Camden’s ‘left behind’ Market

Queen's Crescent has been in the doldrums for years, so what's going on?

Tom Young is a local architect with an interest in neighbourhood economies and their associated spaces. Here, he presents the case for celebrating one of Camden’s assorted ‘other’ markets – our once trailblazing centres of street commerce that have struggled to maintain their alure in the face of London’s residential goldrush.

Queen’s Crescent is the birthplace of Sainsbury’s – which launched itself as a chain by opening its second ever branch here in 1872 – and the Patak’s condiments empire, while the surrounding area boasted a thriving urban industrial ecosystem. 

Today, the historic market still operates every Thursday and Saturday, but there’s plenty of work needed to revive its fortunes, as Tom explains…

Queen’s Crescent in Gospel Oak, known locally as simply the Crescent, lurks in flyover country – between Belsize Park and Kentish Town – where Camden Lock tourists can never find it. 

A surreal assortment of a public library, one remaining pub, a post office, a GP surgery, hardware shops, cafes, food shops, an art gallery, a tech fixing hub, dry cleaners, off-licences, takeaways and a twice weekly street market, it could resemble a set for a soap opera about East End life.

The street is introverted, and mainly focused on a deprived local catchment. Its isolation is aggravated by the disappearance of pubs, shops and businesses from the streets around, most of which have succumbed to London’s voracious ‘resi’ housing market. 

This lost world may not interest tourists, but it matters to Camden Council as a ‘left-behind’ place. There’s a lively local politics about improving it economically. A few recent initiatives seem positive.

These include:
  • ♒ The London School of Mosaic moved into the area in 2017. A popular garden courtyard café on the Ludham & Waxham estate is the school’s public face, while its main business is providing accredited courses and workspace. The latter is an important demarche after decades of workspace losses.

  • 🅿️ A recent planning application to convert a big housing estate garage into lock-ups for market traders and other entrepreneurs addresses a long-standing shortage of secure, affordable storage, an important element of a fairer economy.

  • ⛏️ Nearby, an architect proposes converting garages into workshops for craftspeople, who’d use the underperforming street market on the Crescent to showcase their products. The Council is reportedly sympathetic.

  • 📸 In 2013, Camden brought its Burmarsh workshops back to life. They have been in continuous use since, serving light-industrial business such as the lovely Darkroom London.
Darkroom London

Other reasons to be cheerful are Camden’s 2022 Haverstock & Gospel Oak Community Vision which recommends exploring “the conversion of under-utilised spaces such as basements or garages to provide new affordable employment or creative spaces” and the recent news that the great charity, Women + Health, is moving into the area soon.

Georgia Gould, former leader of the Council, now Labour MP for Queen’s Park, talks openly about inequality in the borough, the gap between the booming global city centre and struggling neighbourhoods. She wants ordinary people to “have a stake in the growth in the borough” and her dream of a better place sounds like this: “A city where art is filling the public realm, where no ball games signs on estates have been replaced by inspirational messages with maker spaces, tech hubs and studios in the heart of those estates”. 

The opportunity actually exists to turn Gospel Oak into the place Gould wants, mainly because Camden owns so much of the neighbourhood. However, since the Council executes projects of all sizes chaotically (see below) and without reference to a neighbourhood plan, a better approach is needed from it post-Gould…

Planning without much of a plan?
  • 💰 A grant for £2m of investment in the Crescent’s public realm, announced in 2018, has been delayed for years. Much of the budget has been wasted without construction work taking place. Camden has also resiled from its original commitment to evaluate the results on the basis of local business performance.

  • 🫛 Camden doesn’t explore the entrepreneurial culture of the Crescent’s industrious shopkeepers. It lacks curiosity about how their energy, skills and networks can be harnessed to expand economic activity. No co-design work on ways to develop the Crescent frontage has been done with these entrepreneurs.

  • 🏢 Camden’s big neighbourhood housing schemes are an opportunity to build in a lot of new workspace that’s better suited to SMEs than converted underground car-parking. Camden has no interest in this idea. One might have expected it to have learnt more from Burmarsh Workshops and its own mixed-use policies.

  • As for public art, it already exists at the junction of the Crescent and Malden Rd where a terrific mosaic on the flank of a Camden-owned building is currently enclosed behind high fencing and all the public views of it blocked. Inexplicably, Camden wants to renew the fencing, not remove it. There is a better way.

In Gospel Oak, Camden has a chance to rebuild the neighbourhood economy with a lower cost structure than elsewhere in the borough. Decades of residentialisation could be rolled back and the Crescent embedded in a much livelier context.

The proposals for reopening the mural to public view, and installing a retail kiosk

Following local pubs, threatened nightlife culture, the area’s cherished theatres and also cinemas, we’ve added Camden’s struggling street markets to our Culture Campaign. Keep up with all the latest every Friday via the weekly Camdenist newsletter.

Share with friends

More Stories
shorts not show reels, Freeson Films

Shorts not Show Reels

Director Will Thomas Freeman on how lockdown and accessible tech has helped him develop a new kind of film-making

London Clean Air Cycle Ride

See London by Bike

Camden Clean Air are back leading their cycle ride through the borough – and into pastures new, too