Eric Reynolds, the Founding Director of Urban Space Management spoke to the Society about one of his early projects - the development of Camden Lock market. Roger Cline reports.
Your reviewer lived close to Camden Lock for 30 years up to the Millennium and since then regularly has to weave his way through the crowds wandering between the tube station and the market. In fact the lock by Camden High Street is Hampstead Road Lock and the adjoining one to the east is Hawley Road Lock. From there the canal descends through many locks to the Thames at Limehouse. To the west there is a long level stretch through the Regents Park to Little Venice and beyond.
Camden Town was the centre of the piano-making industry and Dingwalls Timber Merchants specialised in making packing cases for pianos, leasing a site by the canal to receive their wood and possibly to send away the packed pianos. To have a piano in one’s front room was no longer an essential feature of households with aspirations, so Dingwall’s ceased trading around 1970.
Our speaker, Eric Reynolds,
was one of three partners who took over the Dingwall’s lease from British Waterways. He is managing Director of Urban Space Management ,but has other interests in structures made of Shipping Containers, interim use of land and many charitable organisations. Running the market was really a sideline for all three partners, Eric was a boat-builder so the dock just upstream of the lock was put to good use, another partner was a doctor and the third was a surveyor. In the seventies the alternative lifestyles of young people created a market for non-essential items which could be made at home and sold at a stall on a Saturday.
The planners did not want retail outlets away from Camden High Street, so the buildings were presented as craft workshops with the stalls temporarily erected outside on a Saturday (no Sunday trading then) to sell the craft items. The sellers were friends, and friends of friend,s and the market started with about 40 stalls paying about £3 each per day. He concentrated on making the market welcoming, good for browsing and attracting diverse customers. There were few retail shops as such (Body Shop being the first).
As the market expanded, more room was generated by sinking a barge in the lock and flooring it over. The canal towpath had originally been open to licensed people only but when it was made free to all with access points at most bridges, the Market knocked through their canal boundary wall so that towpath walkers could more easily access the market. For events it was easy to erect and remove a Spiegel Tent for protection from the elements but its size involved partly extending its floor over the canal, being supported on beer barrels on land so that it could bridge the canal parapet. Liquor licences were limited to 26 per year and could only be obtained the day before the event and real ale casks needed time to settle before use, so running an event in the marquee was always a last-minute logistic nightmare.
After ten years there were 120 stalls each Saturday paying £100 a day , which made it easier to pay the rent to British Waterways. While High Street landlords found it a serious mishap if a tenant could not pay their rent, the Market had multiple stall holders so if one or two ceased trading cashflow was not seriously affected. The typical visitor was not a local resident and many were from abroad. More footfall was achieved by running boats every day of the week on the canal to and from the Zoo, another of London’s essential places to visit. Eric himself built a steam-powered boat to give special rides – it was built in a shed during the week and hauled on ropes up into the roof rafters at weekends so that stalls could be set out below. A local contractor Johnny Walker ran barge trips down to Limehouse and inland via Little Venice to Bulls Bridge at Southall and the main Grand Union Canal extending from Brentford to Birmingham and beyond. The North London Line railway bridge used to bear shopping advertisements but the market provided an attractive ‘art work’ comprising the name Camden Lock and images of the signwriters at work on the lettering – a really effective advertisement for the Market. The shops in the approach roads took to adorning the upper storeys of their premises with much magnified three-dimensional models of their stock, rocking chairs, boots, jackets, etc. Somehow this adornment avoided prohibition by the planning rules.
When the lease came up for renewal there were many negotiations but a new rent acceptable to the Market directors was achieved since the Waterways accountants concentrated on the rents from office space and did not realise that the stall rents were providing a much higher rent per square foot of space. A facsimile Victorian Market Hall was built beside the road to provide accommodation for more stalls and events. Apart from the loading area around the dock at the Lock, there were stable buildings for the original horse drawn distribution vehicles, the vehicles being stored at ground level and the horses (and their fodder) being stored at upper levels reached by ramps. The market used the ground floors for stock storage and set out the stalls on the horse levels. There was also the Interchange Warehouse, with docks from the canal at the lowest level, rail sidings from Camden Goods Yard at an intermediate level and warehouse space above. Goods were transferred using gravity and/or hydraulically powered cranes and capstans; the Market has not used this building apart from occasional art exhibitions. The upper storey of a row of market stalls was used for a restaurant, the Lock, Stock and Barrel which morphed into Pratts (the family name of Lord Camden) and then became an expensive restaurant which failed. The stalls provided food for the majority of visitors as take-aways cooked at the stall with the aid of gas canisters which may have been the cause of several serious fires which have occurred, the first being in a furniture warehouse in Camden Lock Place to the north of the site.
Our speaker finished his association with the market some years ago although he is currently working for a land-owner developing another market on the east side of Camden High Street north of the tube station with stall buildings made from shipping containers. These may only have a short life themselves if the long-delayed scheme comes to fruition to provide Camden Town tube station with a second entrance in Buck Street. The new entrance will need to use some of the market stall area but will deposit visitors directly on site. In its present state Camden Town tube station is so overloaded at weekends that it is made exit-only at peak market times, leaving visitors to make their way to Chalk Farm or Mornington Crescent to rejoin the Northern Line. Sites around the market areas are being developed with tower blocks typically of 14 stories which will destroy the scale of Camden Town whose railway and canal operations used low sheds and warehouses/piano factories of about six stories maximum, something to be regretted.
This was an enthralling talk by someone who had worked extremely hard at every job in the market, becoming an expert in applying all the planning and licensing rules to his own advantage while clearly enjoying himself at the same time. Perhaps all his other ventures provided relief from the effort and anxieties of running such an unconventional enterprise.