Albertinis, Somers Town, 2008,Ravish London


Somers Town
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Introduction
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#introduction

Somers Town, a small suburban enclave in north central London, sandwiched between Camden Town, Bloomsbury and Euston Road, and close to Kings Cross, Euston and St Pancras train stations, was made the subject of a film in 2008. The film was commissioned by Eurostar whose train terminus, St Pancras International, sits in in the south-east corner of Somers Town. The film tells the story of two teenage boys, one a Midlands runaway; the other a son of a Polish labourer. The film fails Somers Town. It fails to capture the drudgery of everyday life, it says nothing about the experiences and history of the two predominant groups in the area, the white English working class and the Bengalis. It says nothing of past conflicts or the attempts made since the 1990s to bring about a more peaceful way of living to this chaotic place. It gives you no sense that 'many people in Somers Town believe their patch has become a dumping ground for projects difficult to place elsewhere.' Projects like St Pancras International, the British Library and more recently the virus infested Sir Francis Crick Institute. And unfathomably, the film fails to include a trip to local sex change shop Transformations.


Map
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View Somers Town in a larger map


Estate Agents
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#estateagents

Estate agents in Somers Town include SN Estates, Oakford Estates.


Hotels
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#hotels

See here for nearby hotels in Kings Cross and Camden.


Tired Town
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#tiredtown

Arguably, Somers Town escapes the worse kind of urban deprivation and isolation, owing to the fact that it is so close to the action in central London. Nevertheless it can reasonably be described as rundown, ramshackle and depressing. Its destiny, since it came into being in the eighteenth century, has been to house those who find karma in a hard day's work, beer, cigarettes and cups of tea, that is, the working classes, and until the middle of the twentieth century, predominately railway workers. Besides hosting the working classes, Somers Town has, since its inception hosted newly arrived immigrants: French, Greek Cypriots, Bengalis and Somalis, people who are often penniless, dispossessed and fleeing their homeland. The character of Somers Town has always reflected the struggles, despair, hardships and suffering of its populace.


Worldwide Satellite Centre, Somers Town - traditionally a home to the world's dispossesed, 2008,Ravish London


In the nineteenth century Somers Town was said to contain slums and be, 'full of dark courts and alleys, gin palaces, cheap shops, patched windows, and passages teeming with children' (Swensen, 1996). At the beginning of the twentieth century Somers Town was rebuilt. The slums were replaced with spacious flats, courtyards and play areas. These redevelopments were due to the efforts, beliefs and privileges enjoyed by Social housing schemes established in the early twentieth century Father Basil Lee Jellicoe, a clergyman in the Church of England, whose mission was to work with the people of Somers Town. Jellicoe seemed first and foremost a humanist, someone who believed that achieving God's vision meant making a tangible difference to the quality of life of those around him. He was motivated by a love of God, 'God glimpsed through one's neighbours'. He considered love for God 'not as an emotion but instead embodied in the act of costly self-giving, of the kind Christians see in the cross of Jesus Christ'. Jellicoe described the slums as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual disgrace. and a gigantic theft from the poor. It has been said Jellicoe believed Jerusalem could be built in Somers Town. Being born into high society, he enlisted the support of the Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Housing Minister in the formation of the St Pancras House Improvement Society, which laid out plans for a redevelopment of Somers Town. After the first slums were demolished Jellicoe erected vast papier mache effigies of the rats and bugs that infested the slums, and ceremonially torched them.. Incredibly Jellicoe was only 36 when he died, in 1935, but in many ways, one might argue his work as one devoted to the betterment of the people of Somers Town, was complete. He was recently celebrated in Somers Town, in 2003, in a musical put on by a community arts project, scripted by Ron Inglis, a long-time Somers Town resident.

It is said the buildings erected by Jellicoe still stand in Somers Town today. Nevertheless Somers Town continues to be the recipient of pejoratives. In 1994, one journalist, walking around the area reported, "you see the boarded up windows, graffiti, a lack of play spaces for children, dirt, all the things we associate with inner city poverty." More recently Somers Town has been described as unlovely, grungy and like Mogadishu, the war-torn Somali capital. The latter description is the least accurate of the three, being the function of a tendency amongst the more sadistic wing of London journalists for heaping scorn and unkind metaphors on those who have already had more than enough heaped upon them.


Neglected
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#neglected

Peter Bradshaw writing in the Guardian questions whether Somers Town really means anything to anyone. He writes "Somers what? Somers Town is a place name that appears on the London A-Z street map, superimposed in capitals on the area around St Pancras and King's Cross, tending to baffle those Londoners who notice it. Flagging down a taxi and saying "Somers Town - and step on it!" is asking for anything from a blank stare to a smack in the face, because nobody actually uses this name, apart from estate agents or local historians…' Bradshaw is wrong. Somers Town is alive and kicking as a concept. Recent ethnographic research confirms it as 'a bounded neighbourhood with a clear sense of identity'. The chattering classes, which Bradshaw might be considered one of, know little about Somers Town. Somers Town offers little to the middle classes and is of no practical significance to anyone who doesn't live there. It is dwarfed in its significance by almost everything around it. Certainly, wandering into Somers Town and serendipity don't go together.

