SW9: Starry, starry night

As I found out when I walked SW2, much of what I thought of as Brixton turned out to be in SW9 – though SW9 is Stockwell according to the Post Office. But although there is a Post Office at Stockwell, I decided to start at the SW9 Post Office in Brixton Town Centre. This is in Ferndale Road just off the main shopping street, Brixton Road.


As can seen above the Post Office is in a rather grand structure. It was actually built as an extension to our first stop (Bon Marché store) in 1905. It appears lovely from afar but when you are close at ground floor level it looks a bit sad. Across Ferndale Road is the main Bon Marché building.

Stop 1: Former Bon Marché and Quin & Axtens Department Stores

The Bon Marché building between the railway bridges and Ferndale Road lays claim to two firsts. It is apparently the first purpose built department store in Britain (dating as it does from 1877) and it is said to be the first steel framed building in the UK.


It was named after the famous left bank Parisian department store. The first owner was not a shop keeper and went bust but then by all accounts it was a great success. In 1926 Selfridges bought it up and it became one of the Selfridges Provincial Stores. In 1940 the John Lewis Partnership bought Selfridges Provincial Stores, including Bon Marché. The main Bon Marché building was substantially damaged by a bomb  in May 1941. The building reopened for restricted business the next day but it took a while to repair fully – the top floor remained unused for ten years.

In the mid 1970s, John Lewis made a commercial decision to cease trading in its smaller stores which it could not redevelop or expand and so Bon Marché closed in June 1975. It is now a mix of smaller shops and other commercial uses. The Brixton Road frontage still has a bit of the old department store look but the Ferndale Road elevation feels much more the part with the old style name signs.


It is clear that Brixton was a proper shopping destination once rather than just the market. It did not have just one Department store. It had at least three. Morley’s to the south is still there but the grand building just to the north of Bon Marché was a store called Quin & Axtens. They rebuilt their Brixton store in 1926 but it was destroyed by bombing in 1941 and never reopened. So we just have this grand facade to remind us that there was a department store here once.


You get a better view of the two former department stores if you cross the main road. but return to the same side as these stores and keep walking until you reach the corner with Stockwell Road. turn left here and ahead is our next stop.

Stop 2: Brixton Academy (former Astoria Cinema)

In the late 1920s there was a fashion imported from the States for what were called atmospheric cinemas and there is one here in Brixton. They had elaborate interiors especially around the proscenium arch where there would be a scene like a stage set, in Brixton this has been likened to the Rialto Bridge in Venice. And they had lights in the ceiling which imitated the stars. There were 5 Astoria cinemas in London – Old Kent Road, Finsbury Park, Streatham and Charing Cross Road. Finsbury Park (which survives as a church) was the best example of this style but Brixton dating from 1929 comes close. Streatham had a fire and was rebuilt as the Odeon with the interior lost. Old Kent Road and Charing Cross Road have been demolished, leaving just the Brixton one still in use as an entertainment venue.


Walk a little way alomg Stockwell Road and you will come to Stansfield Road on your left

Stop 3: Stansfield Road

We can stop briefly here to see at Number 40 the childhood home of starman, David Bowie, from when he was born in 1947 to the age of 6 when the family moved to Bromley. No blue plaque yet as he is still alive!


Return to the main road and keep walking along Stockwell Road. You will pass Stockwell Green (no green but this was the historic centre of Stockwell, just a few older houses and not much else now). Then you will pass the South London YMCA and eventually get to the Swan pub and Stockwell station. When you get to the Swan go straight ahead and cross Clapham Road.

Stop 4: Stockwell station (and the Swan)

In 1890 Stockwell was the terminus of the world’s first deep level underground railway – the City and South London. Of this station nothing obvious remains. The station was rebuilt in the 1920s when the tunnels were enlarged and line was extended  from Clapham Common to Morden. And it was rebuilt again in the late 1960s when the Victoria line arrived. A defining feature of the Victoria line was that each station was given a distinctive tile motif on the new platforms.

For a place so important on the tube there is not much on the surface at Stockwell. The most significant building is perhaps the bus garage which we have already seen in SW8. But one other prominent feature is the Swan pub, so it is perhaps not surprising that when London Transport was looking for something to symbolise Stockwell on the tiles on the new Victoria line platform they chose an image of a swan.  It is this blue and white flashy thing. Now I thought this was an electric flash to commemorate the fact this was on the first electric underground line. But no TfL’s website definitely says it is a swan. I suppose there is a sort of beaky thing there.


Back on the surface, I have to mention the memorial to Jean Charles de Menezes.


De Menezes was a Brazilian electrician living in London who was killed in error on a train in Stockwell station by plain clothes police officers the day after the failed 21 July 2005 bombings on London’s transport.  The initial small shrine created by mourners outside the station has since evolved into this permanent memorial mosaic. This sits to the left of the entrance to the ticket hall

Now cross Binfield Road which runs beside the station and then cross South Lambeth Road (which has the traffic going north) stopping before the next road which is the traffic going south. Ahead is our next stop.

Stop 5: Former Palladium/Ritz/Classic cinema

The white painted building standing a little back from Ladbrokes on the corner was originally opened as the Stockwell Palladium cinema in around 1915.


It was reconstructed and re-opened as the Ritz Cinema in September 1937.  It was renamed again in 1957 as the Classic Cinema. As would be expected with a cinema of this age it was quite small with all the seating on one level. It was never split and spent the 1970s as a cinema specialising is films which were X rated or had been refused a British Board of Film Censor’s certificate. It finally closed in 1981 and was for many years a snooker hall. It then became a restaurant but at the moment it looks decidedly closed.

Now follow the brick path which runs between the two roads and heads toward the clock tower.

Stop 6: Stockwell War Memorial

Unusually the Stockwell war memorial is in the form of a clock tower in the middle of the road. It dates from 1922 and has a rather touching relief of a woman part veiled. The memorial commemorates the 574 service men who had lived within half a mile of this location.

