Somers Town, London

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Not to be confused with Summerstown, London.

Coordinates: 51°31′51″N 0°07′53″W / 51.530970°N 0.131498°W / 51.530970; -0.131498

Somers Town
Somers Town is located in Greater London
Somers Town
Somers Town
 Somers Town shown within Greater London
OS grid reference TQ295825
London borough Camden
Ceremonial county Greater London
Region London
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town LONDON
Postcode district NW1
Dialling code 020
Police Metropolitan
Fire London
Ambulance London
EU Parliament London
UK Parliament Holborn and St. Pancras
London Assembly Barnet and Camden
List of places
UK
England
London

Somers Town is a district in central London. It has been strongly influenced by the three mainline north London railway termini: Euston (1838), St. Pancras (1868) and Kings Cross (1852), together with the Midland Railway Somers Town Goods Depot (1887) next to St Pancras, where the British Library now stands.

Historically, the name Somers Town was used for the larger triangular area between the Pancras, Hampstead, and Euston Roads,[1] but it is now taken to mean the rough rectangle bounded by Pancras Road, Euston Road, Eversholt Street, Crowndale Road, and the railway approaches to St Pancras Station; that is to say, the area about 200 metres east and west of Chalton Street. Somers Town to some extent overlaps with the parish and district of St Pancras.

History[edit]

1837 map, showing St. Pancras, Regent's Canal, Clarendon Square, Somers Town, Pentonville, Kings Cross and Euston Square

St Pancras Old Church is believed by many to be one of the oldest Christian sites in England. The churchyard remains consecrated but is managed by Camden Council as a park. It holds many literary associations, from Charles Dickens to Thomas Hardy, as well as memorials to dignitaries, including the remarkable tomb of architect Sir John Soane.

Somers Town was named for Charles Cocks, 1st Baron Somers (1725–1806).[1][2] The area was originally granted by William III to John Somers (1651–1716), Lord Chancellor and Baron Somers of Evesham.[3]

18th and 19th centuries[edit]

In 1784, the first housing was built at the Polygon amid fields, brick works and market gardens on the northern fringes of London. Mary Wollstonecraft, writer, philosopher and feminist, lived there with her husband William Godwin, and died there in 1797 after giving birth to the future Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. The area appears to have appealed to middle-class people fleeing the French Revolution.

Clarendon Square, with The Polygon on left and St Aloysius Chapel on right (1850 engraving by Joseph Swain from an earlier sketch)

The site of the Polygon is now occupied by a block of council flats called Oakshott Court, which features a commemorative plaque for Wollstonecraft. The Polygon deteriorated socially as the surrounding land was subsequently sold off in smaller lots for cheaper housing, especially after the start of construction in the 1830s of the railway lines into Euston, St Pancras and King's Cross. In this period the area housed a large transient population of labourers and the population density of the area soared. By the late 19th century most of the houses were in multiple occupation, and overcrowding was severe with whole families sometimes living in one room, as confirmed by the social surveys of Charles Booth and Irene Barclay. Dickens lived in the Polygon briefly as a child.

When St Luke's Church, near King's Cross, was demolished to make way for the construction of the Midland Railway St Pancras Station and its Midland Grand Hotel, the estimated twelve thousand inhabitants of Somers Town at that time were deprived of that place of worship, as the church building was re-erected in Kentish Town. In 1868 the lace merchant and philanthropist George Moore funded a new church, known as Christ Church, and an associated school in Chalton Street with an entrance in Ossulston Street. The school accommodated about six hundred children. Christ Church and the adjacent school were destroyed in a World War II bombing raid and no trace remains today, the site being occupied by a children's play area and sports court. St Mary Eversholt Street is today the parish church.[4]

20th century[edit]

Improvement of the slum housing conditions, amongst the worst in the capital, was first undertaken by St Pancras Council in 1906 at Goldington Buildings, at the junction of Pancras Road and Royal College Street, and continued on a larger scale by the St Pancras House Improvement Society (subsequently the St Pancras & Humanist Housing Association, the present owner of Goldington Buildings) which was established in 1924.[5] Its founders were Church of England priest Father Basil Jellicoe, and Irene Barclay, the first woman in Britain to qualify as a chartered surveyor. The Society's Sidney Street and Drummond Street estates incorporated sculpture panels of Doultonware designed by Gilbert Bayes, and ornamental finials for the washing line posts designed by the same artist, now mostly destroyed or replaced with replicas. Further social housing was built by the London County Council, which began construction of the Ossulston Estate in 1927. There remains a small number of older Grade 2 listed properties, mostly Georgian terraced houses.