Furthermore Somers Town is not the kind of place you would wander into during a whimsical stroll through London. It is bounded by four dirty roads stopping all but the most intrepid of explorers from venturing into it. Euston Road to the south, Eversholt Street to the west, Pancras Road to the east and Crowndale Road to the north, produce a permanent ring of dust, pollution and noise which suffocates and tires Somers Town, wearing it down, slowly killing it. It is physically impossible to walk out of Somers Town without having to face the abomination of endless streams of traffic, without your lungs balking at the prospect; and without the dust and pollution eventually smothering you with its sticky, pervasive neediness. We huddle the jetsam and flotsam of the world into these urban hell holes, give them a bit of money, enough to buy a few sausages, a copy of the Sun, a sprinkling of pubs to drown their sorrows, some betting shops to exploit the last remnants of their hope, and so long as they only take their anger and frustrations out on each other, forget about them. Somers Town's virtual urban imprisonment must be one of the reasons for its relative tranquillity.

Another view is that Somers Town isolation is due to the railway terminals that surround it.

Technically Somers Town encompasses the newly refurbished Saint Pancras international train station and the British Library; but in actual fact neither of these institutions impacts on the life of Somers Town. Both are like dogs whose faces look attentively southwards towards their keepers, whilst their dirty tails, strewn with dirt and dust, and bits of dried shit, wag carelessly across the southern most reaches of Somers Town. Most of those who pass through either library or station are unaware of the lives being lived just a stone's throw from where they consume their post-commute latté or digest their new literary discovery.


Eversholt Street, 2008, Ravish London


Quiet
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#quiet

Despite its location next to St Pancras International and Kings Cross, two of London's busiest train stations; and the violence and aggression which is said to take place on a regular basis in the area, Somers Town is surprisingly quiet during the day. In 2008 I'd stroll the streets of Somers Town. There'd only ever be a few people walking around the social housing, untidy parks and alleyways. A BT repairman would pull up to the side of a road in his van; or a vicious dog belonging to a girl in tracksuit bottoms, would be crapping in a green space intended for children to play. In the narrow side streets, dead ends and dead spaces, you'd occasionally see a couple of cowering drug addicts getting through their private torment in the only way they knew how. Women from East Africa or the Middle East would make their way, dressed in long over garments, swaying side to side with the weight of several shopping bags to balance, and a gaggle of young children in their train.


French Connection
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#frenchconnection

Somers Town's existence has endured two hundred and fifty years and was initially linked to the political and religious upheavals taking place in France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the late seventeenth century whilst Somers Town was pastoral land used for dog fighting and bull baiting, in France, Catholic King Louis XIV outlawed the practice of Protestantism. French Protestants fled from France in fear of prosecution. The 'Huguenots' as the Protestants were nicknamed by their Catholic pursuers arrived in London in large numbers, between fifty and eighty thousand, settling in Soho and Spitalfields.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, by which time the Huguenots had become part of the fabric of London, the authorities in London decided to build a New Road for north London to ease congestion and to aid urbanisation. The New Road, now known as Euston Road, was to be an outer ring road running south of the pastoral land that would come to be known as Somers Town. The advent of the New Road spurred local aristocrat Lord Somers to initiate a building programme. His land was leased to French Huguenot developer Jacob Leroux. Leroux's developments included a sixteen-sided residential building called the Polygon, which consisted of thirty-two houses and became home to Charles Dickens and Mary Wollstonecraft.


Oakshott Court, formerly The Polygon - home of Charles Dickens, Ravish London


Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Leroux's housing development was finished, but it did not prove attractive to the rich, as had been intended, and was subsequently sold off at cheap prices. As it happened, the selling-off coincided with a revolution in French political life and the beginning of the Reign of Terror; an attempt to purge opposition to the newly instated principles of republicanism and democracy. This time it was the Roman Catholic clergy, those who had a role to play in the pursuance of the Huguenots, who were chased out of the country. Many Catholics ended up on the shores of England and in London, and given the low rents, in Somers Town. So, through a coming together of political revolutions, building developments and a crash in the housing market, a French Protestant ended up building a whole urban village to accommodate those very Catholics who had pursued the sorry asses of his ilk a century before.

Part of the legacy of the French Catholics in Somers town is frequent reference of place names to Saint Aloysius a sixteenth century Italian saint. The saint's name was and still is used for a church, several schools and a social club.


St Aloysius Church, 2008,Ravish London


Greek Cypriots
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#greekcypriots

Somers Town's capacity for cradling the world's pursued and persecuted was demonstrated once again in the mid nineteenth century. In 1974 the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus caused a large number of Greek Cypriots to flee to the UK. Many of the Greek Cypriots, having ended ended up in Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston train stations, took up lodgings in Somers Town, probably the cheapest place for rents in the area. Whilst many Greek Cypriots have since moved out, local theatre Teatro Technis on Crowndale Road is a lasting legacy of their presence.


