A few months ago, I was passing along Lambeth Road when I was asked by some Americans how to find Lambeth 'Walk. Obviously, these tourists had expected something of greater interest than the towering blocks of flats with which they were confronted when I showed them the way. I wished they could have been 'the 'Walk' when it was rumbustious, dirty, but full of the life of the streets.
In Elizabethan times, Lambeth consisted of a few houses near St Mary's church and a narrow strip of buildings, bordering the river up to Vauxhall. There were a few houses along Church Street (now Lambeth Road) and Lambeth Butts (now Black Prince Road), but otherwise little development further from the river than the High Street (then known as Back Lane) until the end of the 18th century.
The fields of Lambeth were a favourite resort for Londoners wishing to have a day out in the country. Running matches and outdoor sports took place, and to add to the attractions, some mineral springs were discovered there which flourished as the Lambeth 'Wells for about 50 years in the 18th century. The waters of Lambeth were widely advertised, and accepted by many people of the time as universal medicine. A rising of the vapours, a scorbutic humour, an inniterate cancer could all be cured, as 'eminent physicians' constantly testified, by drinking these unpleasant but harmless beverages - if possible on the spot or at any rate in bottles sent out by the dozen and stamped with the proprietor's seal.
In April 1696, in the reign of William III, an announcement appeared in the London Gazette which said:Lambeth Purging Waters in Langton Gardens, Lambeth Fields near the Three Coneys will be opened tomorrow. The place is extremely pleasant and fitted for the entertainment of persons of all qualities. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays the music will be continued till 4 in the afternoon and the other days till 7. To prevent mistakes , on the top of the house which covers the Well is a Golden Ball.
It is thought that the original name of Three Coney Walk was taken from an old inn which stood there in manorial times. It cannot be certain that this was the first public announcement of the opening of Lambeth Wells. Such places usually began by merely supplying the waters, entertainment came afterwards.
At any rate, in the early 18th century, the Large or Great Room was built to provide accommodation for dancing. Booths and raffling shops were set up for players and gamblers. A visitor could spend a trifle on cheesecakes and syllabub for the ladies, and order for himself some bottled ale and such substantial viands as were afforded by the tavern or the master's dwelling house attached to the Wells.
The Lambeth Wells although never as large and popular as the nearby Spring Gardens (later Vauxhall Gardens) were still flourishing in 1721. An advertisement in the Daily Courant of 18th March 1721 mentions 'a Consort of good music with French and Country Dancing..' A rider to the advertisement lends a note of gentility: 'Note there will be attendance given every morning to any Gentlemen or Ladies that have occasion to drink the Waters.' However by 1736 the popularity of the Wells was declining, patrons by then preferring the delights of the Spa Waters in St George's Fields at the 'Dog and Duck' just outside the borders of the Lambeth parish. The Wells were still kept open as a place of dancing and public amusement. Thomas Allen writes: 'a Penny Wedding after the Scotch Fashion for the benefit of a young couple was advertised to be kept here in 1752'.
In 1740, the owner of the Wells was a Mr O'Keeffe, and he was succeeded by "!r Ireland; at which time a Musical Society or concert met monthly under the direction of Mr Sterling Goodwin, organist of St Saviours church (Southwark cathedral). The cultural tone of the neighbourhood was further enhanced at the same time by the learning of one Erasmus King who read lectures and exhibited experiments on Natural Philosophy' - admittance sixpence.
But less than ten years later, in about 1758, the Wells was condemned as a nuisance and a common brothel and a dancing licence refused. But it continued as a tea-garden and meeting place and at one stage was let to a Methodist preacher (by profession a needle maker) who used the music gallery for a pulpit, till, being disturbed greatly in his enthusiastic harangues, he was obliged to quit; then the whole premises were converted to various purposes. One source says it became a common alehouse by the name of 'the Well' but another source says the dwelling in 1786 was known as a tavern called 'The Fountain'.
It is certain that this tavern, whatever its name, was demolished and rebuilt in 1829 and was known as 'The Fountain' from that time. In digging the foundations many glass bottles and flagons of a peculiar shape were found with the initials "P.K." on them, being those of Mr O'Keeffe mentioned as the former owner of the Wells. In Robson's London Directory of 1837, 'The Fountain' was numbered 141 Lambeth Walk; later it was renumbered to 105. It continued to trade as a public house and appeared annually as such in the Post office Trade Directory up to 1915. , In the following year it was tenanted by Alfred George Body, hosier.
