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.
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.
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
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.