Oi oi & ahoy, this week I’m going to circle the Oval !
This weeks ward walk was literally a pin on a map type choice. I’ve spent the last few weeks out east, back on my own patch if you like, because I’d missed so much around when I was growing up. I really want to spread out these walks and that kind of makes it exciting with just so many wards to choose from. After getting my Camden Tour Guides badge earlier this year, I must admit that I don’t step into NW that often. It’s next on my list though. I toyed with going back over to Lots Road & Chelsea Village and doing the ward that they’re both in Hammersmith & Fulham, as I want to arrange a walk on industrial Chelsea, as I think it’s a place not many would realise had a history of industry! In the end I plumped for a place on the other side of the river. I’m talking today about The Oval ward, Lambeth.
First stop Vauxhall station. So, let’s start with the names in Oval ward. It contains Vauxhall to the north and Kennington to the south, and appears to be in a wider reaching area known as South Lambeth. I just want to state from the off that this is in no way intended to be in a history of this area. This is my first time visiting the manor and I’m learning as I walk the streets. It’s intended merely as ‘my experience’. I do however once I’ve walked the area, I get onto my trusted OS maps and Britain from above website, and cross reference, finding out all sorts of history as I go through. Just thought I’d make it clear as I’m going to make mistakes and never claim to be an authority.
So, that’s out of the way! The name Vauxhall derives from the name Falkes De Breaute, who built a hall here, hence Falkes Hall / Vauxhall. Kennington on the south side of the ward probably comes out of Kyning Tun, a Saxon word for ‘place of the king’s, as Kennington was once a royal manor. Starting at my alighting point, Vauxhall station, the first thing I notice is to my left, the new Vauxhall bus station, a very modernist piece of architecture that jumps out at you just like the ski jump it reminds me of. The other structure is of course the MI6 building. Built in the early 90’s and not for the SIS but another government authority, but it was then offered to MI6 who took and moved from their previous offices at Lambeth North. This building will be written about in the Princes ward of Lambeth walk, as it’s actually not in oval ward.
I head to Vauxhall bridge. Not one the grandest, architecturally significant, nor famous, It is however very busy, joining main roads from Stockwell, Brixton and south London, to the western edges of the west end. It does offer a fantastic view of one London’s most iconic buildings in Battersea power station, which is currently surrounded by cranes, as it’s morphed into housing. Looking down at the river I’m also reminded that just a few yards away was possibly London’s first bridge. Whatever it was, the remaining stumps in the river can be dated to 1,500 BC. I was here at low tide and the river didn’t seem that wide but of course until the 19th century, the banks were not ‘banked’ and so therefore considerably wider but if it was a bridge, It’s thought that the structure did not cross the whole river but to an island situated in the middle. A Time Team episode followed this story in 2001.
See here for the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6Ldh2ooaUg
Blocks of new flats now stand on this patch where once stood a large gasworks and an array of warehouses,wharves, and factories. Nothing remains in anyway of these past buildings just yet more bland steel and glass flats. I follow the line of the boundary and attempt to navigate the continuous construction going on around here, I delve under the railway to appear next to the ‘New Covent Garden market, which once stood on the extensive Nine Elms train goods yard.
Fairly unimpressed by first impressions of this particular part of SW8, I hope for more as I continue on my way. Following the boundary again I head down into what can only be described as an everyday estate. If my limited knowledge of low rise housing architecture and it’s date of construction serves me right, I’d say the mix it’s made of a mix of 30’s, 50’s and a few new builds thrown in, with a couple of old school pubs that still exist and look slightly out of place. I’m sure that these boozers were at one time end of terrace when they were built.
A few reminders of past architecture do exist here not least in the South Lambeth library. I find I’m really struggling to find anything around here to get my interest moving but presume that something must give sooner or later. And it does. Not so much in the actual architecture but of what once stood here. Sainsbury’s on the Wandsworth road is not worth any of your time of course, but to find out that this spot was once the site of Vauxhall iron works, and indeed a commemorated place in motor vehicle history being the site of Vauxhall’s first motor car (1903) and the first to be built in the uk. I find out that Vauxhall moved it’s operation to Luton in 1905 as no space was available on this site for expansion. From later research I also find out that there is a connection between Falkes de Breaute and Luton / Bedford, which is maybe a strange coincidence but moving Vauxhall motors there many centuries later, is something I need to look into. Anyway, I’m definitely no car buff but i do find it interesting that this spot here has played an important role in one of the world’s most used technologies.
Thank god I was saved by the Vauxhall story as I was starting to rue the decision to walk this ward today. I pass a couple a couple of what looklike lovely pubs heading back to South Lambeth road (it was just too early to partake in a tipple) including the Vauxhall Griffin and the Tia Maria, once the Wheatsheaf pub, which just behind it down a side alleyway is the Wheatsheaf Community Hall.
