THE RAILWAYS ARRIVE IN CAMDEN

1830 – 1847

Guest writer Robert Lorden explains the history of railways in Camden and why the Roundhouse came to be built in 1846.

North view of Camden Goods yard, with the Roundhouse behind, 1847

North view of Camden Goods yard, with the Roundhouse behind, 1847

Nimbyism’s nothing new. When railways began appearing on the scene in the early 19th century, folk were wary and didn’t take kindly to the idea of these new-fangled machines chugging their way into city centres.

Because of this, London’s early terminals were built on what was then the periphery of the capital. It’ll sound strange to today’s commuters, but when it was first planned in the 1830s, the main station for the pioneering London and Birmingham Railway was earmarked for Camden’s Chalk Farm area.

Prep work for the station was carried out, but in 1835 permission was granted to edge the line a little further south to what was then a peaceful little clearing known as Euston Grove; an area named after a small village in Suffolk which was home to the Duke of Grafton.

Despite the location change Camden remained integral to the railway. When the huge cutting was being forged into Euston, for example, the tough gangs of navvies lived and drank in the area. To prevent brawls, the pubs they frequented were segregated; the Edinboro’ Castle for the Scots, the Pembroke for the Welsh, the Warwick for the English and, the Dublin Castle for the Irish. Apart from the Warwick which is now the Cote restaurant on Parkway, all of these pubs remain in business to this day (and thankfully no longer require you to be of a certain nationality if you wish to pass through their doors).

Euston station lies at the bottom of a steep incline which presented a problem when it opened as early engines were not powerful enough to make it up the slope on their own. To overcome this obstacle, a mighty steam-powered winch was built at the top of the hill in Chalk Farm, from which stretched cables, some 4,370 metres long. Trains heading out of Euston would hook onto this system and be hoisted away from London like cars on a rollercoaster. Because of this winch, Chalk Farm became an important service area, with sidings and good sheds popping up around the vicinity. In 1846 this complex was joined by its most famous building… a round, circular depot for storing and servicing engines which Londoners today know as the Roundhouse.

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