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Next to the clock tower is a deep level air raid shelter. Stockwell is one of eight deep-level air-raid shelter constructed by existing tube stations during the Second World War. Completed in September 1942 it was used by the Government until 1944. Then it became a public shelter for the rest of the war. There are two parallel tunnels sitting below the Northern line, each approximately six times the length of the current station platform.  The total capacity of the shelter was around 1,600 people.

Back in 1999, the exterior of the shelter was painted with a war memorial mural by artist Brian Barnes. The mural has just been renewed by the original artist along with other artists (both professional and amateur).


Just to the right of the clock tower is a statue entitled “Bronze woman”. Inspired by a poem of the same name by black woman Cécile Norbrega.  This statue dates from 2008 and is apparently the first public monument to an afro-carribean woman.


Now cross the road by the painted rotunda. Ahead of you is Stockwell Terrace dating from the 1840s when this was Stockwell Common rather than a traffic roundabout. Walk along Stockwell Terrace (it is the safest option anyway as there is no pavement by the road) and then turn left into Clapham Road.

Go to the traffic lights and cross over Clapham Road there. As you are walking up you will see ahead Strata – the 43 storey block of flats at Elephant – with the Shard sticking up behind it. What an odd alignment, shame my picture does not really do it justice.


Now go down Stockwell Park Road and on the left you will eventually get to Number 27 our next stop. Have faith. It is further than you think as there are 5 interlopers in this street between numbers 15 and 17. They were obviously built after the numbering was done.

Stop 7: Lilian Baylis

Lilian Baylis (1874 – 1937) was the manager of the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells theatres in London and her companies form the basis of some of the key English performing arts companies. The opera company became the English National Opera; the theatre company evolved into the National Theatre; and the ballet company eventually became the Royal Ballet.

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Random (and not verified) fact: Pete Townshend said that it was an old photograph of Lilian Baylis that inspired the song Pictures of Lily written in the 1960s.

Now retrace your steps to Clapham Road and at the lights turn right until you reach Printers Road. Ahead is our next stop. (again you will get the best view of the building if you cross the main road)

Stop 8: Printworks (Former Freemans of London) Building

This building has a sign on it which says “Printworks” but for around 70 years from 1936 this building was the home of Freemans – the mail order company.


The company was founded in 1905 in a terraced house based in Clapham. They specialized in selling clothing items and they distributed their catalogue each month throughout the United Kingdom.  The company used agency representatives in local areas with most goods being sold on credit. Women however were restricted by law as they could not negotiate credit arrangements and required a husband’s signature to purchase goods. The majority of agents were men.

By the 1930s Freemans had become the largest mail order company in the UK with over 30,000 agents and in 1936 they took over this former print works in Clapham Road.  Like much around here, the building was bombed in the war killing 23 members of staff and destroying all company records. Somehow they managed to carry on. No back up disks then, so you do wonder what they did.

After the business relocated to West Yorkshire in the early 2000s, the Freemans building and surrounding site was redeveloped in 2011 by Galliard Homes as housing and business units.

Now go down Printers Road (such an original name!). It does look quite a good quality development though. And there are these intriguing metal boxes in the street.


I think they are some kind of scandinavian waste disposal system. But I may be wrong!

At the end cross Liberty Street and you will see ahead of you a newly pedestrianised street. This used to be Isobel Street but is now Van Gogh Walk. Nicely done – and with Sunflowers too!

Stop 9 Van Gogh

The reason for the Van Gogh rebranding is that he lived nearby.

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At the end of Van Gogh Walk, turn right and just ahead on the other side of the Hackford Road is number 87, where Van Gogh briefly lived and which inspired the play Vincent in Brixton – a partly fictionalised account of his short time here.

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It looks a bit sad this building. And I guess there is very little of the house that has survived from Van Gogh’s time here. But it is an unexpected connection to find in deepest south London.

Now keep walking down Hackford Road to the end.

Stop 10: The Type Archive

To your right is 100 Hackford Road. Behind a security gate is the home of the Type Archive, formerly the Type Museum.


The Type Museum was a collection of artifacts relating to type founding and type composing systems. The museum was established in 1992 but faced financial problems in 2006 and had to close. It seems to have been rebranded as the Type Archive in 2011 and there are street signs pointing the way to the Type Archive from Stockwell which is a bit odd as the collection still does not appear to be open to the public. Maybe this is never going to get going again because it is not the right type of collection for the 21st century (Sorry, could not resist!).

Now retrace your steps back down Hackford Road and turn right into Hillyard Street. Go down Hillyard Street to end. Cross the main road (Brixton Road) at the conveniently located crossing and head into Normandy Road which is almost straight ahead.

Stop 11: Normandy Road

Now this is unusual to see in London. Terraced houses which have their front doors straight on to the street with not even a small strip of garden. Were it not for the fact these are built of yellow stock brick this terrace could easily be in an industrial town in the midlands or the north.


Just past this terrace is number 22 which sets back a bit. Here is a plaque to commemorate another innocent person shot by the police.


This was for Cherry Groce who was shot and paralysed in 1985. She spent the remaining 26 years of her life in a wheelchair. There had already been riots in Brixton in 1981 but this incident sparked the 1985 Brixton uprising

The plaque was erected by the Cherry Tree Trust which was set up in 2012 by her son in memory of his mother. The trust aims to support individuals and families whose lives have been disrupted through tragedy.

At the end of Normandy Road turn right into Cowley Road and then turn left at the end into Mostyn Road.

Stop 12: 56 Akerman Road

Immediately at the junction of Mostyn Road and Akerman Road is the house lived in by music hall comedian Dan Leno for three years 1898 – 1901.

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Dan Leno was the stage name of George Wild Galvin. He was a leading English music hall comedian and musical theatre actor in the late 19th Century. In addition to his music hall act he is best known as a pantomime dame. He was the dame in the annual pantomimes at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane from 1888 to 1903. But as so often happens with comedians he wanted to be taken seriously and be a shakespearean actor. But he was type cast by his funny roles and never did make the transition. Also he had a drink problem, as so many comedians seem to have.

