Cobbled Wilkin Street Mews has had a bit of a PR boost recently. Until fairly recently it seemed a decaying remnant of its Victorian past, but that’s all changed with the dominating presence of Camden Town Brewery, and its riotous bar and Friday food market.
The smells were somewhat less hoppy 150 years ago. In 1868, Arch 1 – now stylish bike shop, Lunar Cycles – became the slaughterhouse of the aptly-named John Death. ‘I consider slaughtering within the City as both directly and indirectly prejudicial to the health of the population,’ wrote Dr John Simon, in the City Medical Reports (1849), ‘directly, because it loads the air with effluvia of decomposing animal matter, not only in the vicinity of each slaughter-house, but likewise along the line of drainage which conveys away its washings and fluid filth; indirectly, because many very offensive and noxious trades are in close dependence on the slaughtering of cattle, and round about the original nuisance of the slaughter-house.’
Yuck. So it will come as something of a shock that next door was a rather unfortunate schoolhouse. Kentish Town Ragged School, later the Children’s Mission of the Ragged School Union, was staffed by volunteer teachers who must have found it quite a challenge to teach in such insalubrious surroundings, although the arch was enclosed at either end. And – ‘ello, ‘ello – classes were still held here until the 1920s, thanks to the Baptists from Highgate Road chapel led by a copper from the police station over on Holmes Road.
Anyway, in the 1930s the arches were abandoned by the Mission (it’s unclear whether the slaughterhouse was still in existence). Activities were transferred to the ‘Albert Hall’ (above), the rather oddly named building at 11 Winchester Street (now 21 Bassett Street, off Queen’s Crescent). Albert Hall was built in 1865 – beating its Kensington namesake by several years. Another minor claim to fame for NW5?
Yet this Albert Hall’s raison d’etre could not be less in tune with its SW7 rival. It was a rather god-fearing ‘temperance hall’ housing the International Order of Good Templars, a body that favoured prohibition. Teetotalism originated in the 1850s in the US and had spread to the UK a decade later, although this particular sect quickly abandoned the Hall to move to Wilkin Street. (Since the 1970s the building operates as Kentish Town Evangelical Church, its mysterious original name lost forever).
And now, back in Wilkin Street Mews, adjacent to popular Talacre Sports Centre, the only downside is the impending Dalby Street development, a towering statement of what? The relentless transitory nature of the city? The way money will forever continue to change the landscape, whether we protest or not?
What is certain is that it will be a blot on the landscape of charming Talacre Gardens – and, equally importantly, block our sunset views from the Brewery bar for good. If only John Death were still around when you need him…
Words & Pics: Stephen Emms
Source: Streets Of Gospel Oak & West Kentish Town (Camden History Society).