A girl from the Cally.

“Let me tell you about a place called the Cally” – Jacqui Courtenay, 2018

Caledonian Road or the Cally, as its affectionately called by locals, is a long road stretching from Kings Cross to Holloway in the London borough of Islington. With the Bury’s to the east (i.e., Highbury, Barnsbury and Canonbury) and punk-home, Camden to the left, the Cally is a unique place.

Arriving in 1990, my mum, pregnant with me, found herself a one bedroom flat in the infamous Bemerton Estate just off Caledonian road. She’s lived there ever since. The estate and the local area does have a bit of a bad reputation so growing up there in the 90’s gave me all the grit I needed to survive anywhere! Rough around the edges, is our Cally. In the glory days of the 90s, the Cally wasn’t the knife crime hotspot it is now but it wasn’t picturesque either – it was a hotspot for drugs and an extension of Kings Cross’ red light district, it always felt a bit dark even for a child but thanks to my naivete, I never associated it with drugs. Perhaps my mum just did an excellent job at shielding me from the harsh reality outside of our home? Maybe. That said, I would spend entire summer days playing out and running round the blocks of the Bemerton playing knock-down-ginger with friends in the corridors of the many blocks completely freely, so perhaps it wasn’t that bad at all. Nonetheless, it was definitely a fun place to be, so it came as a surprise to me when I started to learn that my Cally was known for more than just the teenage gangs who rode around on their mopeds.

Interestingly, as surrounding areas have changed, in the almost 30 years my mum has lived on the road, it hasn’t changed much at all. The Cally is still home to immense inequality on the one hand and extreme deprivation on the other. The newly redeveloped and regenerated Kings Cross is a mere stone’s throw away but it couldn’t feel further away when you’re on the Cally. The inequality of this one road in London, speaks to a phenomenon that has been rippling through the capital for many years now. A phenomenon known as, Gentrification. Or “Super-Gentrification”, as Faiza Shaheen puts it in an article about the shocking inequality in Islington. Thanks to super-gentrification, places like the Cally are quickly being forgotten, along with their uniqueness, quirkiness, history, intrigue and worst of all, the people are being shipped out.

Despite being born and bred in the Cally, when it came time to move out of my mum’s when I got married, my husband and I just couldn’t dream of affording to live there. Oh how we miss the ease of commuting into the City via Kings Cross in 20 mins flat (if you’ve ever travelled in Kings Cross during rush hour, you’ll know it’s nothing short of the Olympics – but living near the station is a special kind of privilege). We had to move a decent way out to get some bang for our buck and that was a truly bitter pill to swallow. Not being able to raise your family in the same place you grew up is strange and moving way out, like we did, for me anyway, came with a sense of feeling a bit like a refugee. Almost three years on and I’m only just starting to feel used to our local area in east London. I’m not good with change but it’s also not being helped by the super-gentrification happening in my new part of town! Honestly, you can’t get away from it.


Gentrification. Inequality. Council-homes. Crime. Regeneration. It’s all abit too much.

I’ll come back to all this another day. For now, I’ve got to get to my four month old and two year old who need some fresh air – come rain or shine.



Author: jacquicourtenay

Mum. Wife. Writer. Poet. Curator. City Worker

One thought on “A girl from the Cally.”

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