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“Camden Lock is one of the busiest tourist destinations in London, famed for its shopping and entertainment. Yet 40 years ago the place was just a rundown timber wharf on the banks of the Regent’s Canal.
“I worked here as a teenager in the late 1970s, when there were just a few rows of stalls set on a dirty cobbled yard. Now it’s part of the UK’s largest street market.
“How did it get so big? What happened to the original craftspeople and stallholders? As a novelist and non-fiction writer, I thought it would be a good idea for a book.
“So I found as many traders as possible who’ve worked here over the years. What I discovered was a story of dereliction and rejuvenation, of fortunes made, careers forged, and lives changed forever.
“Here are five things I never knew about Camden Lock….
1. There is no Camden Lock!
It’s the most famous canal lock in the world that doesn’t exist! Instead there are three dual locks in the area, built in the early 1800s as part of the Regent’s Canal. The nearest to the original market is Hampstead Road Locks, where you can watch the owners of colourful narrowboats operate the lock by hand – adjusting the water level to allow vessels to pass through..
2. Camden Lock is 40 this year
It began as a collection of craft workshops housed in Victorian horse stables, officially opened to the public in April 1973. Now Camden Lock is one of London’s most popular free attractions drawing five million visitors a year. There are 280 stalls, 54 retail shops (including Oddballs, England’s oldest juggling shop), 20 offices/studios, and four eateries/restaurants.
Camden Lock Fridays, which run through the summer, feature 30 stalls in the Middle Yard showcasing hand-made arts and crafts, while a summer Night Market runs until 10pm with global street food, cocktail bars and a pop up cinema.
3. Dingwalls Dance Hall is one of Camden’s first music venues
Dingwalls opened in 1973 in an empty packaging warehouse, and soon attracted customers from the world of music and art. Acts have included Frank Zappa, Bo Diddley, the Clash, the Stranglers and more recently Mumford & Sons. The four-level venue has a capacity for 500, with bands Sunday to Thursday and comedy every Friday and Saturday.
Other entertainment venues are Highlight Comedy, with four bars over three levels, and Lockside Lounge, a bar and restaurant with club nights, DJs and live music.
4. Famous fashion brands started at Camden Lock
Some famous fashion brands started out with a single stall at Camden Lock, including Red or Dead and BodyMap. The Lock has always attracted fashionable visitors, from David Bowie to Amy Winehouse. Spend a morning browsing racks of designer items and vintage one-offs, whether shoes, knitwear, unique t-shirts or vibrant accessories.
5. The first food stall was run by an Olympic medallist
Known simply as The Stall, Olympic sprinter June Carroll (nee Foulds) opened the Lock’s first food outlet in 1974. Soon there were queues down the street!
Now the West Yard is devoted to stallholders selling food from all over the world and there’s something for every taste. Among the most popular are Sonita’s Kitchen, serving North Indian curries, and When Mac Met Cheese, selling macaroni and cheese and deep-fried Oreos. In the nearby Dingwalls Gallery is Kim’s Vietnamese Hut, two-time winner of the King of Camden Best Food award.