Wednesday Picture: Railway bridges. Shaping our lives, occasionally getting smashed


In January 1962, trains careered off a bridge and plunged onto Kentish Town Road, as today’s amazing photo reveals



Carriages careered off the railway bridge by Camden Gardens, January 1962
Carriages careered off the railway bridge onto the road beside Camden Gardens, January 1962
Following our story and the Victorian lithograph depicting 1861’s fatal Kentish Town rail crash, reader Jeremy Eveleigh got in touch having unearthed another, more recent local image, bearing some striking similarities.

“I came across an old magazine and noticed a photo showing another railway accident in Kentish Town Road in January 1962 with an amazing photo,” he emailed. “No lives lost but lots of damage. They seem to have reinstated trains [to the now vanished Broad Street Station] within two days though. The exact location hasn’t changed much today, next to Camden Gardens, just north of the canal bridge.”

This lesser-known accident makes for an equally dramatic and slightly chilling Wednesday Picture. Just look at the state of the road, let alone the remains of the bridge, which appears to have lost carriages from both sides.

The bridge today. But for how long?
The bridge today. But for how long?

We do like the bowler-hatted gent and traditional bobby, stood respectfully on the kerb, in well-turned-out contemplation. And wouldn’t it be interesting to know what the billboards under the arch were advertising?

It’s pretty safe to assume the cast iron structure that, er, graces the spot today was the eventual replacement, yet in 2013 the bridge is threatened with destruction once again.

Plans for the HS2 rail link include widening the tracks out of Euston, meaning hulking great replacements for historic bridges throughout Camden including this and the one bearing the famous Camden Lock mural, just up the line. The lovely arches of Camden Gardens, gateway to Kentish Town, may be forever altered in a way they haven’t been since, well, January 1962.

And who remembers a bridge prang of another kind, this one dating back only 5 years, from February 2008?

24 bus crashes into bridge at Kentish Town West, 2008
24 bus crashes into bridge at Kentish Town West, February 2008

A number 24 bus driver managed to decapitate the top deck roof after skirting a little too close to the bridge at Kentish Town West. Luckily no passengers met quite the same fate as the bus, but there were six hospitalisations and the driver was among those who required treatment for shock.

The reason the 24 was taking this irregular diversion down Prince of Wales Road? The fire that had ripped through Camden Market the previous weekend. It meant Chalk Farm Road was still closed while buildings including the former Caernarvon Castle pub were assessed for structural stability (it was pulled down later that week).

The burned out Caernarvon Castle, too badly damaged to remain standing.
The Caernarvon Castle, too badly damaged to remain.

Destruction inadvertently stemming from destruction, rippling up the railway viaduct…the fire itself was followed by a rash of conspiracy theories and doom about the future of Camden.

Now, five years on from the bus crash snapshot, it is interesting to contemplate how much really has changed in the area. The canal market has been rebuilt and thrives as a village of huts and converted moped seats, albeit on dubiously legal grounds. The controversial development of the Stables Market has continued, yet large parts of the more jarringly modern buildings remain strangely empty.

The damaged Hawley Arms was saved, but the pub’s most famous regular, Amy Winehouse – who mentioned the terrible fire in her acceptance speech for Best Record at that year’s Grammy Awards – is herself, sadly no more.

And look at the backdrop to the bus crash. It depicts an era before the welcome Prince of Wales Road resurgence, the recently rebranded overground project having only just begun to replace the “shabby, unreliable, unsafe and overcrowded” (to quote the Mayor’s office at the time) Silverlink North London Line.

The changing face of Kentish Town West
The changing face of Kentish Town West

The old ticket office building, which now houses acclaimed coffee spot The Fields Beneath, sits boarded up. It stretches right across what is now the start of cobbled Wilkin Street Mews, home of Camden Town Brewery. That whole area had previously been a long-term traveller caravan site, whereas now, the towering and controversial Princes Park development rises up on the rest of the land.

And did you know the 24 bus is about to become one of the first routes to run the new, reimagined Routemasters? London’s travel infrastructure continues to modernise at a rate and ambition – not seen, in fact, since the bridges first went up.

Meanwhile the railway lines, their arches and cuttings, stations and viaducts, weave inexorably through this area’s modern history, shaping our movements and daily rhythms.

Words & recent pics: Tom Kihl


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  • archicous

    If anyone wants to see one of the new/old buses up close, they’re currently training the new conductors at the bus stop on Hawley Road, near Quinns. They’ve been there the last few mornings at about 9am.

    • Dave

      I well remember seeing the wagons hanging from the bridge the following day on my way home from school. I wonder why though you have shown the next bridge along, in Camden Street, with the caption ‘the bridge today’ when the article clearly refers to the still surviving, but quickly repaired, brick arch bridge over Kentish Town Road.