I live in Camden Town, in the London borough of Camden – and I like it. It’s a microcosm of London, with an incredible variety of people, businesses, institutions and architecture. But not everything is perfect.
The borough is occasionally blighted by the behaviour of, variously, its occasionally inebriated residents, its frequently befuddled visitors and – sadly - its often bloody-minded civic officials. Some of the worst of this latter group of culprits reside in the planning and built environment department, and in particular that division tasked with the protection of historically or culturally important buildings.
There are few things as disappointing for a happy resident as losing an important building. Whether it is somewhere you went for a great pint or something that was as easy on the eye as it was on the palate, there is something uniquely crushing about turning a corner in your town and finding a favourite edifice defaced, deconstructed or – at worst – obliterated.
Such was my experience recently in venerable Georgiana Street, a residential turning in NW1 that features the almost obligatory terrace of early 19th-century townhouses, an agreeable pub, and – unusually – an intriguing old electricity sub-station and associated outbuildings. I have always loved a monumental and functional “facility”. Practitioners of this dark art, from modernists such as Giles Gilbert Scott through to brutalists such as Denys Lasdun, are among my preferred architects. And there was a great hulk of a building on Georgiana Street. Big, boxy and confrontational, you imagined it was surely crammed with machine parts, sparks, cables – the very nuts and bolts of a modern electric city.
It may no longer have looked the part for the increasingly residential surroundings but it was a distinct thread in the fabric of Camden. It is only when these buildings are preserved and maintained (and viewed in their original context) that the demolitionists can be made to understand them, too.
And it’s not just the Georgiana Street facility that has suffered for its slightly non-orthodox architectural heritage. Camden’s shoddy attitude in this regard is equally apparent in the cavalier way in which the superb Crown & Goose public house on Delancey Street and the adjacent building – long a home to a snooker hall and formerly the historic site of the first ever cinema in the town – are also being bulldozed to make way for redevelopment.
Apparently the Crown & Goose has “no architectural or historic merit”. Well, you would be hard pushed to persuade the legions of happy drinkers and diners in NW1, for whom the Goose has long been a bastion of excellence, of this seeming irrelevance.
What Camden – like other big city boroughs – can be guilty of is forgetting that the fabric of a place is made up of layers. You need to have contrasts and complexities – and the occasional curio – to make a truly satisfactory whole.
Lose the great spots from whence goodness flows – be it good beer or electricity - and your neighbourhood risks losing its spark.
Tom Edwards is Moncole 24’s news editor.