Alternative London: Camden High Street, a set on Flickr.
This is the 38th set of photos in my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike, and follows on from the previous set, recording a journey from Tottenham Court Road and up Hampstead Road to Mornington Crescent on September 3, 2012. The following two sets will feature a journey along the tow path of the Regent’s Canal from Camden Lock to King’s Cross.
Unusually, this set features photos from just one street — Camden High Street, which I followed from Mornington Crescent tube station in the south to Camden Lock and the Regent’s Canal, shortly after which it becomes Chalk Farm Road.
In my 27 years in London, I have always lived in the south, except for a short stay in west London in the 1980s, and consequently I spent a lot of time in my immediate neighbourhoods — Brixton for eleven years, and Brockley for the last 13. However, other places have been magnets at various times — the West End, of course, and, on various occasions, Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove, Islington, and Camden Town, a long-standing focus of youth culture, and, in years past, quite often an edgy place, and/or a very drunk one. With its markets, established in the early ’70s, and its many pubs and music venues, Camden has, for the last 40 years, always been a reliable place to meet and mingle.
Moreover, although I recall several pleasant escapades in Camden Town in the 1980s — and remember with fondness the unparalleled Compendium Books (1968-2000, replaced by a Doc Martens outlet) — and although I also flirted with Camden when I worked briefly in Primrose Hill and off the Pentonville Road in the ’90s, my best memories of Camden involve the excellent Reclaim the Streets movement, which began on May 14, 1995, when two cars were deliberately smashed into each other on Camden High Street and the entire road was taken over for a street party — a great day that I recall with hazy fondness (there was drink and a woman involved) — and that also makes me feel slightly sad, as it appears unthinkable that such a combination of anarchy, environmentalism, and anti-corporate, anti-consumerist activity could take place today, for two reasons: firstly, because that collective spirit seems to have actually been destroyed in the last decade, as wealth and consumerism have come to dominate almost every aspect of existence; and, secondly, because if it were to happen, those involved would be hunted down and imprisoned.
Camden Town is not what it was, of course, and not just because anarchic street parties are now apparently something resembling ancient history. As Carnaby Street and the King’s Road lost their edge after the ’60s and ’70s, so everywhere else was either bought up or found itself watered down after an initial burst of cultural creativity. To be fair, the commodification of everything has led to the creation of lots of nice places to eat and drink and hang out — and, of course, ubiquitously, to shop for clothes and shoes — but it has also, I think, led to the loss of something important that involved spirit and not just stuff, and in this the changes at Camden Town are by no means unique.
Young people, still drawn to Camden in their droves — and still, disproportionately, including those of the Gothic persuasion — might have something to say to the middle-aged man remembering events from the ’80s and ’90s — about how they are living now, and how they are not content to live in a world in which we are what we buy, and far too many people dress, think and behave as though they are permanently the star of an imaginary movie of their lives, but as the Western world continues to enrich the rich through the trickle-up effect of relentless shopping and an overheated property market, I still find myself longing for dramatic intervention — like that crashing of cars in Camden High Street back in May 1995.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Ann Alexander wrote:
Thanks for these photos, Andy. I never miss Camden when I visit London.
You raver, you! Seriously, though, Ann, that’s nice to hear – and it’s not just, presumably, because certain human rights lawyers are located there.
Ann Alexander wrote:
No on my first ever trip to London with my sister, we ensured we visited Camden. It was famous even way back then.
Thanks again, Ann. Interesting to hear that. I guess I have to be careful not to be too cynical in reminiscing about being young and in Camden before there was either the money or the stuff to be so materialistic about. And Camden still has a vibe – after all, the masses still go to Oxford Street or either of the Westfields (Shepherd’s Bush/Stratford). Actually, I especially like it by the canal. Photos of that tomorrow …
Colin Maclean wrote:
Honestly don’t think I’ve been up there since the late 90′s, having read this I’ll bike up at the weekend to relive some memories. I’m off work next Monday if you fancy that trip out to Thamesmead
OK Colin, so yes, if it’s not chucking it down next Monday, let’s pay a visit to Thamesmead South. And I’m glad you were inspired to go and check out Camden. I’ll have to pick up where I left off soon, round the stables market, on to Chalk Farm, and then up to the hills.
Jennah Solace wrote:
WOW! I love them all. Great set, vibrant, lively, colourful… I especially love the pic of the scooter-seats! Very cool, Andy.
Thanks, Jennah. I’m very glad you’re enjoying the photos.
Rachel’s Page wrote:
i was in Camden last week, should of got some photos myself looked to be a very interesting part of London
It’s very busy, very lively. I was speaking about it to an American friend just this evening, who has legal business in Camden. He thought there was a festival going on when he visited. I told him it’s like that all the time! I saw your photos from London. It looks like you had a lovely time.
Christopher John Webster wrote:
Thanks, Chris. I’m very glad you’re enjoying my photographic journeys. The next set is up now: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andyworthington/sets/72157631693076138/
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