Well the view today from Dan Leno’s house is very different from the one he would have seen as the area across the road is being completely redeveloped, as something called Oval Quarter. Presumably the old name of this area (which I think was Angel Town) was not the right image for this new world.


So this has been a bit of a starry walk, what with David Bowie’s childhood home and Dan Leno’s house too. Also we had Lillian Baylis who nurtured so many stars through her various companies. Plus we had the twinkling stars at the Astoria and of course there is the song associated with Vincent Van Gogh by Don McLean called Vincent which includes the phrase “Starry Starry Night” in case you were wondering. But we have seen a serious side with a WW1 war memorial and also two plaques to people shot by mistake by the police. And as with other walks in this part of London I am struck by how much was affected by bombing.

We are now at the end of our SW9 walk. If you retrace your steps back down Mostyn Road and keeping going on this road you will reach Brixton Road with numerous buses either up to Oval or down to Brixton.


SW8: Bem-vindo a pouco Portugal

Welcome to London’s very own Little Portugal.


Apparently there are over 25,000 Portuguese in this part of London making it one of the largest communities within the half million strong Portuguese population in Britain. Given the language, there is also a sizable Brazilian community here as well.   People from Portugal first settled in the area during the 1960s and 1970s. Many worked in the catering and hospitality trade, Later restaurants and other Portuguese businesses started to open on the South Lambeth Road, so hence the name Little Portugal.

But we start our walk at 333 Wandsworth Road, which proudly announces itself as the Postmen’s (sic) Office for SW8. This is a few stops down Wandsworth Road from Vauxhall on a 77, 87 or 196 bus or you can get the 196 from Stockwell.

Stop 1: Cantilever Court (former South Bank Polytechnic/University building)

Across the road from the SW8 Postmen’s Office is a building now called Cantilever Court. This is a mixed use development of retail, office and housing. It was built n the early 1970s for educational purposes and the distinctive bit jutting out like a giant porch was actually built as a lecture theatre. It is now home to the LOST Theatre Company. This was founded in 1979 at the London Oratory School hence I guess the name LOST. It lived for 17 years in Fulham and then became homeless. Not sure when they turned up here but it certainly is a good use for the space. More info at: http://www.losttheatre.co.uk/


Walk back along Wandsworth Road towards Vauxhall and soon you will see the next stop across the road

Stop 2: Southbank Club (Former Granada cinema)

This building is now a fitness centre but it was built as the Granada Cinema in 1936 on the site of a smaller cinema dating from 1921 (the Clock Tower Cinema). Apparently it had a fully equipped stage and dressing rooms, but these were rarely used. It was closed by wartime bombing in 1940, only re-opening in 1949. In the early 1960s bingo was introduced. The last film shown in 1965 was “Carry On Nurse”. It was a full time Bingo Club until 1977 when it became a skate-board centre for a time. It was then empty for a while and finally found its current use as a fitness centre in 1986. So this building has now spent more time being used a fitness centre than it did as a cinema.


Keep on walking along Wandsworth Road, crossing over when convenient and stopping at the corner of Pascal Street

Stop 3: Pascal Street/Sainsburys

Now you may be wondering why we have stopped here by the Sainsbury’s car park


Well this stretch of Sainsbury’s car park is destined to be the location of the new Nine Elms tube station on the proposed Northern line extension to Battersea. But even if all goes to plan, you will probably have to wait until 2020 before the trains actually start running. More info on the TfL website:



By the way, just up the road from here was the Vauxhall Iron Works. The company developed a 1 cylinder marine petrol engine to power a small river launch. This engine was later used as the basis for their “horseless carriage,” in 1903.  The main factory was on what is now the Sainsbury’s petrol station. But the company moved to Luton in 1905 to get more space – so now you know how the Vauxhall name became a car brand.

Now cross back over Wandsworth Road and retrace your steps until you get to a Community Centre (in a former Royal Arsenal Co-operative Store in case you were curious) Now venture into the Lansdowne Green estate and at the tower block turn right into Allen Edwards Avenue. Go down this and turn left into Darsley Drive. You will see Cornwallis Court at the corner. This by the way was the site of All Saints Church. Built 1878, it was badly damaged by bombing and subsequently demolished. The parish was merged with St Barnabas which we shall see shortly. This church is so forgotten, there does not appear to be any picture of it – even the diocese of Southwark website says it does not have one.


Pass down the pedestrian passage to the left of the Estate office and go by the Cavendish Arms pub. At the corner turn right into Harrington Road and take the first left, This leads into Lansdowne Gardens.

Stop 4: Lansdowne Gardens

Built in the late 1840s, Lansdowne Gardens is lovely little circus of two storey stuccoed terraces with doric porches. There are four roads broadly north, south, east and west leading out from the circle. You have come in the western arm and the eastern one has a vista to the now deconsecrated St Barnabas church. The church was declared redundant in 1980 and the parish merged with St Anne’s on South Lambeth Road.


Walk down to the church and at the corner turn right into Guildford Road. Go to the end of this.

Stop 5: Stockwell Bus Garage

From this corner, you can see looming ahead of you on the other side of Lansdowne Way there is a giant concrete structure – maybe a multi humped alien spacecraft which has dropped out of the sky of this unsuspecting part of south London. This is the impressive Stockwell bus Garage – an early 1950s concrete structure which could hold some 200 buses. It is huge but if you stick to the main roads you would not even know it is here. It is now Grade 2* listed, given its uniqueness. I did peek in at the entrance on Binfield Road, which is the only one open to the street and there was a foregathering of the new Boris buses. I guess these are going to be used on route 11 which converts to using the new bus on 21 September 2013.


Go down Lansdowne Way past the bus garage. Turn left into South Lambeth Road. Cross when convenient and take the first turning on the right (Aldebert Terrace). Follow this until you reach Albert Square.