Teatro Technis, Greek Cypriot Theatre,Ravish London


Bengali Influence
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#bengaliinfluence

Today Somers Town has a significant and conspicuous Bengali community. On certain streets young Bengali men show off their expensive cars and slick haircuts. The vast majority of the Bangladeshi community come from the rural area of Sylhet in the north-eastern part of Bangladesh. They established themselves in Somers Town in the 1950s and 1960s. It has been said that, "The first settlers were men who had worked in the merchant navy. In the seventies many of the men brought their families over for fear of being split permanently by the tougher immigration controls of 1973.

By all accounts Bengalis living in Somers Town have not had it easy. Bengali people were regularly attacked by gangs of White people, all the way up to the 1990s. However in the 1990s it was said that a new generation of Bengali youth, adopting a different attitude to their forefathers, decided to fight back. This led to a number of confrontations between young white Englishmen and young Bengali men. By the turn of the twentieth century the inter-racial conflict had died down. In 2012, you are more likely to hear about one Bengali group attacking another.


English Middle Classes
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#englishmiddleclasses

According to the Nation Master Encyclopaedia Margaret Thatcher's right-to-buy council housing policy led to a number of council house tenants buying their homes and selling up to live in more affluent areas. Those who bought into Somers Town were described as a 'small but assertive class of professionals'.


English Working Classes
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#englishworkingclasses

In the northern parts of Somers Town, amongst the several pubs which act as their totems and meeting points, the indigenous working class can be found. A man leans out from his balcony in a string vest and smokes a fag. St George's flags hang from pub and flat windows; desperate signs of a community experiencing a social and psychological death.


The Neptune, north Somers Town, 2008, Ravish London


It has been said that the size of the English working class community in Somers Town has diminished over the last forty years. This process was facilitated by Margaret Thatcher's policy of allowing people who rented Council Houses to buy the property. In Somers Town many members of the English working class community bought their Council house, sold up and then shipped out. In effect the English working classes started to abandon their own kind.

The spaces left by those who sold-up and shipped out were filled, thanks to private landlords and state policies, with immigrants, students and middle class types. This has meant a dilution of the working class culture in the area. The new arrivals have their own way of doing things, their own interests and friends. For example students on short-term lets have no real interest in investing in local community relationships, and will be gone sooner than they have arrived. Muslims don't drink. They do Mosques not pubs. The social networks of the English working classes are thus diluted, and their sense of belonging and security diminished. Some hark back, nostalgically. One recalls, 'Somers Town was lost a long time ago. It had everything you would associate with a working class culture – a street market, greengrocers, fish shops – but these had disappeared by the 1980s. Another says 'Pubs used to be what brought people together, but they've closed now mostly. Used to be good old knees up pubs, family pubs where you knew people and you kept on eye on each other's kids playing outside'.

The English working classes start to feel lost and lonely, strangers in their own land, confused by comings and goings, by the decay of their roots. They notice that whilst immigrant cultures are celebrated and funded their own English working class culture is shunned as if it doesn't exist, as if they don't have problems, as if English is a dirty word. One resident commented [Bengalis] end up in Bengali specific centres while our pubs are closing and we get resentful … why can't there be a Women's Centre and why does it have to be an Asian Women's Centre instead?' Furthermore they feel they 'are losing out to minorities and new migrants when it comes to the allocation of social housing". One resident says, "If you've got five kids then you get a big house and the only people that have five kids nowadays are the Bengalis and the Somalis and so they get all the big places."

It is understandable that the English working classes feel a sense of dizziness and fear over the rapid changes that are taking place around them, that make the place they grew up in thirty years ago feel like a distant memory. Some residents transfer their anger of being abandoned by their own on to those who filled the spaces. One comments, 'The schools have been taken over now – I walked past a rounders game, and the teacher and seven out of the nine pupils were veiled.'

Was Somers Town ever as English or as working class English as some remember it? Perhaps so, but the history of Somers Town, has always been a home for the dispossessed; in fact it was built by a son of the French Protestant diaspora. It has taken in the French, Greek Cypriots and now Bengali and Somali. Is this discourse of the area losing its English identity really just a misplaced way of expressing a basic feeling of anxiety with the pace of change, with the transient nature of community, and the control the working classes have always lacked over their own lives and environment?


Multicultural
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#multicultural

Although the English working classes and Bengalis are the predominant groups in Somers Town today, they are not the only groups present. Somers Town like most of London plays host to several ethnic groupings. Not an interesting point in itself but a bookmark for development.


Tolerant Town
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#toleranttown

In the main, people in Somers Town get on with their lives the best they can, respecting and tolerating the existence of others. The English working classes have their pubs. The Bengalis have their Mosques. However throughout this period of tolerance there has been a thread of conflict between young men from the English and Bengali communities, which can be traced back to the 1950s when the Bengalis first moved into Somers Town. On arrival in Somers Town in the 1950s and 1960s the Bengali community have been regularly attacked by mobs of white English men. Forty years later in the mid-1990s little had changed. Most of the race-motivated incidents recorded by the police were targeted at Bengalis, 'gang culture was plaguing the whole community and the National Front were out in force'.

