‘Parliament Hill Fields’ by John Betjeman


Rumbling under blackened girders, Midland, bound for Cricklewood,
Puffed its sulphur to the sunset where that Land of Laundries stood.
Rumble under, thunder over, train and tram alternate go,
Shake the floor and smudge the ledger, Charrington, Sells, Dale and Co.,
Nuts and nuggets in the window, trucks along the lines below.

When the Bon Marché was shuttered, when the feet were hot and tired,
Outside Charrington’s we waited, by the “STOP HERE IF REQUIRED”,
Launched aboard the shopping basket, sat precipitately down,
Rocked past Zwanziger the baker’s, and the terrace blackish brown,
And the curious Anglo-Norman parish church of Kentish Town.

Till the tram went over thirty, sighting terminus again,
Past municipal lawn tennis and the bobble hanging plane;
Soft the light surburban evening caught our ashlar-speckled spire,
Eighteen-sixty Early English, as the mighty elms retire
Either side of Brookfield Mansions flashing fine French Window fire.

Oh the after-tram-ride quiet, when we heard a mile beyond,
Silver music from the bandstand, barking dogs by Highgate Pond;
Up the hill where stucco houses in Virginia creeper drown
And my childish wave of pity, seeing children carrying down
Sheaves of drooping dandelions to the courts of Kentish Town.

Bon Marché: Old-fashioned draper’s shop
Charrington, Sells, Dale & Co: Coal merchants
Shopping basket: tram
Zwanziger: German bakers, which was at 385 Kentish Town Rd

Words by Sir John Betjeman 1945. Music by Mike Read.