Stop 6: Albert Square

Now this is a surprise. An almost complete square of huge houses which would not look out of place in Kensington. This square dates from 1846/47 and so is of the same sort of age as Lansdowne Gardens but oh so much grander. There is just one interloper – a 1950s block on the corner of the road leading to Clapham Road – otherwise it is complete. But looking from that corner by the interloper, you cannot help but see a tower block looming over the square to remind you how quickly this area changes from street to street.

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Albert Square even has a blue plaque to tell us that the artist and illustrator, Arthur Rackham, lived here at Number 27.


Now retrace your steps to South Lambeth Road and turn right.

Stop 7: South Lambeth Road (Little Portugal)

This stretch of South Lambeth Road is the centre of Little Portugal as can be seen from the many portuguese businesses.


Just over the road from this strip of Portuguese businesses is the local library

Stop 8: Tate Library

The Library on South Lambeth Road opened in 1888 as the Tate Free Library. Sir Henry Tate (of Tate gallery fame) provided the building and its site at a total costs of nearly £6,000. It is a three storey red brick building dressed with Portland stone and stands at an angle to the street so you get a really good view of it as you approach from the south.


Cross South Lambeth Road to get to the library side and continue to walk down South Lambeth Road. A little way along is a hotel and a timber yard. This is the site of a Vinegar factory.

Stop 9 Beaufoy (later Sarsons) Vinegar factory

The Beaufoys started making vinegar in 1730. They were originally based at Cuper’s Gardens but this site was needed for the new Strand Bridge, which was later called Waterloo Bridge.  In 1810 the company moved to South Lambeth Road. The Beaufoy company became part of British Vinegars Ltd in 1932 which also included the more well known brand of Sarsons. The Beaufoys still lived on the premises well into the 20th century but the Beaufoy family’s connection with vinegar production ended in 1941 when George Maurice Beaufoy (1893-1941) was killed when a bomb hit the yard and destroyed the library and the principal living rooms of the house.

The building on South Lambeth Road which is now the Comfort Inn Hotel was an office block used by Sarsons and the site next door now used as a timber yard was once part of the Vinegar factory. There are tantalising glimpses of an elegant building with a white clock tower and green cupola. Architectural historian Pevsner indicates this was the Vat house and also says here is the best preserved group of early industrial buildings in the borough (of Lambeth). Unfortunately you cannot get near any of the old buildings.


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Continue along South Lambeth Road cross over at the lights and turn down Fentiman Road. You can take a short detour down Rita Road and go to the gates of Regents Bridge Gardens, where you can get another glimpse of the Vat house of the Beaufoy Vinegar works. By the way not at all sure why this is called Regents Bridge Gardens. There does not seem to be anything remotely like a waterway here over which there might be a bridge. Nor is there any suggestion of a garden. No amount of searching has thrown up an explanation.


Just along Fentiman Road past the park is our next stop on the left

Stop 10: Caron Almshouses, Fentiman Road

Noel de Caron was a dutch diplomat who bought an estate hereabouts in 1604. He founded an Almshouse in 1618 for seven women over 60. By 1850s the building in Wandsworth Road had become unsuitable and it was sold to Price’s Candle Co and later to the Phoenix Gas Co. The current almshouses were built on this site in Fentiman Road in 1854. There are plaques to Caron and other benefactors.

Return along Fentiman Road and go in Vauxhall Park.

Stop 11: Vauxhall Park

According to Lambeth Council, Vauxhall Park was first created by a special Act of Parliament in 1888 on land whose history can be traced back to the sixteenth century.


A number of houses originally stood on the site of the park, including one occupied by Henry Fawcett (1833-1884), statesman and Postmaster General. Vauxhall Park was laid out by the landscape architect Fanny Rollo Wilkinson, one of the few women in this profession at that time. The park was officially opened to the public by HRH the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) on 7 July 1890. It is a rare oasis of green in this part of London and has some lovely features including a little model village (only about 6 houses!) and a new lavender garden.

After the model village head diagonally across the park to the exit by the corner of Lawn Lane. Turn right and walk a little way along South Lambeth Road to our last stop.

Stop 12: The British Interplanetary Society 

I have to say I thought this was a bit of a spoof when I first saw this. British Interplanetary Society – well is this the organisation for strange men with straggly beards sitting in lonely bedsits thinking of ever more bizarre ways to communicate with the little green men on Mars. Well it turns out that this is not quite the case.


The British Interplanetary Society (BIS) is Britain’s leading think tank on space development. Founded in 1933, it is the world’s longest established organization devoted solely to supporting and promoting the exploration of space and astronautics. The BIS is devoted to initiating, promoting and disseminating new concepts and technical information about space flight and astronautics through meetings, symposia, publications, visits and exhibitions.  More info at:


So SW8 has thrown up some surprises. Who would have thought that this was London’s very own Little Portugal and what lovely residential streets from the 1840s there are tucked away off the main roads. Plus a bit of industrial heritage, a unique 1950s concrete bus garage – and an interplanetary think tank!

Now we are almost at Vauxhall with its plentiful opportunities for onward transport by bus rail and tube. 

SW7: Beyond our (South) Ken

SW7 should perhaps be known as Brompton. But when the railway first came in 1868, the station here was called South Kensington, probably because it sounded posher. Later in the early 1900s, the promoters of the railway we now know as the Piccadilly line called their company “The Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway” (GNP & BR) and they included a station called Brompton Road, which was between Knightsbridge and South Kensington. But as we heard in the context of the City and South London railway in SW4, these early Underground promoters learnt by trial and error. And the error that the GNP & BR made was to put some of their stations too close together. By 1909 just three years after opening, passengers were so few and far between at Brompton Road that some trains passed through without stopping. But what really did for Brompton Road was the rebuilding of Knightsbridge station in 1934 with an extra new entrance near Harrods. The station was closed, and during the war was used for military purposes.

