North London Food & Culture

The story of Kentishtowner

We've just reached our 8th birthday - so here founder Stephen Emms looks back on how it all began

Left to right: the first three print issues, a screenshot of the blog with the old masthead, and a model in our Ich Bin t-shirt. Image: LBTM
Left to right: the first three print issues, a screenshot of the blog with the old masthead, and a model in our Ich Bin t-shirt. Image: LBTM

It’s hard to believe it’s now five years since I started an irreverent little blog on the (mostly food-based) comings and goings in NW5.

At the time I was really meant to be writing a novel (yup, I had an agent and everything), while freelancing for The Guardian, Time Out and other broadsheets.

And yet I was easily distracted. Deciding one evening to pen a brief review after a meal at the Kentish Canteen (read it here), newly open on the site where Neighbour now stands, I hit upon a name I immediately quite liked: Kentishtowner. It had a nice ring to it. And yes, the domain name was available. My partner, artist Russell Loughlan did me an eye-catching logo, too.

Central London guide Gasholder is also in print monthly.
King’s Cross/Central London guide Gasholder is also in print monthly.

Getting a taste for the project, I hurriedly published several other short reviews of local cafes and pubs – which were all pretty much ignored by anyone and everyone. I decided I needed an angle, a character, someone who could give the blog a voice: and so the fictional Mrs Kentishtowner was born.


For the uninitiated, the colourful Mrs Kentishtowner proceeded to sweep around the postcode making various pronouncements about whatever she encountered. Over a year or so, she became “Kentish Town’s first lady”, winning a fanbase amongst locals, as she cast her judgement over everything from the wallpaper at the Dartmouth Arms to the ill-advised curtains at the Lion & Unicorn. In fact, she built up the readership which became the basis of the title you know today. And even better, most people thought she actually existed.

Stephen Emms
Stephen Emms: ‘I hit upon a name I immediately quite liked: Kentishtowner’. Photo: Andre Ainsworth

With a cult following in place, I was promptly told by everyone I knew that I somehow should try and “monetise” it. Yet I didn’t have a clue how. It was only when I ran into my old journo friend Tom Kihl at 2011’s Alma Street Fair that we decided to take a punt on relaunching my little blog as “north London’s daily cultural guide.”

Which is what we finally managed to do in January 2012 – after several evenings plotting over pints at the Southampton Arms.

With the feisty Mrs Kentishtowner taking a backseat – if that’s indeed possible for a fictional character – we broadened our remit. Emphatically a “good news title” (not the traditional local paper as many people still believe) we agreed to focus on the subjects we enjoyed writing about: food, drink, lifestyle, the arts, travel and people.

The gamble paid off. As well as a rising audience, advertising and sponsorship revenue, we won funding from innovations charity Nesta, were shortlisted twice in the Newspaper Awards and launched an online shop with a range of t-shirts and bags. We even made it onto the BBC 1’s 6 o’clock news after launching our first print edition in February 2013.

Still from our one appearance on the BBC1 news. Photo: Youtube
Still from our sole appearance on the BBC1 news to date. Photo: Youtube

Fast forward to the present day and our publishing house London Belongs To Me is Londonwide (see the site here) and now has eight titles across the capital and beyond (the others are Leytonstoner, Below The River, Gasholder, Eustontowner, Seventhsister, St James’s Correspondent and travel site Weekendr). Four are in print, two monthly and two quarterly, with an audience of six figures.

The downside for fans of the original blog? Mrs Kentishtowner is still relegated to the sidelines. But don’t fear: she will – perhaps – return in fictitious form next year.

So a big thanks to you lot, whether you prefer to pick up the print issue every month, advertise with us. or read us daily online – they’re all equally important. It’s tough times for any publishing venture – so we appreciate your support.

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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.