I had first encountered Kingsland Road in 2003, when having gotten a job working in Tottenham; it was a beautiful summer day, I was buzzing having come out of my interview, the chief interviewer winking at me, as she shook hands, to say good-bye. I was on such a buzz, and it was such a nice day, and I loved London, so much, I decided to walk the entire length of Ermine Street, all the way from Tottenham High Road, into the city of London. I remember walking through Kingsland Road in those days, thinking how quirky it all was, loose, odd and unwelcoming. The next I knew of it, was a year later, when lodging in B&Bs and hotels, I decided to try out the Rose Hotel in Dalston. I had a damp room, an old bed, which filled up the greater part of the room, a dank, gloomy and old shower room and toilet, which you had to scurry down a narrow, depressing and dark looking corridor to get to.
The guys who ran the place, a couple of Turkish fellows in their fifties or sixties, who looked like they hadn’t seen daylight for ten years, were friendly enough and cooked me a sorry looking English breakfast, every morning, which was the cause of some shame, when I realized it was also being served to tourists, who for whatever reason, had decided to book the Rose Hotel for their London vacation.
In the evenings, not knowing the place, I would take a walk down the street, at about eight o’clock by which time the streets seemed pretty much deserted, and I’d get a bight to eat at the Turkish café on the corner. Several guys, dressed in white shirts and black trousers, worked behind the counter, industriously it seemed, out of balance with the few customers that needed to be attended to. I wondered where they all slept, in a room above the café I imagined, three to a mattress, ten to a room. Whether they had families and what they did during their spare time, I pondered without answer.
In those days Kingsland road was a dank, very dodgy, and quite lonely looking place. There was a certain romanticism to my whole life then, given form by the tenuous nature of my circumstances. Dank accommodation, London buses, I’d listen to pirate radio playing drum and base on a knackered transistor radio at nights to keep myself company, Kingsland Road, inner city living, Turkish immigrants, people who don’t speak English, community centers, Black women speaking with Jamaican twang, Albanian refugees, all scraping a living.
But one thing is for sure Kingsland Road has been subject to some change over the next ten years. There were two reasons for this change. First the burgeoning of London’s financial center, the policy to turn London into an international business center, an office for financiers, a place for millionaires and billionaires to store their money at cheap rates, to hollow the city out, to deanglicize it, to displace ethnicity with class, and to create a new ethnic class based on wealth, and a subservient class based on cheap immigration.
Second the development of a railway line, which connected south London, to the City of London, which ran all the way up Kingsland Road, and then turned westwards towards Highbury Islington, Hampstead, and back down to Richmond. It meant that Dalston was a part of the jungle, which was now being tamed, no longer just a place for insects and wildlife to take refuge, but instead, a prospective place for workers, highly paid workers, speculation and mortgages, demolition and new glassy flats. Bright lights, Sainsbury supermarkets, moving into places, which had, before only been frequented by dirty convenience stores.
The growing impact of the city on Dalston could be felt even before the train line, at a time when the steel and glass towers of Bishopsgate and then Broadgate, were pushing into southern Hackney, causing boundaries to be redrawn between the City of London and London’s inner city Boroughs. In the early nineties, Tracy Emin and Damian Hirst were attracted to the old five storey furniture warehouses in and around Hoxton Square, Shoreditch and Old Street, using them to develop their art, to express themselves. Hirst and Emin created a splash, and helped draw a hold load of artists with them. Their fame and success created a sun, a black hole, for more and more artists, designers and what have you, who came to populate the areas in and around Kingsland Road and Shoreditch.
The influx of designers, artists, bohemes, and the burgeoning IT crowd, whose workplace is found in and around Old Street tube station, at what is now being called silicon roundabout, patronize the bars and cafes, on the main street, but also in some of the back streets. They rub shoulders with all the old Turks, the down and outs, the poor Black people, creating a marvelous juxtaposition of London life, wealth, poverty, aggression, serenity, posing, dealing, eating, style and new fashions. London animals, of every hue and class, styling, doing there thing, making themselves known on the streets. You can spend a decent Friday night now, walking down from Dalston Kingsland Station, and I dare say, even from Stoke Newington, one mile or so, to Shoreditch High Street Overground station, and see the most amazing sights. A London passegiata.