During the early 1970s the neighborhood comprising GLC-owned housing in Charrington, Penryn, Platt and Medburn Streets was a north London centre for the squatting movement.[6]

In the 1980s, some council tenants took advantage of the 'right to buy' scheme, and bought their homes at a substantial discount, later moving away from the area. This led to an influx of young semi-professional people, resulting in a changing population.

Historically, Somers Town has contained a number of hospitals, such as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (144 Euston Road), National Temperance (110-112 Hampstead Road) and the London Hospital for Tropical Diseases (5 St Pancras Way). All have closed since 1980, with the exception of St Pancras Hospital, which still occupies its site, including buildings that date to a former life as St Pancras Workhouse, adjacent to St Pancras Old Church. The large red brick building fronting the complex to the north of St Pancras Gardens is still residential, chiefly as a rehabilitation hospital for the elderly. Other buildings house the headquarters of Camden NHS Primary Care Trust. It also accommodates parts of Islington Primary Care Trust, the Huntley Centre (a mental health unit) and St Pancras Coroner's Court.

21st century[edit]

Major construction work along the eastern side of Somers Town was completed in 2008, to allow for the Eurostar trains to arrive at the refurbished St Pancras Station. This involved the removal of part of the St Pancras Old Churchyard, the human remains being re-interred elsewhere.

Land at Brill Place, previously earmarked for later phases of the British Library development, became available when the library expansion was cancelled and was used as site offices for the HS1 terminal development and partly to allow for excavation of a tunnel for the new Thameslink station. It has now been acquired as the site for the Francis Crick Institute (formerly the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation), a major medical research institute being established by a partnership of Cancer Research UK, Imperial College London, King's College London, the Medical Research Council, University College London (UCL) and the Wellcome Trust.[7][8]

Culture[edit]

Charles Dickens knew the area well. The Polygon, where he once lived, appears in Chapter 52 of The Pickwick Papers (1836), when Mr Pickwick's solicitor's clerk, arriving at Gray's Inn just before ten o'clock, says he heard the clocks strike half past nine as he walked through Somers Town: "It went the half hour as I came through The Polygon." The building makes its appearance again in Bleak House (1852), when it served as the home of Harold Skimpole.[9] In David Copperfield (1850), Johnson (now Cranleigh) Street was the thoroughfare near the Royal Veterinary College, Camden Town, where the Micawbers lived, when Traddles, David Copperfield's friend and schoolfellow, was their lodger.[10] In A Tale of Two Cities (1859) Roger Cly, the Old Bailey informant, was buried in Old St Pancras Churchyard. The funeral over, later that night Jerry Cruncher and his companions went "fishing" (body snatching), trying unsuccessfully to 'resurrect' Cly .[11] Robert Blincoe (1792–1860), on whose story Oliver Twist (1838) may be based, was a child inmate at the St Pancras Workhouse.

A number of significant films have been set in Somers Town: the 1955 Ealing comedy The Ladykillers with Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers; Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa of 1986, featuring Bob Hoskins; Mike Leigh's 1988 film High Hopes; Anthony Minghella's 2006 romantic drama Breaking and Entering starring Jude Law and Juliette Binoche; and in 2008 Shane Meadows's Somers Town, which was filmed almost entirely in and around Phoenix Court, a low-rise council property in Purchese Street.[12]

Somers Town has a flourishing street market, held in Chalton Street every Friday. The START (Somers Town Art) Festival of Cultures is held on the second Saturday in July, on the site of the market. It is the biggest street festival in the Camden borough and attracts about 10,000 people, bringing together the area's diverse cultural communities.[13]

The children's charity Scene & Heard is based in Somers Town. It offers a unique mentoring project that partners the inner-city children of Somers Town with volunteer theatre professionals, providing each child who participates with quality one-on-one adult attention and an experience of personal success through the process of writing and performing plays.

Education[edit]

There are two secondary schools in the area, the Roman Catholic co-educational Maria Fidelis Convent School FCJ in Phoenix Road, and the state Regent High School in Charrington Street. Regent High School was established in 1877 and has gone through several name changes, more recently as Sir William Collins Secondary School, then as South Camden Community School. Somers Town Community Sports Centre was built on part of the school playground. The building is leased to a charitable trust that is jointly managed by the school and UCL (UCL is based a few hundred metres to the south of Euston Road and is a major employer of local residents). It is used for 17% of available hours by UCLU's sports teams for training and home matches and for recreational sport by UCL students. As part of Building Schools for the Future plans to expand the school, it is probable that the sports centre will be reintegrated back into the school campus.

There are also three primary schools: Edith Neville (state), St Aloysius (state-aided Catholic) and St Mary and St Pancras (state-aided Church of England). The latter has been built beneath Somerset Court, four floors of university student accommodation units.

