Kentish Town

The origin of the name Kentish is from Ken-ditch, the bed of a waterway; Kentish Town lies in the valley of the Fleet River, now hidden in a culvert. The river flowed down from Hampstead to St Pancras and out to the Thames. The valley provided water and an ancient route from the city to the north. The river was prone to flooding at St Pancras and the settlement moved up to higher ground, in the area now known as Kentish Town, from at least as early as the thirteenth century, resulting in a parish some four miles long.

Kentish Town village did not develop as a compact cluster but as individual buildings strung out along the road to Highgate, roughly following the course of the river. It probably took this form because of the various  inns established to serve the many travellers passing through on their way between London and the North, and stretched from The Castle (now called The Verve) pub to Swain’s Lane.

Although the land around was good, Kentish Town was not just a farming community. William Bruges, the  first Garter King of Arms, had a magnificent house at the south end of the village, in what is now Camden Town, during the early 15th century and other well-to-do Londoners followed. Gradually, the village established a reputation as a convenient and healthy retreat from the increasing congestion of the City.

Kentish Town continued to grow along the trade route and gained a chapel of ease in the 15th century.

This higher ground was appreciated for health and as a relief from the city, from the eighteenth century. Development intermittently grew along the Kentish Town Road as shown on John Rocque’s Plan in 1745, and slowly began branching off the road along lanes. The area gained a reputation as a rural retreat away from the increasing urbanisation and growth of the metropolis and fine houses were built in the rural landscape.

The Assembly House was constructed in 1898 on the site of an older sequence of taverns known as the Flask which had been a landmark for travellers and a stopping point for stage coaches. A marble table stood under the roadside elms, and a cobbled yard lay between the Flask and 304 Kentish Town Road (known as the Village House). This was illustrated in J.F. King’s contemporary eighteenth century street panorama. In the nineteenth century, the right of way across the Flask forecourt (Assembly House) became Leverton Place, and the forecourt was filled with shops.

The origin of Leighton Road lay in a path from the Assembly House to Maiden Lane. Development began when landowner Joshua Prole Torriano sold small plots of land freehold to private individuals for houses. This resulted in piecemeal development initially known as Evans Place, later around 1820-30 as Gloucester Place, before finally being linked up later in the nineteenth century to Torriano Avenue. The plots provided individual houses, or small groups developed at one time. Examples include late Georgian stock brick with pared down detailing of two and three storeys with parapets; stucco villas including one with a pediment of 1830s; and terraced stuccoed and half stuccoed houses of the mid nineteenth century.

In 1861 there were still fields to the north, however the city suburbs were expanding from the south. The Midland Railway Line cut through Kentish Town and ran to St Pancras. At this point, the houses to the south of Leighton Road lost gardens and stables. By 1875 Leighton Road was lined with development all the way to Torriano Avenue. Torriano Cottages at the east end of Leighton Road were also built. To the north of Leighton Road, Leverton Street and Lady Margaret Road were laid out perpendicular to Leighton Road in an expanding grid of streets; the pattern was established by 1875, and by 1894 all the fields had been built over.

The buildings of the area were mostly built by the turn of the twentieth century. The red brick Royal Mail Sorting Office of 1903 is a local landmark with its Diocletian windows.

Large brick London County Council housing blocks replaced nineteenth century houses on the north and south sides of Leighton Road. Land was cleared in Falkland Place to create a play and open area. A number of new houses have been built including an innovative new house in Lady Margaret Road and houses inserted into Torriano Cottages, plus a surgery on Leighton Road.

Source: Kentish Town Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Strategy (Camden Council)

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