PICTURE: Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash

Camden-Lock

As with so many London locations, the name Camden Town comes from a previous landowner – but more indirectly it originates with the great 16th and 17th century antiquarian and topographer William Camden.

The story goes like this: late in his life William Camden – author of Britannia, a comprehensive description of Great Britain and Ireland – settled near Chislehurst in Kent on a property which became known as Camden Place.

In the 18th century, the property came into the possession of Sir Charles Pratt, a lawyer and politician (among other things, he was Lord Chancellor in the reign of King George III), who was eventually named 1st Earl of Camden.

It was Pratt who, having come into the possession of the property by marriage, in about 1791 divided up land he owned just to the north of London (which has apparently once been the property of St Paul’s Cathedral) and leased it, resulting in the development of what became Camden Town (Pratt, himself, meanwhile, is memorialised in the name of Pratt Street which runs between Camden High Street and Camden Street).

In 1816, the area received a boost when Regent’s Canal was built through it – the manually operated, twin Camden Lock is located in the heart of Camden Town.

Although it has long carried a reputation of one of the less salubrious of London’s residential neighbourhoods (a reputation which is changing), Camden Town is today a vibrant melting pot of cultures, thanks, in no small part, to the series of markets, including the Camden Lock Market, located there as well as its live music venues.

Past residents have included author Charles Dickens, artist (and Jack the Ripper candidate) Walter Sickert, a member of the so-called ‘Camden Town Group’ of artists, and, in more recent times, the late singer Amy Winehouse.

Of course, the name Camden – since 1965 – has also been that of the surrounding borough.

St-Michael's-CornhillCredited as “the man who invented Christmas”, Victorian author Charles Dickens’ featured Christmas celebrations in many of his works – but none more so than in his famous story, A Christmas Carol.

Published 172 years ago this December, the five part morality tale centres on the miserly Londoner Ebenezer Scrooge who, following several ghostly visitations by the likes of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, becomes a changed man and recaptures the essence of what Christmas is all about.

The book – whose characters (said to have been partly based on people he knew in real life) also include the abused clerk Bob Cratchit and his ever positive youngest son, Tiny Tim – is based in London.

Among key locations mentioned in the book is Scrooge’s counting house, said to have been located in a courtyard off Cornhill (it’s been suggested this is Newman’s Court, thanks to a reference to a church tower, believed to be St Michael’s Cornhill – pictured), the home of Scrooge (it has been speculated this was located in Lime Street), and the home in Camden Town where the Cratchits celebrate their Christmas (perhaps based on one of Dickens’ childhood homes in Bayham Street). City of London institutions like the home of the Lord Mayor, Mansion House, and the Royal Exchange are also mentioned.

The book, which apparently only took Dickens six weeks to write while he was living at 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone, was first published on 19th December, 1843, by London-based firm Chapman & Hall. Based at 186 Strand, they published many of Dickens’ works – everything from The Old Curiosity Shop to Martin Chuzzlewit – along with those of authors such as William Makepeace Thackeray and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

A Christmas Carol‘s first print run of 6,000 sold out any Christmas Eve that same year and sales continued to be strong into the following year. Despite its warm reception by critics and popularity among the public, the book’s profits were somewhat disappointing for Dickens who had hoped to pay off his debts (he also lost out when he took on some pirates who printed their own version two months after its publication; having hauled them to court Dickens was apparently left to pay costs when they declared bankruptcy).

Dickens would later give some public readings of the book, most notably as a benefit for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children (his last public reading of the book took place at St James’s Hall in London on 15th March, 1870, just three months before his death).

The book, which has apparently never been out of print, went on to become something of a Christmas classic and has been adapted into various films, theatre productions, radio plays and TV shows (one of our favourites is The Muppet Christmas Carol, dating from 1992).

Wishing all of our readers a very happy Easter! 

