Brick and tile kilns are dotted in the fields here. In 1788, architect Jacob Leroux gained rights over local brickmaking and undertook a new speculative building development, named after the landowner Charles Cocks, 1st Baron Somers.
French aristocrats and clergy fleeing the French Revolution begin to settle in the new houses in Somers Town
The Polygon is being built, a showcase 15 sided, three storey building in Somers Town, located on Clarendon Square.
Leroux obtains the right to sell bricks. The free market system of Capitalism developed from this area, as cheap housing was flung up willy nilly by wage labourers.
William Godwin, father of political anarchism, residing in Chalton Street, meets Mary Wollstonecraft, Feminist. They move to the Polygon.
Mary is born to Wollstonecraft and Godwin in the Polygon in 1797. Her mother dies in childbirth.
The Somers estate is completed with a framework of streets recognisable today.
The Roman Catholic church of St Aloysius is built on Clarendon Square by French emigres. Catholic welfare institutions are founded to minister to the poor of the area. There are orphanages, schools and churches. In addition, French cafes spring up on Chalton Street.
The first workhouse in St Pancras opened in 1731 on what was then King’s Road (now St Pancras Way.) It moved away, but, in 1809, returns to King’s Road, and is something feared by all the poor of the area.
The Fleet River, running past St Pancras Old Church is culverted and the newly built canal takes the water traffic instead.
Mary Shelley, daughter of Godwin and Wollstonecraft, writes Frankenstein in 1818.
Many artists, writers, publishers, printers, lens makers, furniture makers and other artisans inhabit the area. Some thrive. Some fall on hard times.
Spanish opponents to the absolutist monarchy of Ferdinand VII arrive in Somers Town as refugees. At one time there were 1000 families here. Many were from the Basque region and they congregate around a ‘Tree of Guernica’. Many engaged in printing, publishing and political activism.
Charles Dickens’ impoverished family moves to Johnson St (now Cranleigh St) in Somers Town.
St Mary’s Church is completed by father and son team William and Henry William Inwood.
The Dickens family is evicted for nonpayment of rent in 1827 and moves to the now down-at-heel Polygon for a short while. They soon make it back to the slightly better circumstances of Johnson Street until 1829.
The first death of a policeman in the newly founded Metropolitan Police force occurred when PC Joseph Grantham was fatally injured breaking up a street fight. It was deemed by the judge ‘justifiable homicide’.
The dust heaps of Kings Cross are disappearing, rumoured to be sold to Russia to rebuild Moscow after Napoleon’s invasion.
Euston Station opens
Agar Town, on the other side of the Regent’s Canal, is completed by 1847. With no drains, road surfaces or lighting, it is described as ‘more fitted for the occupation of wild beasts than for human beings’. People look down on the ‘miserable population of navvies, refuse collectors and casual workers’ forced to live in these conditions.
On 8 April 1848, John Arnott, secretary of the Chartist organisation, fighting for political rights for working men, publishes a letter in The Times. Sent from his Somers Town address, it rejects some unfair reporting and calls on all to attend the London demonstration two days later.
Land is bought from the Bedford Estate by the Brewers Company to develop stucco and brick houses in the North end of Somers Town.
The Brill Market in Somers Town is thriving. In the 1850s, Henry Mayhew, noted that there are 300 pitches at the market every Sunday selling meat, fish, vegetables, clothes, and shoes.
Kings Cross station opens. The nearby Brill market is now the second largest street market in London. Zion Chapel is built in Goldington Crescent.
Somers Town has many pubs. Reformers become concerned. The Temperance Society in 1860 presents a map of the spread of the ‘disease’ of gin palaces. Like many parts of central London, St Pancras was dense with a measly rash of pink spots.
Dickens makes the dust heaps famous in his 1865 novel ‘Our Mutual Friend’, with its character, the ‘Golden Dustman’, who lives in dust country and inherits a fortune made from combing the heaps.
In 1866, Agar Town is acquired by the Midland Railway Company. Within two months, 4,000 people are evicted and everything is demolished for coal sidings.
St Pancras Station opens
The lace merchant George Moore funds Christ Church, and an associated school in Chalton Street with an entrance in Ossulston Street.
In the mid-to late 1870s, Henry Croft begins decorating his clothing with mother-of-pearl buttons — likely imitating the modest decorations worn by Somers Town costermongers, or the more elaborate suits of music-hall singers. The Pearly Kings and Queens are born.
Coal is part of the atmosphere of Somers Town. It was processed twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. A commentator noted in 1893, ‘There you will find coals to the left of you, coals to the right of you, volleying and thundering’.
Work begins on the Somers Town Goods Yard – its iron gates and arched screen wall are striking. Victorian infrastructure has a great impact in the area.
Where a tight maze of 4000 old homes housing 10000 people once stood, the large goods yard and market is in planning to supply the growing demands for food.
One of the earliest Sainsbury’s grocery stores expands its premises on Chalton St in 1889.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s medical accomplishments lead to the opening of the New Hospital for Women on Euston Road with 42 beds.
The original Polygon is replaced by four barrack-like blocks, erected by the Midland Railway for its workers.
The ground landlord of Little Hell and much of Somers Town is Lady Henry Somerset, who gathered rent from 125,000 tenants. In The Woman’s Signal Budget (January 1895), Lady Somerset, a temperance and birth control campaigner, claims that long leases hamper her actions, but she notes a reform plan, backed by the LCC, is underway.
Charles Booth maps Somers Town. It is one of the most deprived and destitute
areas. A report states: ‘Full of problems – bad property rather than bad people – leasehold system working badly – transferred again and again – actual landlords, small rack-renting people. A wholesale clearance would be desirable’.
Charles Booth writes notes on Somers Town, including this on Equity Buildings:
‘a queer little paved cul de sac; low one storey two-roomed cottages, with a little wash-house and yard behind; been done up during last year. Doors open straight into rooms; some dark blue [Very poor, casual. Chronic want.], but many of the houses appeared to be very full of furniture; rents from 6/6 to 7/-; leave light blue, as map [Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family.],’
The St Pancras School for Mothers opens on 1st July 1907 at 6-7 Chalton Street, with the words Mothers’ and Babies’ Welcome painted across the front of the building. Health, nutrition and hygiene is the focus
The Magdalen College Mission arrives in Somers Town to aid the poor.
Esther Lawrence, principal of Froebel Educational Institute, opens Somers Town Nursery School at 18 Crowndale Road – a progressive institution, this was the first use of the name ‘nursery school’.
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson dies. The following year The New Hospital for Women is renamed Elizabeth Garret Anderson Hospital.
War hits Somers Town. Five bombs landed around St Pancras Station and by the wall of Somers Town Goods Station. 20 bodies are recovered.
Desmond Morse-Boycott arrives as a Magdalen Missioner and curate at St Mary’s in Somers Town.
In December, Father Basil Jellicoe begins to work for the Magdalen Mission in Somers Town.
Little Clarendon Street, or Little Hell, has its verminous and neglected houses pulled down. The Somers Town Estate, near Euston, including Aldenham and Wolcot Houses, is built by St Pancras Council.