Caledonian Road, known locally as the “Cally”, was built in 1826 to
provide a new link between north London and the West End. Originally
known as Chalk Road, it changed its name when the Royal
Caledonian Asylum for the children of poor Scots was built two years
later. Soon after came the prison and the first of many strips of
In 1852 the largest cattle market in Europe opened here, beginning the
Cally’s long association with the meat trade. Lodgings, public houses
and hotels soon followed to service the drovers and traders who worked
In the 19th century the area was a magnet for Scottish and Irish
manual workers who came to work on the vast railway at King’s Cross.
In the 20th century immigrants came from further afield, bringing
shops, families and businesses with them, and the neighbourhood
developed the modern multi-ethnic character it has to this day.
When the Victorian social reformer Charles Booth conducted his survey
of London life in the 1880s, he described Caledonian Road as
“depressing” but while there is still poverty in the area, and many of
the social problems associated with it especially on the 1970s estates
to the west of the Cally, many residents feel a strong attachment to
the area. Some families have been here for generations. When the BBC
interviewed local pub landlady Eileen Christie for “The Secret History
of Our Streets”, she said it had been her dream when she was growing
up to have her own flat on the Bemerton estate – with its heating,
plumbing, parking and communal play areas.
As London house prices have climbed out of reach of so many people,
the divisions between Caledonian Road with its numerous bedsits and
social housing, and Barnsbury to the east with its tree-lined streets
of Georgian terraces, have become sharper. In the 1990s a group of
activist residents formed the Cally Rail Group and managed to defeat
plans to dig up Caledonian Road as part of the construction of the
Channel Tunnel rail link. Today, following the recent redevelopment of
King’s Cross, some fear further price rises will drive longstanding
residents and businesses out of the area. Team Cally aims to break down these invisible “barriers” to bring everyone together in true Cally community spirit!