Stables Market and the Stanley Sidings

In the 1920s, the modern Stables Market was part of the much larger Stanley Sidings, which ran unbroken from the corner of Commercial Place, right up to the Roundhouse. The present main entrance to Stables Market was then the only entrance and was a security point. Behind the yellow wall were immense stocks of wines and spirits, coal, and goods of all kinds in transit. The public was barred from entry.


A sketch of the present day entrance to the Stables Market.

Compare this open access and its welcoming stalls, with the reminiscences of what the
entrance used to be like (page 64). Compare it too with the engraving on page 62.

++The unbroken Chalk Farm site stretched right up to the Roundhouse before the new road to the modern housing was built.1



The Yellow Brick Wall

similar to pages 43-49

The yellow brick wall used to run unbroken from the Railway Bridge to the Roundhouse, in panels 10 foot 6 inches wide, separated by piers 27 inches wide, or more. Everything appears uniform but, in fact, it changes dramatically along its length. At the Stables Market entrance one can see that it is a normal vertical wall, eighteen inches thick, with a heavier pier at the end {1}. At the Horse Hospital it slowly changes into a massive buttress wall up to 6 ft 9 ins thick {2} with a stepped parapet wall above. This is to support the steeply sloping road which used to lead to the Goods Yard above. The cobbled slope is lined with heavy blocks of Millstone Grit, now worn and smashed by the rims of hundreds of iron-shod cartwheels. In 1991, when the new road to Safeway’s supermarket, Malcolm Tucker made a sketch, here redrawn as {3}.

The wall leans back at a slope of 1 in 15, or about 4o to take the thrust of the raised road. It is six bricks thick at its thinnest part and the Millstone Grit kerbs continue right to the top. Above the kerb, the parapet wall is vertical. Below the cobbles of the roadway are 3 feet of hard-core and then an infill of London Clay. At the back of the wall is a layer of broken blue and white 19th century pottery and oyster shells, clearly all sieved from household rubbish and set aside to be sold as drainage material. When, in the 1990s, the wall was turned at right angles along the new Safeway’s road, it was built in massive concrete faced with yellow brick. Up above, the old roadway, noisy with carts and shunting engines, has become a quiet viewing platform.

1. The yellow brick wall near the Stables Market entrance.
2. The buttress wall and horse slope with cobbled roadway and Millstone Grit kerbs.
3. The massive wall at the top of the slope, now over-looking the garage.


Today the public can be admitted to Stables Market, but in a very different world


++The Stables Market, the southern half of the site above.

The Stanley Sidings in the Nineteen Twenties

An elderly man remembers that, as a boy, he roamed with his friends from the Tolmer Cinema, at the corner of Euston Road, past Delancey Street where he lived, over the Hampstead Road canal bridge, to the Roundhouse. It was an area heaving with activity, with something to watch at every corner. Some medieval manuscripts are decorated with elaborate drawings of scrolls and curlicues. Out of the scrolls appear strange, mythical creatures, surprising and diverting. The railway arches at Camden Town were inhabited scrolls, full of unexpected, mysterious life. Stables with great shire horses, hay stores, farriers and blacksmiths, car repairers, paint sprayers, sheet-metal workers, furniture restorers, furriers, rag and bone men, washers of old bottles and a hundred different trades – each and every arch was occupied.

His passion at that time was horses and the place to watch them was at the entrance to Stanley Sidings, but the gate was guarded fiercely by a giant. Beyond were the forbidden railway arches, the coal yards, the North Western Railway goods yard, Gilbey’s bonded stores, and the Roundhouse, all in one huge sweep. By making friends with the carters, a couple of lads could sometimes worm their way in as far as the stables. There they would be given a curry comb and a stiff brush to help rub down the huge shire horses. Having spent hours doing this, feeding, watering and mucking out, they finally returned home reeking of horses.

On some lucky day they might see a horse suspended from a hook in the roof of the vault, its belly held in a broad canvas sling and its feet barely touching the ground. The horse would have fallen and its leg was being rested. This might be in the Horses Hospital, but in the 1855 stables along the Chalk Farm Road as well, there are still sling hooks to be seen in the roof of the vaults. No child could be bored among all that activity.

Picture of a horse with a damaged leg2

This drawing comes from an article about the Royal Veterinary College in Great College Street,
but similar sights were familiar in the Horse Hospital and some other stables.

Gilbey’s Bonded Store and Dispatch Yard

Opposite the main gateway were the sixteen bays of Gilbey’s No 2 Bonded Store, though only three of them are still standing. These three are now called The Gin Store, which is presumably the vernacular for a bonded warehouse. The rest of the buildings shown in the early engraving were demolished Only the vaults were left and the front ends of these were cut back. Earlier a row of coal drops had been built at the Chalk Farm Road end of the vaults but, with the Clean Air Act, these quickly became redundant and were removed. Today the vaults are let out to various firms selling furniture, metalwork, antiques, etc.

