The most widely accepted explanation of the name of Kentish Town[by whom?] is that it derived from 'Ken-ditch' meaning the 'bed of a waterway'. Kentish Town was originally a settlement along the River Fleet which flowed through the area, and today runs underground.
Kentish Town is first recorded during the reign of King John (1207) as kentisston. By 1456 Kentish Town was recognised as a thriving hamlet, and in this period a chapel of ease is recorded as being built for the inhabitants.
The early 19th century brought modernisation, causing much of the area's rural charm, the River Fleet and the 18th century buildings to vanish, although pockets still remain, for example Little Green Street. Between the availability of public transport to it from London, and its urbanisation, it was a popular resort.
Large amounts of land were purchased to build the railway, which can still be seen today. Kentish Town was a prime site for development as the Kentish Town Road was a major route from London northwards. Probably its most famous resident was Karl Marx who lived at 46 Grafton Terrace from 1856.
1877 saw the beginning of mission work in the area as it was then poor. The mission first held their services outside but as their funding increased they built a mission house, chapel, and vicarage. One mission house of the area was Lyndhurst Hall which remained in use before being taken over by the Council. The Council wished it to sell it for residential use, and the hall was demolished in 2006.
During the 19th century and early 20th century the area of Kentish Town became for many years the home of many famous piano and organ manufacturers,[who?] and was described by The Piano Journal in 1901 as "...that healthful suburb dear to the heart of the piano maker".
A network of streets in the East of Kentish Town has streets named after places or persons connected with Christ Church, Oxford viz: Oseney, Busby, Gaisford, Caversham, Islip, Wolsey, Frideswide, Peckwater & Hammond. All these streets lay behind the Oxford Arms. Some of the freehold of these streets is still in the name of Christ Church Oxford.
A network of streets in the north of Kentish Town was formerly part of a large estate owned by St John's College, Cambridge. Lady Margaret Road is named after Lady Margaret Beaufort, foundress of St John's College. Burghley Road is named for Lord Burghley, Chancellor to Elizabeth I and benefactor of St John's. Similarly, College Lane, Evangelist Road and Lady Somerset Road are street names linked to the estate of St John's College.
In 1912 the Church of St. Silas the Martyr (designed by architect Earnest Charles Shearman) was finally erected and consecrated, and by December of that year it became a parish in its own right. It can still be seen today along with the church of St Luke with St Paul and the Church of St. Barnabas (handed over to the Greek Orthodox Church in 1957). The present Church of England parish church is St. Benet's.
In his poem Parliament Hill Fields, Sir John Betjeman refers to "the curious Anglo-Norman parish church of Kentish Town".
Kentish Town Road contains one of London's many disused Tube stations. South Kentish Town tube station was closed in June 1924 after strike action at the Lots Road power station meant the lift could not be used. It never reopened as a station, although it was used as an air raid shelter during World War II. The distinctive building is now occupied underground by a massage shop and on ground level by a 'Cash Converters' pawn shop at the corner of Kentish Town Road and Castle Road. There have been proposals to rebuild the station.
Kentish Town was to see further modernisation in the post-World War II period. However, the residential parts of Kentish Town, dating back to the mid-19th century have survived and are much admired architecturally.[by whom?]
Kentish Town is part of the Holborn and St Pancras (UK Parliament constituency)|Holborn and St Pancras seat which is currently held by Labour Party MP Frank Dobson, who is retiring at the end of the 2011-2015 parliament. However, although considered traditional Labour heartland, the area has often defied its demographic by resolutely maintaining a strong centrist vote. Kentish Town was an early base for the Social Democratic Party and in recent years the increasingly middle class population has returned large votes for the Green and Liberal Democrat parties. In May 2006 the Liberal Democrats won two of the three Council seats in Kentish Town, strengthening this hold by taking the final seat in a by-election in November of the same year. In the Council elections in May 2010, Labour regained all three Council seats.
In 2002 the comedy and drama film About a Boy was filmed in Lady Margaret Road, which is located at the top of Kentish Town. The front house shot used in the TV series Spaced is also very close to Kentish Town. Many of the filming locations used in the 2006 film Venus, starring Peter O'Toole and Lesley Phillips, were in Kentish Town. In 1959 Lady Somerset Road and Oakford Road were used substantially for the filming of Sapphire, a film exploring racial tension in London, directed by Basil Dearden. The Assembly House pub was the location for the film "Villain"(1971) starring Richard Burton.The 1993 comedy Bad Behaviour, featuring Stephen Rea and Sinead Cusack, was set in Kentish Town and includes scenes set in several local streets and the Owl Bookshop.The film "It always rains on Sunday" had scenes shot in Clarence Way during 1944 or 46. It shows Holy Trinity Church with its spire intact.
Shops and businesses
In 2005, a survey of Kentish Town by the local Green Party claimed that out of 87 shops on Kentish Town Road (locally known as Kentish Town High Street), 53 were still independently owned. The high street is a mixture of national retail chains and independent shops, including a long-standing bookshop, several delis and organic stores. Many 'World Food' shops have opened up on the street. However, since 2009 there has been a marked increase in independent shops being replaced with chain stores including Pret a Manger, Costa Coffee and Sainsbury's.
Culture, bars and music
Kentish Town has always been noted for its pubs and bars. Pub rock is usually traced back to the "Tally Ho", a former jazz pub, where Eggs over Easy started playing in May 1971, and were soon joined by Bees Make Honey, Brinsley Schwarz, Max Merritt and the Meteors, Ducks Deluxe and others. Other music pubs include the Bull and Gate which featured early performances by Blur, The Housemartins, Suede, PJ Harvey, Ash, The Pogues, The Men They Couldn't Hang, Keane, The Libertines, Muse, The Shamen, Manic Street Preachers, and Coldplay.
