CALEDONIAN ROAD RUNS north for a mile-and-a-half from grimy Kings Cross to Holloway. Traditionally it’s been a place of junk shops, greasy spoon cafes and lively English and Irish pubs, becoming more varied as you approach the Cross.
One of the paradoxes of London is that some archaic habits survive longer the nearer they are to the city centre. On Caledonian Road you’ll find: KC Continental Foods, an old-fashioned Italian delicatessen; the Abcat Cine Club, where the curious convention still exists of having straight porn films shown in a gay cruising joint; the Flying Scotsman, one of the few traditional strippers’ pubs left in London; and Housmans radical bookshop, again one of the last of its kind in the city.
Gone are the Ancient Black record shop, the Beano cafe, the Den pub, and T. G. Lynes and Sons, which had a window display full of pump motors neatly halved to show their inner workings, the cut edges painted red.
On the Guardian newspaper website there’s now a great little sound map of the Caledonian Road, put together by the oral historian Alan Dein and producer Francesca Panetta. The commentary reaches once for the estate agent’s stock phrase of ‘an almost villagey feel’, which isn’t the right way at all to describe the road. But otherwise Dein’s done a good job with this and both his friendly interviewing skills and commitment to local history are in evidence.
Alan Dein also played a major role in the Kings Cross Voices oral history project, which well deserves to be a website in its own right, rather than tucked away among Camden Council’s pages.
The so-called regeneration gaining pace in Kings Cross will probably gentrify the southern stretch of Caledonian Road, meaning a dull and exclusive monoculture of faddish shops and overpriced bars. Enjoy what’s there while you still can.