But the name Brompton has not disappeared so decisively as Walham Green in SW6, There is the C of E church, Holy Trinity, Brompton, the London Oratory church is often erroneously called the Brompton Oratory and there is a building opposite which used to be Empire House and has now been christened “Brompton Quarter”. And of course there is now the Brompton folding bike which was apparently invented and first made round here.

For the purposes of this walk we are, like the SW1 walk, going to eschew the big ticket items, such as the Museums, the Royal Albert Hall and the site of the Great Exhibition of 1851. We will concentrate on some of the other interesting things here in SW7.

Beyond what we normally think of as South Ken (By the way as far as I can discover Kenneth Horne who hosted the radio show Beyond our Ken, had nothing to do with South Ken and neither did any of the cast – sorry for that teaser)

We start our walk at the Post Office in Old Brompton Road just near South Kensington Station. If you are coming out of the Post Office turn right and walk along Old Brompton Road towards the station. cross over and just by the southern corner of Pelham Place is a statue with its back to the station.

Stop 1: Bela Bartok statue

Bela Bartok was a hungarian composer and the reason his statue is here facing this way is that when he came to London in the 1920s and 1930s he stayed with Sir Duncan and Lady Wilson at 7 Sydney Place, just 250 yards down the road in the direction he is facing. (7 Sydney Place is actually where the blue plaque is). The statue was erected by the Peter Warlock Society, as it was british composer Peter Warlock who was instrumental in bringing Bartok to Britain. Warlock lived in Tite Street SW3 just a few doors along from Oscar Wilde’s house and there is a blue plaque to him there. (As we had more than our fair share of blue plaques in Chelsea I did not mention him in the SW3 walk)


Now cross Pelham Place and ahead of you is the station

Stop 2: South Kensington Station

This was originally two stations side by side on the surface; and then later another one was added underneath. On this side there are two station buildings. To the left is the sub service Metropolitan and District Railways station.


Note the word “and” between “Metropolitan” and “District” showing it was served by two railway companies. In 1868 the first Underground railway company, the Metropolitan Railway,  had extended its line from Paddington as far as South Kensington. The Metropolitan District Railway, a separate company, headed off east from here to Westminster. There were four platforms. The two to the north were the Metropolitan’s and the two to the south were the District’s. The track layout was rationalised in the late 1960s so that all eastbound trains use the old westbound Metropolitan platform and all westbound trains use the old eastbound District platform, so in effect there is a single island platform from which you can go in either direction.

The old eastbound Metropolitan platform is disused but can still be seen but the old westbound District platform was demolished in the early 1970s to allow the lifts to the Piccadilly line to be replaced by escalators. So if you have ever wondered why there is so much apparently wasted space at South Ken station that is why.

The arcade we see today was built in 1907 and was one of a number of over station developments on the sub-surface lines at this time. I guess this was made possible with the electrification of these lines. By 1907 the Metropolitan District Railway was known as the District Railway hence the wording on the sign.

In 1906 the station for the GNP & BR was built beneath the sub surface station. The building we see to the right of the arcade housed the lifts and has the typical dark red glazed tiles of the deep level tube lines built by companies owned by the Underground Electric Railway Company of London. At the moment this building is covered in scaffolding


Now go through the arcade and turn right into Thurloe Street, left into Exhibition Road and then right into Thurloe Place. Follow Thurloe Place until you reach the junction of Brompton Road. Across the road is our next stop.

Stop 3: London (or Brompton) Oratory

Here we have a little bit of Rome in London.


An Oratory is a group of Catholic priests and lay-brothers who live together in a community bound together by no formal vows but only with the bond of charity. Founded in Rome in 1575 by St. Philip Neri, today it has spread around the world, with over 70 Oratories, of which three are in the UK. The London Oratory was founded in 1849, the year after Cardinal Newman established the Birmingham Oratory.

The original London premises were near Charing Cross. In 1854 the community moved to its present Brompton Road site. An Oratory House was built in 1854, followed by a large temporary church. The church was replaced in 1884 by the present neo-baroque building. I cannot possibly do justice to this magnificent building so here is a link to the Oratory’s own website where you can do their tour.


Cross the road and pass in front of the Oratory to where you will find a driveway.

Stop 4: Holy Trinity, Brompton

Just past the Oratory is the driveway that takes you to Holy Trinity, Brompton – the Church of England parish church. It is curious to say the least that the catholic church managed to build their massive Oratory on such a prominent site in effect overshadowing the parish church. If it was not for the sign, you would perhaps not even realise there was a church down here.

The church dates from the 1820s and is built on the site of a burial ground for St George’s Hospital which used to be just up the road. Today Holy Trinity Brompton is perhaps best known as the place where something called the Alpha Course started. I will not even attempt to explain what the Alpha course is and is not! If you are interested, you will no doubt find out for yourself.


By the way, you can see the remaining surface building of Brompton Road station beyond the Boris bike stands. This however is over the border in Cottage Place SW3.


It has just been put up for sale by the Ministry of Defence who have had it since the war. Offers in the order of £20 million expected.

http://londonist.com/2013/07/brompton-road-tube-station-for-sale.php (you may need to open in a new window)

Retrace your steps along Thurloe Place, staying on the same side of the road as the Victoria and Albert Museum. This road becomes Cromwell road. Stop just after the junction of Exhibition Road where across the road you will see the junction of Cromwell Place.

 Stop 5: Sir Charles Freake (21 Cromwell Road)

Now almost totally forgotten, Sir Charles Freake (1814 – 1884) played a major role as an architect and builder in this part of London, responsible for much of the development south of South Kensington station (in particular Onslow Square and Onslow Gardens). In 1860, he moved to Cromwell House, 21 Cromwell Road, which continued to be his London home for the rest of his life. The blue plaque by the way is around the corner in Cromwell Place.


Continue along Cromwell Road and a little further on you will see a modern building that breaks the Victorian terrace. 

