It isn’t easy to comprehend change when it happens right in front of your eyes.

I’m in my early thirties and have lived in the two square miles between Camden and Holloway almost my whole life. The garage at the top of Parkway where I smashed my jaw, age eight, is gone; every record shop I knew in the 90s has slipped away. But while the area is not the same, the community is not wholly transformed either.

Imagine, though, the changes you’d experience in three quarters of a century. As a lifelong local, and black cab driver in the manor for 40 years, Johnny has seen it all. Who knew that, within memory, horses pulled the barges and sheep roamed the Heath? That there were bonfires on pavements?

It was a pleasure and a privilege spending a couple of days with Johnny making this film. I’ve rarely met a more compelling storyteller, or a warmer family at the very heart of their community. So let Johnny drive you around the neighbourhood – and you never know, you might even rediscover it.

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Johnny…in his own words

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I was bred and born in Royal College Street, grown up with the people. A lot are gone now. But I’m part of a community here. It’s a very friendly place – at least for me because I’ve been here all my life, and so has my wife.

Hampstead Heath, that’s where I always went as a kid. I can remember sheep on Parliament Hill, just after the war, about 1947. We used to go and play up there. That was out in the countryside to us. A load of sheep grazing, Kenwood House a farm at that time. They had pigs there too. We used to crawl round and hop over this fence and that. Just before you reached Whitestone Pond, there was a gate into the pigsty. We used to jump over and chase the pigs. Or climb the sheep and ride them around. It was a laugh.

Camden Lock

Not how Johnny remembers it: Camden Lock

Camden Lock is not how it was, of course.  I remember it as a functioning canal – the horses pulling the barges and the locks being undone. From King’s Cross the workmen would let their horses go and they would make their own way back to Camden, to their stables. We’d jump on them, three or four of us, and ride them back along the canal bank. No saddle. As long as we rode the animal forward, it was as good as gold. But if you tried to turn it around, it wouldn’t let you.

One thing that’s going to annoy me in the future? The High Speed Train. I work nights so I don’t go to a lot of the meetings against it, but I’m kept well informed. I know the MPs and Councillors. It could obliterate the area as we know it. And cost billions. For what? To save half an hour?

But anyway, whatever happens, round here is where my heart is. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. [/box] [box] Watch last week’s video of Elvis impersonator Dave here [/box]

Alex Smith is founder of North London Cares, a volunteer network matching young professionals to older neighbours in need of help, social connection or companionship. Find out more about them here.

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3 Responses

  1. Rob

    Johnny – what a great & likeable character. Sure he has many more interesting Black Cab tales to tell!

    Reply
  2. bob stafford

    met him in kpm s what a lovely man dont make em like that anymore old school

    Reply

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