At a much earlier period, when the goods yard was in full swing, the dozens of horses on the site knew their own way back to their stables. At first this involved crossing railway lines and many were maimed or killed by moving trains. A narrow tunnel was then built below ground, parallel to Chalk Farm Road, through the existing railway arches so that horses could walk safely back to their stables. Remains of this horse tunnel can still be seen at the ends of some of the vaults, but a large central portion has been destroyed. Originally the horse tunnel led from Oval Road, under the canal and what is now Safeway’s car park, through No. 15 vault and then through the long line of vaults and up to the Horse Hospital. At the Hospital there was the present slope (or horse creep) to the first floor level. At the top it turned, as it does today into the upper level of stables, except that there was then a manure heap in the curve.

Thirty years ago the horse tunnel was much taller than it is today. It used to be high enough for a large shire horse, but today the roof is much lower. Someone has raised the floor by about two feet and built steps up, so that some of the vaults have raised ends. This may have been to get rid of spoil from the rebuilding, but it seems far too expensive a method. The real purpose remains a puzzle.

When British Rail prepared the Goods Yard site for building, before handing it over to Safeways and the Community Housing Association, they built up the western ends of the vaults with rough walls made of concrete blocks. They then filled in the vaults on other side of the North London Railway to make a sound foundation for Safeway’s car park. The detail of this can be seen on the Tunnels map and No 15 vault is shown on the Stables Market map. Most of the horse tunnel remains, but the entrance is in Oval Road and not open to the public.

Whole Map Full Size Map Full Size Map in New Window

The Horse Hospital and creep, Goad 1891

The Stables Market part of the former Stanley Sidings

Gilbey’s No 2 Bond.
Built 1895, but most
demolished 1985.

Area of railway ash,
eight metres thick
shaded in.

Gilbey’s No 2 Bond.
Built 1895, but most
demolished 1985.

The Present Stables Market

The present Stables Market is a triangle bordered by Commercial Place and Chalk Farm Road, up only as far as the new road leading to Safeways. The main entrance is still as it has been since 1835, but recently the end of the site has been opened up by building new double doors through the Chalk Farm Road wall. These new doors, below the railway bridge, give access to the section of market in the Northern Line stable vaults and the nearby lockable wooden stalls. This was once the entrance to Camden Town Station, built in 1835 and shown on the 1848 map, but destroyed by fire soon afterwards. It was never rebuilt. Instead, a complex of stables was built and these have now been converted into shops and workshops. On the site of Gilbey’s Bottle Store, which was also destroyed by fire (October 19803) there are lockable wooden stalls, a great improvement on the open stalls which had to be re-erected each day. Paving has been improved, with the addition of curved pathways in broken red tile and some patches of mosaic. Lastly, the site has been opened to the new access road at the far end, opposite the garage. Instead of one entrance, there are now three.

The entrance to the present Stables Market in 1978

Future Plans

In 1895, Gilbeys built their No. 2 Bond Warehouse over vaults of the North London Railway. These vaults, each almost twenty feet high, are now used as shops. They were then stables for the dray horses of Benskins Beers. The Gilbey’s Bond building above was originally sixteen bays long, of which only three remain. The present Stables Market company hope to rebuild the rest of the sixteen bays as a new building, with a conference hall, events centres, restaurants, etc. and on the site of the triangular Bottle Store. The old Horse Hospital, which is listed, will remain as it is today, with the horse stalls used as shops, while the small end section will be a café.

The Company has improved the area steadily over the past few years. Large new doors built on the ends of the vaults give greater security. Behind are enormous ‘shops’ full of furniture, metalware and furnishings, new and old. The spaces are so large that several different companies may share one vault and customers move from one to the other without recognising the boundaries. Today the vaults are well known for their collections, especially of nineteen seventies furniture.

Over the last few years the whole site has been in a state of movement and this looks likely to continue.


++Picture 169

++The Stables Market, the southern half of the site above.

Planned Redevelopment for Stables Market, 1998

Plans for the redevelopment of Stables Market were submitted to Camden Council in August 1998. All that follows is tentative, depending on the outcome of the planning application, but it shows how the developer’s minds are moving.

The scheme is to develop the 3½ acre site into an arts and leisure complex with a variety of buildings containing exhibition space, bars, restaurants, offices and workshops.


Artist’s Impression of the New Development

(Move your mouse over the
image to show the labels)
1 New building on the site of the former Gilbey’s Bottling Store.
This will be a glass-fronted building with a curved front and a glass tower, to
contain a covered market, leisure space, and offices.
2 New building behind and beside the three remaining bays of Gilbey’s ‘Gin
Shop’. This will run over the top of the vaults as Gilbey’s bonded store used to do.
It will contain market stalls, exhibition space and a roof piazza.
3 New building adjacent to Safeway’s. More market stalls, offices and studio
4 Interchange Warehouse 5 Camden Lock buildings
6 Chalk Farm Road 7 Yellow brick wall
8 Sloping road up to old railway level 9 Horse Hospital
10 Horse creep 11 Main line
12 Safeway’s car park


  1. Gilbey’s archives at Henrietta Place

  2. Royal Veterinary College

  3. Notes Details from meeting 1.9.1997 with Ruth Kaye and Yuda Bentov.
The Early History of
Sainsbury’s in Camden

Television Comes to
Camden Town in 1983

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