Vauxhall, Oval & Kennington

A History in Five Pages

Page 5

Vauxhall Park was opened in 1890, thanks mainly to the efforts of Octavia Hill (left), who went on to co-found the National Trust. She intended that it would "... form one of those all too few central gardens to which the very young and the very old, the over-worked in brief intervals of work, the convalescent, and the quite poor may find near to their own houses the rest, the air, the outside peace they so often need." The grand opening, below, was by Albert, Prince of Wales.


The Oval was originally a cabbage garden and was opened as a cricket ground in 1846. It was also the place where the first FA Cup Final was played in 1872 - in front of a 2000 strong crowd.

Many prominent local residents are buried in West Norwood Cemetery, about 4 miles south of Kennington but well worth a visit, especially on one of the open days. Originally laid out in 1836 as the South Metropolitan Cemetery. This was the second of the 8 large cemeteries established around London during that period. It is on a beautiful hillside site and contains some very impressive monuments. The Friends of the cemetery have established their own web site.

Henry Percy Adams and Charles Holden designed the Belgrave Hospital for Children, Clapham Road in phases between 1899 and 1926. The hospital is built on a quasi-cruciform plan, with separate ward wings linked by connecting corridors and bridges, thus ensuring the isolation of any wing during an outbreak of infectious disease. This image shows patients in the Artificial Sunlight Treatment Room. Artificial sunlight was used for the promotion and maintenance of good health. The patients in this photograph are wearing goggles to protect their eyes from the ultra violet light.

Imperial Court, near Kennington Cross, is one of the most prominent buildings in Kennington. It was built in 1836 to house the Licensed Victuallers School and from 1921 to 1992 it was the headquarters of the NAAFI (The Navy, Army and Air Forces Institute). Along with the armed services themselves, NAAFI had to grow quickly at the start of World War II. At its largest there were 10,000 outlets including 800 ships' canteens and 900 mobile shops. Imperial Court is now an apartment block, but the NAAFI badge can still be seen at the top of the building.

The Vauxhall/Kennington area suffered serious bombing during the Second World War mainly because it is near important railways and bridges over the Thames. It also got caught up in the 2005 London suicide bombing campaign.

One result of the bomb damage was much slum clearance and the creation of a large number of post-war high-rise "Council Estates":- local authority-built social housing. Many survive in good shape to this day, but some have deteriorated very badly, including the Aylesbury Estate to the east of the Walworth Road.

Another result was post-war film-makers could shoot the comedy Passport to Pimlico at the bombsite at the corner of Lambeth Road and Hercules Road - see left-hand photo above. The story involves a group of local residents finding that they are in truth Burgundians, declaring independence, being besieged by the government, and being sustained by food thrown to them by friends and neighbours, including those passing along the nearby [Waterloo to Vauxhall] railway line - see the right hand photo above.

Sainsbury's Nine Elms was the first Sainsbury's supermarket to be built in London. It was opened by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in February 1982. It was demolished as part of the Vauxhall Nine Elms Development project and a new store opened on broadly the same site in 2016

Planes are today again prominent over Vauxhall, which is about 24km (15 miles) from Heathrow, on the approach flight path. Planes therefore pass over at about 1200 metres (4000 feet). Heathrow has a total of 1300 movements a day - i.e. 650 landings, but only about one third of them, on average, pass over Vauxhall. In good weather, and at peak times, there are only 50 seconds between each plane. The first arrivals in the morning can be as early as around 0430 (from the Far East) and the latest in the evening can be as late as 2300 (from Europe). But both times vary with the incidence of Summer Time, and the winds en route.

Helicopters, too, can frequently be heard flying along the river to Battersea Heliport. Tragically, one of them hit the jib of a crane being used to construct St George - Vauxhall Tower during the rush hour one morning in January 2013. The top of the crane and the top of the building were obscured by cloud at the time; see photo on right taken a few weeks later. The aircraft hit the jib of the crane only 11m below its 219m high tip, well above the top of the 185m high tower. The pilot and a pedestrian were killed when the aircraft crashed in the Wandsworth Road - see photos below - but it could have been much much worse ...

The 2010s saw an enormous amount of high rise and other development around Vauxhall and Nine Elms. Click here to read more about this transformation and to see some interesting old and new images.

President Trump refused, in early 2018, to visit Nine Elms to open the new US Embassy. He claimed that this was because he disapproved of the decision to sell the lease on the embassy in Grosvenor Square and build the new mission in an "off location". He thought the decision had been taken by his predecessor President Obama, but in fact the decision had been taken on expert advice by President George W Bush.


Martin Stanley