Who’d have thought our humble manor would be connected to that titan of popular culture, Princess Di?
Even less likely – you’d think – would be a link between the People’s Princess and those old warehouses behind Highgate Road.
Our tale begins around 1850. Carker’s Lane, where the entrance to the now mighty Highgate Studios complex lies, was once a path through the meadows directly to Gospel Oak and Hampstead beyond.
You can still imagine how pretty this short cut used to be by standing at the top of the car park and looking out across the land now divided by the railway that has shaped modern NW5.Now, if you will, take a leap forward to 1908. The impressive industrial studio space, currently home to a range of media and tech companies, not to mention the Soho House triumvirate of restaurants, was a wallpaper factory.
Hugely successful in the height of the arts and crafts movement, it swallowed up neighbouring buildings as it expanded, owned by a certain Norman Shand-Kydd. His son Peter Shand-Kydd made his millions when he sold up in 1962 and moved to Australia, where he became a sheep farmer.
Returning to England, he began an affair, whilst both were still married, with Princess Diana’s mum Frances. They eventually married in 1969. While royal destiny played itself out, the wallpaper factory suffered its own ups and downs.
Its high point was its metamorphosis into the International Oriental Carpet Centre, turning this stretch of Kentish Town into our very own exotic carpet district. Though the commerce in the main building only lasted a decade or so, a clutch of great carpet shops like The Orientalist remain in the area, hinting towards the recent past.
But alas, no wallpaper shops.
And what became of the Shand-Kydds? One heir – Adam – died of a suspected drugs overdose in Cambodia in 2004; the other, John, is a renowned photographer with over seventy works in the National Portrait Gallery. But few would connect that colourful, tragic dynasty with this busy stretch of Highgate Road.