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Campbell Road: 'The Worst Street in North London'

To its respectable neighbours Campbell Road was easily identifiable as the roughest street in north London. As Jerry White argues here, to its residents this reality was more complex...

It has long been recognised by social scientists that space bears an important relationship to community feelings. The layout of buildings in streets or blocks or estates can help or hinder the sense of both belonging and separateness which are characteristic of community.

I want to look here at space – as spatial relationship – in a London 'slum' street between the wars. This was Campbell Road, Finsbury Park, known by middle-class outsiders from the 1890s to the 1930s as 'the worst street in north London'. It was a classically 'rough' community, of the sort which lives on in local popular memory to this day although in this case the street was demolished a generation ago. It was exceptional among many similar areas in comprising just a single street, so that the apparent boundaries of this particular 'slum' were unusually well-defined. It contrasted vividly with parallel streets that looked similar, were built at about the same time and for the same sort of people, but were always occupied by more respectable working-class communities.

Even in this rather microscopic field of study I want to suggest that the spatial relationship within this one street needs to be examined on three interlinking, but relatively distinct, levels. The three levels of spatial relationship which we can glimpse in Campbell Road – and which affected in one way or another the lives of its inhabitants – were ideological (the identity of the street in the minds of outsiders and insiders alike), cultural (how spare was actually used), and material (how the space was made, and how changes affected its use). Although it is necessary to break up the spatial relationship of the street in this way, each level overlaps, and there are very close reciprocal relationships between the first two. Each one, though, has its own distinct reality within the total relationship.

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