No 105 Lambeth Walk was still there at the time of writing, but boarded up and empty. After many years as a hosiers, it finished its last few years as an eel and pie shop. It had a wide facade, and one could easily see that it was once a Victorian public house. A photographic record of it was badly needed before it finally came under the sledgehammers of the demolition squad - for with its going went the last link with the old Wells.
There were three windmills in the vicinity of Lambeth Walk, and they were much used by the market gardens which helped to swell the food supplies for the ever-growing population north of the Thames in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Some of this food was grown in a market garden held by one Simon Harding who had a cottage and smallholding of three acres in Walnut Tree Walk. Looking at it today, it stretches the imagination to see it as a lane leading into Three Coney Walk and thence into the fields. Ducarel tells us that by 1185 Three Coney Walk was by then generally called Lambeth Walk, a name lately given by the builders of several new houses there.
The most northerly windmill was in a field to the west of the Walk and north of Paradise Row. It was approached by means of a lane which later became known as Mill Street (now Juxon Street, after an Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1660s). The first evidence of the mill's existence is a drawing by Bernard Lens in 1135 entitled "a view of the Palace of Lambeth" which shows the mill standing before the palace as seen from the river. Apparently it was a tower mill with four sails. It also appeared in Rocque's survey of 1741-5 and in later maps including one of 1767.
The first name connected with the mill is from a rate book of 1770, where Thomas Corner is charged 15s (75p) on a rateable value of �30. In 1809, we know that John Fleet became the miller; unfortunately the London Gazette of 3 August 1811 referred to him as being in bankruptcy. After that the mill was taken over by Mr B Holden who occupied it until 1820.
A watercolour by H Pyall of 1820 shows the mill as a seven-storey tower, being circular and stone built, with an upper ten-sided portion of wood. There were four common sails with furled canvas and a semispherical cap. By this date, the mill appears hemmed in by small houses on all sides, although only eight years previously, in 1812, a map by WES Driver showed the area to the south of Mill Street as open ground.
The census of 1841 mentions several millers living in the area, but whether they worked in the mill is not certain. There was Thomas Vine aged 40, miller, who lived with his family in Mill Street, David Knight aged 25 and his wife who lived in Windmill Street which was approximately on the site of the present day Sail Street, and John Athill aged 30, miller, living in Lambeth Walk.
The mill was still shown on maps in its later years; the last one on which it appears is that of Crutchley dated 1841, which also shows the route of the railway line extension, then under construction from Nine Elms to York Road, Waterloo, passing close to the west of the mill site. It was undoubtedly this which led to demolition. No further maps or documents mention the mill. The railway extension opened on 11 July 1848. but the 1851 census shows Z Blavean. shoemaker still carrying on his trade in the mill yard in Mill Street.
The opening of Westminster Bridge in 1750, had led to considerable expansion and development in Lambeth, and a new road was laid down from the bridge, which eventually linked with Brighton. Some fine houses were built in the Lambeth and Kennington Roads, but within a few decades the area began to fill up with poor housing and many of the existing properties in Lambeth were converted into rooming houses and apartments. Seventy years later, the Ordnance map of 1875 shows the area entirely built up, in and around Lambeth Walk, except for a small open space called Fountain Gardens.
Just as, by the 1780s, there was a great contrast between the eastern and western suburbs of London - the rich by now living in the superb street and squares that were being developed in the West End and the poor becoming more and more the sole inhabitants of the old, narrow and dank streets of the East End - so a similar gulf was beginning to emerge between north and south of the river. The South Bank was becoming a centre for the dirtier trades, such as the tanneries of Bemondsey, the market gardens of Lambeth were gradually replaced by potteries, glass works, breweries, and the ever-growing timber yards.
Between 1808 and 1831, the population of Lambeth trebled. Many of the houses of the poor were so substandard that they were not even assessed for rates. The coming of the railways to Lambeth in the 1840s caused a great deal of hardship on those poor people displaced from their homes. Large areas of working-class London were laid waste. South of the Thames, the ecclesiastical commissioners and numerous City companies were only too keen to rid themselves of the embarrassing slum properties which had been developed on their lands in Lambeth, in return for a healthy income by way of compensation from the railway companies.