However, according to many Bengalis, by the early 1990s, a new generation of Bengali youth had emerged, one that had decided to agglomerate and fight back. For example in April 1992, after a group of white youths, armed with knuckledusters and hammers, had rampaged through Drummond Street assaulting Asian residents, a dozen Asian youths, armed with an array of devices, cornered the white youths and beat one of their number.

Tensions between Bengali and White English youths came to a head on August 14th 1994, when 'a dozen Bengali youths surrounded an English boy called Richard Everitt and his two friends. 'One attacker plunged a knife through Richard's back and into his heart… Richard's friends escaped and alerted his father, who reached his son's side only to watch him die'. In the weeks following Richard's murder, white gangs prowled the streets attacking Bengali people, cars and businesses, with many Bengalis staying at home in fear during the evenings. Levels of distrust, fear and paranoia were high. One journalist, who visited Somers Town just after the murder of Everitt described how Fatima Begum, a mother of five, had called her into the house and said 'We are more frightened and upset than if one of ours had been killed. We are used to our children being attacked. But a white boy? Allah knows what will happen to us now. I want to go to the mother and tell her I am also a mother, I am so sorry, I feel such pity for you. But I am too afraid to do this." The journalist said, "Such is the chasm between the two communities that even at this time when there is, among many, a shared sense of grief, horror and anxiety, they remain deeply distrustful of each other".

Decades of sustained attack on the Bengali community and the murder of Richard Everitt provoked local leaders into creating the Festival of Cultures, an annual community event taking place in July, a way of helping people celebrate life and the existence of the different communities. . In its first year the festival was held in a community centre. It proved so popular that it had to be moved out in to the street, in Chalton Street the following year. (see photos from 2003). In addition to the festival The Somers Town Community Association organises activities that cut across race, gender and class such as childcare and catering.


Trouble in Somers Town
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#troubleinsomerstown

Although Somers Town may feel tranquil during the day it has had its fair share of violence over the years. We have recounted how Bengali people have been the victims of racially motivated abuse. Although it would seem that racially motivated violence has decreased since the mid-1990s, gang related violence and intimidation are still present in the streets of Somers Town.

In 2004 Somers Town saw battles between Bengali gangs, occasionally resulting in abductions and savage beatings. In 2003, Mahbub Miah, a fifteen year old was kidnapped by a group of masked Asian teenagers who beat him with mallets and hammers.

In 2008, the most bizarre criminal activity, a kind of modern day banditry, involved gangs using pieces of rope to fell cyclists, and then relieve the dazed victims of their personal belongings. In response to these incidents Camden Council worked together with local police to ban intimidating groups of people causing anti-social behaviour from designated areas for up to 24 hours. In addition, unaccompanied children found in the zone after 9pm could be taken home to their parents or guardians.

Councillor Roger Robinson gave a well-argued and passionate justification for the curfew in the Camden New Journal arguing that a 'minority of disaffected youth have harassed kids from a nursery school; harassed other groups; held gang fights in estates and on the streets; terrified elderly and vulnerable residents and indeed all residents; invaded playgrounds and destroyed play equipment which we councilors have fought long and hard for. They have burned bikes and premises of these playgroups… rode their motorbikes at great danger to all and placed string across bicycle tracks, injuring many.'

In 2011 Somers Town residents continued to find their lives blighted by anti-social teenagers. New Camden Journal reported that, "Late night trouble involving teenagers is flaring up on a mazy council estate full of perfect hiding places, leaving residents feeling intimidated and helpless to do anything about it. Warm evenings have seen Oakshott Court in Polygon Road, in Somers Town, become the scene of an after-dark game of cat and mouse between police patrols and a small but noisy group of youngsters who gather on its split-level walkways. Tenants and leaseholders on the estate… say they are verbally abused as they walk home, while shouting outside keeps residents awake into the ¬early hours. Residents who have asked the youths to keep quiet have been called "snitch" or had stones thrown at their windows. It has been said that, 'Much of the current activity in Somers Town involves the informal economy. Areas such as Ossulston and Church Way are rife drug markets. It is common to hear of police finding drugs on the estate. A playground on the Curnock estate was used to stash crack-cocaine. On one occasion police recovered 36 rocks nearby the children's area. In 2011, Eyad Iktilat, 47, of Ossulston Street was uncovered as a wealthy drugs kingpin. Whilst living an unassuming council block lifestlye in Somers Town he was actually part of a £100million cocaine cartel.'

It would seem that gang violence is a decades old tradition in Somers Town. It would be interesting to speculate on why this might be. It has been argued that the violence at one point was caused by racism and inter-racial tensions, but perhaps the race issue is just a smokescreen for something deeper. Perhaps the violence is the result of two factors. First, the accommodation in Somers Town may not be big enough to contain the energies and interests of the young males that grow up in them. Second, lacking money or families who are able to divert their interests into constructive evening pursuits, these males naturally congregate on the streets, and having little to do, find ways of making life exciting. As Mike Skinner of The Streets once penned, 'Geezers need excitement. If their lives don't provide them, they stay inside violence, common sense, simple common sense'. Race and skin colour are just an easy way of picking sides.

