My wife and granddaughter wanted desperately to visit Notting Hill and I was curious about Camden Market. So rather than visit Henry Moore’s House in the first week of our time in Essex, I was outvoted and we went “up to London” for the day. Susan can enjoy watching a favourite movie over and over. One such is Notting Hill. So, being this close to London she HAD to see the actual Notting Hill. Our granddaughter was also very enthusiastic about this destination. So early one morning – I almost burst into song then – off set five of us to explore Notting Hill and if we had time Camden Market.
There wasn’t a lot happening in Notting Hill the day we visited. But Susan finally got to see the area about which the movie was made. She captured some nice shots of the area, three of which I have shared here.
I remember visiting Petticoat Lane (a London market) when I was quite small. Nan and Pop took me. I remember being bored – there seemed to be endless stalls full of old junk and sellers yelling at passersby. There was also a strong smell of vegetables, some fresh some not so much! It seems a crowded, noisy, smelly and uninteresting place to me at the time. But we did get a ride on the trams.
Notting Hill and its famous market was, as I said, quiet on the day we visited. But we enjoyed walking around the streets, some with long terraces of whitewashed buildings, and then small muses with cobbled streets. There was a lot of colour and the area was vibrant. Not like the Notting Hill I recalled from the time of the riots back in the last century (20th if you are wondering).
My stomach is very good at telling time. It let me know the noon hour was fast approaching and a decision was needed. Do we find a nice establishment in Notting Hill or do we catch the underground to Camden Town and eat there.
We decided to eat first and travel second. This, it tuns out, was not the best decision. We couldn’t find anything that looked both inviting and affordable. “Well there must be a local pub with something basic and decent on offer” someone said. We saw a pub on the corner, called Shannon’s I think. The menu looked ok. It wasn’t overly busy – but it seemed fine. The menu was not what you would call extensive – and was mainly things that could be reheated in a microwave oven. The day was a little chilly still so we all decided on hot drinks – tea, coffee, hot chocolate.
I placed the order for the food at the bar and then ordered the drinks, “two teas, two coffees and one hot chocolate please”.
The Irish-sounding man behind the bar said “Oh, sorry, no hot drinks – our machine is broken”. How can you break a kettle, I wondered?. We had already placed the food order and time was moving on, as my stomach reminded me rather noisily, so we decided to stay and didn’t bother with drinks.
The food came. Michelin hadn’t been round to hand out any stars. I’m afraid Shannon’s will not be discovered in the recommended section of TripAdvisor. We ate what we could and headed back to the train station and our subterranean journey to Camden Town.
I must admit, my only knowledge of Camden was as a stop on the underground – Northern Line. We used to play the London Underground Game before visits to London, to familiarize ourselves with the system. It also amused the children. They liked to send me off to the furthest points in the underground system.
After our noisy ride, and minding the gap, we climbed back up into daylight. We wanted to find Camden Market. Our son had put a photograph on Facebook of his visit to the market. We were intrigued by the picture of life-sized castings of horses and cobblers. We went in search of these. This took us along Camden High Street, which became Chalk Farm Road. This is a fascinating thoroughfare with the stores decorated with large 3-dimensional objects indicating the nature of business or wares provisioned.
We found Camden Market at the top of the High Street just across the bridge by the locks. Even on a Monday it was a very busy place.
The canal boats are long, narrow, colourful boats with living quarters. Here two boats have entered the lock and are waiting for the gates to close to allow the water level to be raised giving them access through the far side to a higher stretch of the canal. In earlier times these canals were plied by barges carrying all manner of goods. Tow-paths went along the sides of the canal so that horses could tow the barges along the canal. At Camden locks there was a stable for the horses where they could housed, fed and shod. Today people rent these boats for holiday trips. Seeing the cities and towns from the canal or river provides a very different viewpoint.
We entered the maze that is known as Camden Market. Below is a covered seating area and walkway. The shelters really impressed me. What an eclectic mix.
Entering Camden Market is a bit like Alice entering the looking-glass or falling down the rabbit hole. Once inside everything is strange. Or perhaps it’s a bit like Life on Mars – could this be a parallel universe?
In my posts on Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore I featured Rodin’s sculpture of a fallen caryatid click here to see it. here, the ancient caryatid has been reused to hold up these ornately decorated shelters.
Somewhat more attractive than the typical mall food court! When we came to the market we realized we had made a big mistake in not waiting to eat here. Blame goes to my stomach. Below is one of many very interesting eateries.
The smells coming from this Lebanese restaurant were exotic and intoxicating. Too bad we had only just eaten. Most people were eating inside and no one seemed to be making use of the water pipes.
The most interesting part of the area, for me, was the Stable Market. We entered through the stable arches, decorated with life-sized or even larger than life-sized horses bursting out of the walls.
I decided to leave in the blue sign. As we age these signs become more important. But they were placed rather carelessly and I found them to be quite intrusive.
Below is a detail of these stylized horses
We entered another passageway and found this stairwell with an incredible wooden carving of a tree, rising all the way to the light above. I decided to call this the tree of life.
There were Elephants hidden among the branches of this bas-relief
The area was full of shops with punk clothing and accessories. This mixture of the old stables and architecture with the modern punk dress was at the same time compelling and repelling.
Below is a set of original wooden doors held shut with a couple of old bricks as well as a hefty padlock (belts and braces).
According to this carved sign there has only been a market in operation here since 1854 – so fairly recent.
The Writing on the wall tells the history of the area and the transportation system.
We rounded a corner and looking up saw these huge shelves with amazing carvings standing on them. It was a like a giant’s knick-knack collection.
There were stairs up to three more levels and even an elevator, but none of the upper levels were open to the public. So I was unable to get a better photograph of these dioramas. I would love to walk along the balconies opposite these treasures to see all of them in their detail.
A lot of modern life is rubbish. But look below at these decorative rubbish/garbage bins. These are not just utilitarian, they are public art.
Look at what has been done to them!
When you consider what went into designing, crafting and producing these containers you would think it possible to provide some plastic inserts into which the garbage bags could be placed without intruding upon these designs.
I could go on showing you more images of Camden Market – but this is enough. If you are lucky enough to visit London I recommend putting aside a morning or afternoon to experience the sounds, sites and odours of this very different place. If you like horses, you will definitely want to visit the stables market.
Note: better go and see the market soon, apparently it is threatened by a rail modernization project, see link below
- Camden markets ‘under threat’ from HS2 rail link (metro.co.uk)