The building of the railways through Kentish Town in the 1860s encouraged the development of light industrial workspace, spreading north from Camden Town which had developed as a major interchange of canal and rail freight. Kentish Town, along with Camden Town, became a world- famous centre of piano manufacture. In West Kentish Town small factories were built serving light industries of many kinds. Workspace was integrated into the urban fabric, often at the centre of blocks created by terraced housing, with small yards and workshops accommodated in left-over spaces. This legacy still exists to some extent along Grafton Road, Spring Place, and Ryland Road where warehouse buildings remain in commercial use, but most of this workspace has been lost through ‘change of use’ and redevelopment, resulting in a lack of local employment and opportunities for new businesses in the area.
The Rowney artists’ materials factory in Malden Crescent (where Denton is now located)
There are signs of life however. Recently new small-scale businesses have colonised the existing infrastructure, including the railway arches along Wilkin Street Mews. In 2016 Camden Council refurbished the 16 workshops beneath Burmarsh and these now house thriving businesses, including a cluster of vegan and organic food producers. In a similar vein Kentish Town Vegbox, a local social enterprise, operates out of premises at the Thanet Community Centre.
The Fields Beneath cafeCamden Town Brewery
The Fields Beneath kitchen
Kentish Town Vegbox
The provision of new and better workspace is key to a sustainable local economy in the neighbourhood. Ideas for promoting this include prioritising the ground floors of new developments for commercial use, particularly on main thoroughfares such as Malden Road, and providing workspace as part of the redevelopment of housing estates.
Here’s a terrific video about industrial or productive activities in London and the current threats to it from the “housing at all costs” approach to local politics and the associated impacts on thoughtful, correct town-planning.