On one side of the road just before what was the Tate Free Library and now South Lambeth Library, the whole side of the road is taken up with a large block of what I presume to be late Victorian flats.
Known as Victoria House and Victoria mansions, there was a near identical block on the west side of the road until they were demolished in the 60’s. It’s interesting to note that there is a sizable Portuguese ex pat community here, if the amount of cafes, bars and other businesses with Portugal in the name is anything to go by. It turns out that the community is nearly 30,000 strong in this part of town, with many families coming over in the 60’s & 70’s to work in the catering industry. There are also many Brazilians living in ‘Little Portugal’ for obvious language reasons.
I stroll off the South Lambeth Road heading through a very residential area with nothing to show for it of any interest until I look up at a dull looking block of flats and notice a rather nice looking frieze on the side of the building on Meadow Road. It stands out on an otherwise bland block of flats with a kind of Soviet era vibe about it in my mind. After further investigation it turns out the art on the side of Horton House was part of three pieces commissioned by the council to Hungarian artist and refugee, Peter Laszlo Peri. They were designed in mind to commemorate the loss of life of children in the area, which was heavily bombed in WW2, due to proximity to main railway lines.
Up Rita Road and more housing until I hit the bend in the road and notice a large building with a clock tower and immediately I assume it’s an old brewery. Not saying that I assume that every old structure is a brewery but let’s say I’ve seen a few to notice one when I see it ! I was actually half right as it turns out after research that this unfortunately gated building was a vinegar factory run by the Beaufoy family before being taken over Sarsons, somewhere down the line. Again, it’s great to see this building saved, restored and used again but it would have been nice to have seen it up closer. The Beaufoy’s still had housing on the site until a bomb exploded during WW2 and the main building we can see today was in fact the vat house for the vinegar making process. The family had moved it’s operation here in the 18th century from Waterloo.
Onto a main road and I’m opposite Vauxhall Park. Not wishing to enter the park yet I head down Fentiman Road and notice the Caron Almshouses. Built in 1854 on ancient ground after moving from Wandsworth Road by wealthy Noel Caron, landowner, philanthropist and Dutch Ambassador to Elizabeth I. He built the almshouses for seven women poor but decent women of the Parish in 1622.
I criss cross streets up to the Clapham Road and surprisingly manage to pass the Fentiman Arms pub even though the doors are now open! A mixture of Victorian terrace housing and 60’s blocks of low rise lead me to check out the trusty OS map on my tablet and confirm what I’d thought, that this area has had some alterations street planning wise since the war, I assume because of bomb damage but on investigation, the OS map reveals no details of such and so maybe the rows of terraces of Trigon Road & Trigon Grove were just past their lived in dates. There were however some nice old small Victorian buildings still standing and looking pretty smart, fetching some serious cash in real estate value, I wouldn’t mind betting!
Now I jump through Vauxhall Park. Out the other side and past what was once an old laundry for some time and now I’m surprisingly very close to Vauxhall station again. I dart down the first right I find fully expecting to find erm, well just more residential streets, and I’m not disappointed ! Actually, I’m really not disappointed! Heading down Langley Lane, I spot a large Italian tricolour hanging from a what I would call a tenement flat. What stands out for me is the huge plant sitting beneath the window. I turn around and find that there are a few of these around here. I find myself standing outside a smart looking abode called ‘The Lodge’ and here I realise I’m on the corner of Bonnington Square. I follow the road round and immediately feel that I’m somewhere special.
I take in the vista, Victorian tenements but looking rather chic. Some may say ‘shabby chic’ but I’m sticking with what I’d call smart. There is something about this place i think. I could feel a artistic, community vibe to the area. There were a few groups visiting mates, gardeners tending to the many beautiful plants in the square. I thought to myself ‘has this place always been like this?’
The local cafe is very busy I thought. Just the one on the corner of Bonnington Square and Vauxhall Grove. Passers by hailing each other, stumblers upon the area like myself mingling with who were obviously locals. I knew that I’d have to find out more about this place when I reached home. Turns out the square was originally built for railway workers, had become rundown and ready for demolition in the 80’s. It then became a haven for squatters especially from New Zealand. Many of whom still live on the square. Check it out, there is still something groovy about this manor. I’ll say no more than suggest you watch this video on Vimeo. It will explain so much. https://vimeo.com/36595608
By Vauxhall Station, I notice the gates to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. I know so much has happened here but it’s in another ward for another day! I turn briskly and spot one of my favourite things in the world, an ol’ school London pub! I had to venture in and low and behold, beer and pork scratchings were for sale…..hurrah! I utilise the facilities and back along the boundary heading down to the Oval Cricket Ground.
