Sunday, 24 February 2013


I guess this blog post is mostly for my UK readers.........but if you live elsewhere, and ever come to London, here is a place you might like to visit, particularly with sketchbook in hand!  I came across it almost by accident this weekend, as I was visiting elsewhere and had a little time to kill.  I was there early, before all the shops opened, and I was amazed by the sights.  The area is populated not just by colourful market stalls and restaurants, but by the most extraordinary collection of massive bronze horse sculptures and wall friezes.  They were breathtaking.  I took the pics with my iphone, so the quality isn't as good as with a proper camera, but I was unprepared for these sights!

An enormous horse's head, at the top of what was the original ramp to the lower levels.

The Camden Stables Market in London, consists of a group of 19th century horse stables, horse hospital, workshops, warehouses and vaults, all connected by cobbled lanes, with its various levels connected by ramps.

It all started in 1854 when, due to the increase in rail freight, more and more horses were required to supplement the already considerable number of animals, which were being used to haul the Pickford distribution waggons round the streets of London and to tow the heavy barges, up and down the Regents Canal in North London.

The first buildings were no more than one and a half storeys high, but with the developement of the nearby railway, larger two and three storey brick buildings were constructed, leaving us with what is now, the finest group of industrial stabling left in England.

In the previous century, Camden had been a sleepy little country village, consisting of nothing more than just a few houses and farms, aligned alongside a main route out of London to the north and surrounded by fields and trees.

The only form of road transport at the time was horsepower and the rapidly expanding goods yard had to rely heavily on horses, not only as the sole form of road transport to and from the goods yard for the distribution of goods, but also within the goods yard itself. This was still the case until well after the Second World War.

Before the advent of the railway, horses had been used exclusively to tow the fully laden barges along the canal. At one time, some 420 horses were stabled there and it became necessary to build stables, a horse hospital, blacksmith forges, saddlers workshops, waggon stores and several warehouses within the yard.

A company by the name of Pickfords, were agents for the London and Birmingham Railway Company, the owners of what was still the only major railway line running north out of the capital.  It handled freight from all over the UK bringing it to and from London, with Pickfords handling the movement of these goods to and from the yard, employing well over two hundred horses for this purpose.

Initially both horses and trains were able to work on the same level, but this scenario eventually became far too dangerous, due to the busy rolling stock.
In order to raise the level of the tracks, the railway company constructed a viaduct with special horse passages running through the huge arches and catacombs which carried the viaduct.
It was in these arches and catacombs that the various stables, blacksmiths forges etc. were accommodated. They still remain there to this day and can be found at the end of the vaults which are now used as shops.
One passageway led to the stables and another one led to the horse hospital, they were now able to come and go without fear of injury or even death from moving trains.

A trip to this market area, sketchbook to the ready, would be both fascinating and fruitful.  Get there early - I was there by 9 on a Saturday morning, the shops only just beginning to open, most are open by 10.30, so plenty of time to take photos and sit to sketch for a while before people get in the way! 

When you tire of sketching, Camden Lock and all the market stalls are there for browsing and shopping.  It is a very vibrant, colourful area, full of young people enjoying themselves, the atmosphere is electric.
Here you can see the lock, behind the market buildings.  You would certainly have no problem finding subjects here!


  1. Would like to take a look. Nice pictures. Janny

  2. Well, I never! That was a very interesting post Jackie. I'd certainly never heard of these sculptures. Will have to plan a visit on one of our infrequent trips to the Big Smoke.

  3. These are amazing! And stationary horse models--hard to come by. Especially love the GIANT head.

  4. I live in the Pacific Northwest of the US, and have never been to the UK... would love to come visit London at some point. I love to sketch and watercolor, and your post above has me so inspired to come fill a book or two of just Camden Stables Market! Thanks for the educational and inspirational posting.


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