I should probably be ashamed of this, but one of my favourite ways to spend a lazy weekend afternoon is browsing the markets of Camden. I know, I’m about ten years too old for that (being 26 at the time of writing), but my justification is that I discovered Camden fairly late as London kids go. Plus there’s a stall there that has an excellent selection of cravats, and I do have a weakness for that garment, being an 1890s boho superstar.
And while I’m not a huge fan of the current works, I do quite like the revamped Horse Tunnel Market. It’s my favourite source of horse tunnels. The horse tunnel is probably the safest and most hygienic way of looking inside a horse that we have today.
I have to say, though, what is the deal with the hard sell merchants? I was looking at some hats in this shop in the Stables on Sunday, because I think the right kind of hat would look just dandy on me. No sooner had I bent down to see if there was a price (there wasn’t) than the guy running the place sidles up and asks me if I like it. I really, really hate the hard sell. If I like something, then I’ll buy it, and if I want help then I’ll ask for it. Anyway, I said that the hat seemed nice enough, but – oh! It’s too small. Well, that’s the end of that. There are times when having an enormous head like mine is an advantage, such as when you don’t want to buy a hat that someone’s trying to sell you, or when you want to headbutt an annoying hat vendor into submission.
So the guy immediately offered to go round the back and get another hat, and I explained that I really wasn’t all that bothered. Don’t get me wrong, it was a pleasant hat, but really not all that. But the chap was quite insistent, and so I decided to try a different tack and asked how much it was. He said that it was £35, which was rather more than I was willing to pay, and I said so. He, however, decided to ask me how much I actually wanted to pay. Eventually I was forced to beat him to death.
That being done, I strolled back to Waterloo via a route I wasn’t familiar with. Hatless.
I rather seem to have lost track of the original point of this post, which was to talk about some of the more sinister aspects of Camden’s past. I’ll start off with a little factoid that’s not so much sinister as slightly gross. In the above photo you can see a humpbacked bridge in front of the warehouse with a sort of inlet below. This inlet was used to bring barges in off the Grand Union Canal in order to unload them, the goods being taken on by rail. And it has a name. It’s called Dead Dog Basin. Fortunately, its name is no longer relevant, although I did just find this article which mentions it:
More sinister is the story behind Camden Town Tube Station.
This site actually has some occult significance, being as it is built on the site of a witch’s cottage. The cottage was owned by a woman known as “the Shrew of Kentish Town”, “Mother Red Cap” or, catchier still, “Mother Damnable”.
Assuming you believe the legend – many historians are sceptical – this woman’s name was Jinney Bingham. In her younger days, she “associated with” a gentleman named Darby (to use the coy terms of Samuel Palmer’s ‘A History of St Pancras’, and got rather fed up with him. In due course, Darby mysteriously disappeared. Her parents were hanged for witchcraft around this time.
Some years later, another “associate” by the name of Pitcher disappeared. This time, however, he was found. At least, his body was. In the oven. Jinney was put on trial for the possible murder and half-arsed cremation of Pitcher, but was acquitted when a witness testified that Pitcher was in the habit of getting into the oven to hide from Jinney’s yelling. So if she wasn’t a practitioner of the dark arts, she was at least a bit of a bitch.
Thanks to her sharp tongue and rather misanthropic nature, Jinney found herself abandoned by the world and gained a reputation as a crabbit old woman, which I relate here only as an excuse to use the word “crabbit”. The sixteenth century being the sixteenth century, an unmarried elderly woman was obviously up to something dodgy, most likely witchcraft. As a result, Mother D received much abuse whenever any misfortune befell the local area. Her death was related thus, in the pamphlet ‘The Extraordinary Death of Mother Damnable’, which would be a great name for a band:
“Hundreds of men, women, and children were witnesses of the devil entering her house in his very appearance and state, and that, although his return was narrowly watched for, he was not seen again; and that Mother Damnable was found dead on the following morning, sitting before the fire-place, holding a crutch over it, with a tea-pot full of herbs, drugs, and liquid, part of which being given to the cat, the hair fell off in two hours, and the cat soon after died; that the body was stiff when found, and that the undertaker was obliged to break her limbs before he could place them in the coffin, and that the justices have put men in possession of the house to examine its contents”
How much of this story is actually true, if any of it, is unclear. I haven’t been able to find any definite dates. Different accounts say different things – some assert that Mother Red Cap and Mother Damnable were two different people, for instance.
Whether true or false, Mother Red Cap gave her name to the pub opposite the station, now better known as the World’s End.