North London Food & Culture

Heard about the SecretArtistNW5 yet?

An enigmatic painter is working her way around the postcode's Grade II-listed buildings with an unprecedented zeal

At the end of last year I was made redundant from my publishing job of 30 years. Cushioned by a decent package, I was in no particular rush to find another role elsewhere and wanted to enjoy my new freedom. But I do like keeping busy.

The husband suggested that I paint all the Grade II listed buildings in Kentish Town, and I jumped at the idea. My career had always involved working with words, but I enjoyed painting as a hobby, and loved the thought of combining this with my interest in architecture. The English Heritage website lists over 100 protected buildings in NW5, so I knew I was going to be kept, er, very busy.

Since January, I have been travelling around Kentish Town during the day, either by bike or on foot, dog in tow, photographing the listed buildings and monuments. In the evenings, I paint them using an app called Paper 53 on my iPad.

I have now rattled off pubs, churches, shops, numerous private houses, railings, gates and other relics of the past, such as the old cherry-red telephone boxes in Laurier Road and Prince of Wales Road (designed by Gilbert Scott) and the green, cast-iron Victorian sewer vent pipe at Gospel Oak. Vent pipes were invented after the Great Stink of 1858 and once a common sight. Now they are very rare. Until I looked for it, I had never noticed this one despite having passed it many times.


The same was true for many of the private houses, often so close to the road that they are easily missed. Now I have been made aware of them and painted them, I hope my pictures will do the same to my fellow Kentishtowners.

I set up a Twitter account and, to make people aware of my work, made secret postings of print-outs of the paintings to the private houses, pubs and churches. I liked the idea of being anonymous so that the focus of the project remained on the buildings.

It’s easy to discover all sorts of interesting facts painting an area. One of the houses turned out to be Karl Marx’s one-time abode in Grafton Terrace, where he wrote some of Capital. I tweeted my painting of the terrace, which has no plaque, to Francis Wheen, Marx’s biographer. Francis replied that many years ago when the house was up for sale, the owner asked the estate agent not to mention that Marx had lived there for fear of putting off buyers. I wonder if that would happen today.

And now? The project has started to take off, with commissions flooding in from people who have seen the paintings on Twitter. What started as a hobby has become a bit of an obsession.

The simple truth is that I love these buildings. They’ll be here for a long time after we’re all gone. So I want to honour them while I’m still around.

Follow her on Twitter@secretartistNW5.

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About Kentishtowner

The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.