Vauxhall, the Oval and Kennington

Lambeth Walk

Lambeth Walk is a walk, a song, a dance, two films, a photograph, a market and a street in Kennington, London. Read on for further detail.

The original "Lambeth Walk" was an evening promenade by the predominantly poor residents of North Lambeth:- that is the area around Black Prince Road.

The Song

The walk was popularised by Noel Gay who wrote the song Doin' the Lambeth Walk with its catchy tune for the 1937 Douglas Furber musical comedy Me and My Girl. (This musical should not be confused with the 1942 American musical film "Me and My Gal", starring Judy Garland - but note the New York Times' error, below.)

The main verse of The Lambeth Walk is:-

    Any time you're Lambeth way
    Any evening, any day,
    You 'll find us all
    Doin' the Lambeth walk. ... Oi!

Click here to hear the tune.

The Lambeth Walk also became a very popular walking dance, done in a jaunty, strutting fashion.

The hero of the musical was Bill Snibson, the black sheep of an aristocratic family, who inherited the family fortune. The stage show was enormously popular, as can be seen from the following New York Times report of May 2, 1939:-

Me and My Girl was the first musical to be televised, and Lupino Lane went on to play Bill Snibson in the 1939 film of the musical - entitled Lambeth Walk so as to benefit from the popularity of the song.

Lambeth Walk - Nazi Style

1939 also saw the beginning of World War II and in 1942 Len Lye made a short propoganda film Lambeth Walk - Nazi Style which, through ingenious editing, purported to show Hitler and his elite guards marching and dancing to The Lambeth Walk.

The Photograph

In 1943, the British magazine Picture Post ran a Bill Brandt photograph Dancing the Lambeth Walk of a girl dancing in front of friends on a London street - not Lambeth Walk, as far as I know. The photo was used to illustrate the unfortunate consequences of the lack of youth clubs - kids were forced to play "juvenile games" in city streets.

Just seven years later, however, Picture Post ran the same photo again, this time with an article that called for a return to the days before massive slum removal, when the charming sight of children playing in the streets was common.

That's journalism for you!

The Street & Market

Lambeth Walk is also a street in North Lambeth, between Kennington Cross and the river. It was for many years the site of a thriving street market but it was badly damaged by bombing in the Second World War. (One nearby bomb-site was used in the filming of Passport to Pimlico.) The Greater London Council embarked on a wholesale redevelopment of the area in the 1960s, but the earlier atmosphere was never regained, even though a few shops and stalls continued in its modern new surroundings It has since been the subject of some further controversial redevelopment proposals, as recorded by Michael Ball in the Observer on 7 July 2002:-

An excellent detailed history of Lambeth Walk may be found here, courtesy of the Partleton family.