Stop 6: Lycée Français, Cromwell Road

Here on the Cromwell road and just behind is a little bit of London which is forever France. It is the location of the Alliance Français and the Lycée and the presence of these has led to this area being a magnet for french speakers. London Mayor Boris Johnson loves to point out (especially to visiting French politicians) that given the population of ex-pat French people in London, he is also Mayor of the sixth largest French city. The Lycée is a 1950s infill of a gap caused by bomb damage.

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Keep walking along Cromwell Road and cross Queen’s Gate when you get to it. Ahead on the corner is our next stop

Stop 7 Baden Powell House

At the corner of Cromwell Road and Queen’s Gate is the headquarters of the Scout movement, founded by Lord Robert Baden Powell. This building dates from 1959 – 1961

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The scouting movement it seems sorted of started by accident. Baden Powell was a military man and had written a manual “Aids to Scouting”. This was a summary of lectures he had given on the subject of military scouting. Much of it was a written explanation of the lessons he had learned from an American Frederick Russell Burnham, who introduced Baden-Powell to the American Old West and woodcraft (what today we might call, scoutcraft).

By the early 1900s “Aids to Scouting” had become a best-seller, and was being used by teachers and youth organisations. Baden-Powell decided to re-write Aids to Scouting to suit a youth readership and in August 1907 he held a camp on Brownsea Island to test out his ideas. About twenty boys attended. He published the revised version as “Scouting for Boys” in six instalments in 1908. This as they say was the start of something big.

Walk along Queen’s Gate in front of Baden Powell House away from Cromwell Road. Cross over Queen’s Gate when convenient and take the first turning on the right – Imperial College Road (this has a barrier but there is pedestrian access for the public). Go down this road until the green which is on the left.

Stop 8: Imperial Tower

Standing on the green in splendid isolation is a tower. This is all that is left of the Imperial Institute. This Institute was founded after the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 and was intended to encourage emigration, expand trade, and to promote the commercial and industrial prosperity of the empire.  The original building was constructed between 1887 and 1893.. It had three copper-roofed Renaissance-style towers, but a single 85-metre tower, Queen’s Tower, is all that now remains after demolition in the 1950s to make way for Imperial College.


There were four majestic stone lions which sat either side of the entrance to the Imperial Institute. Two can now be seen at the base of the tower, The other two were moved to the institute’s successor, the Commonwealth Institute in Holland Park. Not sure what has happened to these now the Commonwealth institute has moved out and the Design Museum is going to take over the building in Holland Park.

Retrace your steps to Queen’s Gate. Cross over Queen’s Gate and turn right. Take the second on the left and then immediately take a right into Queen’s Gate Mews.

Stop 9: Queen’s Arms

This lovely pub in Queens Gate Mews to the west of Queens Gate is I believe the closest pub to the Royal Albert Hall should you be in need of a drink after a hard night at the Proms, or indeed now. The mews themselves are also lovely.


Retrace your steps to Queen’s Gate cross over, turn left  and take the first turning on the right (Prince Consort Road)

Stop 10: Holy Trinity Church, Prince Consort Road

Not to be confused with the nearby Holy Trinity Brompton, this is an early 20th century Church which replaced a much older chapel.


Pevsner describes this as “an exceptionally sensitive interpretation of a 14th Century hall church making the most of a confined site.”


To the left of the main altar, next to a side chapel is a monument which dates from 1910 but looks Jacobean.


This is the memorial to G F Bodley. This church was one of the last designed by Bodley but even so the style of his monument is a little odd as Bodley’s work harked back to a much earlier time.

Retrace your steps to Queen’s Gate, turn right and go to the end of Queen’s Gate. Here on Kensington Road turn left. 

Stop 11 Hyde Park Gate (part 1)

Hyde Park Gate is an odd street for a couple of reasons. First, the buildings numbered as Hyde Park Gate are partly facing onto Kensington Road and partly in two dead end streets, so the numbering goes along Kensington Road then down one side street and back again and then a bit further along Kensington Road and down the other side street and back again. But even odder is that Hyde Park Gate is not near Hyde Park – the greenery you can see across Kensington Road s actually Kensington Gardens.

Take the first street on the left

This stretch of road must vie for the most blue plaques (seven!) and most are of people you might actually have heard of. As the numbers go up one side and down the other,  we will follow the order one sees them rather than the house number order.

Starting on the left at number 9 is Robert Baden Powell, founder of the scout movement who we heard about earlier.


Then on the right at Number 29 is where the author Enid Bagnold lived. Her best known works are the 1935 novel National Velvet (later made into a film in 1944 with Elizabeth Taylor) and the 1955 play, the Chalk Garden.


Next and on the left at Number 18, is the house where Sir Jacob Epstein lived. In fact he died here in 1959.

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Across the road at Number 28 is the house where Sir Winston Churchill spent his last years.


And finally at Number 22 on the left is a triple whammy – Victorian author, critic and mountaineer, Sir Leslie Stephen and his two daughters who are better known as Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. The two women were born here in 1879 and 1882 respectively and it was the family home until 1904 when Sir Leslie died. The house was sold and this is when the two sisters moved to Bloomsbury.

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Now retrace your steps to Kensington Road. Turn left and take the first left which is also called Hyde Park Gate but has the higher numbered houses.

Stop 12: Hyde Park Gate (Part 2)

This section of Hyde Park Gate has a couple of the original houses in the street (numbers 42 and 45) which overlook a delightful little garden.


Now to get out from here you go down what looks like a private street. It is called Reston Place and there is a gate across. But when you get to the other end (which is Palace Gate), there is a sign confirming this is a public right of way. Go on try it. By the way the picture is looking back from Palace Gate.

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Now we have left SW7 and are in W8. Although not strictly within the “rules”, do have a look at Number 2 Palace Gate which has a blue plaque to show this is where the painter John Everett Millais lived and died.


So this brings us to the end of the SW7 walk. A walk which shows how this area has always attracted well known people from the time it was developed. But again we have seen how the naming of a railway station has a profound influence on what people call an area. So hello South Ken; farewell Brompton.

 We are now in Palace Gate where you can get buses to High Street Kensington or Gloucester Road. Or you could even walk to either.

