A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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61 - From a health annex to healthy foods via a hassled coroner and a heritage canal

Two very different buildings are squeezed into the northern corner of the churchyard. One of these, dating from the mid-20th century, is an odd small two-storey block with large red tile elevations and a protruding first floor supported by plain white columns. This is called the Dennis Geffen Health Annex but is now home to a pest control and dog warden unit.

The second building was constructed in red brick under 'the superintendence of the Highways, Sewers and Public Works Committee' in 1886. Here, with some modern extensions facing onto Camley Road, is St Pancras Coroner's Court. The court tackles cases that fall within the jurisdiction of Inner North London (Boroughs of Camden, Islington, Hackney, Tower Hamlets). In early 2004, the coroner for Camden hit the news when he took over a case from the Westminster Coroner. The case concerned the death of a Tufnell Park student, Tom Hurndall, and was transferred because the Camden coroner was already dealing with the death of James Miller, a TV camaraman. Both Hurndall and Miller were shot in the same area of the Gaza strip, allegedly by Israeli gunmen. Several years ago, though, in 1999, another case hit the headlines. Scot Harry Stanley, a 46 year-old man, was shot dead when police mistook a table leg he was carrying for a gun. At the conclusion of the inquest, the coroner directed the jury to deliver an open verdict, but Stanley's friends protested that the jury should have been allowed to consider a verdict of 'unlawful killing'. The proceedings had be to halted to restore order. Afterwards, one member of Stanley's family was quoted as saying: 'It's not right. No officers have been charged. After two and a half years, the officers stood in the dock and didn't even say, "We're sorry".'

A gateway lets me out onto Camley Street, a back street if ever there was one. This too is blocked off, to the south, because of the CTRL works, which is why my walk has not taken me past the Camley Street Natural Park, even though it sits right on the 300 easting. The park was created in the early 1980s in an area that had once served as a coal drop (store) for the Great Northern Railway. Even though I'm not visiting it, I can quote what London Wildlife Trust says about its park: 'This innovative and internationally acclaimed reserve, created on the banks of the Regent's Canal is a place for both people and wildlife. Special features include a pond, meadow and woodland, providing a natural environment for birds, bees, butterflies, amphibians and a rich variety of plant life.' Apart from providing a welcome open space for the public, it also serves Camden schools by providing a busy education programme, and hosts events such as 'Frog Day!' (a 'Fun day of froggy activities').

Camley Street takes me past a modern Parceline warehouse, behind which are the buildings of St Pancras Hospital, including a tall chimney and white leggy water tower. For nearly 50 years, from 1951 to 1998, this was home to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, an institution founded in 1821 on an ex-navel ship called HMS Grampus. In 1999, it moved to new premises near Tottenham Court Road, leaving St Pancras Hospital, operated by the Camden Primary Care Trust, to focus on elderly patients.

A bridge crosses the Regent's Canal. This waterway was designed and built by James Morgan under the guidance of architect John Nash (who was friendly with the Prince Regent at the time). Its main objective was to link an arm of the Grand Junction Canal with the Thames. A first section was opened in 1816, but a second section had to wait for completion of the Islington Tunnel, to the east of here, and did not open until 1820. At 960 yards long, the tunnel was the canal's most impressive engineering feat. It was even applauded by Thomas Telford (according to London Canal Museum's website which has a wealth of information on this and other canals). To the west of here is the Macclesfield - also called 'Blow Up' - Bridge, which crosses a part of the canal that flows through Regent's Park. In 1874, a barge carrying gunpowder exploded, killing three crew and destroying the bridge. For a century, the canal served as a major transport route, and was lined with wharves, factories and warehouses. But then, like the entire canal network, it suffered increasingly from competition by the railways. Between the wars, Regent's Canal, Grand Junction Canal, and Warwick Canal were all merged together within Grand Union Canal Company. The after World War Two, it was nationalised to be managed by British Waterways. In the 1950s, narrow tractors took over from horses to pull the un-motorised barges. And, by the time British Waterways Board took over in the 1960s there was barely any commercial traffic left. Today much effort is put into developing the canal as a leisure facility - the waterway for boating, and the towpath for dog walking.

From the bridge, steps lead down to the towpath. Two wildlife scenes, created out of metal bars and placed in metal frames inserted into the bridge wall, encourage me to descend the steps. This would definitely be the most pleasant route if I were heading west to the zoo at Regent's Park, or east to London Canal Museum situated by Battlebridge Basin (named after an old bridge across the Fleet River). But I'm still trying to find a way back to the 300 easting, so I need to press on along Camley Street past warehouses on my right, and a private housing estate (Elm Village) on my left, all of which were built on land that was, until 25-30 years ago, a rail yard.

Among the warehouses are those occupied by Marigold Health Foods (a company that 'caters for 5,000 vegetarian and vegan chilled, ambient and frozen foods') and Alara Wholefoods. Another is occupied by Synstar International which helps 'hard-pressed IT professionals' across Europe to 'minimise business risks and maximise corporate potential' by providing everything from 'simple software support for a confused end-user to restoring an entire crisis-struck organisation at one of our dedicated business recovery centres'. Synstar has offices across Europe, but this one here is a 'business recovery centre'. All manner of firms can be found in Cedar Way Industrial Estate on the east side of Camley Street: Octopus Trading, Daily Fish Supplies, Charlton Printing Works, Animated Picture Company, and Sparks Catering Butcher to name just a few.

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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