It’s been out a while, but I’m finally devouring the reissue of The Fields Beneath by Gillian Tindall, subtitled a “history of one London village” (Kentish Town – for the uninitiated).
Tindall, who has lived in the area for 35 years, traces our manor’s roots and explores how Kentish Town’s identity crisis and social mix has been almost constant since industrialization: never purely wealthy, never just a ghetto, maybe it hasn’t quite recovered from a medieval heyday when its boundary stretched from Tottenham Court Road to Highgate.
“There was a period between 1860 and 1950 when no one wanted to admit living here at all,” said Gillian in an interview in the Camden New Journal. That’s why all the newer settlements were given fancy names like Camden Town or Dartmouth Park. Yet now, she says, it’s back in fashion: “People have homes in Parliament Hill Fields and say they live in Kentish Town.”
Brilliantly non-dry, The Fields Beneath, originally written in the late 70s, reinforces the nagging feeling that history is cyclical: no matter how much things change, they stay the same.
One road changed beyond recognition, however, is Anglers Lane, now occupied by a former factory, a handful of terraced houses, a Chinese medicine shack and Nando’s. Here’s an old man writing to a local newspaper way back in 1909 describing a scene in early Victorian times:
“When I knew it as a boy, it was one of the loveliest spots imaginable – so deserted in the early hours of the morning that, when the anglers were not there, some of the youngsters from the cottages around, and some who were not youngsters, used to bathe in the river.”
Hard to imagine – we think you’ll agree – from these shots, but worth contemplating next time you’re off to the Swimming Baths, or gobbling down a Peri-Peri.