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50 facts about Camden

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For Camden50, the Camden Tour Guides organised 5 walking tours based on the varied themes of our artist projects – democracy, women, radical theatre, film locations and architecture. The Guides are full of informative, quirky and fun facts about Camden and its history. So for those who couldn’t make it to one of the tours, here they have chosen their top 50 Camden facts!

Innovation. Camden leads the way!

1 The next time your kids are having fun on a bouncy castle get them to shout, ‘Invented in Camden’.

2 Charles Goodall & Sons, of Royal College St, Camden, were the first, in 1862, to mass produce Christmas cards.

3 You could be using or wearing a famous brand that started life on a Camden Lock market stall! Look out for the next Body Shop or Red or Dead.

4 Bob Dylan allegedly played his first UK concert in December 1962 at the Pindar of Wakefield Pub in Gray’s Inn Road (now known as the Water Rats).

5 Olympic sprinter June Carroll (June Foulds) was also quick to market by opening Camden Lock’s first food outlet in 1974, known simply as ‘The Stall’.

6 Do enjoy a good workout? The German Gymnasium at King’s Cross was the first purpose-built gymnasium in England, built in 1865, influential in the development of athletics in Britain.

7 Fancy a pint? Camden is a home of Craft Brewing in England. We’ve got the Camden Town Brewery and Scotland’s Brewdog Brewery chose Camden for its first location outside Scotland.

8 From Camden to the Dark Side of the Moon! Camden’s first major Rock and Roll event took place on October 15th 1966 at the Roundhouse. Pink Floyd gave one of their first performances.

9 Camden is known for modernist architecture. Buildings of note include the Isokon flats in Lawn Road, 1-3 Willow Road flats, the Dunboyne Road Estate, the Mansfield Estate, Branch Hill Estates, the Brunswick Development and the Alexander and Ainsworth Estate.

Inspiring! Camden is a place of inspiration – past, present and future.

10 The Beatles’ “Mad Day Out” in July 1968 resulted in the photo of them among an unsuspecting crowd looking through railings at St Pancras Gardens.

11 Our Camden streets also act as a contemporary art gallery with portraits of Amy Winehouse and John Lennon, as well as work from artists such as Hunto, Dank, Sr. X and Alice Pasquini.  

12 Camden has inspired many film directors to shoot their films here, including Withnail & I, The Ladykillers, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Eyes Wide Shut, and Venus.

13 ‘Please sir, may I have some more!’ The Cleveland Street Workhouse in Fitzrovia has recently been identified as the likely location of the workhouse for this famous Oliver Twist scene.

14 The Camden Town Group of painters including Augustus John, Walter Sickert and Harold Gilman who used to meet in Sickert’s studio in Camden Town had their first exhibition in June 1911.

15 The biggest brains in London! UCL, a Camden University, has had more Nobel Prize awards (29) and Fields Prize awards for Maths(2) amongst current and past staff than any other institution in London. Past UCL winners include Sir Paul Nurse (now of The Francis Crick Institute), Peter Higgs (of God Particle fame) and, most recently, John O'Keefe (Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine).

Democratic! Camden has a long history of democracy.

16 There are more copies of the original Magna Carta in Camden than anywhere else in England, with the British Library holding two of the four surviving copies.

17 ‘Just lend a hand’. Camden borough’s emblem is eight linked hands to suggest ‘voting, giving, receiving and unity’. Symbolising the structure and function of local government – helping each other through communal effort.

18 Camden had the first Bangladeshi and Muslim Mayor in England, who was also the youngest in the country (Nasim Ali in 2003 elected Mayor at the age of 34).

19 The world in one borough. On the Camden website, you can request information about your local community in 91 different languages.

Camden wouldn’t be the same without its people! We are proud to have been the home of many past well-known residents…

20 Celebrated writers who have lived in Camden include Karl Marx (who is buried at Highgate Cemetery), Friedrich Engels, poet Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf and other members of the Bloomsbury Group, George Orwell and Agatha Christie.

21 Frankenstein! Made in Camden. Mary Wollstonecraft gave birth to Mary Godwin in 1797 in Somers Town. After marrying Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley went on to create Dr Frankenstein and his monster. 

22 Camden has been home to many political figures, including Prime Ministers Spencer Perceval (the only British PM to have been assassinated), Herbert Asquith, Ramsay Macdonald and Lord Salisbury.

23 Slave to the rhythm. Camden has been the natural habitat for bands such as Blur, Pulp, and Oasis, Pink Floyd and Madness. Many musicians and singers have lived here.

24 Holborn was home to London’s Little Italy, its Italian quarter, through much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The area was made even more famous by Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist.

…and to today welcome a diverse mix of communities…

25 Did you know that 120 languages are spoken in Camden schools? Aside from English, the most common languages are Bengali, Somali, Albanian and Arabic.

