What's The Oldest Building In Camden?

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By M@
What's The Oldest Building In Camden?

Series exploring the most venerable buildings in each London borough.

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Camden's a funny borough. Hear the name and the mind leaps to the markets and canals of Camden Town. But the borough stretches south almost to Fleet Street, and north to the ends of Highgate.

The wide-ranging latitude brings a dizzyingly mixed bag of architecture, spanning centuries. But where is the oldest building in the borough?

The hidden church of St Etheldreda

The answer is tucked away in the extreme south-east of the borough. In fact, you'll find it in a part of town that many guidebooks would tell you is in Cambridgeshire.

The building is St Etheldreda's church. It was constructed around 1300, and is said (by Wikipedia at least) to be the only surviving structure in London from Edward I's reign.

The Grade-I-listed church stands in Ely Place, a peculiar cul-de-sac that's best known as the gateway to Ye Olde Mitre, 'London's most difficult to find pub'.

Ely Place was traditionally overseen by Diocese of Ely, and had some claim to being Cambridgeshire territory. Oft-repeated rumours that the Met and City police could not enter to make an arrest are, however, an exaggeration. Ely Place is now thoroughly part of Camden, though it still maintains a beadle to watch over the gateway.

The church of St Etheldreda, about half way along, is a rare example of a medieval church in central London. Most were destroyed either in the Great Fire or the Blitz. This one entirely evaded the fire, which stopped a couple of hundred metres away, but took a pounding in the war. Still, the restored building retains much of the original stone, and is a real beauty on the inside.

Image by Diliff, creative commons licence.

Other old buildings in the borough include the Old Hall at Lincoln's Inn (1489-92); 16-23 Old Buildings, Lincoln's Inn (c.1524); 12-13 New Square, Lincoln's Inn (1534); Lincoln's Inn Chapel (1619-23); Lindsey House, Lincoln's Inn Fields (1638-41); Fenton House, Hampstead (1693).

So Camden contains one medieval building, three Tudor buildings, and a total of seven buildings from before 1700, based on the tally of Grade I-listed properties.

Explore more of London's history with our Londonist Memory Machine Facebook group.

Last Updated 04 September 2018