In more recent years the area has become noted as leading the trend for the resurgence of back-to-basics, real ale pubs like the CAMRA award-winning Southampton Arms, the Pineapple, and Tapping the Admiral which was the CAMRA North London Pub of the Year in 2013. Many of these are stocked with keg and bottled beers from the Camden Town Brewery, located in the arches under Kentish Town West London Overground station. A new bar opened on the brewery premises in March 2012.
Kentish Town is also home to The Forum (formerly known as the Town and Country club), for many years well into the 1950s one of Kentish Town's most popular and comfortable cinemas, and now a live music venue.
In the last five years Kentish Town, and particularly West Kentish Town, has become known for its art galleries, studios and creative spaces. Most notable are Spring Studios, the Zabludowicz Collection, the Beardsmore Gallery, photographer Rankin's Annroy and Leighton Space. Early spring 2014 saw Kentish Town to get its first speak easy, 1920s style hidden bar, when Knowhere Special opened its doors right next to Kentish Town station.
In December 2014, the Victorian toilets on the corner of Highgate Road and Fortress Road were transformed into a cocktail bar: Ladies and Gentlemen, now regularly described as one of the top 50 new bars in the world.
Torriano Avenue, dating back to 1848, is a popular Kentish Town street being home to Pete Stanley, one of the country's best-known bluegrass banjo players, British actor Bill Nighy, The Torriano Poets, a beacon of culture where local poets have met for over 20 years and still hold weekly public poetry readings on Sunday evenings; its founder was John Rety. The street is also home to two pubs, one being an 1850s hostelry The Leighton, the other The Torriano, which was for many years an old-fashioned community off-licence. One of London's most famous nudist public baths, Rio's, is in Kentish Town.
Kentish Town is home to North London's only daily online magazine, The Kentishtowner, founded in 2010, which casts a wry look at the area's arts and entertainments scenes, and features contributions from a wide range of broadsheet journalists and readers.
St Pancras public baths
The largest municipal building in Kentish Town is the St Pancras public baths, opened in 1903, designed by T.W. Aldwinckle. The large complex originally had separate first and second class men's baths and a women's baths, along with a public hall. Little of the interior remains intact. The baths were closed in January 2007 for refurbishment and re-opened at the end of July 2010.
Architecture and geography
Kentish Town has a fairly large boundary, stretching from Camden Gardens to as a far north as the Highgate Road/Gordon House Road junction near Dartmouth Park. Kentish Town generally includes the areas to the west, around Queens Crescent and to the east around Torriano.
Many of the old buildings remain, albeit hidden behind the façades of modern shops or neglected, and it is still possible to get a good impression of Kentish Town's heritage in present-day NW5.
- Ben Aaronovitch, writer
- Mike Barson, the keyboardist of the British pop/ska band Madness
- Sian Berry, Green Party politician and 2008 Green Party candidate for London Mayor.
- Archie Bland, journalist, writer and Deputy Editor of The Independent newspaper
- Tom Conti, actor
- Giles Coren, restaurant critic
- Hunter Davies, writer
- Simon Day, comedian
- Noel Fielding, comedian
- William Harrison,popular tenor and actor
- Mr Hudson, singer
- Roy F. Foster, historian
- Margaret Forster, writer
- Ben Goldacre, medical doctor and journalist
- Eddy Grant, reggae and rock artist
- Patricia Hewitt, former Secretary of State for Health
- Tom Hiddleston, actor 
- Leigh Hunt, 19th century journalist and poet
- Bert Jansch, folk musician
- Jim Jefferies, comedian
- Tessa Jowell, Olympics Minister
- Roger Lloyd-Pack, actor
- Karl Marx, 19th century political philosopher.
- Scott Mills, Radio 1 DJ
- Harry Mount, historian, barrister and journalist.
- Henry Neele, poet
- Mohamed Nur, Mayor of Mogadishu
- George Orwell, writer
- Gareth Peirce, solicitor
- Lucy Porter, comedian
- Jolyon Rubinstein, comedian
- Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian newspaper
- Jon Snow, TV journalist
- Keir Starmer, former Director of Public Prosecutions, Labour Party candidate
- Jim Sturgess, actor and musician
- R. N. Taber, poet
- Gillian Tindall, writer and historian
Kentish Town has a range of transport connections: a mainline railway station on the St. Albans/Luton Airport to Brighton/Gatwick line; Underground station, overground connection (at Kentish Town West and Camden Road stations) and multiple bus routes with the majority going into or around Central London.
- Kentish Town station
- Gospel Oak railway station
- Kentish Town West railway station
- Camden Road railway station
- Camden Town tube station
- Camden Town and Chalk Farm to the south
- Barnsbury to the south-east
- Tufnell Park and Holloway to the east
- Dartmouth Park and Archway to the north-east
- Highgate to the north
- Hampstead and Belsize Park to the west
- Denford 2005, p. 8
- "Greens alarmed at Tesco plan for Kentish Town". Camden Green Party. 2005-03-26. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
- Birch, Will (2003). No Sleep Till Canvey Island – The Great Pub Rock Revolution (1st ed.). London: Virgin Books Ltd. pp. 120–129. ISBN 0-7535-0740-4.
- "Assembly House public house". English Heritage list. English Heritage. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
- TimeOut London http://www.timeout.com/london/bars-pubs/knowhere-special. Retrieved 9 September 2014. Missing or empty
- Denford, Steven (2005), Streets of Kentish Town, Camden History Society, ISBN 0-904491-62-5
- Tindall, Gillian (1980), The Fields Beneath, Paladin Books, ISBN 0-586-08320-0