Stretching northwest from Camden Road, Rochester Terrace Gardens and its surrounding streets form an unusually calm and peaceful patch of south Kentish Town. In fact, as far back as 1898 the area was recorded in Charles Booth’s poverty map as a ‘a wonderful quiet neighbourhood.’
Rochester Road is blocked off at the Kentish Town Road end, meaning that the square can’t be used as a shortcut between two busy main roads, although you will see the occasional car screeching to a confused halt in front of the barriers. The square has long been home to an eclectic collection of homes and businesses, and the park in its centre is a haven for small children and dogs.
Like much of Kentish Town, the piano industry legacy is never far away. At number 9 Rochester Terrace there’s a blue plaque dedicated to Henry Willis, who built over two thousand church organs, including those at the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Albert Hall and St Paul’s Cathedral; one can even be found at St Luke’s Church in Oseney Crescent.
In the 1980s, architect David Wild designed two of the modern houses in Rochester Place but eagle-eyed readers will know we covered that street the other week. These days, acclaimed artist Paula Rego uses one of the mews houses as her studio, and a few years ago resisted the building of flats which would have blocked light into her room.
But most fascinating, however, in this urban oasis is the little known fact that Number 6 Rochester Terrace was, during the 1850s and 60s, home to Eugenius Birch, a celebrated Victorian pier designer responsible for the West Pier in Brighton.
Birch had travelled the world as an engineer for the British Empire and his designs were heavily influenced by styles he’d seen in India. West Pier was simple and functional when built in 1866, had become a thriving centre of seaside entertainment by the 1920s – but sadly was almost completely destroyed by fire in 2004.
Without Birch, the culture of British ‘staycations’ might not have existed, and it was from Rochester Terrace that he set out to transform seafronts around the country.
Something to ponder as you sit in the square, listening to the seagulls shriek, away from the dirt and rumble of Kentish Town Road.
Words & Pics: Anna Bear