The census of 1851 conveys a fascinating glimpse of the trades and industries which by then were flourishing in Lambeth Walk. In that year, the number of shops exceeded the living accommodation. For example, at No 3� lived Joseph Simmons, aged 33. carrying on business as a chemist, Burgeon and dentist; also his wife Elizabeth Ann, aged 32; their 6 month old daughter Maria Mercy; Emily Gibbs (Mr Simmons' unmarried sister-in-law) aged 35; and Francis Salter, their 11 year old general servant.
At No.48, lived john GaIvin; aged 24; carrying on business as a hatter journeyman; also his wife Jane, aged 26. hat trimmer; James Fulham. their servant and errand boy. aged 14. In the same premises, James Hutchens, aged 25. hatter's assistant. and Phoebe, his wife aged 26 and their three children aged 4, 2 and 1.
The Trades Directory of 1848 lists No 50 Lambeth Walk as being in the hands of Joseph S Maynard "furn. ironmonger", but by 1851 the shop had changed hands and William Shepherd, aged 25, was carrying on business there as a confectioner with his wife Elizabeth, aged 27; also William his one year old son and Thomas his three month old son, and a general servant by the name of Sarah Derwent who was 12 years old.
At 76 Lambeth Walk in 1851 there lived a clockmaker from Germany. He was Ulbricht Bernhart, clockmaker master, aged 34, employing two men also born in Germany. They were Mathias Lickert, aged 29, servant journeyman, and Magrais Reich, aged 28, also servant journeyman.
At 78 Lambeth Walk, there lived in 1851 Sarah Dean, a widow then aged 76, having been born in Braintree, Essex in 1775. This may have been a private house, as she gives as her occupation "lodging house keeper".
At 82 Lambeth Walk, which appears to have been a private house, lived Henry Hill, a coal dealer. This family occupied only half the house. He had a wife Elizabeth who listed her occupation as "mangling" .She had a son aged two years and a daughter aged six.
The census also revealed changes in work then available. At No 7 Mill Street, living with his 26 year old daughter Ann, a servant, was Henry Armstrong - formerly a cheesemonger, but in 1851 he had become a railway porter. At No. 2 Mill Street was Walter Trill, described as an "engine driver", aged 16. His father John Trill was a 54 year old carpenter and joiner. At 12 Mill Street lived a 44 year old railway guard from Ireland.
Rapid deterioration of the area followed the coming of the railways to Lambeth. Streets were cut up or dismembered, while damp dark arches formed by the viaducts encouraged more disreputable people to the district. The better-off citizens, because of the convenience of railway travel, were able to move out to outer suburbs like Streatham and Norwood. By the end of the 19th century, over 100,000 people had been uprooted from their homes in London by the coming of the railway. The area around Lambeth Walk was crowded with poorer people who could not afford to move away.
The opening of a school in 1851 indicates the nature of the neighbourhood by that year. In Doughty Street (now Newport Street), close to Lambeth Walk, a handsome building -a Ragged School - was built. It had been inaugurated on 5 March 1851 at a public meeting. Lord Ashley was in the Chair and a Mr Fred Doveton, Hon Sec to the Committee, gave a speech on the origin of the school. Re said: "In 1845 a few of the destitute and degraded children of Lambeth were accustomed to assemble for instruction on Sabbath evening in a schoolroom in Palace Yard near the Palace. In the following year a committee was formed by some people in the neighbourhood for affording children instruction during the week. The school was shortly removed to one of the arches of the South West Railway Company, being granted for the purpose, and about that time excited the sympathy and support of the late Mrs Beaufoy and on her death her husband intimated his intention of perpetuating her memory and fulfilling her benevolent wishes by founding these schools".
The building cost �10,000 with a further �4,000 for permanent maintenance. The accommodation was for 800 children, with two large classrooms, one for boys and one for girls; there were two reception rooms for training children on first admission and four smaller classrooms where young persons "who show more than the usual diligence are taught in higher branches of education". In 1904 the railway was widened and all but the southern wing was pulled down; it is still in existence today. The school was removed to temporary premises in Auckland Street, Vauxhall, and later to Wandsworth.
A street market was in existence in the Walk by the 1860s. In a report by the London County Council dated 6 December 1901, from a survey made that year, it is stated: "It is noticeable that the street markets of London are to be found in the greatest numbers and in the most flourishing condition in the midst of densely populated arid poor neighbourhoods. They fulfil a most useful purpose as they are largely the means by which the surplus produce remaining unsold in the authorised markets is distributed amongst the poorer classes.
