Comment: Why did it take so long for Kentish Town to clean up its act?

Kentish Town graffiti

Kentish Town graffiti - Credit: Archant

“Neglected but nice”. “Cheap and cheerful”. All words in the headline of author Rachel Cusk’s 1994 article in the Independent about living in Kentish Town.

The year before indie band St Etienne had released the song Mario’s Café, although disappointingly, they apparently used the Kelly Street caff as a stand-in for their actual favourite hang out on Brecknock Road because it had a more suitable name.

Still, which of the career-minded professionals who can afford to move into the area nowadays (average price paid last year £859,379) can be found kicking around their local greasy spoon at 10am on a Tuesday morning, as the song goes? The odd between-jobs film actor perhaps; Giles Coren before he starts his next column maybe. Young indie musicians with a few minor hits to their name? Doubt it.

What’s odd about Kentish Town is that until even five years ago those indie musicians and related types would probably have been there, propping up the Formica. How was Kentish Town “up and coming” for so long without ever actually arriving? Cusk’s neighbours started trading in and doing up their houses 20 years ago after all.

Part of the reason could be that as the authors and musicians were moving in, so were the drug dealers and prostitutes, with shootings not uncommon in the pocket around Queen’s Crescent Market during the 90s. This simmering threat of violence inevitably trickled out through the area – even as the skips arrived, the money didn’t quite flow in.

It wasn’t until house prices across London surged out of control in the post-credit crunch recovery that Kentish Town became the obvious affordable alternative to Hampstead or Highgate and, almost overnight, the transformation was complete..

Between 2012 and 2013 average house prices in Hampstead ward rose 33 per cent to hit a new record for the area of £1,623,411.

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That same year, property in Kentish Town increased by 20 per cent from £501,676 to £625,196, even as prices in comparable Camden wards stagnated or even dropped slightly. In an area where property had increased incrementally over the previous decade towards an average half million pound price tag, this was the sign the fabric of the neighbourhood was really changing.

“It is one of the few high streets in central London where you are in little danger of spending any money”, wrote Cusk in 94. Why shop there at all, when “one could equally well incinerate a few notes in an ashtray at home”?

Few would recognise that description nowadays. Much to the horror of locals, who fear rising rents and house prices almost more than death, the Sunday Times has even picked up on the buzz.

Meanwhile our area guide lists an array of places around the high street where you’ll be hard pressed not to part with cash. Just don’t expect cheap and cheerful.