Is the Cally ‘a sh*thole’?

Last nights’ BBC documentary ‘The Secret History of Our Streets’ (iPlayer) was a remarkable history piece about the Cally Road and its environs.  For a BBC documentary, the film pulled few punches (except organised crime, which was strangely absent).

Over the years, I spent a lot of time in Cally cafes, shops and launderettes and at endless campaigning community meetings.  Including some rare enforcement action against a local landlord who may have featured (more later).  In the 1990s I lived on Wharfdale Road for a year or so in the thick of the sex and drugs trade.  I lived on the Cally for a year or two over ten years ago in a tiny flat in the one way system, then moved up market to Rufford Street, at the back of the Bemerton for eight years.

The Cally wasn’t an easy place, living in the area for me was a sort of sado-masochistic residential experience.  The waves of crime and in your face poverty offset by strength, depth of  character and sheer determination from local people, fighting from one day to the next.  Perhaps typified in caricature at one extreme by the late Gloria Johnson.  But little sentimentalism for the old days, little illusion that life was wildly better then.

Unexpectedly the film makers and participants captured this – the general sense that you can move out of the Cally but never really leave it.  A bit like banging your head against the proverbial wall – it only hurts when you stop.

What do you think?  Was the film balanced? Do you recognise that Cally Road, the ‘sh*thole’ as described on camera?  No film can ever be all inclusive, but was it fair to show that angle?  Let us know what you think in the comments (remember we moderate so behave).  Apologies in advance to anyone offended by the language above.  If you want to see some more Kings Cross local history click here.

About William Perrin

Active in Kings Cross London and South Oxfordshire, founder of Talk About Local, helping people find a voice online and a trustee of The Indigo Trust , Good Things Foundation and ThreeSixtyGiving as well as Connect8.
This entry was posted in Kings Cross local history. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Is the Cally ‘a sh*thole’?

  1. sean murray says:

    We watched with despair as the rogue landlord proudly took over the community, stuck two fingers up at planning regulations and got ‘rich’ in the process. This revelation and our experience of Islington’s planning team and their ability to create a well designed environment, suggest the planning team have lost the plot. It is of course just one view and I think it would be wise for Islington council to make contact with the community to repair our shattered confidence in their planning controls.

  2. Leah Dixon says:

    Unfortunately I missed the beginning and only caught the very end. Today I feel negative about the Kings Cross end of the Cally road as I left my house at 8am this morning and walked staright into 5 people smoking crack.

  3. Chris says:

    I’ve been in The Cally for nearly 12 years now since my mid 20’s. I live in the Stock Orchard Estate so the other end. Yes it can be as described on the show but there is a great sense of community that i have here that I havent experienced anywhere else. I have never personally experienced any crime here and have never felt unsafe here.
    It was a great show and im glad i learnt some of the history of the manor.

  4. sean murray says:

    Leah, it’s interesting you mentioned your experience today. On Sunday midday I called an ambulance for a guy who was (drunk) unconscious by the bus stop in York Way and yesterday witnessed some guys wake up at the same spot having spent the night on the pavement. As Paul Convery has said before, the regeneration (or making King’s Cross more livable as I’d prefer to call it) is very fragile. To be fair, you could see this in many parts of London but in KX it re-enforces the view that KX is *still* a place to avoid. The risk is, as the well funded and managed King’s Cross central grows the complex public realm:- 2 councils, TfL, Met police, British transport police, Islington Community team and Camden community team – has no one really leading now on a day to day basis. This is less acceptable given we have two labour councils. To our councillors: PLEASE work together to ensure the public realm is as good as the private space – you have a lot of people in King’s cross who can help and want to support you.