"Costermongers are keenly alive in ascertaining when a product is at exceptionally low prices and are always ready to purchase and distribute an almost unlimited quantity when that is the case. By this means the bumble consumer is frequently able to purchase food at a lower price than it has been quoted wholesale at the authorised market, as the costermonger is able to sell at a low profit by reason of his expenses being small."
The first survey of street markets made by the LCC was in 1893, as that body was some- what concerned about the condition of London street markets at the time. The 1893 report said of Lambeth Walk: "The market was held in that part of Lambeth Walk extending from Princes Road to Regent Street and from East Street to Union Street, a distance of about 230 yards�.
"It is a densely populated district consisting almost entirely of third and fourth rate property. There are several large pottery and other works in the immediate neighbourhood and the residents in the district consist chiefly of artisans and the labouring class.
"The market has been flourishing there for over 30 years (1860) and is continuous, most business being done on Saturdays, and is apparently slowly decreasing. It supplies the immediate neighbourhood only. The following is a list of the stalls:(a) Perishable goods:
A few of the above stalls belong to shopkeepers of Lambeth Walk who trade in vegetables and meat.
"The roadway is about 20 ft. wide for about 70 yards where the stalls are on both sides of the street and about 7ft. is occupied by the market. For the remaining portion of about 160 yards, from 3ft. to 4ft. is taken by the stalls, leaving about 13ft. and 17ft. respectively for the vehicular and general traffic, which is not seriously inconvenienced except at the narrowest part".
In spite of the observation in 1893 that the market was slowly declining, the LCC report of 1901 said it had enlarged to 70 Perishable goods stalls and 45 non-perishable goods stalls, and was "considered to be a boon to the district and no steps have been taken to remove it".
Mary Benedetta, in her book Street Markets of London, published in 1936, draws a less rosy picture of Lambeth Walk market. She says that Lambeth Walk market, although historically interesting, was a poor kind of street market, rather like the New Cut, which she describes thus:
The writer of this article has been able to draw on the memories of people in the district for other information about the Walk. It is generally remembered as incredibly poor but seemingly cheerful; the poor knew each other well and helped each other out. Rooms were let for 2/6 per week in the 1930s and if tenants could not raise the money, in would come the bailiffs and the workhouse was the alternative. One informant remembers as a child going with her friend to wave to an old lady in the workhouse; the old lady was the child's grandmother. She cannot recall it as an unhappy occasion. An- other memory is of her mother helping a distressed neighbour by removing the best blanket from her bed and sending one of her 12 children down the Walk to Harvey & Thompson, pawnbrokers, with instructions to say that mother wanted 2/6 until Saturday. The money was given to the neighbour for her rent, and the blanket replaced with a sheet of brown paper on the bed.
Every Monday morning women queued up to pawn their articles of clothing to get a few shillings to take them through the week until pay-day on Saturday. In 1916, Harvey & Thompson had three pawn broking shops in the Walk, at Nos 107 ,109 and 209 so business must have been brisk. Leisure time was spent in the pubs, and there were well over a hundred in Lambeth, four of them in Lambeth Walk itself. These pubs served a useful social purpose because of the overcrowded conditions in the homes. A friend of the writer's can remember being hungry at times when a child and would have to go to the butcher in the Walk and tender food relief tickets for meat. She remembers vividly the ignominy of waiting at the back, preference being given to cash customers.
There were lodging-houses for the impecunious, and if one had not the cash for abed there, the alternative was the "Tuppenny Lean" - a room where the proprietor placed a rope across at about shoulder height for the patrons to lean on and have a sleep. If they had not cleared off in the morning, he had an expeditious way of emptying his lodging house of leaners. he simply let down the rope!
In the 1920s, you could fill your bags with groceries for less than 10/- (50p); the shops remained open until at least 9pm and the streets were full of laughter and singing in the pubs . You could get your supper by taking any of your bed-linen to the pawnbrokers and managing to 'rough it' for a night or two.
The Walk now has a modern shopping precinct, and the remains of the old buildings there are fast disappearing. Behind the fortified monolith of concrete, brick and glass the informed observer can, every now and then, catch a glimpse of a more romantic past in the names of some of the places in and around it.
Old Paradise Street reminds us of its 17th century fields, Walnut Tree Walk of its market gardens, Sail Street of the mill that stood there for many years, and Beaufoy Technical School reminds us of the benefactor of the Ragged School. The High Street opposite St Mary's church recalls that once there was a village known as 'Water Lambeth', and to that same parish church men and women for nearly three hundred years came from Lambeth Walk.References.