North London Food & Culture

Wednesday Picture: The Secret Shops of Harmood Street

Winkworth Kentish Town

In the 1830s, lovely Harmood Street was one of the first developments cutting into the fields alongside Chalk Farm Road (then known at Pancras Vale).

Local historian Gillian Tindall makes an educated guess that the unusual number of mature fruit trees still to be seen in gardens here suggest the land might previously have been an orchard.

At first this new street was a cul-de-sac not even connecting with Prince of Wales Road at its northern end, since this was being developed as a separate estate. But within a decade it had been cut through and a number of new buildings, including some small shops and a pub, were constructed in the gap created.


Number 106 was a pie shop, serving crusty, meat-filled meals to the railwaymen, piano makers and other local working people. The street was designated a conservation area in 2005, but it came just a few months too late to stop the destruction of the pleasingly Dickensian shop front (left), now a bland single pane of glass. 104 is now the sole survivor nodding to a trading past.

Harmood had, of course, already suffered plenty of destruction in its history. A spot of slum clearance laid waste to the original houses directly opposite in the 1960s and the rest of the cottages that lend it such character today were only saved after a public outcry in the years that followed.

Long term residents still tell the wartime story of the night a Luftwaffe bomber came down in the area near Talacre (perhaps a contributing factor to housing there being cleared, creating the open space now so celebrated?) The women of Harmood Street armed themselves with frying pans and fire pokers and gingerly made their way over to the smouldering fuselage to detain the pilot.

But the war and the questionable town planning that followed weren’t the only factors in the demise of the little businesses tucked in amongst the housing. The Harmood Arms pub was lost to flat conversion in 2003, but with bigger pubs also to be found at either end of the street, and drinking habits fast changing, this was surely, if sadly inevitable.

Also fallen on hard times and shut down for a period was the Lock Tavern, reignited in 2002 as the trailblazing ‘rave pub’ to feature top nightclub DJs in cosy boozer surrounds, as it still does brilliantly to this day (and where many more have followed).

At the northerly end, I lived upstairs at 106 (yes, the one-time pie shop) for many years in a flat previously occupied by legendary, now sadly deceased, house music producer/DJ Kenny Hawkes. Our ‘local’ was the Prince of Wales, although an unwelcoming ‘members only’ policy kept it firmly off the social radar. It briefly became national news in 2002 when 80s pop highwayman Adam Ant was arrested there for an angry episode brandishing a starting pistol.

Among the final nails in the coffin of the building as a pub was a 2009 party which featured a guest appearance by tabloid favourite ne’do-well de jour, Pete Doherty. He was on fairly good behaviour (as we noted, peering out of the bedroom window as the afterparty rolled on), but the pub’s licence forbade live music and the gig was filmed. The subsequent repeat primetime broadcasts by MTV providing a rather indefensible body of evidence, leading ultimately to closure and a destiny as, you guessed it, recently completed swanky new flats (called, um, Republic Court).

Still going strong however, since arriving on the street in the late 70s, is a true hidden gem; Walden Books. Here, antique and second hand tomes can be dug out, dusted off, and perused at leisure in the kind of increasingly scarce bookish environment that thankfully hasn’t been completely lost to the sands of time yet.

A fitting last quirky little retailer from a 180 year history of small vendors, tucked away among the cottages of Harmood Street.

Words & Pics: Tom Kihl

The Wednesday Picture comes to you in association with Winkworth Property Agents. Find them at 306 Kentish Town Road.
Sources: Streets of West Kentish Town (Camden History Society) The Fields Beneath (Gillian Tindall) both available at Owl Bookshop. Harmood Street Conservation Area Statement (Camden Council)

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