Somers Town, London

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Somers Town
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Somers Town
Location within Greater London
OS grid reference TQ295825
London borough
Ceremonial county Greater London
Region
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district NW1
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
UK Parliament
London Assembly
List of places
UK
England
London
51°31′51″N0°07′53″W / 51.530970°N 0.131498°W / 51.530970; -0.131498 Coordinates: 51°31′51″N0°07′53″W / 51.530970°N 0.131498°W / 51.530970; -0.131498

Somers Town is an inner-city district in North West London. It has been strongly influenced by the three mainline north London railway termini: Euston (1838), St Pancras (1868) and King's Cross (1852), together with the Midland Railway Somers Town Goods Depot (1887) next to St Pancras, where the British Library now stands.

Contents

Historically, the name "Somers Town" was used for the larger triangular area between the Pancras, Hampstead, and Euston Roads, [1] but it is now taken to mean the rough rectangle bounded by Pancras Road, Euston Road, Eversholt Street, Crowndale Road, and the railway approaches to St Pancras station; that is to say, the area about 200 metres east and west of Chalton Street.

Somers Town was originally within the medieval Parish of St Pancras, Middlesex, which in 1900 became the Metropolitan Borough of St Pancras. In 1965 the Borough of St Pancras was abolished and its area became part of the London Borough of Camden. [2] [3]

History

1837 map, showing St Pancras, Regent's Canal, Clarendon Square, Somers Town, Pentonville, Kings Cross and Euston Square Somers town 1837.jpg
1837 map, showing St Pancras, Regent's Canal, Clarendon Square, Somers Town, Pentonville, Kings Cross and Euston Square

St Pancras Old Church is believed by many to be one of the oldest Christian sites in England. The churchyard remains consecrated but is managed by Camden Council as a park. It holds many literary associations, from Charles Dickens to Thomas Hardy, as well as memorials to dignitaries, including the remarkable tomb of architect Sir John Soane.

Somers Town was named after Charles Cocks, 1st Baron Somers (1725–1806). [1] [4] The area was originally granted by William III to John Somers (1651–1716), Lord Chancellor and Baron Somers of Evesham. [5]

18th and 19th centuries

Clarendon Square, with The Polygon on left and St Aloysius Chapel on right (1850 engraving by Joseph Swain from an earlier sketch) Polygon.jpg
Clarendon Square, with The Polygon on left and St Aloysius Chapel on right (1850 engraving by Joseph Swain from an earlier sketch)

In the mid 1750s the New Road was established to bypass the congestion of London; Somers Town lay immediately north of this east-west toll road. In 1784, the first housing was built at the Polygon amid fields, brick works and market gardens on the northern fringes of London. Mary Wollstonecraft, writer, philosopher and feminist, lived there with her husband William Godwin, and died there in 1797 after giving birth to the future Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein . The area appears to have appealed to middle-class people fleeing the French Revolution.

The site of the Polygon is now occupied by a block of council flats called Oakshott Court, which features a commemorative plaque for Wollstonecraft. The Polygon deteriorated socially as the surrounding land was subsequently sold off in smaller lots for cheaper housing, especially after the start of construction in the 1830s of the railway lines into Euston, St Pancras and King's Cross. In this period the area housed a large transient population of labourers and the population density of the area soared. By the late 19th century most of the houses were in multiple occupation, and overcrowding was severe with whole families sometimes living in one room, as confirmed by the social surveys of Charles Booth and Irene Barclay. Dickens lived in the Polygon briefly as a child.

When St Luke's Church, near King's Cross, was demolished to make way for the construction of the Midland Railway's St Pancras station and its Midland Grand Hotel, the estimated twelve thousand inhabitants of Somers Town at that time were deprived of that place of worship, as the church building was re-erected in Kentish Town. In 1868 the lace merchant and philanthropist George Moore funded a new church, known as Christ Church, and an associated school in Chalton Street with an entrance in Ossulston Street. The school accommodated about six hundred children. Christ Church and the adjacent school were destroyed in a World War II bombing raid and no trace remains today, the site being occupied by a children's play area and sports court. St Mary Eversholt Street is today the parish church. [6]

In 1830 the first on-duty fatality for the newly founded Metropolitan Police occurred when PC Joseph Grantham was kicked to death while trying to break up a street fight in Smiths Place, Somers Town. [7]

20th century

Improvement of the slum housing conditions, amongst the worst in the capital, was first undertaken by St Pancras Borough Council in 1906 at Goldington Buildings, at the junction of Pancras Road and Royal College Street, and continued on a larger scale by the St Pancras House Improvement Society (subsequently the St Pancras & Humanist Housing Association, the present owner of Goldington Buildings) which was established in 1924. Its founders were Church of England priest Father Basil Jellicoe and Irene Barclay, the first woman in Britain to qualify as a chartered surveyor. The Society's Sidney Street and Drummond Street estates incorporated sculpture panels of Doultonware designed by Gilbert Bayes and ornamental finials for the washing line posts designed by the same artist: these are now mostly destroyed or replaced with replicas. [8] Further social housing was built by the London County Council, which began construction of the Ossulston Estate in 1927. There remains a small number of older Grade 2 listed properties, mostly Georgian terraced houses.