And as if gangs of sadistic youths weren't enough residents have also been attacked by seagulls. In 2008 an article in New Camden Journal revealed that nesting seagulls in Crowndale Court in Somers Town attacked passers-by. The newspaper reported 'Pensioner Jack Crabbe, who lives in nearby Charrington Street, said that during one attack he had to cower in a dustbin shed for an hour.' According to one expert the number of gulls is increasing in urban areas because rooftops on high rise buildings have all the advantages of a cliff; and litter and rubbish provide the food they need.


Major Institutions in Somers Town
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#majorinstitutions

There are three major institutions, which technically sit in Somers Town. These are St Pancras Train Station, the British Library and the soon to be built Sir Francis Crick Institute.


Saint Pancras International towering above the British Library, 2008, Ravish London


St Pancras International Train Station
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#stpancrasinternational

Saint Pancras International was built by the Midland Railway Company in 1868 to increase the reach of its trains into central London. Midland Railway wanted to make their station the proudest and most dominant landmark in its locality. To this end engineer William Henry Barlow built the station on 1000 18 foot cast iron pillars. The resulting undercroft was used for storing barrels of beer. (McKie, 2007).

In the 1920s the Midlands Railway company merged with the London and Northwestern Railway company, and the resulting company decided to use Euston rather than Saint Pancras, so by the 1960s Saint Pancras had become redundant. It was at this point that British Rail started to consider knocking Saint Pancras down. This notion was defeated by a combination of Whitehall officials, MPs and poet laureate John Betjeman.

Although St Pancras was saved from destruction the fact is, is what still neglected, and by the 1990s, it was a dank, depressing and ill-lit station, not the kind of place you wanted to be hanging around too long waiting for you train at. Salvation came with the development of the Channel Tunnel, and a new railway line from Paris to London. At the beginning of the twenty-first century St Pancras' underused capacity made it an ideal candidate for the London terminal for Eurostar. The station was subsequently closed down and re-developed, opening in 2007. The gleaming glass and steel structure of its train shed, at one point the largest single span structure built, allows light to flood into the station. The undercroft that had been designed to store beer, was now used as a pedestrianized zone and shopping centre. The transformation was incredible; the new station was beautiful, fresh and modern, but still retained the features of the old station. It was one of the best examples of a trend in London for maintaining but modernising old buildings and heritage. The redevelopment of Saint Pancras was a fillip for the British spirit; a rare moment; reminiscent of the day Britain was awarded the 2012 Olympics; and prior to that of when Queen Elizabeth celebrated her fiftieth birthday.


The recently rennovated gothic Saint Pancras International Train station, 2012, zzapback


The glass & steel ceiling at St Pancras International train station, 2008, David Bank


St Pancras International train station from "The Meeting Place", 2007, Jon Block


The British Library
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#britishlibrary

The mundane red-brick faćade of the British Library, which sits next to St Pancras train station in in the south-east corner of Somers Town, and the relative simplicity of the library's interior is borne out of architect St John Collins' adherence to the 'English Free School' tradition. Here the 'art of architecture lies in raising functional order to the level of celebration, necessity to the level of enjoyment – in that order', whatever that means…

Inside the library, the only books on show, are a collection put together by George III, donated by George IV, the portly King of England, who was frankly more of a pie man than a book one. The collection, donated at the beginning of the nineteenth century, is encased in a glass tower, six stories high, consistent with the wishes of the king 'who ordained that its beautiful leather and vellum bindings be on show to the general public'.

Given the British Library holds over 150 million items - the infinitesimally small number you could get through in your lifetime should direct you to one conclusion– there is more to life than knowledge.

The British Library receives copies of all books produced in the United Kingdom and Ireland, including all foreign books distributed in the UK. It also purchases many items published outside Britain.

The new material that arrives at the British Library each year is enough to fill 12.5 kilometres of additional shelving.

The Library is open to everyone who has a genuine need to use its collections. Anyone with a permanent address who wishes to carry out research can register for a Reader Pass, providing they provide proof of signature and address for security purposes.

The public can gain access to the exhibition galleries, the bookshop and the 'Centre for the Book', and the school parties to visit the Education Service Department.

St John Wilson built the British Library to last for another two hundred and fifty years. Let's see if it does!


Sir Francis Crick Institute
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#sirfranciscrickinstitute

At the beginning of the twenty-first century the British government agreed to relocate the National Institute for Medical Research, now renamed the Sir Francis Crick Institute, from Mill Hill in North London to the back of the British Library on railway wasteland in Somers Town. Construction began in July 2011. The building is due for completion in 2015. The institute, which specialises in the study of viruses, will be 'the biggest centre for biomedical research and innovation in Europe'. See here for more information on what the institute is planned to look like


Workmen at Brill Place, Somers Town, 2008,Ravish London


Old Institutes
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#oldinstitutes

Somers Town used to host a number of hospitals including Elizabeth Garret Anderson and the National Temperance. Its north eastern tip bordered by St Pancras Road faces Saint Pancras Hospital, which, visible from Saint Pancras road and nearby gardens, looks like an ashtray. Nowadays the building is no longer used as a hospital but as an administrative centre for local health services. Around the building there are blocked drains and bits of litter. St Pancras is a cess pit but you'd expect the hospital building to be setting standards. In fact I was not surprised that it used to be a workhouse before it was a hospital. It currently evokes images of the last days of a long-neglected mental asylum.