Nearby areas[edit]

Transport[edit]

Vehicular through traffic is not heavy, and is confined by traffic calming and other measures to a few north/south arterial throughways.

The nearest London Underground stations are Mornington Crescent, Euston and King's Cross St. Pancras. National Rail services operate from the nearby London King's Cross, London St. Pancras and London Euston stations. St. Pancras International is terminus for Eurostar services and was the London terminus for the Javelin fast train service to the London Olympic Park.[14]

Notable residents[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Walford, Edward (1878). "Somers Town and Euston Square". Old and New London: A Narrative of Its History, Its People, and Its Places. Illustrated with Numerous Engravings from the Most Authentic Sources 5. London: Cassell Petter & Galpin. pp. 340–355. Retrieved 2011-06-26. 
  2. ^ Malcolm, J.P. (1813). "Origin and gradual increase of Somers Town". The Gentleman's Magazine 83 (November, 1813): 427–429. 
  3. ^ Somers Cocks, J.V. (1967). A History of the Cocks Family. Ashhurst, New Zealand: J. Somers Cocks. ISBN 0-473-06085-X. Retrieved 2011-06-27. 
  4. ^ Miller, Frederick (1874). Saint Pancras, Past and Present: Being Historical, Traditional and General Notes of the Parish. London: Abel Heywood & Son. p. 331. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  5. ^ Roland Jeffery, Housing Happenings in Somers Town in Housing the Twentieth Century Nation, Twentieth Century Architecture No 9, 2008, ISBN 978-0-9556687-0-8
  6. ^ a b "Charlie Gillett – a reminiscence". Home thoughts from abroad. Alien thoughts from home. Jakartass.net. 2 April 2010. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  7. ^ PM backs groundbreaking medical research centre
  8. ^ Deal secures £500m medical centre
  9. ^ Wright, Thomas (1935). The life of Charles Dickens. London: Herbert Jenkins Limited. p. 50. Retrieved 2 June 2013. 
  10. ^ Wright, Thomas (1935). The life of Charles Dickens. London: Herbert Jenkins Limited. p. 44. Retrieved 2 June 2013. 
  11. ^ Wright, Thomas (1935). The life of Charles Dickens. London: Herbert Jenkins Limited. p. 52. Retrieved 2 June 2013. 
  12. ^ French, Philip (23 Aug 2008). "Film of the week: Somers Town". The Observer. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  13. ^ Wroe, Simon (8 Jul 2010). "A summertime celebration of culture and art in Somers Town". Camden New Journal. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  14. ^ "Five million passengers jump aboard for Paralympics". ITV News. 12 Sep 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  15. ^ Shaw, David. "John Arnott, 1799-1868". Chartist Ancestors. chartists.net. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  16. ^ a b c d e Clarke, Linda (1992). "The population of Somers Town". Building Capitalism: Historical Change and the Labour Process in the Production of Built Environment. Oxford: Routledge. pp. 188–190. ISBN 978-0415687881. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  17. ^ Martin, P. (May 1813). "The London Gazette". The Military Panorama or Officer's Companion for May 1830. London. p. 196. 
  18. ^ Sinclair, Frederick (1947). "The Immortal of Doughty Street.". St Pancras Journal (June 1947): 19. Retrieved 2011-06-29. 
  19. ^ Wheatley, Henry B. (1891). London, Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions 3. London: John Murray. p. 268. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  20. ^ House of Commons (21 Feb 1810). "Breach of Privilege—Mr. John Gale Jones.". Hansard. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  21. ^ Parolin, Christina (2010). Radical Spaces: Venues of Popular Politics in London, 1790 - C. 1845. Canberra: ANU E Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-1921862007. Retrieved 28 May 2013. 
  22. ^ O'Donoghue, Freeman Marius (1894). "Mitan, James". In Leslie Stephen & Stephen Lee. Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900 38. London: Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  23. ^ Cave, Edward (1840). "Obituary". The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle for the year 1840. 14 New Series. London: William Pickering, John Bowyer Nichols and Son. p. 553. Retrieved 2013-05-25. 
  24. ^ Sylvanus Urban (Edward Cave) (October 1841). "Deaths - London and its vicinity". The Gentleman's Magazine 170: 441. 
  25. ^ Maxted, Ian (2001). "The London book trades 1775-1800: a preliminary checklist of members. Names S". Exeter Working papers in Book History. Exeter, UK: Devon Library Service. Retrieved 2012-09-20. 
  26. ^ Johnston, Kenneth R. (1998). "18. Philanthropy or Treason". The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. pp. 441–442. ISBN 0-393-04623-0. Retrieved 28 May 2013. 

External links[edit]