Hampton-Court

It’s party time at Hampton Court Palace this weekend as the palace celebrates its 500th anniversary with festivities including a spectacular (and historic) light show. Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights the palace will be open for an evening of festivities including the chance to taste-test pork cooked in the Tudor kitchens, enjoy a drink at a pop-up bar in the Cartoon Gallery, listen to live performances of period music in the state apartments and watch a 25 minute sound and light show in the Privy Garden taking viewers on a journey through the palace’s much storied past culminating in a fireworks finale. The nights run from 6.30pm to 9.15pm. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/. PICTURE: HRP/Newsteam

A luxury wartime bunker, a map room dating from the 1930s and a walk-in wardrobe complete with vintage fashion are among five new rooms at Eltham Palace in south London which are opening to the public for the first time this Easter. The rooms also include a basement billiards room and adjoining bedrooms, one of which features one of the first showers ever installed in a residential house in the UK. They have been restored as part of English Heritage’s major £1.7 million makeover of the property – the childhood home of King Henry VIII which was converted into a stunning Art Deco gem in the 1930s. Visitors will be invited to join one of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld’s legendary cocktail party’s of the 1930s while children can take part in an interactive tour exploring the story of the animals that lived at the palace including Mah-Jongg, the Courtauld’s pet lemur (who had his own heated bedroom!). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/eltham. Meanwhile, anyone wishing to donate to support the renovation of the map-room can do so at www.english-heritage.org.uk/donate-eltham.

• A new exhibition showcasing the latest scientific displays concerning the life and death of King Richard III has opened at the Science Museum. King Richard III: Life, Death and DNA, which opened last Wednesday – the day before the king’s remains were reinterred at Leicester Cathedral, features an analysis of Richard III’s genome, a 3D printed skeleton (only one of three in existence) and a prototype coffin. It explores how CT scans were used to prove the king’s fatal injuries at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 were caused by a sword, dagger and halberd (a reproduction of the latter is on display). The exhibition will run until 25th June. Entry is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/RichardIII.

Shaun-the-Sheep• Join Shaun the Sheep and friends for Kew Garden’s annual Easter Egg hunt this Sunday. The hunt will take place from 9.30am to noon (or when the eggs run out!) with participants needing to find three sheep and collect a token/chocolate dropping from each before finding the Easter bunny and claiming eggs supplied by Divine chocolate. Shaun, meanwhile, who hit the big screen for the first time this year, will be found in the Madcap Meadow until 12th April. Admission charge applies. For the full range of events taking place at the gardens this Easter season, check out www.kew.orgPICTURE: RBG Kew.

London’s Boroughs are turning 50 and to celebrate London councils – working with the London Film Archive – have released a short film telling the story of the past half century. Follow this link to see it. Councils across the city, meanwhile, are holding events throughout the year to mark the occasion – check with your local council for details; some, like Barking and Dagenham, and Camden have dedicated pages.

The first chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir Mansfield Cumming, has been commemorated with an English Heritage blue plaque at his former home in Westminster. Known as ‘C’ thanks to his habit of initialling papers (a tradition which has been carried on by every chief since), Cumming was chief of the Foreign Section of the Secret Service Bureau from 1909 until his death in 1923. Flats 53 and 54 at 2 Whitehall Court – now part of Grade II*-listed The Royal Horseguards Hotel – served as Cumming’s home and office at various times between 1911 and 1922. The plaque was unveiled by current Secret Intelligence Service chief, Alex Younger. Meanwhile, Amelia Edwards, pioneering Egyptologist, writer, and co-founder of the Egypt Exploration Fund, has also been honoured with a blue plaque on her former home in Islington. Edwards lived at 19, Wharton Street in Clerkenwell between 1831 and 1892. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

Amy-Winehouse

Singer Amy Winehouse was remembered with the unveiling of a life-size bronze statue at the Stables Market in Camden this week. The work of London-based artist and designer Scott Eaton, the statue – seen here in the studio – was commissioned by her father Mitch Winehouse. Located in the north London district where Winehouse lived until her death in 2011, the statue was unveiled on what would have been her 31st birthday. For more of Eaton’s work, see www.scott-eaton.com. PICTURE: Courtesy of Scott Eaton.

We’ll kick off this week with just a few more of the plethora of Olympic-related events which are happening around town:

Tower Bridge, site of some spectacular fireworks last Friday night, is currently hosting an exhibition celebrating the 26 cities which have hosted the modern Olympics. Cities of the Modern Games, located on the bridge’s walkways, runs alongside an interactive exhibition looking at the bridge’s construction. Follow the link for details.

The Guildhall Art Gallery is showcasing sculpture and art inspired by sport and the “Olympic values”. The art works are all winning entries from a contest organised by the International Olympic Committee. The chosen works were selected from among 68 submissions made by an international jury. Follow the link for details.