SW6: Whatever happened to Walham Green?

Imagine you were on a District line train to Wimbledon just before the war. After West Brompton you could have got out at a station called Walham Green. And there you could have gone to a variety show at the Granville Theatre, Walham Green, or seen a film at the Red Hall or Regal cinemas both in Walham Green. None of this exists anymore. The station was renamed Fulham Broadway by London Transport in 1952 after representations from Fulham Chamber of Commerce. The Granville, the Red House and the Regal have all been demolished.

Now ask anyone in the streets round here and they would not say they were in Walham Green. They would say Fulham Broadway. Walham Green has been wiped from collective consciousness. I guess it must have been a bit confusing as the street almost outside the station is actually called Fulham Broadway. There does not seem to be any open space called Walham Green. It would have been where the Granville Theatre was. And there is only one street name with both Walham and Green – Walham Green Court off Waterford Road .  So once the station was renamed, the place took its name from that and so Walham Green became redundant.

We will come to Walham Green in a bit but we do not start the SW6 walk there.

The Post Office in Fulham is a little way down North End Road in a Co-op  shop, so I have decided to use my editorial discretion and start the walk at the nearest station. This is West Brompton which happens to be just in SW10 but right at the point where SW10 meets SW5 and SW6. So we turn left out of West Brompton station and crossing the railway bridge we are now safely in SW6, in Lillie Road. Ahead and to our right is our first port of call.

Stop 1: Empress State Building

You cannot miss the Empress State Building as it is by far the biggest thing around here. Originally built in 1961 it had 28 storeys but when it was refurbished in 2003 it got an extra 3 storeys, taking it to 117 metres tall. Even so it is now only joint 33rd tallest building in London along with Centre Point.


The Empress State Building in on the site of the Empress Theatre which in the 1930s became an ice rink known as the Empress Hall. So that explains the first part of the name and apparently the rest is in tribute to the Empire State Building. However the Empire State Building at 443 metres (including the antenna) is more than 3.75 times the height of the Empress State Building. Even today the UK does not have a building taller that the Empire State building – the Shard which is the tallest in the EU comes in at “only” 309.7 metres.

The Empress State Building is now occupied by Metropolitan Police Service and there is a revolving bar at the very top. A while back I was fortunate enough to go to a drinks reception up there, I got talking to a person who had put his briefcase down by the window. After a few minutes I realised that the briefcase was no longer beside us. We were standing on the revolve which was slowly turning but his briefcase was not. It was hard to avoid mention of his disappearing briefcase, but I somehow managed.

Keep on walking down Lillie Road until you reach the two very mini roundabouts. Here turn left into North End Road.

Stop 2: North End Road

The first thing to say about this part of North End Road is that on most weekdays, it is still a real street market. Pretty much all fruit and veg, with people actually queuing at the stalls. Not much in the way of cheap clothes stalls and certainly no fancy bakery products or obscure take away food. Borough Market it ain’t.

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As we go down North End Road on the right at the corner of Coomer Place, there is a break in the shops and here stands a uncommercial looking mid 19th villa set back off the road with a rather jolly lion on the top. This was until 1992 the premises of an architectural salvage company called T Crowther & Son.

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In 1992, they commissioned Christies to auction off their stock (almost 1500 lots in all). There was an interesting article in the Independent newspaper at the time. There is also a Facebook page with an 8 minute video which is worth a watch:



It seems that the premises were turned into a market (called Crowther Market) but this no longer operates. At some point, the building became  a drugs and alcohol addiction centre for the NHS. But it still keeps a link to the past as the premises calls itself “Crowther Market” – a little reminder of the past.

Keep walking down North End Road and as the market ends you will see on your left the only street immediately hereabouts with the name “Walham”.

Stop 3: Walham Grove


Walham Grove dates from 1862 and is a delightful street a world away from the hustle and bustle of the market. I doubt somehow the people who live here shop much in the market


After this little detour return to North End Road. Cross over the side street which is Vanston Place. To your left is St John’s church dating from the 1820s and to your right is the former Fulham Public Baths and Wash Houses

Stop 4: Fulham Public Baths

These baths date from 1902 and just the front section remains, used a dance studio. Very jolly building it is too. Of course now houses come with bathrooms and most people have washing machines, it has lost its reason for being. But it is good that the building has found a new practical use.

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Keep on walking and just past the junction with Dawes Road you will see on your right, a Waitrose supermarket. This is the site of the Regal cinema

Stop 5: Site of Regal (later ABC) cinema


This cinema was built in 1935. It closed in 1972 and staggered on with various uses until demolished in 1984 to make way for a Safeway supermarket. With the demise of Safeway, this shop was acquired  by Waitrose. I guess you could say the replacement building has the echoes of a cinema building, but you can see from picture on the link, it looks nothing like what was actually here.


Now retrace your steps to Vanston Place, go down a little way and across the road you will find a brand new building on the left.

Stop 6: Site of Red Hall (later Gaumont) Cinema

Here is a new block of flats with some commercial space below as yet untenanted. This was for almost 100 years where the Red Hall Picture Palace stood.


Built in 1913, this was renamed the Gaumont, Walham Green in 1950. It finally closed as a cinema in 1962, becoming a bingo hall for the next forty five years. Amazingly this building was allowed to be demolished in 2011. There is a recent plaque as a reminder of the old building.

There are some great photos of the interior when it was a bingo hall plus a couple of exterior shots; one which looks like it is from the 1930s and a later one showing how the facade was hidden behind cladding.


Keep walking down Vanston Place and on your right is a modern office building

Stop 7: Site of Granville Theatre

It is hard to believe that on this relatively small triangular site there used to be a theatre. Not just any old theatre but one designed by none other than the master theatre builder, Frank Matcham.


By all accounts this theatre building was seriously weird. For a start it is on a very constricted site completed surrounded by streets.  On the outside at the most pointed corner were two minarets along the top of the facade plus another minaret dome above the entrance. But the most unusual feature of the theatre was that the entire auditorium was covered in highly glazed faiance tiles rather than decorative plasterwork. It is said this is the only theatre known to have such a decorative treatment.

