Back in February 2008 I wrote about the fire that had damaged Camden Market in North London: http://rooksmoor.blogspot.com/2008/02/flames-in-gothdoms-mecca.html Recently I was fortunate enough to go back to the area and have a look around at how the repairs, especially to the Stables area of the market had gone. I must say I was incredibly impressed. Many areas were untouched by the fire and the shops on both sides of the road up from the tube station to the bridge over the canal are pretty much as they were, though some with dramatic new frontages. The market hall you come to in the first building having crossed the canal is very similar to how it was before. Throughout there are new faces but also familiar ones still there. Interestingly there is a lot of demand for assistants to work on the stalls, I saw three signs along one strip of stalls. I guess given how much it costs to live around Camden working on a market stall is not going to pay enough for you to live in near vicinity, nor, I guess to commute from too far away.
In the area of the main market, previously I had noted how large companies had been buying modern commercial units dropped like alien pods into the midst of the food and retro clothing stalls. Whilst some of the reconstruction has put in new shops, I was incredibly heartened to see that far more numerous and small market spaces that now house numerous clothing and accessory stalls. This space for small traders has helped retain the character of Camden Market, and in fact, I feel give it renewed vigour. One concern for me is how few now stock Gothic clothing. Fairy Goth Mother has moved out to Spitalfields in East London and anyway seems to have followed the common trend away from gothic clothing to burlesque. The only stall I could find selling corsets was by a company called Berlesk. There only seemed to be Darkside and Black Rose back out on the main road. I do fear that Gothdom is ailing.
There were shops selling heavy metal teeshirts, leather belts, silver jewellery and such like, 1950s style dresses shading into Rockabilly style seem pretty popular but the dominant style in Camden now appears to be what I would term 'Brideshead-wear', i.e. light, floaty stuff in pale colours with lots of white, in 1930s styling. That style was on so many stalls. I guess I may have to accept that that is the fashion. What concerns me is that it is hardly 'alternative' which is what Camden was supposed to be about. It used to be Goth or punk clothes, genuine retro clothes, leather and latex clothing, things that you would not find in an average high street. This remains in the shops on the main road, but it is a pity that it has gone from the smaller stalls, which since the rebuild are actually more numerous. Why bother to go all the way to Camden to buy something you could get in a branch of Laura Ashley in Guildford? I suppose that alternative clothes have gone online and this is a pity because people will miss out on the buzz of finding that piece of clothing or jewellery and putting it on and feeling transformed. I suppose it is a question of supply and demand and in the old days, young language students dressing in the mainstream were always more numerous at Camden Market than Goths on a daytrip.
The rebuild seems to have grouped together stalls of the same kind. There are now very clear areas for Oriental food, for clothing and for antiques. This seems sensible and to work. Some have clearly taken advantage of the rebuild to aggrandise. I remember Cyberdog being in a kind of multi-roomed pod that as best it could replicated a rave. Now its doors are flanked by two-storey high statues resembling the robot from 'Metropolis' and certainly you could not miss it. One delight of Camden is being able to go into stalls/shops with a very different feel. However, the one characteristic I love that they have kept is that often you feel you are in a souk or a market from either 'Star Wars' or 'Blade Runner'. Middle Eastern cafes which have appeared wonderfully add to that sense. The element which most surprised me though, were the statues, huge horses' heads in the Stables area alongside life-sized realistic statues of a farrier shoeing a horse. There is a metal pergola with pillars in the form of life-sized statues of a range of women, some in Victorian outfits. This element brings something distinctive to the areas where there are no stalls and people just sit, chat and photograph each other. There is now a ramp down to a lower level with more stalls as well as the ramps up from before and not knowing where the fire was strongest, I can only guess this was the area which saw the most damage.
I guess I am probably slow among admirers of Camden to have gone back there since the fire. I guess I was awaiting some announcement that it was back in business. Being unemployed and living 150 Km away probably did not help either. I am glad that the rebuild has been so successful and has stimulated small business rather than left the market to be flooded by corporations. Camden is not to blame for the decline in popularity of Goth culture, and maybe it has not declined greatly, just relocated. Maybe I am expecting too much, after all, you can buy some great leather coats and a whole range of New Rock boots around Camden still. However, the Brideshead style seems to be dominant now. I am heartened by the fact, however, that Camden remains unique and you can have an experience there that you could not find anywhere else in London let alone the rest of the world. I cannot think of any other occasion when a district has been rebuilt with such success and sensitivity to what was important about it, I am just glad, that they got it right for one of the most culturally important locations in the UK. If you have not been for a while, I urge you to go back to Camden.