Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Londons Hidden Walks vol 3:Brixton and Brockwell Park Walk

On Tuesday the 1st December 2015 I left home to do a short 4 mile walk from the London's Hidden walks volume 3 book. When I first think of Brixton, I think of the 1981 riots and the trouble associated with it. This walk showed me a different side to this part of London.

I arrive at Brixton tube station on the Victoria Line and exit and turn left onto Brixton Road and walk up to Windrush Square.

200 years ago it was quite rural here with a few houses beside the old country lanes, that formed the junction here. It was only in the 1700s that settlements started to grow around those lanes.
The name Brixton has ancient origins,older than 'Bristane' recorded by the Normans in the late 11th century in the Doomsday Book. The name may refer to the 'Stone of Brixi', a Saxon noblemen perhaps. The stone itself may have sat on what is now Brixton Hill.

 Across the road is Lambeth Town Hall. This dates from 1908 made from Portland stone and red brick.

 Ex Prime Minister John Major served as a Councillor here.

 On the tower are four stone figures representing Science,Art,Literature and Justice.

 Still in the Square is the Ritzy Cinema. It opened in 1911and is the second oldest picture house in London. Between 1910 - 1915 nine cinemas opened in Brixton, as the new entertainment caused a craze. The Ritzy is the only survivor of the nine.It was originally called the Electric Pavilion Cinema.

  Next to the Ritzy is the Tate Library, a classical style building built in 1892. Named after the sugar merchant Sir Henry Tate (1819-1899). He sponsored three libraries in this part of London in between inventing the Sugar cube and building up a huge business.After his death Tate merged with a rival to become Tate & Lyle. He also donated his art collection to the public and this formed the basis of the Tate Britain Gallery.

Sir Henry Tate Bust
 Shortly after the library was bought, Tates widow bought the land in 1905 on which sheep grazed and donated it for public use, known as Brixton Oval,later becoming Tate Gardens. More recently named Windrush Square.

 Between the Ritzy and the library Brixton Theatre once stood,opening in 1894. This was destroyed in the Blitz and all that remains is the foundation stone above.

After World War II Britain was facing a labour shortage, and encouraged workers from its Empire to come here. In 1948 a group of Jamaican immigrants arrived at Tilbury Docks on the SS Empire Windrush. 493 people who would change the course of English History. Initially housed in Clapham South deep shelter, the nearest job centre was in Coldharbour Lane Brixton and many decided to settle nearby,seeking safety in numbers. It wasn't uncommon to see signs such as 'No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish' in boarding houses windows.  The area soon became the heart of the Afro-Caribbean community in London. The square was after the ship that bought these migrants.

Founded in 1981, the Black Cultural Archives’ mission is to collect, preserve and celebrate the heritage and history of Black people in Britain. 
We have opened the UK’s first dedicated Black heritage centre in Brixton, London in July 2014. Our new location will enable us to provide greater access to our archive collection, dedicated learning spaces and an exciting programme of exhibitions and events that explore British history from a unique perspective.
Our unparalleled and growing archive collection offers insight into the history of people of African and Caribbean descent in Britain. The bulk of the collection is drawn from the twentieth century to the present day, while some materials date as far back as the second century. The collection includes personal papers, organisational records, rare books, ephemera, photographs, and a small object collection.
Our work at Black Cultural Archives recognises the importance of untold stories and providing a platform to encourage enquiry and dialogue. We place people and their historical accounts at the heart of everything we do.

I head out of the Square towards St Matthews Church. Before the church is the Budd Memorial that was erected in 1825 by the theologian Henry Budd in memory of his father Richard, an eminent doctor who was born in Brixton in 1748. 

I continue onto St Matthews Church that was consecrated in 1824. It was one of 'Waterloo' Churches, built using money provided by Parliament in 1818 and 1824 to bolster the presence of the Church of England in the newly created urban areas.
 In recent years numbers using the church had fell and now parts are used for a night club and for several years provided the venue for The Torture Club, Europe's largest fetish club.

Across the road is Electric Brixton, until recently better known as The Fridge. Founded in 1981 and based here from 1985 to 2010. The Fridge in the early 80s was the centre of the Romantic movement featuring the Pet Shops Boys, Boy George, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Eurythmics. Bands such as The Clash and The Smiths also played here.

I walk up Brixton Hill and then walk through Rush Common, originally part of the Manor of Lambeth. Now not much more than a small piece of land enclosed in this urban sprawl.

 I exit the common opposite Corpus Christi Catholic Church. This dates from 1887, designed by John Francis Bentley.

