Somers Town Memory Project

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We’d love to hear from you if you were you in this photos or your mum or dad? The Somers Town Memory Project aims to record social history here. Find out more or contact us below.

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Capturing the ‘Spirit!’ of a dying area

Sandwiched between three London terminals, Somers Town is yet again to undergo immense change – once a cohesive solidly working class community – but for how much longer?
Spirit through the stories of George, Mimi and Dave and the voices of many others gives a picture of a disappearing way of life.

The film will premiere at the British Library to time with the 21st anniversary of the local Street Festival of Cultures.

Interview with Director

Why the 1930s starting point?

The 1930s slum clearance here was innovative, not just for helping the poor out of desperate conditions, but also in their ethos of ‘Housing is not enough’. This emphasised that people, even in a deprived area, need more than bricks and mortar: they need, ‘companionship’ a social life, and to celebrate culture. And that built in parties and social events into the housing project.

Why the connection to the street festivals?

It seems to me that that ethos is evident today through the annual local START Street ‘Festival of Cultures’ – it was initiated for a very different reason, reflecting the changes, to bring together a diverse community. And 2018 will be the 21st anniversary of START.

Why Somers Town?

Like much of inner London, the area is a living story of urban change – slum clearance to social housing, and the influx of waves of immigrants. What’s interesting is that it’s a small very cohesive community that survived and was overlooked – but for how much longer?

Because it’s sandwiched between two train stations, Somers Town, as the title of a short-lived community paper suggested, is ‘between the tracks’, so the origin of the area was shaped by railways and forcible movement of people.

And yet again, national infrastructure is moving people and communities out – though developments such as HS2, Cross Rail, which are planning to demolish buildings. For example, the Edith Neville Cottages in future may well be looked at as important examples of social housing. It also means the local market cannot sur- vive 15 years of HS2 construction traffic. And like much of London, the property boom with the resulting council intensification plans, as well as property developers interest, will ensure the area will change – luxury tower blocks are planned and student flats and hotels gain planning agreement.

It’s an area which doesn’t have the protection and resources other areas command to prevent these plans. Of course this in turn, will change the nature of the community.

What’s that got to do with parties?

All of this means that Somers Town is threatened by not only physical, but also by cultural transformation – impacting on what was once a cohesive community. We sat down and listed how many of the old clubs and pubs – centres of the community spirit – have been turned into private flats – almost every corner had one. The notion of ‘community’ is talked about but it seems recent changes directly contradict the priority given maintaining cohesion that the original founders of social housing in the area gave.

Why make a film now?

Somers Town is at a new turning point and many fear could extinguish not just its physical space, but its existing community.
This is why it is timely to chronicle the spirit of a working class community that has persevered and otherwise might be lost.

Why the title Spirit’?

It’s a working title but the clue’s in the title – pubs may have had a lot to do with it.

What’s the idea behind ‘Who’s in the picture’ exhibition?

We want to identify the people in the photos and hear their memories of the events – many photos documented the early days of the St Pancras Housing Project, in the Holborn Local Studies Archive ( a fantastic resource) and there are others of the street festivals.
We’re looking for people who were in the photos and also those who have their own photos to show us. Please contact us!

When does the exhibition open?

It will be a pop up at a number of locations in Somers Town around Chalon street.


Please contact us at

By Director,  Diana Foster of the Somers Town History Club


  1. I was born on 23/2/1933 at UCH, then in Gower Street, but the family was living at 10, Chamberlain House, Phoenix Street (re-named ‘Phoenix Road). This was above our shop – at 58 (renumbered 54) Phoenix Street and my Father’s Name ‘A T Freethy’ was in bronze lettering above the shop. My Father owned his own business as a retail and wholesale Tobacconist , Newsagent & Confectioner. He used to wheel me on a trolley along with the cigarettes he supplied to similar related businesses in the area! I was evacuated when WW2 started and my parents soon moved us out to Pinner Middlesex when the bombs started falling where I grew up thereafter. I am always proud to tell people that I was born in Somers Town. I had no idea that there was a Somers Town museum. I can still drive and intend to visit it but need to know its opening hours, if it is still going.
    Norman Freethy FIA FPMI, Lord of Ide Hill, Kent

  2. Hello Norman, I realise I did not reply to you – which is an omssion – I hope you know our opening hours are Wednesday to Saturdays from 11- 5pm On Saturday we close early.

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