Corporate Bullying: or shovelling the shit in Somers Town
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#corporatebullying

The residents of Somers Town have often found their lives and homes sacrificed by politicians for capitalistic endeavour. The development of Saint Pancras train station and lines, is testament to the point. In the late nineteenth century when Midlands Railway Station acquired the site where the British Library now stands, to develop a goods depot, four thousand homes were forcibly demolished and ten thousand people evicted to make way for the new railway line and station. A church was destroyed and a cemetery partly unearthed. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, a further section of the cemetery was unearthed to make way for a new railway line connecting St Pancras International to France.

The search for a new site for the British Library, during the latter half of the twentieth century, is a second example. During the 1960s when plans were being drawn up for a new British Library, the intention was to site the library across the road from its old site in Bloomsbury, an affluent suburb a stone's throw from Somers Town. This would have required the demolition of a large swathe of housing. With the residents of Bloomsbury putting up effective resistance to the initiative, a new site was found at Somers Town on land to be vacated by British Rail, where the residents of Somers Town did not put up effective resistance.

More recently, in the twenty-first century the government agreed to relocate the National Institute for Medical Research, a virus medical research centre, from Mill Hill in North London to the back of the British Library in Somers Town. A small number of people who lived in Somers Town put up a squeak of a protest. According to Jamie Welham of Camden New Journal, in October 2007, 'Holborn and St Pancras Frank Dobson MP pledged his support to the campaign to use 3.6 acre site at Brill Place solely for affordable housing and facilities for residents in Somers Town, but urged them to be realistic about their chances against the powerful corporations bidding for the site'. Frank Dobson, who once reached the great powers of Secretary of State for Health under a Labour government in the nineties, sounded like he had all the fight of a lab mouse with a suppressed immune system and a pocket full of medical lobby gold. It has not been lost on some commentators that angry types might see such an institute as an easy target for a bomb - releasing Pandora's Box on to the residents of Somers Town. In a recent article by the Camden New Journal two scientists from the National Institute of Medical Research, were quoted as saying, "This whole project is misguided and will lead to worse science. There are no scientific arguments for moving from our current site – which is surrounded by a perimeter fence and has room for expansion – to a much tighter site" and "I am not saying there is a risk from the containment facilities, but clearly there is a greater risk in the centre of London than out in north London."

In 1838 Somers Town experienced a serious outbreak of smallpox. Who knows, two hundred years later, history might be about to repeat itself? If the Pandora's Box of the National Institute for Medical Research is released on Somers Town then the Institute will have a good argument for expanding its boundaries even further, to encompass the whole of Somers Town, and its residents, who will have become unwitting research subjects in one of the world's biggest open air laboratories. But the Institute refutes any such suggestion. In 2010 it stated, 'Leaflets are being handed out locally which claims the Institute will study diseases including ebola, smallpox, Anthrax and the plague. We do not and will not work on these diseases.'

By rights the residents of Somers Town should smite this cabal of politicians and developers and banish their projects from the face of this earth, but being composed of refugees and the poor they lack the shared community, understandings, histories, allies and strength to do anything about it. Which is precisely why these projects have ended up in Somers Town. Since its inception, since the housing market decided in the eighteenth century that Somers Town would be a town for the harried, the pursued, the begotten, the people of Somers Town have been divided and therefore conquerable. An editorial in the Camden New Journal in June 2008 states 'For decades many people in Somers Town… believe their patch has become a dumping ground for projects difficult to place elsewhere...'

Even the slum clearances in the early twentieth century led on by Father Basil Jellicoe can be seen as a type of imposition. It is said Jellicoe felt propelled to see these works come to fruition out of a love of God, seen as 'embodied in the act of costly self-giving'. But we should also bear in mind that self-giving is what those who cannot face up to the problems of their own life resort to, as a means of transferring their own problems on to other people.


Corporate Seduction
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#corporateseduction

Some attempts have been made by those who have imposed their will on Somers Town, to sweeten the blow. The newly named Sir Francis Crick Institute has plans to create a Living Centre for the community, has ensured the construction company building the institute provides local apprenticeships available to Camden's young adults, has set up a liaison group for community members during the construction of the instituteand claims to have contributed £1.7m to Camden's Better Homes programme.


Eurostar 2 Somers Town 0 (Somers Town also had several grave stones sent off for lying in the path of progress)
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#eurostar2somerstown0

Eurostar had coffins from the Old St Pancras Church Cemetery exhumed to make space for its railway lines. It would seem that Eurostar felt a degree of guilt at this, and tried to caress a few tears away by commissioning a film about Somers Town. The film was directed by Shane Meadows and released in 2008. Certainly the film put the area on the cinematographic map, so to speak. Most of the scenes were set in Somers Town. However the film was just rubbing salt into the wounds. As Tom Bradshaw points out, there was no mention of "Somers Town" throughout the film. Three of the four protagonists – a Pole, an English boy and French girl were from outside Somers Town. Having seen the film I'd describe it as a soppy version of urban poverty and homelessness. It failed to capture the drudgery of Somers Town; the experiences and history of the two principal ethnic groups in the area, the white English working classes and the Bengalis.

