Pirates in Camden

I’m feeling rather Sunday today. Sort of washed-out, a little sleepy. You know how it is. Unfortunately, despite millennia of technological development, humanity has not reached the stage where this research will do itself, and so I had to make a trip up to good old Camden to pick up a particularly rare book. Well, it’s not particularly rare, but it’s usually particularly expensive.

I figured I’d take the Tube to Chalk Farm, which is closer to the Stables end of Camden and therefore means you don’t have to endure the two hundred thousand fifteen-year-old hipsters blocking the route from Camden Town Tube to Camden Lock like the androgynous undead. You also get to avoid the endless parade of shops selling exactly the same range of hats and T-shirts, manned by hard-sell merchants who will not rest until they’ve either sold you an overpriced crappy hat or you bludgeon them into unconsciousness.

Having picked up my book, I thought I’d have a bit of a stroll around, see what there was to see, pick up a bite to eat. Now, I’ve always known Camden was a bit touristy, but I didn’t realise quite how touristy it’s become until I saw the rebuilt Camden Canal Market, or Camden Lock Village as it’s now known. Here’s how touristy it’s become:

IMG_1633IMG_1632IMG_1635IMG_1607Camden Lock Village – your one-stop shop for Union Jack-slathered shit. If you looked at a souvenir stand under a microscope and discovered a tiny nano-civilisation living there, it would look like this. Nice one, Camden. Keep this up and you can be the next Carnaby Street. Carnaby Street today, that is.

The Stables market has also undergone some rebuilding, and is now filled with identikit clothing stands, food stalls that look like something out of Blade Runner and, for some reason, anatomically correct horse sculptures. Presumably to remind you that not only was this place once a stabling point for railway horses, but those horses all had genitalia and don’t you forget it.

On an unrelated note, I spotted this graffiti in the old Lock Market:wineThis was scrawled on to the railway bridge. I love the idea that someone was so very passionate about conveying the suggestion that Ms Winehouse is, in fact, an “AIDS whore,” that they had to climb all the way on to that railway bridge to do it. I mean, most people just troll YouTube. I’m not entirely clear what the author means by “AIDS whore.” At the risk of being pedantic, the medical profession prefers the term “late-stage HIV” to prevent confusion over the nature of the disease. THE MORE YOU KNOW.

Also, on a little tangent, there are three types of people who use the term “whore” non-ironically:

1. People who need to get laid.

2. People who wish they were getting laid.

3. People who wish they were getting laid by the person they’re accusing of being a whore, because god dammit, she gives it out to everyone else, why not him?

chalkfarmOn another tangent, did you know that Chalk Farm Station has the longest frontage of any Tube station? It has the classic Leslie Green-designed red tiled exterior common to the Tube stations owned by Charles Yerkes, but  due to the shape of the site, it just goes on and on and on. I like it. It’s something a bit different from the norm. It’s not that I dislike the other Green-designed Tube stations, but let’s be honest, they’re a bit samey.

In the last entry I promised you pirates. Well, I vaguely suggested pirates as a possibility. So here you go.

Not only pirates, but pirates in a castle as well.

Not only pirates, but pirates in a castle as well.

The man responsible for the building on the left – indirectly – went by the full title of Viscount St Davids, Jestyn Reginals Austine Plantagenet Phillips. You know you’re posh when your name requires a comma. His mother, by the way, was known as Baroness Strange of Knokin, Hungerford and De Moleys. I strongly suspect they just make these titles up in the hope that people are either too awed or too disgusted to check up on them. Anyway, St Davids was an eccentric aristocrat who, in political terms, never really amounted to much. He only really spoke in the House of Lords on such important matters as the question of whether trick-or-treating was strictly legal – a matter that seems to have given him considerable concern. He subscribed to the Times purely to provide papier mache for the scenery on his model railway (if it had been the Daily Mail, I could have made another cheap joke at the expense of my least favourite paper, so bad form there, St Davids).

His major passion, though, seems to have been messing about with boats. His first commercial venture was running barge trips on the Regent’s Canal, which bankrupted him. Following this disappointment, he ran away to sea as a deckhand. Some time after his return, he took to living in a barge at Paddington and then to a house backing on to the Regents Canal in Camden. So it will come as no surprise that when he turned his hand to charity, it would be something nautical.

It all started when a group of children asked the Viscount, “Can we row your boat, mister?” St Davids was happy to oblige and, unlike the custom of the present day, the children did not smack him into the canal with an oar and steal the boat. They returned with friends, who brought more friends and soon the Viscount found himself occupied acquiring and restoring more boats – usually damaged and unwanted examples.

In 1966, the Pirate Club was formally founded in a narrowboat which, in characteristic fashion, was brought to Camden and restored by the Pirates themselves, along with members of the local community and material assistance from British Waterways in the form of wooden pilings. To this day, the Club provides a valuable and educational local resource for children who want to mess around in boats. The Viscount died in 1991, but left a legacy to be proud of.

Why the Pirate Club? Well, obviously, because kids think pirates are cool. But it’s also worth noting that Viscount St David’s eccentricity extended to his appearance. He was missing a number of teeth and walked with a pronounced limp. It was perhaps inevitable that, among the local children, he acquired the nickname of “Pegleg”…

Further Reading

http://www.thepiratecastle.org/index.htm – The Pirate Club’s website



Filed under 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, Camden, History, London, London Underground, Notable Londoners, Photos, Rambling on and on, Shopping, Transport, Weird shops

2 responses to “Pirates in Camden

  1. Mike Ricketts

    For the uninformed this was a snappy poke at a truly eccentric man. However I became a pirate in 1972, held the position of both junior and senior club captain and count myself fortunate to have known Peg-Leg. In addition to his work with us all at the Club which by then was less day to day and more strategic, he used to take children to the house of lords and on tours of parliament which for me awakened an interest in politics which I have carried ever since. Additionally I developed a love of water sports there which has stayed with me all these years and which I have passed to my own children. What your article fails to deal with is the fact that most children at the pirate club were from extremely underprivileged backgrounds and if not for this charity they would have had no chance to partake in water sports. Finally I would like to point out that politically he was not irrelevant. His resignation of the labour whip, his work with Williams, Owen, Jenkins and Rodgers led to their defections from labour and the setting up of the SDP. This reinvigorated central minded politics and probably is the main reason we do not now have a two party state.

  2. Eiddwen Owen

    Yes, my father was a true eccentric! He got the name pegleg from the occasion when he slipped between the barge (original home of the Pirate Club) and the pontoon along side it and fractured his leg. This didn’t stop him from opening the club every weekend and all holidays. The local headteachers would ask him how he managed to keep control of the choldren who came, that they couldn’t, his answer was”because they want to be here”.

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