Camden Gardens today: discarded needles, a refuge for street drinkers and drug addicts, and a serious police incident
Camden Gardens has featured in the history of the borough of Camden since it was first enclosed in 1811 after the grounds and the adjacent land were obtained from the Marquis of Camden.
The park was originally laid out and planted as “an ornamental pleasure garden for the sole use of the inhabitants” of the nearby residences including Camden Terrace East and Moccas Cottages.
In 1827, Lever granted the garden in trust to the local authorities who then requested a “garden rate” for maintenance and up-keep. This continued until 1846, when the North London Railway cut its way through the space – offering compensation to revitalise the garden after damage caused by the disruption.
Following a time of inactivity and further construction by the Railway Company in 1866, the local vestry was caught selling out pieces of the garden to the company without the residents’ consent or knowledge.
Following this episode, a “local committee of inhabitants” engaged the vestry to restore the park to the original and rightful guardians – “the land that for twenty-six years had been the eyesore of the neighbourhood”. The people won the day, the vestry refunded the money and the Railway Company removed obstructions to two of the arches. Once again, “Camden Garden” would become a destination for recreation and the “general improvement of the neighbourhood”.
The garden was re-landscaped and re-opened in June 1872. On the evening of the re-opening, the band of the 29th North Middlesex Rifle Volunteers played and from then on, the garden was known as a “protest against corporation injustice and official neglect”.
The history of Camden Gardens over the next 100 years is scant but it is clear that park again fell into disuse and disarray over the years.
In 1974, Camden Gardens was transformed: broken railings were replaced, aged plants removed and the park was re-landscaped and re-designed. For the first time in decades, the arches seemed to have been re-opened by British Rail. However, Camden Gardens was continuously occupied by travellers in addition to it becoming a prime location for street drinkers and vagrants throughout the years, notably in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
By 1987, the site had become derelict and unusable and the council awarded £90k for the restoration of Camden Gardens – including £30k for new steel railings and gateways (see Alpha Rail). In 1989, the attractive current railings were installed by Alpha Rail and the gardens were properly landscaped.
A lack of constant maintenance and attention meant the gardens again fell into disrepair during the 1990s, reflecting broader issues in the area (Camden Gardens was in the middle of the so-called “murder mile”).
In 2005, when the council commissioned a consultancy, a major programme of regeneration took place that improved access (including pathways) and the overall feel of the park. Unfortunately, none of these measures made much difference.
In September 2015, the council led a revitalisation consultation for Camden Gardens – the ‘Camden Gardens – Park Improvement Proposal’. Designs were created based on community input and suggested priorities from the council.
The works were “expected to begin in September 2016” but the project never came to fruition. In June 2017, a violent assault and rape took place in Camden Gardens in addition to continual and increased occupation by street drinkers, drug addicts and rough sleepers.