Pratt Street is a short walk from Camden Town underground station. It was one of the first streets in this area of Camden when development started in the late 18th century with construction of Pratt Street starting in 1791.
The street was named after Charles Pratt, the 1st Earl of Camden (also the source of the name Camden as he was the owner and developer of the land that we now know as Camden).
Charles Pratt’s use of the name Camden came from his ownership of Camden Place in Chislehurst, Kent. The building is still there, however is now part of a golf course.
Pratt Street still has some original terrace houses, but there has also been considerable redevelopment over the 200 years of the street’s existence.
My visit to the street was not really about the history of the street, but to find one key building at the junction of Pratt Street and Royal College Street. The following map shows Camden Town Station (dark blue circle) and the location of the subject of today’s post, along Pratt Street, in the red circle.
After National Service, my father worked as a Draughtsman for the St. Pancras Borough Council Electricity and Public Lighting Department. The part of the council that had responsibility for the generation and distribution of electricity to the borough, along with installation and maintenance of street lighting.
This role would transfer into the London Electricity Board (LEB), which was part of the nationalisation of the electricity industry by the Electricity Act of 1947, which created 15 area electricity boards across the country. These boards were under the control of the British Electricity Authority, which also had responsibility for electricity generation, a role that would later become the Central Electricity Generating Board.
The building my father worked in during the late 1940s and early 1950s was at the junction of Pratt Street and Royal College Street, and is still there today:
In 1951 he took some photos from the roof of the building. I have emailed the present owner of the building a couple of times over the last few years (one of the privatised electricity utilities), to see if they would give me access to the roof, but have not received a reply – probably one of those weird requests that is easier to ignore.
So I cannot do “now and then” photos for this week’s post, however the following photos give an idea of what the north west London skyline looked like in 1951, the local street corner, and those who worked in the office.
The first photo is looking west:
The tower is that of the Greek Orthodox Church of All Saints. I suspect my father took this photo in portrait format to include the aircraft trails in the sky. These were reminiscent of the type of circling, multiple trails that he recorded seeing in the sky as a child during the war.
The Greek Orthodox Church of All Saints is on the junction of Pratt Street and Camden Street and the tower looks the same today:
The church is Grade I listed, and opened as a Greek Orthodox Church in 1948 to serve the large Greek Cypriot community then based around Camden. It had originally opened as the Camden Chapel in 1824 as part of the Camden family’s development of the area. It would later become dedicated to St. Stephen, then becoming All Saints, a dedication which the Greek community preserved when taking over the church.
The next view is looking roughly to the south:
And a second photo taken a little further to the east:
I have marked up some of the key feature seen in the above view, in the following photo:
St Paul’s Cathedral can be seen in the distance. To the right is the curved outline of the end of the roof of the St Pancras Station train shed (is that the correct term?), with to the right St Pancras Station (click on the photos to bring up larger views).
In the foreground of the photo, Royal College Street is on the left and the back yards of the houses between Royal College Street and College Place (off the photo to the right) run between the terrace houses that line these streets.
A close up look to show these yards and occupants must have been taking advantage of some good weather as a number have their washing out:
In the following map, the building in Pratt Street is at top left, marked by the red dot. The long red arrow points to St Paul’s Cathedral, showing that it just grazes the edge of St Pancras Station (green arrow), to confirm that the train shed is that of St Pancras.
To the left of the photo, I have marked a number of Gas Holders.
Between the tracks leading into St Pancras and Kings Cross Stations there was, at the time of the photo, a London, Midland and Scottish Railway Coal Depot, and also a large gas works. The location of the gas holders of the gas works are shown in the following extract from the 1940 edition of the Bartholomew Atlas of Greater London:
These gas holders featured on some other photos taken by my father. These are some of the earliest photos and the negatives are not in the best condition and were probably from the winter of 1946/47. I wrote a post about them back in 2016 titled “St. Pancras Old Church, Purchese Street, Gas And Coal Works”, and the post can be found here.
The following photo is from the 2016 post and shows the gas holders across a rather bleak, bomb damaged view:
Back to Pratt Street, and this is the view looking north towards the hills of Hampstead and Highgate:
Behind the building in which my father worked was a yard used for storage of electrical cables:
The houses on the right in the above photo appear to have suffered wartime bomb damage, and a quick check with the London County Council bomb damage maps show that these buildings were indeed damaged during the war.
The bomb damage map also shows there was a terrace of bomb damaged houses on the site of the building my father worked in, so this confirms the building still there today in Pratt Street was built in the late 1940s, or 1950.
There is still a yard behind the building, although there appears to have been considerable additional building on the site, as it continues to be part of London’s electrical distribution network.
As well as the view across the city, my father took a couple of photos looking down at the junction of Pratt Street and Royal College Street. The first shows a horse and cart turning into Pratt Street (the white lines are damage to the original negative):
The second shows a traffic collision where the driver of a trader’s vehicle had obviously turned out of Pratt Street without seeing the car that was already travelling along Royal College Street:
At the top of both photos, Pratt Street continues onward after crossing Royal College Street, and on the corner is a pub. To the right of the pub is open space, and the London Bomb Damage Maps confirm that the houses on the site, next to the pub, had been damaged beyond repair.
The pub is still on the corner, and is still called the Golden Lion, a name it has retained since opening around 1850:
Strangely, the location of the pub looks similar in 2022 as it did in 1951, as in 1951 there was a bomb site to the right, and in 2022 the space is again empty as the ATS tyres, brakes and batteries garage that was on the site has been demolished.
Another look at the building in Pratt Street:
The building has large glass windows, and there was a reason for this. My father worked as a draughtsman in the drawing office. His role was to create the plans and drawings for the electrical infrastructure that supplied power across the City.
This included cable runs along the streets, electrical substations etc. He was one of a number of people with the same role. This was long before drawings and plans could be created and edited on a computer. In 1951, they were all drawn by hand.
He also took some photos of his colleagues at work in the office on Pratt Street. These were part of an earlier post in 2014 on a march by the Association of Engineering and Shipbuilding Draughtsman – the Trade Union that represented these workers.
The photos show the benefit of the large, almost south facing windows. They let in a large amount of natural light, which was needed for the level of detail that was being created in the drawings.
Today, the windows all have blinds drawn, so if the same type of work is being carried out, those responsible will be sitting in front of large computer screens with no need for natural light.
Before the availability of electronic calculators, the slide rule was used for calculations:
Either resting eyes after a period of intense concentration, or after a lunchtime visit to the Golden Lion:
Where today, those who need to map the streets are probably carrying around an iPad or similar device, back in the early 1950s it was a pen, pencil and notebook, and I have a couple of my father’s old notebooks which he used out on the streets before transferring to drawings when back in the office.
He covered much of London, and in the above example, the left page covers Belgrave Square whilst the right shows the area around Grosvenor Gardens with Victoria Street, Buckingham Palace (B.P.) Road and Ebury Street. The markings are for the position of electric street lamps. The red line across the plan indicates that the transfer to a working plan had been completed.
It would have been good to have taken photos from the roof of the building in Pratt Street. I am sure that the view is rather different now, and on the off chance that someone reads this who works for the company now occupying the building – my email is always open for an opportunity to visit.