26 Camden’s population is highly ethnically diverse, with larger Bangladeshi, Somali and ‘White other’ (from countries such as Australia, France, USA, Italy and Poland) populations than anywhere else in London. Nearly 35% of Camden’s overall population is estimated to be from a black minority ethnic group (BME) background, compared to the England average of 9%.

27 Camden has the fourth largest Bangladeshi population in London (after Tower Hamlets, Newham and Redbridge) and the sixth largest in England and Wales.

28 The Somali community is one the borough’s most recent communities, with the majority settling here since 1990. It is now the largest refugee population, with around 4,000 (out of London’s 70,000) and is likely to be the second largest (non-white) minority ethnic community in the borough after the Bangladeshi population. Somalis are thought to be the oldest African community in London, settling here around 1914.

29 Camden has a diverse spectrum of religion, including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh. Although small, the Buddhist population here is the 11th largest in England and Wales.

30 Camden is home to the largest population of students in London, with more than 24,000 higher education students, and more higher education institutions than any other local authority.

31 Camden’s population more than doubles in size on an average workday to more than 530,000 people, including 71,000 domestic and overseas tourists.

And it’s not just people that Camden is home to…!

32 Camden is the home of many medical and health institutions, including a number of professional institutions (such as the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Anaesthetists) major hospitals (UCL, the Royal Free, and Great Ormond Street).

33 The Francis Crick Institute will open next year, becoming Europe's foremost centre for biomedical research. The Wellcome Trust charity is one of the largest funders of research in the world, investing £700m a year to improve health by supporting bright minds in science, the humanities and social sciences, and public engagement. 

34 Get creative! There are 3,700 cultural and creative industries firms in the borough, employing around 40,600 people and representing 16% of all local jobs. Camden’s total businesses generate almost two job opportunities for every resident of working age.

35 Camden has one of the highest proportions of Museums in London, including the British Museum, Keats House, Pollock's Toy Museum, the Illustration Museum, the Cartoon Museum, the Freud Museum, the Freemason's Hall Museum and the Museum of Comedy. Check out the @MuseumMileLDN on Twitter for 13 museums within a mile distance of The British Museum! 

36 Camden has the largest listed building in England - the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate.

37 The Jewish Museum moved to Camden Town in 1994, providing a mix of exhibitions and permanent displays that reflect the vibrancy of Jewish history and culture in Britain – here you can see a rare medieval Mikveh or ritual bath from the 1200s. 

38 Camden has three inner city nature reserves - Camley Street Natural Park, the Belsize Woods and Russell Nurseries Nature Reserve in Belsize Park, and the Adelaide Road Nature Reserve.

39 We have some of the best transport connections in London. Three of London's busiest railway stations are also in the borough – Euston, King's Cross and St. Pancras – with around 52 million passengers using the three every year.

40 Camden is home to the only on-street magic shop on Clerkenwell Road - and you can also visit the headquarters of the Magic Circle near Euston.

And finally, did you know…?

41 Camden could have been called Fleet. The alternative name was considered as the river Fleet runs (now underground) through all three of the old boroughs which came together as Camden. Instead, the new borough was named after Camden Town, which inherited its name from Charles Pratt, the first Earl of Camden in 1795.

42 The Roundhouse was built in 1847 for steam engine locomotives to turn around on its turntable. In 1966 it became a music venue.

43 Hold your breath. Hampstead tube station is the deepest station on the entire Underground network at 192 feet below ground level.

44 King's Cross was known as Battle Bridge until 1830. Gospel Oak derives its name from an oak tree that once stood to the east of Southampton Road. Swiss Cottage was named after a pub on Finchley Road.

45 Built on hallowed ground. St Pancras Old Church has been a site of Christian worship since the 4th century.

46 Despite its name, there is no Camden Lock. Instead there are three dual locks in the area, built in the early 1800s as part of the Regent’s Canal. The term Camden Lock refers to Hampstead Road Locks.

47 The market known as the Stables Market in Camden Town used to be the Pickfords horse stables and a horse hospital for the horses who pulled the Pickfords vans.

48 Charles Dickens loved Christmas Day and appropriately The Charles Dickens Museum is one of the few museums in London which opens on Christmas Day.

49 The Granary building in King’s Cross is famous for housing the world-renowned art college Central St. Martins, but it used to be a wheat storage warehouse for London’s bakers.

50 The British Library has 625km of shelves which hold 150 million books.

To discover more of Camden, visit the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre on the 2nd floor of Holborn Library, which holds a vast quantity of archives, books, maps, newspapers and other resources on the history of Camden. Or why not take a guided tour (or train to become a Camden tour guide yourself) details can be found on the Camden Tour Guides Association website