The Design Museum is hosting a new exhibition celebrating the nexus between sport and design. Designed to Win looks at everything from the design of F1 cars to running shoes, bats and bicycles and explores the way in which design has shaped the sporting world. Runs until 9th September. Admission charge applies. See www.designmuseum.org.

• The London Metropolitan Archives is holding an exhibition of playing cards featuring an Olympic theme. Sporting Aces – Playing Cards and the Olympic Games features cards drawn from the collection of the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards which have an Olympic theme. Admission is free. Runs until 13th September. See www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma.

And in other news…

A night market has been launched at Camden Lock over the summer period. Street food stalls and vintage fashion, arts and crafts and book shops will be open until 10pm every Thursday with extras including live music and film screenings. For more, see www.camdenlockmarket.com.

• On Now: Another London: International Photographers and City Life 1930-1980. This exhibition at Tate Britain in Millbank features more than 150 classic photographs of the city and its communities by foreign photographers including such luminaries as Henri Cartier-Bresson. The exhibition features iconic works such as Robert Frank’s London (Stock Exchange) 1951, Cartier-Bresson’s images of King George VI’s coronation, Elliot Erwitt’s depiction of a rain-washed London bus stop, and Bruce Davidson’s image of a child with pigeons in Trafalgar Square alongside works such as Wolfgang Suschitzky’s images of working class families in the East End, from the 1940s, and Karen Knorr’s images of punks in the 1970s. The photographs all come from the Eric and Louise Franck London Collection, which includes more than 1,200 images of London and has been promised as a gift to the Tate. Runs until 16th September. Admission charge applies. See www.tate.org.uk. 

Have we missed something we should be telling others about? Send details in an email to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

• The Olympic Torch Relay arrives in London tomorrow night before working its way around all of the city’s 33 boroughs and reaching the Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony next Friday.  The torch will arrive in the city by helicopter from Guildford tomorrow night and then be abseiled into the Tower of London where it will spend the night ensconced with the Olympic medals. The relay will travel 200 miles over the next week, carried by more than 980 torchbearers. The route is as follows:

  • Saturday, 21st July – Greenwich via Newham, Tower Hamlets and Hackney to Waltham Forest (highlights include a visit to the Cutty Sark);
  • Sunday, 22nd July – Redbridge via Barking & Dagenham and Havering to Bexley (highlights include a ride on the London Eye and a crossing of the Thames);
  • Monday, 23rd July – Lewisham via Bromley, Croydon, Sutton and Merton to Wandsworth (highlights include a visit to a live filming of Eastenders);
  • Tuesday, 24th July – Kingston via Richmond, Hounslow, Hillingdon and Denham to Ealing (highlights include a visit to Kew Gardens);
  • Wednesday, 25th July – Harrow via Brent, Barnet and Enfield to Haringey (highlights include a visit to Wembley Arena);
  • Thursday, 26th July – Camden via Islington, the City of London, Southwark, Lambeth, Wandsworth, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham  to Westminster (the many landmarks to be visited include St Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park);
  • Friday, 27th July – From Hampton Court Palace (where it will be taken into the maze) on board Gloriana via the Thames to Olympic Park for the Opening Ceremony.

The 70 day torch relay, which kicked off on 19th May, will have travelled a total distance of about 8,000 miles and have involved 8,000 torchbearers by the time it reaches its end. LOCOG and Transport for London have advised people to see the relay at a location closest to their home given the expected crowds. For more detailed route information, see www.london2012.com/torch-relay/route/. PICTURE: LOCOG

Still talking all things Olympics and London’s largest ever ‘pop up’ shop – where you can buy Olympic merchandise – was officially opened by multiple gold medalist Sir Steve Redgrave in Hyde Park last week. The shop, located on Rotten Row, will be the site of special athlete visits during the Games and visitors can have their photo taken with the Olympic Torch.

