Uncover the secret history of ‘Curious Camden’

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse - Credit: Archant

Written by journalists Martin Plaut and Andrew Whitehead as a follow-up to their Curious Kentish Town, Curious Camden takes the reader on a tour of the area’s “hidden gem” hotspots.

The view from Arlington House

The view from Arlington House - Credit: Archant

From historic murder mysteries to modern day espionage, Morris dancing to pole dancing, and a black revolutionary to the Black Cap, the rich tapestry of Camden Town’s history is revealed in a fascinating new book.

The stories of little-known but fascinating characters are uncovered, including that of bare-knuckle boxer Tom Sayers, Greek Cypriot priest Father Macheriotis, freedom fighter George Padmore and radical free trade campaigner Richard Cobden.

Tales behind the area’s most interesting landmarks unfold, including the old Cumberland Market, the Black Cat factory by Mornington Crescent, the Arlington House workingmen’s hostel near Camden Lock and the recently closed Black Cap bar in Camden High Street.

No book about Camden and its characters would really be complete without its most recent popular heroine, and sure enough, Amy Winehouse makes an early appearance, along with the Roundhouse, a venue she is intrinsically associated with.

One of the authors, Martin Plaut, said: “The selection is completely eclectic and eccentric, and there is no attempt to say this is a representative sample. Camden is absolutely jam packed with fascinating history, so we were spoilt for choice.

“We found these stories just by being curious. You see something, think there’s something strange or unusual about it, and literally just start digging – and the stories you uncover can be absolutely fascinating.

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“For instance, I knew people who had worked with George Padmore many years ago, and I came across his secret service file in the archives. He was an absolutely extraordinary man, so I wanted to tell his story.”

Some of the modern-day landmarks proved trickier to investigate than places which have disappeared, such as the Regent’s Park Barracks, which few Camden residents will realise are the headquarters for at least one branch of the SAS.

The author said: “The army would confirm absolutely nothing about the barracks, which made it quite challenging to write about.

“I enjoyed writing the book enormously, but it took a lot of work. Each story took about a week to write, because of the amount of research involved.

‘‘A lot of time was spent in the archives, as well as talking to people.

“It’s difficult to pick a favourite, but writing about the Black Cap was particularly fascinating because we met Father Bernard Lynch, who chairs the Camden LGBT forum, who took us on a tour and told us all about the place.

“He was just the most extraordinary person, incredibly knowledgeable and he’d a remarkable life.”

The book comes complete with a map, for those who would like to follow in the authors’ footsteps, and is brought to life with an impressive collection of photographs and illustrations.

Curious Camden is available from selected local bookshops, including The Owl in Kentish Town, or can be ordered online.