I thought that it was the end. With it’s emblematic heroine, Amy Winehouse, now long gone, the recent early morning fire in Camden sparked my fear that this was going to be a catastrophe for this youthful and trendy area. It is the fourth largest tourist destination in London and now it joins the horrible line-up of this year’s fire victims.
It follows the harrowing residential 24-storey Grenfell Tower fire in Kensington that killed an estimated 80 people, and the more recent Marco Polo condo fire in Honolulu that left 3 dead and several injured.
Even the Saint Jacob’s Hotel (“The Jakes”), by comparison a very small scale yet historic striptease joint in my own hometown burned to the ground earlier this year.
With this seemingly endless list of the wildfires in California, British Columbia, Portugal, France and Spain, it appeared that the world was about to completely combust.
Cynically, of course, I imagined happy London developers salivating at this lucky turn of events. Finally the moment for the long-anticipated demolition of the west side of the Camden High Street in funky town London was within their grasp. It was just too easy to envision the limos filled with developers waiting curb-side, taking bets on the total damage and speculating on the future demolition date of the fabled Stables. Why, their ever-present cranes already littered the skyline merely feet away and would barely have to budge to cross the street.
On the east side of Camden High Street the scaffolding already dwarfs a seemingly endless labyrinth of former street art spaces and it also obscures the total disappearance of the small kiosks and eateries. The proliferation of orange construction cones and un-tagged black wooden barriers now
delineate the development’s holdings and projects an overbearing territorial presence along the Regents Canal. This has ultimately diminished the area’s creative vitality by forcing the street art community to migrate elsewhere.
The skeletons of these expensive condos are expected to be totally fleshed out within 2 to 3 years, They are imposing, even now, in their unfinished state and they are also directly attached to an historic
landmark, the ‘Hawley Arms’. This was one of Amy’s favourite late night hang-outs. It is the bar where her perpetually heart-broken fans still leave scrawlings of love and sadness on the bathroom doors and ceilings.
With the loss of half of the Camden Market, the emigration of street artists to Shoreditch, Hackney or other parts unknown, and the hullabaloo of Amy Winehouse’s life fleeting into the past, I feared the Camden fire had prepared the ground for the complete erasure of the spirit of the remaining area.
But it isn’t that bad.
With a very restricted view from the street it was difficult to assess the damage, but a guitar store really took a hit and other commercial areas were scorched. Luckily for most of these small businesses, by the next morning, many were able to reopen their doors. So take a deep breath and exhale – intrepid travellers – life quickly gets back to normal.
For posterity, I bought an Amy t-shirt.