During the early 1970s the neighborhood comprising Greater London Council-owned housing in Charrington, Penryn, Platt and Medburn Streets was a centre for the squatting movement. [9]

In the 1980s, some council tenants took advantage of the 'right to buy' scheme and bought their homes at a substantial discount. Later they moved away from the area. The consequence was an influx of young semi-professional people, resulting in a changing population.

Historically, Somers Town has contained a number of hospitals, such as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (144 Euston Road), National Temperance (110–112 Hampstead Road) and the London Hospital for Tropical Diseases (5 St Pancras Way). All have closed since 1980, with the exception of St Pancras Hospital. Its site includes buildings that date from a former life as St Pancras Workhouse, adjacent to St Pancras Old Church. The large red brick building fronting the complex to the north of St Pancras Gardens is still residential, chiefly as a rehabilitation hospital for the elderly. Other buildings house the headquarters of Camden NHS Primary Care Trust. It also accommodates parts of Islington Primary Care Trust, the Huntley Centre (a mental health unit) and St Pancras Coroner's Court.

Somers Town experienced ethnic tension between whites and Bengalis in the early 1990s, climaxing in the murder of Richard Everitt in 1994. [10] [11]

21st century

Major construction work along the eastern side of Somers Town was completed in 2008, to allow for the Eurostar trains to arrive at the refurbished St Pancras station. This involved the excavation of part of the St Pancras Old Churchyard, the human remains being re-interred at St Pancras and Islington Cemetery in East Finchley. [12]

Land at Brill Place, previously earmarked for later phases of the British Library development, became available when the library expansion was cancelled and was used as site offices for the High Speed 1 terminal development and partly to allow for excavation of a tunnel for the new Thameslink station. It was then acquired as the site for the Francis Crick Institute (formerly the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation), a major medical research institute established by a partnership of Cancer Research UK, Imperial College London, King's College London, the Medical Research Council, University College London (UCL) and the Wellcome Trust. [13] [14]

Somers Town has a flourishing street market, held in Chalton Street, Wednesday to Friday. [15] The START (Somers Town Art) Festival of Cultures is held on the second Saturday in July, on the site of the market. It is the biggest street festival in the Camden borough and attracts about 10,000 people, bringing together the area's diverse cultural communities. [16]

The children's charity Scene & Heard is based in Somers Town. It offers a unique mentoring project that partners the inner-city children of Somers Town with volunteer theatre professionals, providing each child who participates with quality one-on-one adult attention and an experience of personal success through the process of writing and performing plays.

Cultural references

Charles Dickens knew the area well. The Polygon, where he once lived, appears in Chapter 52 of The Pickwick Papers (1836), when Mr Pickwick's solicitor's clerk, arriving at Gray's Inn just before ten o'clock, says he heard the clocks strike half past nine as he walked through Somers Town: "It went the half hour as I came through The Polygon." The building makes its appearance again in Bleak House (1852), when it served as the home of Harold Skimpole. [17] In David Copperfield (1850), Johnson (now Cranleigh) Street was the thoroughfare near the Royal Veterinary College, Camden Town, where the Micawbers lived, when Traddles, David Copperfield's friend and schoolfellow, was their lodger. [18] In A Tale of Two Cities (1859) Roger Cly, the Old Bailey informant, was buried in Old St Pancras Churchyard. The funeral over, later that night Jerry Cruncher and his companions went "fishing" (body snatching), trying unsuccessfully to 'resurrect' Cly. [19] Robert Blincoe (1792–1860), on whose lifestory Oliver Twist (1838) may be based, was a child inmate at the St Pancras Workhouse. A central character in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend (1865) is Nicodemus Boffin, nicknamed 'The Golden Dustman' because of the wealth he inherited from his old employer John Harmon, who had made his fortune as a dust contractor at Somers Town. [20]

A number of significant films have been set in Somers Town: the 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers with Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers; Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa of 1986, featuring Bob Hoskins; Mike Leigh's 1988 film High Hopes; Anthony Minghella's 2006 romantic drama Breaking and Entering starring Jude Law and Juliette Binoche; and in 2008 Shane Meadows's Somers Town, which was filmed almost entirely in and around Phoenix Court, a low-rise council property in Purchese Street. [21]

Education

There are two secondary schools in the area, the Roman Catholic co-educational Maria Fidelis Convent School FCJ in Phoenix Road, and the state Regent High School in Charrington Street. Regent High School was established in 1877 and has gone through several name changes, more recently as Sir William Collins Secondary School, then as South Camden Community School. Somers Town Community Sports Centre was built on part of the school playground. The building is leased to a charitable trust that is jointly managed by the school and UCL (UCL is based a few hundred metres to the south of Euston Road and is a major employer of local residents). It is used for 17% of available hours by UCLU's sports teams for training and home matches and for recreational sport by UCL students. As part of Building Schools for the Future plans to expand the school, it is probable that the sports centre will be reintegrated back into the school campus.