To be honest Somers Town is not so much a film as a series of sketches, put together to resemble something like a story, but not quite getting there. Xan Brooks of the Guardian questions whether the film isn't just an incredibly sophisticated piece of advertising. The film ends, inevitably, with a trip to Paris on Eurostar. ( see David Cox's review for more on this point). It seems that Eurostar wanted to use the title Somers Town to lure in art house movie fans with an interest in gritty realism, but then designed the film, so those same fans would leave none the wiser about the reality of Somers Town, but instead checking their diary for the next available weekend for a trip to Paris. Eurostar 2 Somers Town 0 (Somers Town also had several grave stones sent off for lying in the path of progress).


Cross River Tram System
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#crossrivertram

In 2008 Somers Town was being considered as the location for a new Cross River Tram system, running on-street between Euston and Waterloo, with branches to Camden Town and King's Cross in the north, and Brixton and Peckham in the south. One of the proposed routes directed the tram up and around the north of Somers Town. Another proposed route, favoured for reducing the journey time between Euston and Kings Cross cut straight through Somers Town, traversing Polygon Road, Phoenix Road and Brill Place.


Pubs
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#pubs

With little passing traffic running through Somers Town, and little to attract Londoners to the area, most of the Somers Town pubs seem like local haunts, the kind of places a stranger would attract stares in. There are a few run down pubs. The best example of this being Prince Alfred, which is closed for business.


The Coffee House
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#coffeehouse

The Coffee House is a pub, but its name harks back to a time when it was the only coffee house in Somers Town, one which British History Online reveals, used to be frequented by foreigners, Frenchmen I presume. The Coffee House became a pub as the locals took a preference to liquor. Up until recently it has been said the establishment had a reputation for being a dubious drinking hole. However it is said that in 2004 the pub was bought by two French women and a local man, and transformed into a gastropub. It has also been said that in 2005 the owners barred Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) boss Bob Crow and colleagues for loud singing..One internet commentator suggests the transformation of the Coffee House is a sign of the middle classification of Somers Town, which in itself may be a consequence of the recent refurbishments to Saint Pancras international train station and Kings Cross. Are sophisticated Parisians aimlessly wandering into Somers Town? I don't think so.


The Coffee House, Somers Town, 2011, icewharfjames


Inside the Coffee House, Somers Town, 2010, calmeilles


St Aloysius Social Club
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#staloysiussocialclub

St Aloysius social club is based in Somers Town. It hosts a variety of different events including poetry evenings, jazz and jumble sales. Seems an interesting place to visit.


St Aloysius Social Club, 2008, aye-eye


Jewdas Rootless Cosmopolitan Yeshiva, St Aloysius Social Club, 2009, DG Jones


Transformation
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#transformations

The west side of Somers Town is bordered by Eversholt Street, a dusty and unforgiving street, which borders Euston Train Station, and has a dodgy looking bookshop as well as a lap dancing club. At the end of Eversholt Street is London's most intriguing shop, Transformations. Outside on its shop wall Transformations has an image of a blonde haired guy, looking directionless and without any joie de vivre, juxtaposed with his reincarnation, a happy but vulnerable and expectant looking woman sporting a Coronation Street perm and an over the top cocktail dress. On the website there are great images of the 'woman' who runs Transformations in a four poster bed with a smooth looking black guy wearing a gold chain and a glass of champagne. The before photo shows a balding businessman from the northeast in a grey suit with a briefcase. It raises the question of just how many accountants from Newcastle are going through the motions dreaming about another life featuring Mediterranean groceries and Craig David look-alikes? The owner of Transformations has a sense of humor commenting, 'Transformations offer transvestites, crossdressers and transgendered a discreet , confidential and truly feminine shopping experience, as well as providing a he to she make over service. I know the supermarkets are trying to take over the world these days but here's one local Euston shop that won't be fearing a Tescos in the neighbourhood.'


Transformations, Somers Town, 2008,Ravish London


St Marys Church
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#stmarys

The nineteenth Century St.Mary's church in Eversholt Street has the look of a building that was condemned to a miserable existence the day it was built. When I took a look at it in 2008 it had broken windows and inside a guy was on his knees in the centre of the church repairing something. The Church of England seems to recognise the problems faced by local people in Somers Town. In 2008, one of its statements read, "London is a place of extremes, and for many reasons, London is also a place where mental health problems are rife. From stress caused in the workplace, strains of expectations at home, to life on the streets and inadequate counselling and listening facilities offered by the NHS. In response to the many mental health problems that we face either in our communities, our churches or ourselves St Mary's Church in Eversholt Street near Euston Station is organising a workshop on the use of music and singing in the alleviation of mental health problems."


