He proved he had bottle
Back in 2015, the area of Camden Market running alongside Regent’s Canal stood fenced-off and awaiting demolition. Street artists were permitted to roam, and I was let in with a camera just days before the whole site was flattened.
The eerie shots captured Hawley Wharf in limbo, with giant artwork seemingly depicting the last, heaving gasps of the various condemned buildings.
Now, as the whole area finally reopens to the public, six and a half years (and three lockdowns) later, we’ve set these historic images against ones of the shiny new development, for a striking glimpse at how things have changed.
The railway arches offer a continuous visual thread between then and now. They’ve been scrubbed up, but essentially remain much as they’ve looked for over 165 years, when consignments of coal, beer, gin, glass, ice and more used the Wharf as an interchange between waterway, railway and horse-drawn cart. In the image above, market seating fashioned from old mopeds and boarded-up arches contrast with the incoming boutiques, potted palm trees and wide walkways of Hawley Wharf today.
Former car workshops and damp lock-up storage units are busy being transformed into new shops, with original features of the railway infrastructure restored. Five of these arches will soon host a Curzon cinema screen each, while countless new businesses are setting up, creating a whole new beyond-the-high-street district at the heart of our Borough.
From the early markets in the 1970s through to the famous fire of 2008, the Hawley Wharf site had been a rabbit warren of all-too-flammable stalls piled high with imported Indian craft and textiles and crates of vinyl records alongside gas canister-fired burners for woks of noodles. After the blaze, which made headlines across the world, a series of temporary wooden huts (pictured) housed a less combustible mix of stalls along the canalside, while a long battle to decide on the future of the site you see today began to unfold.
Various regeneration schemes came to the table and were summarily dismissed, the site also changed ownership, but a final scheme was eventually approved and work started in 2015. It remained faithful to the area’s original industrial architecture while also proposing an ambitious mix of shops, entertainment, homes and a school on the site. This arcade (pictured), including the site of former Carnarvon Castle pub that had to be demolished after the ‘Great Fire of Camden’, has been restored. The row also now includes public access to its rooftop, where you can enjoy lunch sat amongst the chimney pots or take in views of the iconic canal and bridges below.
Around the corner, on Castlehaven Rd, was the former breeze block edifice Cameron House, now site of the rather more attractive STAY Apartments and latest newcomer Butchers Salon. Ahead of the demolition, Team Robbo – supporters of the deceased street artist famous for his long-running duel with Banksy – had been active in the area, spraying one of their many tribute pieces.
Longer-term locals will remember this row of handsome, if completely run-down and boarded-up Victorian villas that have since made way for the new building of Hawley Primary School. They are seen here resplendent with their final cheeky charismatic paint jobs, just days before the wrecking balls moved in.
With much of the area presenting a gritty back-street vibe in 2015, an aura that was thoroughly celebrated by the street artists, today’s railway arches are somewhat more cozy and inviting, with spots such as the new art café To Home From London now glowing under the historic brickwork.
This shot was taken 6 months after the original street art sequence, as work on the site proceeded in earnest. Despite the formidable destruction, it’s nice to see so many of the original features of the bridge and buildings now being brought back to life after the wilderness years.
Still standing and serving up the pints after being threatened by fire, a recent lease sale, and the bulldozing of all around it, The Hawley Arms looks better than ever. The former biker pub and fabled Amy Winehouse hangout, pictured here in 2010 by photographer Chris Whippit and as it is today, is the literal cornerstone of the Hawley Wharf development now surrounding it.
Damp and derelict arches now bustle with traders and customers at The Spread Produce Market every Saturday and Sunday. Read Camdenist’s official guide to Hawley Wharf to find out more about all the stalls, food traders and entertainment waiting to be discovered in the area. Keep an eye out for the street art, too, as a fair few of the pieces can be seen to this day (below).
Before, during & after: Hawley Wharf’s railways arches and the artwork that enlivens them have seen a lot of change over the last six years
He proved he had bottle
How it made its name (and briefly lost it)
Public artworks retrieved after over 100 of them were nicked
Today it’s part of the sprawling food, craft and soon to be immersive theatre attractions of Camden Market, but the Victorian era when canal, road and rail converged here is very much in evidence too, if you know where to look