawn of the 19th century, townplanners named the new street Spring Place.
Yet is there an image harder to imagine in this most industrial corner of NW5? Stand at the crossroads (see pic below left) and close your eyes: the river Fleet ran southward, a hundred metres east. And the springs supplied water to a brewery on the west side of the Place (one of many original local breweries, of course).
But the bucolic idyll was not to last: Spring Place was the earliest-developed street in this part of Kentish Town, in place by 1801 after Holmes Road had been built in 1796 (then called Mansfield Place).
Spring House (our main pic, above), now the home of the quite glam Spring Studios, was originally the second, purpose-built and steam-powered colour works for the artists’ suppliers Winsor and Newton. (The first was where now stands Autograph House.)
But just who who were Winsor & Newton? In 1832, William Winsor, a chemist, and Henry Newton, an artist, entered into partnership as artists’ colourmen. With a business established on the “twin foundations of art and science”, the pair set out to “respond to the needs of artists and offer them the widest choice of colours with the greatest permanence”*. In 1835 they launched the world’s first “moist” watercolours (imagine how game-changing this would have been for artists, able to paint by simply wetting the brush).
That wasn’t all. A few years later in 1842, they came up with a collapsible, screw-cap tube. This combination of scientific rigour and enquiry into craft enabled Winsor and Newton to set new standards for colour permanence and clarity; within a few years, they had become the largest artists’ materials supplier in the world. Another first then, for NW5. Yet by 1938, the company had moved out of the building – and Kentish Town – to Wealdstone.
Fast forward seventy-odd years and Spring Studios is now an upmarket photographic studios with stylish daytime restaurant and bar. It’s a favourite for fashion shoots and magazine cover stories for stars like Lady Gaga, Madonna and Pet Shop Boys (read about their experience here). If you’ve ever had a peak inside, you’ll have gawped at the beautifully restored space with a buzzy young crowd of sharply-attired creatives swishing about.
It’s great to see the origins of a building echo in its current day usage. But it’d also be nice if Spring – which, let’s face it, occupies a large swathe of west K-Town – were once again more accessible to locals.
It once was. Rewind to 2008 and its acclaimed gallery, Spring Projects, was, for a while, a fantastic space open to the public – but it closed in 2011. And while in theory, anyone working in the creative industries and living locally can get membership to Spring and use the enviable restaurant and bar, it’s nonetheless pretty darn tricky.
So we say: why not be more community-minded and open both in the evenings? It would make sense in what is now a vibrant part of town, a stone’s throw from Camden Brewery and The Grafton.
And as for Spring themselves? Why, it seems expansion overseas is their current policy: they’re about to open a second 150,000 sq ft space in New York complete with 65 seat cinema, whopping roof terrace, gallery and “gourmet restaurant with café, bar and private dining.”
Yikes. Sounds a little like they’ll be going to head to head with another worldwide British brand who opened a while back on Highgate Road.