• Meanwhile, life-sized versions of the Olympic mascot Wenlock and Paralympic mascot Mandeville are popping up at some of London’s key tourist locations. The 83 two metre tall sculptures capture various elements of life in London with incarnations including a Beefeater, a giant red phone box and a replica of Big Ben. The figures can be found on the routes of Stroll, six new discovery trails designed to help both tourists and Londoners get more out of the city. A QR code on the bottom of each of the sculptures directs smartphone users to further information about the discovery trails. The discovery trails are part of the Mayor of London Presents, a city-wide programme featuring free events, shows and activities. For more on what’s happening in your area, see www.molpresents.com. Some of these events are also being run as part of the Festival of London 2012. For more on this, see http://festival.london2012.com.

• On Now: Shakespeare: staging the world. Part of the World Shakespeare Festival taking place in London, this exhibition at the British Museum looks at the then emerging role of London as a “world city” as interpreted through Shakespeare’s plays and examines the role the playhouse performed in this. The museum has collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company to produce the exhibition which features more than 190 objects including paintings, jewels and rare manuscripts. These include the Ides of March coin, a Roman gold aureus commemorating the assassination of Julius Caesar (Julius Caesar), the Lyte Jewel, presented to Thomas Lyte in 1610 in thanks for his work in tracing King James I’s lineage back through Banquo (Macbeth), and a 1610 bird’s-eye view of Venice (Othello and The Merchant of Venice). Runs until 25th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Says the photographer, ‘Sam’: “I was walking north towards Camden, and coming out on Euston Road I saw the light fading to the west and it caught my eye. It’s a busy shot, but I tried to get the lamppost on the left to line up with the building in the background to give it some structure. You can’t really mess up a picture at sunset – the light is so dramatic at that time of day that generally whatever you do it’ll work out!”  For more of the photographer’s work, see www.flickr.com/photos/–sam–/

Taken an interesting photograph of somewhere in London? We’re always looking for interesting images of the city so if you’ve got one you reckon captures a snippet of life in London, please contact us at exploringlondon@gmail.com or via our new Flickr group at www.flickr.com/groups/exploringlondon/

Born the second child of a naval clerk then stationed in Portsmouth, Charles Dickens had what one would imagine was a fairly typical childhood for the son of a naval clerk, his family following his father John Dickens from one place to another – Sheerness, Chatham and briefly, in 1815, in London – as he took up different posts.

But in 1822, amid increasing financial difficulties, John Dickens was recalled to London and he and the family moved into a house at 16 Bayham Street in Camden Town in the city’s north, Charles joining them after completing schooling in Chatham (the house at number 16 Bayham Street is now commemorated by a plaque – it was demolished in 1910).

The family subsequently moved to another, recently built, premises at 4 Gower Street North (later renumbered 147 Gower Street) but soon after this, on 20th February, 1824, John Dickens was arrested over debt and taken to Marshalsea Prison where he subsequently resided with his family with the exception of Charles (the prison, in use since the 14th century, was closed in 1842 and finally mostly demolished in the 1870s – a single wall of the second prison on the site is all that remains).

Twelve-year-old Charles, meanwhile, was put to work in the Warren’s Blacking Factory (pictured) near Hungerford Stairs, which stood just off the Strand (it’s said to have stood roughly where Charing Cross Railway Station now stands). While doing so, he roomed firstly at a house in Little College Street, Camden Town, and then in rooms at Lant Street in Borough (which was much closer to the prison).

John Dickens was out of prison in May but Charles continued working at the factory for almost another year until his father’s fortunes improved and Charles, now living with the family once again – at 29 Johnson Street and then, after being evicted, at The Polygon in Somers Town (an area in St Pancras) – returned to school, becoming enrolled at the Wellington House Classical and Commercial Academy in Hampstead Road.

In 1827, his father’s finances once more having taken a turn for the worse, he began work as a solicitor’s clerk (but more of that later)…

PICTURE: A nineteenth century etching of Dickens at Warren’s Blacking Factory – Source: Wikipedia.

Regent’s Canal was fully opened in 1820 and linked the Grand Junction Canal, which ended at Little Venice in Paddington in London’s west, with the East London Docks and Limehouse in the east. Architect John Nash was one of the directors of the canal company and it was thanks to his friendship with the Prince Regent, the future King George IV, that the canal obtained its name. Nash saw the canal as an integral part of his plans for The Regent’s Park and it now runs along the park’s northern edge. Nash’s assistant James Morgan was the canal’s chief engineer. The waterbus service, which operates between Little Venice and Camden Loch, runs at various times daily until October. See here for timetable details.