There are also three primary schools: Edith Neville (state), St Aloysius (state-aided Catholic) and St Mary and St Pancras (state-aided Church of England). The latter has been built beneath Somerset Court, four floors of university student accommodation units.

Nearby areas

Housing estates

Modern housing estates in Somers Town include:

Transport

Vehicular through traffic is not heavy, and is confined by traffic calming and other measures to a few north/south arterial throughways.

The nearest London Underground stations are Mornington Crescent, Euston and King's Cross St Pancras. National Rail services operate from the nearby London King's Cross, London St Pancras and London Euston stations. St Pancras International is the terminus for Eurostar services and was the London terminus for the Javelin fast train service to London Olympic Park. [22]

Notable residents

Street name etymologies

This is a list of the etymology of Somers Town streets.

Related Research Articles

Bloomsbury area of the London Borough of Camden, in London, England, UK

Bloomsbury is a district in the West End of London. It is considered a fashionable residential area, and is the location of numerous cultural, intellectual, and educational institutions. It is bounded by Fitzrovia to the west, Covent Garden to the south, St. Pancras to the north, and Clerkenwell to the east.

St Pancras, London Area of central London, England

St Pancras is an area of Central and North West London. For many centuries the name was used for various officially designated areas, but it is now used mainly for the railway station and for upmarket venues in the immediate locality, having been largely superseded by other place names including Kings Cross and Somers Town.

Camden Town Inner city district of London

Camden Town, often shortened to Camden, is a district of northwest London, England, 2.5 miles (4.1 km) north of Charing Cross. Historically in Middlesex, it is the administrative centre of the London Borough of Camden, and identified in the London Plan as one of 34 major centres in Greater London.

Euston railway station central London railway terminus

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Euston tube station London Underground station

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Kentish Town station London Underground and railway station

Kentish Town is a London Underground and National Rail station in Kentish Town in the London Borough of Camden. It is at the junction of Kentish Town Road (A400) and Leighton Road. It is in Travelcard Zone 2. The station is served by the High Barnet branch of the London Underground Northern line, and by Thameslink trains on the National Rail Midland Main Line. It is the only station on the High Barnet branch with a direct interchange with a National Rail line; furthermore an Out of Station Interchange (OSI) with Kentish Town West on the North London Line is not charged as two separate journeys in electronic journey charging.

Tavistock Square Public square in London

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Cross River Tram proposal for a tram in London

Cross River Tram was a Transport for London (TfL) proposal for a 10-mile (16 km) tram system in London. It was planned to run on a north-south route from Camden Town in the north, via King's Cross, to Peckham and Brixton in the south.

St Marys Church, Somers Town Church in United Kingdom

St Mary's Church is a Church of England church behind Euston station on Eversholt Street in Somers Town, London Borough of Camden.

Camden Town Hall town hall of the London Borough of Camden

Camden Town Hall, known as St Pancras Town Hall until 1965, is the town hall for Camden London Borough Council. It is located along Euston Road, opposite the main front of St Pancras railway station, with Judd Street to its rear. It was constructed to a neoclassical design in 1934-7 for St Pancras Borough Council on the site of Georgian terraced housing. It is a steel-framed building, clad with Portland stone. The architect was A.J. Thomas, who also designed housing schemes for the borough. It was extended in the 1970s.

Regents Park Estate housing estate in the London Borough of Camden, England

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King's Cross is a ward of the London borough of Camden, in the United Kingdom. The ward has existed since the creation of the borough on 1 April 1965 and was first used in the 1964 elections. The population of the ward at the 2011 Census was 11,843.

The London Borough of Camden was created in 1965 from the former area of the metropolitan boroughs of Hampstead, Holborn, and St Pancras, which had formed part of the County of London. The borough was named after Camden Town, which had gained its name from Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden in 1795. Since the 17th century many famous people have lived in its various districts and neighbourhoods.

London Borough of Camden Borough in United Kingdom

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Cleveland Street, London street in City of Westminster and the London Borough of Camden

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Ossulston Estate council estate in London Borough of Camden, United Kingdom

The Ossulston Estate is a multi-storey council estate built by the London County Council in Somers Town between 1927 and 1931. It was unusual at the time both in its inner-city location and in its modernist design, and all the original parts of the estate are now Grade II listed buildings.

The Metropolitan Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Industrious Classes (MAIDIC) was a Victorian-era, philanthropically-motivated Model Dwellings Company, a fore-runner of the modern housing association which sought to provide affordable housing for the working classes on a privately run basis, with a financial return for investors. Although not the first society to build such homes, the Association was the first to be founded expressly for this purpose. As such it was one of the earliest adopters of the principal of the five per cent philanthropy model, outlined in the Company's resolution: "that an association be formed for the purpose of providing the labouring man with an increase of the comforts and conveniences of life, with full return to the capitalist."

St. Pancras Library public library in London, UK

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Euston St Pancras railway station

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