Market research: how actor Christopher Douglas fell in love with Cumberland Market
19 December, 2016 — By Stephen Griffin
In its hay day: An engraving of the Cumberland arm of the Regent’s Canal which connected to Cumberland Market
IMPLYING as it does unremunerated toil, the term “labour of love” would be anathema to his most celebrated creation, Ed Reardon, but that’s probably the best description of Christopher Douglas’s latest venture – a short film about Cumberland Market.
It all came about in a casual manner. “It was just a fascination with that particular parcel of land between the Nash terraces of Regent’s Park and Hampstead Road,” says the writer and actor. “In the process of researching my radio adaptation of New Grub Street [his Radio 4 sitcom Ed Reardon’s Week references George Gissings’ 1891 novel], I discovered all the places Gissing lived and there are about 20 of them near where I live in Camden Town.
“Following the trail of Gissing led me to Cumberland Market, which is now the Regent’s Park estate, and also happens to be on my walk to work at the BBC.”
His curiosity piqued, he set about unearthing the market’s story and quickly appreciated its significance.
“I’ve always wondered what that little bit of the canal near the floating Chinese restaurant did. When I started researching it I realised there was this vast sort of inland port built because the Haymarket off Piccadilly simply wasn’t big enough to accommodate all the trade.”
Alas, learning about the area’s past raised concerns about its future: Namely the shadow of the HS2 wrecking ball. “In the process of researching that I discovered that, I think, three social housing buildings on the Regent’s Park estate are for the chop.”
Like many, Chris is perplexed by the proposed rail project.
“Maybe I need to get out more but I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks it’s a good idea.”
And it’s not just those in the capital. This year, he points out, his wife Nicola Sanderson and he have spent quite a bit of time in the north and notes the same is true there. “They desperately need rail improvements,” he says, “but they need to move horizontally.”
A scene from Chris’s film shot on what is now the Regent’s Park estate
Partly to highlight what’s under threat, Chris therefore made a short history and celebration of Cumberland Market. It was shot on his phone (“I’m sure the Italian Realists would appreciate that!”) because he thinks it best captures the atmosphere of the place.
“They have a community centre on what was the north-west corner of the market square on the site of a gin distillery. And it’s rather jolly and is used a lot. It has old-fashioned community activities and you probably won’t find anything like it within the M25 and yet there it is in one of the most expensive parts of London. It seems such a terrible shame to lose it.
“They say they’re going to rebuild it but that remains to be seen. It might be better but it won’t be as good.
“It just seemed like such a nice atmosphere and it seems such a shame that it might not last.”
• You can see Chris’s film, Railroaded: 200 Years of Cumberland Market, by visiting vimeo.com/191526793 .
• The Meow Show with Ed Reardon and Elgar is on BBC Radio 4 Extra at 7pm on Christmas Eve. Dave Podmore Cleans Up for Christmas is on BBC Radio 4 at 11.30am on Boxing Day.