 After a short walk up Brixton Hill I head right onto Blenheim Gardens, and pass an old Post Office dating from 1891 and is still being used as such.

 At the end of the road is the Windmill Bar. Well known for it gigs it puts on.The pub was built in 1971 for the adjacent Blenheim Gardens housing estate and named after the neighbouring heritage site of the only lasting (and working) windmill (aka Ashby's Mill) in the London area.
 A non-exhaustive but worthy of note list of bands to have appeared at the Windmill include: …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, The Acorn, Akron/Family, Archie Bronson Outfit, Architecture In Helsinki, Art Brut, The Answer, Biffy Clyro, The Black Lips, Bloc Party, Brakes, British Sea Power, Broken Family Band, Caitlin Rose, Calexico, The Cribs, Crystal Slits, Damo Suzuki, Dananananaykroyd, Daniel Johnston, DJ Scotch Egg, Dub Trio, Duke Special, Duke Spirit, The Enemy, Example, Florence & The Machine, Frank Turner, Frightened Rabbit, Fuck Buttons, Guillemots, Hard-Fi, Herman Dune, Hot Chip, The Horrors, Jamie T, Jeffrey Lewis, Just Jack, Karkwa, The King Blues, Klaxons, Let's Wrestle, Los Campesinos, Lucero, The Magic Numbers, Maximo Park, Mekons, Metronomy, Micachu, Noah & The Whale, OK Go, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Peggy Sue, Pete & the Pirates, Plan B, PW Long, The Rakes, The Rumble Strips, Scouting For Girls, Scritti Politti, Shonen Knife, Stereolab, Television Personalities, Thunderclap Newman, Tilly & The Wall, Tom McRae, Tom Vek, Topcats, The Vaccines, Vic Goddard & The Subway Sect, The Veils, The View, Vivian Girls, The War On Drugs, William Elliott Whitmore, The Wombats, Yeasayer, Yngve & The Innocent, The Young Knives.

 At the end I turn into Windmill Gardens and up to Brixton Windmill.
 It dates from 1816 and was originally known as Ashbys Mill, after the Ashby family who ran it for many decades. It continued as the estates were built around it and these literally took the wind out of its sails. In 1902 the Ashby family once again began to use the mill using steam and then gas power. The Mill finally ceased production in 1934.

 A view across to Brixton Prison. It opened in 1820 as the Surrey House of Correction. From the start it had a brutal reputation and was one of the first to introduce the treadmill which sacrificed the health of prisoners in return for cheaply milled wheat that could be sold. Mick Jagger famously stayed here for one night after his drug conviction after a raid on Keith Richards house Redlands.
 In 1991 two IRA prisoners escaped after scaling the walls and stealing a prison officers car.

 After retracing my steps I walk onto Brixton Water Lane. This follows the path of one of London's lost rivers. The River Effra flows beneath the road before reaching The Thames by Vauxhall.

Some pretty cottages on Brixton Water Lane dating from the 1820s.
 I now turn into Brockwell Park.

 I reach The Brockwell Lido, a Grade II listed Art Deco outdoor swimming pool that dates from 1937. It was known locally as 'Brixton Beach' and is always busy despite the weather. I saw someone swimming today in December!

I now head up the hill towards the Tennis Courts and pass the Ponds.

 I come across The Walled Gardens but these were unfortunately closed today.

 Next to these was the Community Greenhouses, again closed only open on Thursday,Friday and the weekends.

Views across the the city
 I now head up the hill to Brockwell Hall. I come to a clock known as Little Ben. A clock resembling Big Ben donated by MP Charles Tritton in 1905.

 Brockwell Hall is a Grade II listed building dating from 1813 and was built by John Blades a wealthy glass maker who bought 60 acres of land here in 1809 and demolished the original mansion.

View across to Battersea Power Station

 I head down the hill out out of the Herne Hill Entrance and across to Herne Hill Station.

 I walk along Railton Road and up to Herne Hill Station. This was first used in 1862 and the entrance was grade II listed in 1999.

 Railton Road became known as The Front-line in the early 1980s as locals took on the Police in a series of major riots.

The place to go if you are in the need of a bicycle!

 At 78 Railton Road is the Gay Community Centre, an empty shop that was squatted by gay activists from 1974 until evicted two years later. During this time they shared concerns from harassment from the police. Other activists groups were nearby including feminist groups, anarchist and militant squatters.