  5. Pingback: The Cally – planning enforcement is possible, it just doesn’t happen very often | Kings Cross Environment

  6. David Oxnam says:

    26 years of living off the Cally and I believe the film did catch the ebb and flow of life in the manor. We were happy to see the prostitutes and drugs cleared up from the south end, now our kids and friends can walk down there, with less concern, although interestingly one of our kids had to go to Deptford to get mugged ! We have always found those that live and work in the Cally to be a friendly bunch and up for some community action when it is necessary, as portrayed in the film. Its a shame they did not touch on Edward Square, but like a lot of people perhaps they did not find it! I am sure I caught sight of dear Lisa Pontecorvo in one of the clips Its time to tackle the top end now.

  7. oxo2oxo says:

    26 years of living off the Cally and I believe the film did catch the ebb and flow of life in the manor. We were happy to see the prostitutes and drugs cleared up from the south end, now our kids and friends can walk down there, with less concern, although interestingly one of our kids had to go to Deptford to get mugged ! We have always found those that live and work in the Cally to be a friendly bunch and up for some community action when it is necessary, as portrayed in the film. Its a shame they did not touch on Edward Square, but like a lot of people perhaps they did not find it! I am sure I caught sight of dear Lisa Pontecorvo in one of the clips Its time to tackle the top end now.

  8. Stephan says:

    First of all, a big thank you to Will Perrin, for promoting this film to the community and for sending out the link. Fortunately for me, i caught it after the fact, and really enjoyed it.

    For me, the programme showed just what local people CAN ACHIEVE. It should be a drumbeat to all those who have worked to improve the community and a wake-up call to those who have stood by the sidelines. When the community puts it mind and “elbow grease” behind something we can and will continue to prevail.

    What did offend me was the bit about the local developer to simply ignores the rules! Why is this allowed, and what is the Council doing about it. Surely some of the underground bedsits that he has created skirt the planning laws. Frankly, his promotion in the film will spirt on other developers to builld first and worry about planning afterward.

    I would love to hear what the Council has to say about this!!!!

  9. About 15 years ago I used to go to the Ruby Lounge and pretty much sprinted to it from Kings Cross as the area felt so unsafe. I now live on the Cally and it’s very rare that I feel threatened – have lived all round London and this is one of the nicest, reasonably affordable, places I’ve lived in here. Not yet seen the documentary, from this that it seems like it’s a hatchet job not worthy of my license fee.

    Guardian review is better:

  10. Lisa says:

    If the Cally was a s***hole then why would all these neighbourhood activists/campaigners have put in so much of their own time and effort into making sure that what we have here was preserved for future generations, Phil Jeffries, Lisa Pontecorvo (who we all saw in the film clip) and a few significant others in the documentary deserve our gratitude. Without them, things would have been very different for the Cally.

    • Vijya says:

      I agree – and having been a resident above our newsagent business(newstop) for 25 yrs, I will always remember dear Lisa and Phil’s contribution and legacy which is still carried on by significant others who care about their neighbourhood and community. For me it’s this community spirit which is the endearing quality of the ‘Cally’ and why I keep getting drawn back.

      • Cllr Rupert Perry says:

        And not forgetting Ryan Kemp, chair of Cally Forum. Lisa and Ryan ran the cally Shopfront Awards for many years. Also Gordon Arnott of Thornhill Neighbourhood Project (TNP) supported petitioners against the original plans for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link to Kings Cross. We were fortunate to have Phil Jefferies and an excellent Barrister and Thornhill Sq resident, David Harter. The South end of Cally Road would not exist, were it not for the success of the petitioners. Work by TNP also helped us get the Killick St Health Centre despite opposition by the Health Authority for what seemed an age. Also Conservation Officer Mike Bruce worked tirelessly to persuade shops and businesses to use money negotiated from English Heritage to improve shopfronts and restore York Stone to Pavements. Fortunately new people to the area have also caught the Cally bug and continue the good work. I am looking forward to the Cally Festival on Sept 16th

  11. James Melly says:

    Definitely less of a sh-thole than it used to be and I’ve only been here since 97. Fascinating programme brought to life by good choice of the local people that they focused on. Nice to see it bringing so many people onto this blog to comment too. I know it’s not the same but now that people don’t leave their doors open etc I think social media is helping community cohesion.

