North London's Cultural Guide

Wednesday Picture: Kentish Town Panorama – and the old Assembly House

Winkworth Kentish Town

Kentish Town Road c.1800, from the Assembly House to what is now the station

Regular readers will know that our manor is proper ancient – dating back to 1206 – and has many claims to fame. But did you realise that there exists a Kentish Town Panorama, depicting four and a half miles of local scenery at the turn of the 19th century?

Historians say the work, completed by artist James Frederick King in 1850, is ‘without comparison’ in London, showing us ‘modest and grand buildings, domestic, public and agricultural on both sides of the principal roads of the time.’ And in many instances the Panorama, drawn in pen and wash and consisting of three rolls (one 20ft, another 15ft and a last one 3 ft), is the only record we have of what the area was like.

The longest roll shows the east side from Swains Lane following Highgate Road through Kentish Town Road to St Pancras Way (and St Pancras Old Church); the second depicts the west side from what is now Camden Town tube and back up to Swains Lane. The third runs from the Castle Tavern (Heroes), the old entrance to Kentish Town, right down to the Mother Red Cap in Camden (now the Camden Eye.)


When the Panorama was republished in 1986 as 26 panels, John Richardson, who provided the commentary, wrote that little is known of the artist. King was born in 1781, a middle class boy sent to ‘one of the better schools in the area.’ In the 1851 census, around the time he drew the Panorama (which aimed to depict how the area looked around 1800, in his childhood) he entered himself as a ‘retired artist’, although a death certificate gave his occupation as ‘collector of the paving rate.’

Assembly House, 1800

We’ll probably dive into the Panorama and pull out popular local buildings over the coming months, but let’s start with the often-overlooked Assembly House pub (above). James Frederick King handwrote this on the scroll: ‘The old Assembly House of very long standing was held in great repute, being a pleasant distance from London, when those who sought a Country Walk could meet there with every enjoyment a Coutry Inn could supply; besides which it was famed for Club dinners annually given, called ‘Beanfeasts.’ There was also a reserved Parlour where none but the Members of a Society called ‘Social Villagers’ were permitted to enter, which consisted of the aristocracy of the village and where many cheerful evenings were spent as far as the Glass and Pipe could furnish, to pass a convivial hour, which often cheered their buoyant spririts and sent them home ‘merry.’

So basically nothing’s changed. At least not when we swung by on a boozy Sunday, sipping impromptu Negronis as the live jazz band played. Except that the pub, then one of Kentish Town’s principal drinking places (and known as the Bull until 1784), was a large, partly wooden house with a long room on the south side entered by an outside covered staircase (see above).

The original building wasn’t to last, and it was rebuilt in 1852 and then again in 1898 in all its current Grade II-listed Victorian gothic splendour: note the etched glass and spooky corner turret.

Safe to say the building certainly looked foreboding in the rain this morning, perched on its ancient roots right in the heart of Kentish Town.

Which part of the manor would you like to see us cover from King’s 1800 Panorama? Leave comments below and we’ll unearth the most popular.

Words & colour pic: Stephen Emms

The Wednesday Picture comes to you in association with Winkworth Property Agents. Find them at 306 Kentish Town Road, just up from the tube.

The Kentish Town Panorama, published by the London Topographical Society in 1986, is available online and probably at second hand bookshops like the lovely Walden’s on Harmood Street. Be careful not to pay too much. Ours cost just £16 – but some people are flogging copies for over £100.

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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.