The Goldington Crescent Cattle Trough
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#goldingtoncrescentcattletrough

At the north east tip of Somers Town there is a cattle trough belonging to the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association. In this day and age such troughs serve no other purpose than decoration, and pretty drab decoration at that. In the nineteenth century, horses were the engines of transport; cows and other farm animals were herded into London for sale. London in the nineteenth century experienced rapid urban and population expansion and the private water companies were not able to provide Londoners with free quality water, let alone the animals. The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, a philanthropic initiative, would use such troughs to provide clean drinking water to animals. It would be great to see a photograph of a four-legged beast drinking from the trough.


Goldington Crescent Cattle Trough, Somers Town, 2008,Ravish London


Summary
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#summary

Somers Town is the southern most point of a great swathe of north London, which since its inception in the late seventeenth century, has been the destiny and history of the dispossessed, desperate, diaspora, diseased and manipulated. Whilst Somers Town, contrary to some opinions does actually exist as a concept to those that live there, it has never been shouted about from the rooftops and never had anything to draw people to it, unlike its more prestigious and notorious neighbouring suburbs of Camden Town, King Cross and Bloomsbury. The residents of Somers Town have never had enough pride, unity, gumption, time and resource to project an image of the area on to the rest of the world. Instead the rest of the world projects itself on to Somers Town. Things happen to people in Somers Town. The British Library happens, the redevelopment of St Pancras train station happens, the new Sit Francis Crick Estate happens and once upon a time ago Father Basil Jellicoe happened to Somers Town. What we do know about Somers Town is that since the first developments established by Lord Somers and developer Jacob Leroux became home to French Catholic refugees and later to railway workers, Somers Town has always been a basin for catching the overspill of London. We know that families with little resource and little space, have since Somers Town time began, been stuffed into sub-standard accommodation. Cramped living conditions find parents at odd with their adolescent children, and young men invariably find themselves on the street in the evenings. With energy, ambition, little opportunity and a growing envy, such an environment becomes a petri dish for the growth of sadistic notions; physical violence and theft. Youths rampage through the estates, leave their mark on playgrounds and dustbins; fight and relieve passers-by of their belongings. For everyone else, Somers Town is about trying to hold their head up high, as much as they can; trying to make a life, trying to make a fist of it; the 9-5, the television, the pub or the mosque, reading the paper and watching the footy.


References
http://www.ravishlondon.com/somerstown/index.html#references

  • Londonist stalks…Mr Charles Dickens, November 2005
  • Comment on the Somers Town Coffee House, 2006
  • Trouble makers facing street bans, 2004, BBC
  • Visit the British Library
  • Visiting the British Library
  • Plans for the proposed Euston Kings Cross tram route
  • Shane Meadows on Somers Town
  • Councillor Roger Robinson, Dismayed that tram plan is still alive despite the objections, Wood and Vale, December 2007.
  • How the tram system would look on the underground map.
  • Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association
  • Camden Cycling Campaign: Somers Town Troubles, Summer 2004.
  • Patricia August, The London Blitz, Somers Town, February 2004.
  • Somers Town on wikipedia.
  • South Camden Community School on Nation Master Encyclopedia.
  • Somers Town and Euston Square on British History Online - 1878
  • Dad's anger as victim of attack faces arrest threat, Camden New Journal, February 13th 2003.
  • Police patrol schools after abduction terror, Camden New Journal, 6th February 2003.
  • Teens in Summer Curfew, Camden New Journal, June 2004.
  • Estate under attack from family (of gulls) from hell, Camden New Journal, July 2004.
  • Photographs of Somers Town Festival of Cultures, July 2006.
  • Camden New Journal, Murder Police Insist: 'We Got The Right Man', 22nd April 2004.
  • Indymedia, Somers Town Residents Protest Corporate Land Sell Off, 24th November 2007.
  • On the 13th of August, 1994, 15-year-old Richard Everitt was stabbed to death in Somerstown, London; I am an Englishman.
  • Swenson, P. (2006) Mapping Poverty in Agar Town: Economic Conditions Prior to the Development of St Pancras Station in 1866.
  • Robinson, R. (2004) Human rights are not just for violent youths, Camden New Journal, 14th July 2004.
  • Old Bailey hearing of man who was allegedly attacked on Crowndale Road on 21st April 1884.
  • Old Baily Proceedings involved alleged house robbery on Chenies Place 23rd April 1912
  • Old Bailey Proceedings involved alleged house robbery on Chenies Place 23rd April 1912
  • Images of Somers Town from the nineteenth century
  • Camden Cycling Campaign: Somers Town Troubles, Summer 2004.
  • Peter Bradsaw's review of Somers Town the movie, The Guardian2008..
  • Brooks, X. Reel Review, The Guardian, 2008.
  • London Festival of Architecture on Somers Town, 2008.
  • Book Review: Oranges and Lemons: Life in an Inner City Primary School by Wendy Wallace
  • Community Cohesion: the views of white working class communities, Professor Harris Beider, November 2011.
  • Somers Town, Where Lessons Go Unlearnt, The Independent, Sunday 21st August 1994.
  • http://www.thecnj.co.uk/camden/2007/101807/news101807_02.html
  • http://www.thecnj.co.uk/camden/2007/101107/news101107_07.html
  • http://www.thecnj.co.uk/camden/2008/050108/letters050108_05.html