 I pass Marcus Garvey Way named after the controversial Jamaican black rights activist.
 Garvey was unique in advancing a Pan-African philosophy to inspire a global mass movement and economic empowerment focusing on Africa known as Garveyism.Promoted by the UNIA as a movement of African Redemption, Garveyism would eventually inspire others, ranging from the Nation of Islam to the Rastafari movement (some sects of which proclaim Garvey as a prophet). Garveyism intended persons of African ancestry in the diaspora to "redeem" the nations of Africa and for the European colonial powers to leave the continent. His essential ideas about Africa were stated in an editorial in the Negro World entitled "African Fundamentalism", where he wrote: "Our union must know no clime, boundary, or nationality… to let us hold together under all climes and in every country…"

 At the end of the road is the Dog Star Bar. Today a popular venue, but in the riots of 1995 it was gutted by a mob , angry that it replaced a popular Afro-Caribbean pub The Atlantic. Many felt then as they do now that gentrification of the area marginalises local people.

 I turn onto Coldharbour Lane where John Major once lived as a child.

 There is a plaque at no 413 dedicated to Julian Wall who lived here from 1979 to 1989. A Totter,Squatter put up by fellow squatters!

 I pass Walton Lodge Sanitary Steam Laundry. It  had been trading for 119 years and is now closed.
The company has roots back to 1880, when dairy owner Charles William Newland and his wife set up a domestic laundry service from their home.
In 1885, with business booming, they abandoned their dairy and expanded into a large house on Coldharbour Lane called Walton Lodge – and so the Walton Lodge Sanitary and Steam Laundry was born.
 Southwyck House dates from the 1970s and during that decade they had planned to build a six lane inner city motorway through this part of London. Southwyck House was designed as a barrier block with its zig-zag designs to act as a sound breaker. The Motorway was never built but the estate was. Since then it has endured a terrible reputation and continues to be one of the most troubled estates in Brixton.
 I retrace my steps and enter Brixton Village. Created in the 1920s and 30s when street stalls were moved to make space for traffic. Opened in 1937 by actor Carl Brisson. The markets toady are buzzing with culinary and a cultural hub. The markets were nearly demolished in 2007 when Market Row and  Brixton Village was sold to developers. Locals ran a campaign to against the proposals and in 2010 the Government awarded protection to these three arcades.

 I now leave the village and walk out onto Pope Road and a busy Market Place. I've lost where I am in the guide as the Village seems to have a few exits.

This view hasn't changed since Michael Caine walked here in the film 'Alfie'.
 I walk out onto Electric avenue, with its many fruit and veg stalls, alongside meat,fishmongers and other exotic wares. Reggae Star Eddy Grant made this street famous in his 1982 hit 'Electric Avenue'. Other songs related with this area include The Clashes 'The Guns of Brixton' from 1979 which reflect the tensions between police and the locals that would erupt in 1981.

Electric Avenue was so named because it was the first street in the area to get electric lights.
Eddy Grants 'Electric Avenue'

 Guns of Brixton by The Clash

 I wander along Brixton Station Road and through its market and Afro-Caribbean Food stalls.

 I look about Pop Brixton.
With Brixton already established as a go to place in London, Pop Brixton is set to build on this success and create a new destination in the heart of Brixton. There is plenty to choose from, including the renowned Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen taking up her first permanent residency offering authentic Ghanaian dishes, through to Miss P’s BBQ bringing their juicy beef ribs and Baba G’s serving up an Indian and British food fusion. As well as the mouth-watering food and drink vendors, Pop Brixton boasts a diverse selection of independent retail outlets. From vintage clothing sellers Make Do & Mend through to Japanese tea house, Kyocha, Pop Brixton will provide a unique shopping destination full of hidden gems. Office and workspace will also be home to local businesses and the Impact Hub Brixton will provide affordable co-working space for start-ups, allowing enterprise and innovation to flourish
At the end of the road is an elegant building named Bon Marche. Originally a department store, it was founded by James Smith from Tooting who in 1876 won a fortune after his horse won two races at Newmarket. he invested his winnings and the first purpose built department store in the country opened in 1877. He later went bankrupt and was taken over,now serves as offices.

Opposite the tube station is Morleys Department store.
On the side of this store is a mural of Brixtons most famous son David Bowie, born David Robert Jones just a few streets away from the Brixton Academy in 1947. Bowie moved from Brixton to Bromley at the age of six.

I now take the tube home after a interesting walk!

Although, it was never written about Brixton (and preceded the riots by two years) Eddy’s 1979 single ‘Living on the Front Line’ (video below) was adopted by residents of Brixton and sung as a protest song in the riots of 1981.


  1. Swimming all year round at Brockwell Lido - www.brockwellswimmers.com

  2. All that in four miles? Amazing! Dittzzy