  12. Have now watched it and it’s actually a lot fairer than this header makes out, c’mon, that was the view of one person there were lots of views included and I liked learning more about the history of the road. Learning about British Rail’s past behaviour in the 80s means I understand better the concerns about the latest developments (which I am still pro). I think it showed the good as well as the bad, and it was a history so greater focus on the past merited (showed too how it’s changed).

    And yes. Please sort out those unlicensed bedsit conversions, Islington Council. Those are storing up trouble. I can’t imagine what they would be like in a fire. Actually I flinch to even think of it.

  13. john creasey says:

    i was born in 1946 in Keystone Crescent, shown in the film as Caledonian Crescent. I think ‘Bridie’ was living in Balfe Street opposite the Crescent. It wasnt the environment that it might be now, very few owner occupiers but in Stucky we had a good landlord. It was never a s***hole. it was a very working class area and all that it brought. People knew each other, talked in passing and knew who to look for when something got stolen or one wanted to buy something other than from a shop. Many people i have met still proudly own up to being a Calle person, even on a aeroplane back from Alicante.My uncle died just a couple of years ago in the house that the family rented for nearly 100years and my cousin still lives at No. 8. I wouldn’t live there now but that’s because i like the open-ness of Harrow but i still go back to visit regularly

  14. Andrew says:

    I also watched in despair, how can an area move forward if it is being dragged down by a rouge landlord intent of building modern slums without any council. Will the council do anything to improve standards or take any enforcement?

  15. mingus says:

    Having enjoyed the previous 2 excellent episodes in this series, i was very disappointed with the one on Cally Rd. I felt that on the whole it was portrayed negatively and more or less confirmed to the viewer that the street is indeed a shithole. It didn’t highlight the diversity of cultures or really touch on how the development of the kings x area is impacting on the neighbourhood. I’ve lived on this street for 12 happy years and expect to hang around here for quite a while longer. Having seen this programme i think most of my friends are wondering why i am still here! All in all, the programme painted an incomplete picture.

  16. Diana Shelley says:

    As one of many community activists who put quite a bit of (unpaid) work into providing info, links, contacts to the researchers (without even the customary thank you postcard to say when it was being transmitted!) I was dreading watching this. It’s easy to feel the place you know and love has been betrayed (I wonder if Deptford people liked their programme?), but I think on balance they didn’t do a bad job. Selecting just a few individuals to concentrate on, as TV does, inevitably means you lose balance, but fair representation of all aspects of the Cally would take its own series. I couldn’t sign up to the idea of the whole of the Cally as one geographical community, nice as that would be, particularly in a programme which barely mentioned anywhere north of the jail. I certainly couldn’t agree that the Cally community has ‘learned’ to fight back, as if a largely working class population in existence for 150+ years has ever stopped having to fight, and often over the same things (how I hope the council will give that particularly Dickensian landlord his comeuppance soon). After 40 years living among so many good people I’d never call it a shithole, but it could be so much better and with new people coming in to take up the struggle I am sure it will be.

  17. Pingback: ‘Please be quiet we are sleeping in this death trap’ – is this Cally Road tenants speaking out in pavement graffiti? | Kings Cross Environment

  18. NM Davies says:

    It was certainly an interesting show but it did tend to dwell on what the Cally was in the past rather than what it is becoming. What I thought was a great shame was that there was so little focus on all of the positive changes that have happened in the Cally over the past five years or so. Great shops and cafes at the bottom end such as KC Continental (which is a haven for Italians in London and does the best and cheapest proscuitto ciabatta outside of Italy) and Gran Sasso or newer places like Aflorum and Drink, Shop and Do, the fantastic new Italian at 327 Caledonian Road, Large Glass art gallery etc. They also completely ignored the huge Ethiopian presence in the road, which is quite unusual and a great asset to the culinary diversity of the area!
    This road has one of the best senses of neighbourhood of anywhere I have lived in London and I think despite its down at heel reputation, we are all very lucky to be part of it.

  19. Pingback: Cally Cows community meeting last night – report | Kings Cross Environment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s