It was built in 1898 and was for most of its working life presented variety shows. It spent the 1950s and most of the 1960s being used for film and television. In the autumn of 1971, planning permission was granted to demolish the Granville Theatre, to be replaced by an office block. Despite protests to save the Granville Theatre, the fight was not successful. The loss of the Granville was a wake up call for other theatres in a similar position to be saved, by being given Listed building status. I do think it is sad that the Granville and Walham Green’s other two places of mass entertainment have not made it to today.

Loads more interesting stuff on the Granville on the wonderful Arthur Lloyd site: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/FulhamTheatres.htm

Keep walking down Vanston Place and it joins Fulham Broadway. Ahead to your left is our next stop

Stop 8: Fulham Broadway station

There has been a station here since 1880.  Today the entrance to the station is though a small modern shopping mall. But just before you get to that there is a rather handsome older station building dating from 1905 when the station was rebuilt to handle the crowds going to Chelsea Football Club.

Now this must be a source of confusion for visiting fans in that the only station with the name Fulham in it is nearest Chelsea Football Club and you have to go to Putney Bridge for Fulham Football Club, which in itself is a bit confusing because Putney Bridge station is not actually in Putney but in Fulham!

The old station building is currently disused  but it gives its origins away at the right hand side where there is an arch with the word “Exit” above and you can look though this and see the station below.


Look across the road and you can see Fulham’s old town hall. It actually has two entrances one on Harwood Road and the other (pictured) on Fulham Road

Stop 9: Fulham Town hall

This was the home of the old Fulham Borough Council which in 1965 merged with Hammersmith to form today’s borough. The main section on Fulham Road dates from the late 1880s. The Harwood Road entrance is the access to a concert hall and dates from 1904/5. It has sumptuous interiors and has pictorial stained glass made by local firm Lowdes and Drury.


In May this year, Hammersmith and Fulham Council exchanged contracts with US retail and leisure group Dory Ventures for the sale of Fulham Town Hall. Dory is planning to convert the Grade II listed building into a shopping arcade to comprise a flagship store for children’s shop Maclaren as well as a number of boutique shops and a restaurant. The upper floors will be converted to provide 15-20 new homes.

Keep walking on this side of the street and soon you will reach the gates of the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation.

Stop 10: Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation

Sir Oswald Stoll (1866 – 1942) was an Australian-born British theatre manager. In 1898 he joined forces with Edward Moss to form Moss Empires which ended up with a musical hall in virtually every major British town. Stoll also owned Cricklewood Film Studios, one of the leading British studios of the Silent era.

Stoll was a philanthropist who donated the land in 1916 here in Fulham for an organisation called the War Seal Foundation (renamed the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation in the late 1930s). This was a charity for disabled soldiers returning from World War I and their families. The foundation continues to house disabled ex-servicemen and women to this day, but in addition also provides supported housing for veterans suffering from mental ill health, and those who, having left the Forces, have found themselves homeless.



Stoll’s foundation was clearly well connected when it was set up because in addition to 8 members of Royalty whose names are on the supporters list, the Governing Council has Sir Jesse Boot (of Boots fame) and H Gordon Selfridge as well as the then Prime Minister’s wife (just listed as Mrs H H Asquith).


Keep walking along Fulham Road and immediately after the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation building, you come to one of the entrances to Chelsea Football Club

Stop 11: Chelsea Football Club

In 1904, Gus Mears, a football enthusiast and businessman, along with his brother, Joseph Mears, purchased the freehold of Stamford Bridge Athletics Ground with the intention of staging first-class football matches there. They failed to persuade the already established Fulham club to adopt the ground as their home. But in March 1905, a new club was set up in a local pub. They used the new ground but could not use the name Fulham so the club chose the name Chelsea as it was almost in Chelsea.


In 2003, Chelsea were bought by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, ushering in the club’s current phase of success.

Go in this gate and ahead you will see the vast West Stand

Immediately outside the West Stand is a statue of Peter Osgood, one of the club’s most famous players. In total, Osgood made 380 appearances for Chelsea, scoring 150 goals.

He was commonly called “Ossie” and also known as “The King of Stamford Bridge” due to his exceptional skills as a player and because of his personality. It is said that movie star Raquel Welch once wore a T-shirt which simply said “I scored with Osgood”. His ashes by the way are buried under one of the penalty spots (the Shed End of the pitch).


Go back out the gate you came in and turn left. Continue down Fulham Road, crossing over. Just before a second entrance to the football club take the turning on the right (Holmead Road). At the end is King’s Road, turn left and cross over. Just before the railway bridge on the right there is the Jam Tree pub and a turning which is little more than a path bearing the name, Rewell Street. Go down here. 

Stop 12: Sandford Manor

According the architectural historian Pevsner in this street there is a building known as Sandford Manor House, one time residence of Nell Gwynne, mistress of King Charles II. Pevsner says “Despite it 19th Century roughcast and parapet, [it is] essentially a mid 17th century house, a rare survival in the inner suburbs.” After long neglect, it was restored and converted into office in the late 1980s.

Now I have not yet managed to locate this building. I thought it may be behind this black door which appears to be the only thing of note in the pathway which is called Rewell Street before it gives way to Gwyn Close. But it may not be in Rewell Street at all and it has been suggested to me that it is in the grounds of the nearby gasworks. So when I find out I will amend this post.


So here we are at the end of our SW6 walk. We have not managed to get to the Hurlingham club or to Fulham Palace but have focussed on the eastern side of SW6. We have heard about the lost world of Walham Green, not to mention the lost world of an architectural salvage company and a 17th century mansion which I have not quite located! But the place is still very much alive with a vibrant street market and a thriving Football club.

For onward travel it is probably easiest to retrace your steps to Fulham Broadway station, although there are a few bus routes serving King’s Road for onward travel.