North London's Cultural Guide

Wednesday Picture: Where the hell is the Gospel Oak?


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.


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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

*With thanks, again, especially for the reproduction of the 1862 illustration, to Camden History Society’s Streets Of Gospel Oak. Do the right thing and buy a copy from Owl Bookshop (£8.50).


5 thoughts on “Wednesday Picture: Where the hell is the Gospel Oak?”

  1. But is there any connection with the recentishly-opened ‘Oak and Pastor’ pub in Archway? Seems like a coincidence. I wondered if the new owners had tried for the Old Oak but settled for the Drum and Monkey.

  2. So upon reading Fields Beneath, the actual tree was located on a map in 1834 in the current Wendling Estate. But then on another map it is shown somewhere over by Lismore Circus. The myth continues… But since i live in the Wendling Estate I’m going to take that claim.

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The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.