5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Camden Market

Lettie Mckie
By Lettie Mckie Last edited 90 months ago

Last Updated 17 January 2017

5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Camden Market

Over 100,000 people visit Camden Market each weekend, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in London. Here we look behind the novelty t-shirts and joss sticks.

Camden Lock Market Photo: Edu_S

1. It's not just one market

Camden Market started in 1974, making it a baby compared to the likes of Borough Market and Covent Garden. Set up in a run-down timber yard on the banks of the Regent's Canal, the market had just 16 traders, selling antiques, jewellery and arts and crafts.

Today, Camden Market is a misleading name, suggesting as it does, only one location. While Camden Market proper is the original market next to Regent's Canal, there are at least six others stretching from Camden Town to Chalk Farm; Camden Lock, Camden Stables Market, Canal Market, Buck Street Market, Inverness Street Market, and the one inside Electric Ballroom.

2. Once a gin hub, always a gin hub

In the 19th century, the area from Camden Lock to the Roundhouse was rife with gin distilleries and warehouses. A train loaded with gin left Camden each day, the bottles of the junipery booze destined for far-flung locations the globe over. Though the last of Camden's former distilleries closed over half a century ago, gin making is now back, with Half Hitch leading the way. The name comes from the knot that was used to moor up barges in Camden.

3. London's mega-stables

Those barges, of course, were originally pulled by horses.

At the height of its pre-second world war peak, Camden's stable blocks, horse tunnels, tack rooms, saddler's workshops and horse hospital, serviced 700 to 800 horses working at the Camden Goods Depot. NW1 relied on the depot for unprecedented growth in employment, and horses were essential to that. Even when the railways arrived, horses were in demand — used to pull trains, train parts, luggage and more.

Remnants of Camden's equine heyday (or should that be hayday?) remain dotted around Camden, including horse slips and ventilation shafts usually mistaken for drains (see image above).

4. There is no actual lock called Camden lock

Camden Lock doesn't actually exist; the name refers to an area of the market next to three waterways with dual locks built in the 19th century as part of the Regent's Canal; Hampstead Lock, Hawley Lock and Kentish Town Lock.

A picnic in the catacombs. Photo: Matt Brown.

5. The catacombs (that aren't actually catacombs)

An eerie reminder of Camden's industrial heritage, the Camden Catacombs reveal the fascinating history behind an area that started as a five-street village on an estate owned by Sir Charles Pratt, the first Earl of Camden in 1791.

The catacombs have nothing to do with corpses: they're a network of tunnels and engine vaults which enabled much of the industrial activity above ground. A system of wheels and pulleys housed in the engine vaults powered the railway tracks, helping to pull heavy trains from Euston up to Camden Town by rope. The catacombs also acted as a safe walkway for horses between the Roundhouse to the Regent's Canal. Today, much of the catacombs are submerged underwater and inaccessible to the public.

That said, you can occasionally get into the catacombs, as we did for a candlelit picnic (see above). We also saw them shooting a scene from Bond movie Spectre here.