By no stretch am I a cricket fan, but the Oval has a place in English history as I suppose you could say the reserve home of cricket after Lords. It’s also an extensive stadium, by cricket size anyway, holding just over 25,000 spectators. Small by quality football stadiums these days but still sizable in the world of cricket. The ground has changed considerably in the last 100 years according to ‘Britain from Above’ website.
Looking at the stadium in the 20’s the amenities were basic in comparison, with fewer stands but probably a larger capacity. By all accounts the ground will be extensively re-designed and enlarged again soon making it the largest cricket stadium in the country. I’m afraid that any game that can last upwards of four days and still end in a draw, is not going to be one that I can get excited about! I move on sharpish!
Up Vauxhall street and on my way to ‘treat’ myself to a Tesco sandwich, I wander up Vauxhall St and past the iconic Kennington Gasholders. The times I’ve caught the cricket reports on the news have nearly always included a backdrop of the Kennington Oval, with the gasholders in the background. The land just behind the Oval was bought shortly after the ground was built. Britain and especially London was leading the way in gas technology with these huge gasometers springing up all over Victorian London. The larger ones could hold a couple of million square feet of gas! Number 1 gasholder at Kennington was built in the late 1870’s and is now a grade II listed building, built by the Phoenix gas light & coke company, and when completed was the world’s largest gasholder.
Sandwich devoured, my thoughts turn to a little tipple to wash the aforementioned bread platter down with. On Montford Place at the back of what is now Tesco’s, I stumble upon a little building that grabs my historic interest. I take a few pics but don’t realise until sometime after that I’m standing in front of the Beefeater Gin Distillery. I say distillery, what I actually see is a small museum and upon looking online later, I find that around 10 people are actually employed here. It is/was an important building, one can tell that, but turns out that Beefeater has only been here since 1958, when before that the building was a pickle factory.
Turning the corner and standing on Montford Place facing Gasholder number 1, is a beautiful view of our industrial legacy in London.
Passing Imperial Court, a large and impressive structure built in the 1830’s as a Victuallers school and from the early 20’s to the 90’s used as a NAAFI (Navy, Army & Air Forces Institute), of course now used as ‘luxury flats!’
Heading towards what slowly became an enjoyable trot around this part of Lambeth, I head to Kennington Park. I remember being on a few marches during the 80’s that kicked off down here but at that time in my life I had no idea really of the significance of this particular starting point for political marches. Now enlightened, the tales of the importance of this place come into my thoughts. Originally part of Kennington Common grew into Kennington Park. It became a place for public executions but also a place for public speaking. The park became a traditional place for demonstrations and a place that I set of from in 1997 on the ‘Never mind the ballots’ march in support of the Liverpool dockers and Reclaim the Streets collective. Walking around the park the park today I am also reminded of one of London’s many forgotten tragedies when a bomb hit an air raid shelter in October 1940 during the Blitz, killing an estimated 104 civilians. I have seen many of these ‘memorials’ around town over the years and they really are forgotten aspects of the war. Over 100 people being murdered in one tiny space would make world headlines nowadays, but unfortunately these acts were being perpetuated nightly not just by the Luftwaffe, but with equal destructive use by the RAF and USAF across German towns and cities. All while the architects of this destruction slept soundly in their country retreat four poster beds, the common men & women of countries, who in reality bore no ill will to each other, slaughtered the masses of said places.
And so, my last spot, the tube station at the Oval.
This has been a hard walk, differently difficult to others as I must admit I wasn’t enthralled at the beginning. There were ups and downs on this walk. It’s a largely residential place, so what could I have expected! All in all, I was neither enthralled by the area, nor particularly disappointed. There were many interesting aspects to keep me going and looking on my trust OS maps and checking out Britain from Above website. If a place gets me checking those two websites, It’s got something.
As always, this was not a history lesson as I’m learning about this place. It’s an area that I’ve passed by, over, under and through hundreds and hundreds of times, without taking time to dig deeper. Today I dug it, and unearthed some interesting aspects that I knew nothing about. For that I say ‘cheers’ South Lambeth, Vauxhall & Kennington. I’m sure I’ll be back, but not for the cricket!
Ps: Please check ‘my walks’ part of my website as I hope to get cracking on them in February. Here you’ll find local history, political espionage, pre millenium terror on the streets of London, lost industries and and ever growing portfolio of walks around town. I’m trying to arrange strolls across town in all areas for the future.
Please mail me if interested.
Only a tenner to you Guv !
Peas out & ta ta for now.