There is nowhere in London quite as grungy or quite as grand as Camden Town. The walk north from the chaotic Underground station passes a tacky bazaar of T-shirt shops and tattoo parlours but five minutes to the west there is the majestic sight of the John Nash mansions gracing the perimeter of Regent’s Park.
At the heart of it all is the hectic hub of cafés, bars and stalls that is Camden Lock Market. It is all so faddish that a young man smoking a hubble-bubble on the grass is as unremarkable as the steady flow of celebrities – such as singer Amy Winehouse, actor Jude Law and playwright Alan Bennett, wobbling along on his bicycle.
“Someone said Camden was a melting pot but really the people here exist in layers,” explains Simon Pitkeathley of Camden Town Unlimited, an organisation set up to promote the borough’s business potential. “The punks go to, say, the Hobgoblin pub; the media-types tend to use The Victoria; the affluent go to Market or The York; whilst the trendy crowd can be found in Proud or The Hawley.”
And that varied mix is certainly true of the property scene, which ranges from Hampstead in the north of the borough, where estate agency Glentree International is selling Heath House, with its two acres, six reception rooms, library, nine bedrooms and nine bathrooms for £14m, to the 1970s Maiden Lane Estate, which has been designated below the government’s “Decent Homes Standard” after decades of neglect and is due for regeneration.
“Camden itself is an interesting area with different types of clients, architecture and prices,” says Matt Poore, associate director of Chesterton Humberts. “There are the Georgian terrace houses of Albert Street, Gloucester Crescent and Mornington Terrace and then there are huge swaths of social housing in areas such as Regent’s Park Estate, a postwar development, which in turn is near the very smart 19th-century Albany Street.
“There are good schools here, such as Camden School for Girls, so as families grow they might move towards Camden Square in the Kentish Town direction, which has become more gentrified. You can buy a big, 2,000-3,000 sq ft house there and Murray Mews, off Camden Square, which was built in the 1970s and 1980s, is perhaps not too much to look at but has homes of a good size in a great location.”
At Camden’s southern fringe is St Pancras International train station with Eurotunnel links to Europe, but its influence on the property market seems limited.
Poore admits to a “tough couple of years in the property market” but says there has been some improvement in recent months: “We found that buyers started to come back in January but, because demand outstrips supply, prices have kept up. For example, in Kelly Street, which is a lovely row of pastel painted cottages towards Kentish Town, we had a couple of properties which we thought were on at ambitious prices of £700,000 and £785,000 but instead we had multiple bids.”
On Chesterton Humberts’ books is a five-storey Georgian terraced house in Albert Street – one of Camden’s smartest roads – with four bedrooms, a garden and a terrace for £2.25m; a two-bedroom flat in a Victorian villa in Camden Terrace, off Camden Square, for £499,950 and a grade II-listed, three-storey townhouse with two bedrooms on Arlington Road, between the market and the high street, for £499,950.
“One thing to look out for is a house with a canal view,” says Poore. “It changes prices dramatically – perhaps by 5 to 10 per cent more.” On the waterway, Lock House is a new building with a mix of accommodation ranging from one-bedroom units for £430,000 to an eighth-floor, three-bedroom penthouse at £999,950, while Gilbey House, which was once a gin distillery, is now equipped with a gym, sauna and underground parking and has a penthouse with three double bedrooms, two bathrooms and a roof terrace for sale at £1.7m.
Opposite Gilbey House is The Henson, so called because TV producer Jim Henson used the Victorian warehouse to create his Muppet characters. A listed building, its façade is on the Regent’s Canal Walk. The developer, Londonewcastle, has kept the shell and the old brickwork inside and out, using reclaimed radiators, polished concrete ceilings and wooden floors and adding such essential contemporary lifestyle aids as wiring for speakers, concierge service and the supply of 10 branded bikes for cycling along the footpath.
“We are selling to owner-occupiers only – that is our philosophy,” says Rob Sonning of Londonewcastle: “We have attracted City [of London] people, celebrities – I won’t say who – lots of media and trust-afarians from Hampstead whose parents want them out of their hair and reckon this is a better investment than a converted flat in an old house in Primrose Hill.”
Six storeys high, The Henson has 46 flats, with one-bedroom apartments for sale at £500,000, two-bedroom units from £650,000 and three- and four-bedroom homes starting at £1m. The developers have been obliged to create office spaces on the lowest two floors, which is something that chimes in with the ambitions of Pitkeathley: “I head up 300 local companies who have come together to fund a business improvement district whose aim is to make Camden the media centre of London. Already 40-50 per cent of our members are media-based, with companies such as MTV, Emap, Getty Images, Associated Press and Hat Trick productions in the area, but what we need is to find more offices of, say, 1,000 sq ft for smaller companies.”
One initiative by Camden Town Unlimited to encourage creative types has been the opening of pop-up shops. Artist and novelist Stephen Emms, 34, was given the use of one in Chalk Farm Road for a week last year to stage an installation called “Tales from a Park Bench”. “All credit to Camden Unlimited. We didn’t pay a thing – all rents and rates were covered. It is better to fill empty shops, of which there has been a proliferation since the recession, and it helps people think what Camden is all about. Hackney and Shoreditch get the limelight for art and creativity but they don’t do anything like as much as Camden does to help.”
Emms, who lives in Chalk Farm, says: “It has a great reputation for music and the market – not that a local would be seen there, that’s just for tourists. There is an amazing food scene, with sushi bars everywhere and the restaurant Market, which is a tiny sliver of a place on Parkway, has won a Michelin award.
“But Camden doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve. You to have dig deeper, look down the side streets to find out what it is all about.”
Glentree International, tel: +44 (0)208458 7311, www.glentree.co.uk
Chesterton Humberts, tel: +44 (0)207 267 2053, www.chestertonhumberts.com
The Henson, www.thehenson.co.uk