Residents and retailers in Leather Lane are up in arms. Once business resumes in the famous street market street after lockdown, a recently convened group called Clean Up Leather Lane is starting a campaign.
Their concern is mostly the lack of hygiene. “It is truly one of the most disgusting streets in London,” says resident Debby Lee, a spokesperson for the group. “Of course we enjoy the benefits of being in a central London shopping street, so we’re not complaining about noise or footfall – in fact, the busier the better.
“But if this is to remain a food market, Camden need to raise their game and clean the place. We have a major vermin problem, stinking drains, poorly managed market traders and a very limited street cleaning facility.”
She compares Leather Lane unfavourably with nearby Exmouth Market and Whitecross Street markets, both of which have “immaculate streets after their traders pack up”. Instead, Leather Lane, she claims, does not have a proper strategy for rubbish collection and cleaning.
“We have individually complained about traders leaving their food debris and rubbish in the street, attracting pigeons, seagulls, foxes and rats.” The group also has concerns about fatty waste being tipped down rainwater drains.
So far, the group says their complaints have fallen on deaf ears. “No amount of complaining seems to change anything,” says Lee. “But we couldn’t imagine prestigious Camden shopping locations such as Hampstead, Primrose Hill, Brunswick Centre or Belsize Village being left like this each evening. So why Leather Lane?”
Lee argues that Leather Lane should be a jewel in Camden’s conservation crown. It is one of England’s most historical landmark retail areas with an extraordinary history, apocryphally borne from a bad gambling debt owed by King Charles I who owed £500 on two horses to a Leather Lane merchant. Rather than pay, he gave a license for the merchant to start a street market.
The lane has evolved since then, with Georgian merchant’s shops built in the early 18th Century and a 19th century role as the centre of London’s ‘Little Italy’. In the 20th century it was the lunch and shopping destination for Fleet Street’s journalists. Now Leather Lane has some of the best street food stalls in the capital. But for all its popularity and heritage, Clean Up Leather Lane says it has “no heritage signage, no festive or seasonal lights and little or no investment. But the main thing is basic health and hygiene for the people who live and work around here.”