Wednesday Picture: The Secret Bovine History of Camden Town Tube


To even the most passionate NW1 residents and office workers, Camden Town tube station is an annoyance to be suffered, …



To even the most passionate NW1 residents and office workers, Camden Town tube station is an annoyance to be suffered, with its constant buzz of cattle-like tourists and predatory touts. Yet it’s such an iconic meeting point that Suggs sang about it in an eponymous ditty. And pre-mobile phones it was even more hectic, as thousands of souped-up music-loving teens would linger for hours against the now defunct railings.

Its history proves just as rattlingly noisy. Before today’s hustle and bustle the site was alive with the sound of cows (teenage and otherwise) hanging out, moo-ing whilst they waited to be milked. Why? Because where the front of HSBC is today was once a dairy. Cowabunga!

It was founded by farmer Thomas Brown in 1790, and was present on this site from 1822. Cows grazed on Kentish Town’s lovely fields before being brought over for milking. The Gothic style facade earned the nickname of the ‘Cows’ Cathedral’. Up the white steps on the right of the picture was the Browns’ home. Very central, eh?

In December 1903 they moved up the road to Parkway to make room for the new station, having sold the building to the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway for demolition. Like the others in the manor, the ‘ox-blood’ tiled, arched building was designed by Leslie B Green. This one was opened by then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, in 1907.

The front of the former dairy was taken over by a bank. When it was destroyed by bombing in WW2 it was replaced by the present structure, losing much of its old charm and grandeur (although its curves do juxtapose effectively, we think, with the red tiles). And it’s not widely known that the bomb site still exists to the left of the station exit on the market side, masked by a billboard.

Camden tube is woefully underequipped to meet the demands of the swathes of tourists and locals who use it daily, as anyone who’s ever attempted as much as an oyster top-up there will tell you. But extending the station, however, is just as unpopular, due to Camden’s complicated heritage.

One idea would have involved redeveloping all the properties north to Buck Street, including the open-air market, and the Electric Ballroom. These plans were refused but its future still hangs in the balance.

So, next time you’re desperately trying to avoid pedestrian-rage at the herds of tourists grazing outside Camden Town tube, think back to the old dairy, a haven of noisy pastoral tranquillity.

And no, let’s not milk this one any further.

Words: Amelia Horgan
Pics: Stephen Emms

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The Wednesday Picture now comes in association with Hotblack Desiato, who can be found on Camden’s leafy Parkway. All editorial is, of course, our own.
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Sources: Streets Of Camden Town (Camden History Society, £5.99), and Camden Town & Kentish Town Then & Now (Published by The History Press), available at Owl £12.99

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  • walkertim

    Great article again!
    Two questions though: Are you sure the bank was destroyed by wartime bombing? The bomb damage can be seen here: http://tinyurl.com/bpuz49o but I’m not sure another bomb fell on the other side at some point afterwards.
    And are you sure that the cows were actually milked on the premises? I can’t really see how that would have worked.

    Oh and also please remember it’s “Camden Town” tube, not Camden tube! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Tim.

    • Conrad

      Yes the bank looks decidedly 1930s, hard to believe it is post-War.

  • Kentishtowner

    Our sources confirm the cows were actually milked at the dairy itself; hard to believe though! There were stalls for milking the cows after they had been driven down from Kentish Town.

    Oh and thanks for the reminder, that’s us up here in the distant pastures of NW5 told…

    • Tim

      Wow. How on earth did they get them in???

  • Dave Hodgkinson (@davehodg)

    Nuke it. Better access, indie shops and restaurants and apartments on to.

    Also, I read that the milk from the dairy was notoriously bad!