A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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Brighton Cross

Kip Fenn
A novel about
the 21st century





















62 - Two estates, too many drugs, a controversial link and an unsolved murder

The modern Elm Village estate is made up of roads with names such as Crofters Way, Weavers Way, Reapers Close and Ploughmans Close. Before the railways came, an early 19th century lawyer called William Agar developed this locality, building Agar Town and Elm House - hence the estate's name. But the estate's rural-nostalgic road names belie a crack cocaine problem. In 2003, residents (including staff of the nearby Chinese Embassy that live on the estate) complained to Camden Council about a chronic problem of 'violent drug dealing' and claimed the area was a 'crack cocaine supermarket'.

I pass under two railway bridges (new and old) next to each other (one of them a viaduct for the North London Line) to arrive at a grubby bit of road dominated by fences and railings and concrete bollards and barbed wire and security notices and wires and litter. There are a few small industrial units further along Camley Street before it comes to a dead end, but I turn right, by the side of a bridge, to climb a set of steps, caged in with turquoise-painted metal arches. It leads first alongside the North London Line to a footbridge over more rail lines (that run from St Pancras to Kentish Town), and thus to the west side of the Maiden Lane estate. This is called the Camley Street Link, and, despite providing what appears to be a very useful pedestrian connection across the railway lines, is highly controversial.

During 2003, hundreds of residents on the Elm Village estate called for the footbridge to be closed because, they claimed, it provided an escape route for drug dealers and other criminals (burglars, muggers, car vandals). The police agreed; and Network Rail, which owns the bridge, said it had no objection to closing it. Camden Council, though, claimed it was a right of way and that residents in the Maiden Lane estate (on the east side of the railway line) needed it as a thoroughfare. Instead of closing the footbridge, Camden promised to improve the amenity with lighting, mirrors, some shrub planting, and, possibly, CCTV. As of early in 2004, Elm Village residents were still angry at Camden for failing to close the footbridge. Meanwhile, the Camden Cycling Campaign has put forward a detailed plan for a 'new link' - with a gentle ramp for bikers - to connect the dead end of Camley Street with Agar Grove. However, the plan looks expensive and, because of land ownership problems, complicated.

If the Camley Link had been closed, I would have been obliged (in sticking as close as possible to the 300 easting) to use a different route altogether, along the Euston Road, turning north into York Way and staying on York Way for more than a mile. This would have given me an opportunity to write a lot more about King's Cross and its fascinating industrial heritage, a topic that is covered superbly in 'Change at King's Cross' by Michael Hunter and Robert Thorne.

Like Elm Village, the Maiden Lane estate (named after a road that preceded York Way) was also built on disused railway land, in the 1970s and early 1980s. But, unlike Elm Village, this estate is a Camden Housing venture. Its features - long low white terraces, with plate glass windows and balconies or tiny gardens - were considered quite innovative at the time, and are mentioned in architectural books about London. Today, it looks almost as run-down as Levita House, and the dwellings - over 200 of them - seem to be little more than cubicles stacked, side by side and one on top of the other. Also, walking between the buildings, and through a subway, it feels claustrophobic. Eventually, I arrive, with relief, at the old-fashioned Victorian terraces in St Paul's Crescent and Agar Grove.

Nearly one hundred years ago, in 1907, Agar Grove (called St Pauls Road then) was the scene of a notorious murder. Emily Elizabeth (aka Phyllis) Dimmock, a prostitute in her early 20s, was found one morning with her throat cut. Phyllis's common law husband, Bertram Shaw, a Midland Railway chef, was in Sheffield at the time, but a friend of the girl's, a glassware designer named Robert Wood, was arrested and tried at the Old Bailey. The jury found Wood not guilty, but the police never brought anyone else to trial. The case is said to have been a landmark in English legal history. This is because it was the first to take place after the 1905 Criminal Justice Bill in which a man accused of murder gave evidence on his own behalf. In recent years, some writers have suggested Phyllis might have been a victim of Jack the Ripper, but John Barber (whose parents lived in Agar Grove and who has written an incisive analysis of the case) believes such a theory is tosh (see his Casebook website).

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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