The most widely accepted explanation of the name of Kentish Town is that it derived from 'Ken-ditch' meaning the 'bed of a waterway'. Kentish Town was originally a settlement along the River Fleet which flowed through the area, and today runs underground.
Kentish Town is first recorded during the reign of King John (1207) as kentisston. By 1456 Kentish Town was recognised as a thriving hamlet, and in this period a chapel of ease is recorded as being built for the inhabitants.
The early 19th century brought modernisation, causing much of the area's rural charm, the River Fleet and the 18th century buildings to vanish, although pockets still remain, for example Little Green Street. Between the availability of public transport to it from London, and its urbanisation, it was a popular resort.
Large amounts of land were purchased to build the railway, which can still be seen today. Kentish Town was a prime site for development as the Kentish Town Road was a major route from London northwards. Probably its most famous resident was Karl Marx who lived at 46 Grafton Terrace from 1856.
1877 saw the beginning of mission work in the area as it was then poor. The mission first held their services outside but as their funding increased they built a mission house, chapel, and vicarage. One mission house of the area was Lyndhurst Hall which remained in use before being taken over by the Council. The Council wished it to sell it for residential use, and the hall was demolished in 2006.
During the 19th century and early 20th century the area of Kentish Town became for many years the home of many famous piano and organ manufacturers, and was described by The Piano Journal in 1901 as "...that healthful suburb dear to the heart of the piano maker".
A network of streets in the East of Kentish Town has streets named after places or persons connected with Christ Church, Oxford viz: Oseney, Busby, Gaisford, Caversham, Islip, Wolsey, Frideswide, Peckwater & Hammond. All these streets lay behind the Oxford Arms. Some of the freehold of these streets is still in the name of Christ Church Oxford.
A network of streets in the north of Kentish Town was formerly part of a large estate owned by St John's College, Cambridge. Lady Margaret Road is named after Lady Margaret Beaufort, foundress of St John's College. Burghley Road is named for Lord Burghley, Chancellor to Elizabeth I and benefactor of St John's. Similarly, College Lane, Evangelist Road and Lady Somerset Road are street names linked to the estate of St John's College.
In 1912 the Church of St. Silas the Martyr (designed by architect Earnest Charles Shearman) was finally erected and consecrated, and by December of that year it became a parish in its own right. It can still be seen today along with the church of St Luke with St Paul and the Church of St. Barnabas (handed over to the Greek Orthodox Church in 1957). The present Church of England parish church is St. Benet's.
In his poem Parliament Hill Fields, Sir John Betjeman refers to "the curious Anglo-Norman parish church of Kentish Town".
Kentish Town Road contains one of London's many disused Tube stations. South Kentish Town tube station was closed in June 1924 after strike action at the Lots Road power station meant the lift could not be used. It never reopened. The distinctive building is now occupied underground by a massage shop and on ground level by a 'Cash Converters' pawn shop at the corner of Kentish Town Road and Castle Road. There have been proposals to rebuild the station.
Kentish Town was to see further modernisation in the post-World War II period. However, the residential parts of Kentish Town, dating back to the mid-19th century have survived and are much admired architecturally.