About Maiden Lane
Maiden Lane is a council-built modernist estate lying just north Kings Cross. In the 1960s and 1970s Camden Council negotiated with British Rail to buy up acres of disused railway land for housing developments. In 1971 it acquired 22 acres of land which would become the Maiden Lane Estate.
In the 1870s the area neighbouring the site, Agar Town, had been demolished by the Midland Railway to make room for the coming railway into London from the north. This meant devastating housing losses for the working class residents of Camden and Kentish Towns with little compensation or commitment to rehouse the inhabitants that had been made homeless.
For hundreds of years the Maiden Lane site was fields and pasture land, used for agriculture. The Midland Railway developed the area as an important site for coal and goods depots, engine workshops, cattle and sheep pens (for onward transport to the Caledonian Cattle Market) stabling blocks and a smithy, which remained well into the 1900s. Many of those working for the railways as guards, porters, firemen, blacksmiths, and engine drivers lived in St Paul’s Crescent, one of the terraced streets facing the depot and which still leads into the estate.
Maiden Lane was in fact the originally name for York Way and was described in the early 1800s as a ‘notorious haunt of footpads’ (highway robber). One theory is that ‘Maiden’ is in fact a mispronunciation of the word ‘midden’ which was used to describe a huge dust or rubbish heap. In the 1800s private contractors dumped tons of household waste, mainly cinder ashes from household coal fires, in great mounds at sites around London, usually along the Thames and by canals. These dust heaps were a lucrative business as the coal ash could be used for making much needed bricks and crop fertiliser for a growing London population needing housing. The Maiden Lane dust heaps were quite possibly those described by Charles Dickens in his novel Our Mutual Friend.
The Maiden Lane estate was the largest and last of Camden Council’s housing developments. By the late 1970s when the first sketches and feasibility studies were undertaken it was becoming increasingly difficult for local authorities to build new housing mainly due to central government curbs on councils capital spending.
Sydney Cook, Camden Council’s visionary head of the Architects department appointed two architects Gordon Benson and Alan Forsyth (who had worked under Neave Brown on Alexandra & Ainsworth estate) to head up the scheme. The original draft plans included 400 new homes, shops, pubs, a community centre, a primary school, light industrial buildings and open spaces. Due to financial considerations many of the key elements of the scheme were shelved and the site split into two different building phases, with different architects for each scheme. Sydney Cook, who had shaped Camden’s architectural output since 1965 retired due to ill health in 1973 which, together with budget restraints meant the overall vision for the estate was not realised.
Between 1980 and 1983 tenants started moving in and the estate initially thrived. However, the estate faced many practical and social challenges over the years and in 2010 Camden Council included Maiden Lane within their Community Investment Programme (CIP). In 2017 a new development opened on the former industrial area of the estate, with 200 new private homes and 74 council homes. Areas of the original estate were also regenerated with re-landscaping and a new play area.