North London's Cultural Guide

So where the hell is the Gospel Oak?

To find an answer, we need to head to a Grade II-listed 1970s estate in NW5

It’s a question we’ve all asked, as we weave through the estates, pass under the dank viaducts on the way to Parliament Hill Fields, or pop for a pint at the Southampton Arms. Well let us tell you something: it existed once!

If you’re oak-curious, here’s how to find the spot. Take a right out of busy old Gospel Oak Overground, so much more efficient than it once was (remember the delays!) glancing at the bridges made famous by Sinead O’ Connor in her titular 1997 EP.

On the corner of Southampton Road and Mansfield Road, eyeing up NW3 like its life depends on it, you’ll find the Dunboyne Road estate. And larks, the nominal tree allegedly grew just near its gated entrance, apparently a popular place for outdoor preaching (although specific references are rather scant). The bad news is that the tree had disappeared by 1821; the last record of it was on the parish map in 1801.

But that’s not the end of it. In Kentish Town bible The Fields Beneath, author Gillian Tindall says the actual tree was located on a map in 1834 in the current Wendling Estate. On another map it is shown somewhere over by Lismore Circus. In short, the myth continues.


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But, for architecture nuts, it’s still worth a trip to Dunboyne Road, as it’s now the Grade II-listed Neave Brown modernist estate, comprising 71 two bedroom houses, designed in the late 60s, but not completed until 1977.
British Listed Buildings praises it ‘both in style (concrete construction, geometric layout and composition) and in its communitarian ethos (non-hierarchical dwellings and shared gardens).’ And even on a grey spring morning, its combination of stark white structures and overgrown foliage feels quite magical; Barbary Lane-esque even.

In a footnote to this jumble of history and hearsay, back in June 1998 Oak Village resident Michael Palin attempted ceremonially to plant a ‘Gospel Oak’ on the fringes of nearby Lismore Circus – but the tree has not survived. Other attempts have taken place since, but none has quite caught the imagination.

And therein lies a typically NW5 tale of faith, loss, hope and ambition.

Source: Camden History Society’s Streets Of Gospel Oak. The Fields Beneath, Gillian Tindall, both available in Owl Bookshop.

Image: Sian Pattenden

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5 thoughts on “So where the hell is the Gospel Oak?”

  1. … but a baby gospel oak sapling was planted by Mr Palin about two years ago on an extremely rainy summer (I think) day

  2. ….which is absolutely correct. In fact it was reported on March 3 last year. So there is a happy ending to the tale, after all. Thanks Avigail!

  3. But is there any connection with the recentishly-opened ‘Oak and Pastor’ pub in Archway? Seems like a coincidence. I wondered if the new owners had tried for the Old Oak but settled for the Drum and Monkey.

  4. So upon reading Fields Beneath, the actual tree was located on a map in 1834 in the current Wendling Estate. But then on another map it is shown somewhere over by Lismore Circus. The myth continues… But since i live in the Wendling Estate I’m going to take that claim.

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