The Vauxhall Times

The project is a collaboration between Absolute Theatre, Walnut Tree Walk Primary School and the Vauxhall Gardens Community Centre, developed with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and Mrs. Margaret Guido’s Charitable Trust. During June and July of 2018, the school’s Year 5 looked at news stories and other sources from the local area going back hundreds of years. These included looking at the origin of street names and of the words ‘Kennington’, which is referred to in the Doomsday Book as ‘Chenintune’ and probably comes from ‘place of the king’ – possibly the Danish King Harthacnut (half-brother of Edward the Confessor, the son of Ethelred the Unready) who died there during a wedding. The name ‘Vauxhall’ recalls Faulkes de Breauté who had his home/hall there in the 14th century. Samuel Pepys, a regular at the famous Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, called it ‘Foxhall’.
We gathered information from various places, such as old maps, news reports sent to newspapers all over the country (which often concerned Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens), the Lambeth Archive and from the VGCC memory project The heyday of the Pleasure Gardens coincided with the proprietorship of Jonathan Tyers, friend of Frederick, the Prince of Wales, landlord of the whole area. For nearly 200 years, the Gardens were a popular attraction for Londoners and made more accessible, in 1816, by the arrival of Vauxhall Bridge. Many stories concerning activities in the Gardens were discovered in our research, not the least an eighteenth century knife-crime and an ‘affray’ involving the celebrated boxer Dan Mendoza.  Respective Princes of Wales have held land in Kennington since the time of the Black Prince, whose presence is recalled by a plaque marking the site of his palace and in the re-named ‘Black Prince Road’. Surrey County Cricket Club has as its emblem the plume of feathers, the heraldic badge of the Prince of Wales dating back to the time of the Black Prince. Surrey CC has been playing on its famous ‘Oval’ ground since 1845; it was here that in 1882, England’s loss to Australia was mourned as the death of cricket and the Ashes came about. Charlie Chaplin’s uncle ran a pub on Black Prince Road and Chaplin’s family lived at numerous addresses around the area, regularly relocating when the family had no money for the rent.

We visited the current Vauxhall Gardens open space and also the nearby City Farm, first established by squatters in the 1970s to protect the land from property developers. Squatting also features in the history of nearby Bonnington Square, where the popular cafe was originally established as a communal kitchen. The Vauxhall Gardens Community Centre in Glasshouse Walk began life as the offices of B. E. Nightingale, builders, later to be used by Scrubbs Ammonia, who sourced their raw material from the nearby gasworks. Glasshouse Walk gets its name from the earlier glass-making factory which, in the 17th and 18th centuries, pioneered the ‘muff’ method of making windows by blowing and then flattening glass cylinders.

Lambeth Walk has a long history; once a rural place with three windmills known as Three Coney Walk (coney being an old name for rabbit), later famed for the song from the hit musical ‘Me And My Girl’. Actor Lupino Lane, who appeared in the stage and film versions, once attempted to come and perform on the road but the event attracted such huge crowds it was thought to be dangerous for him to set foot on Lambeth Walk. He is remembered locally through Lupino Court, on the street. Lollard Street nearby is the location of one of Britain’s first ‘junk’ adventure playgrounds, established in 1955 on one of London’s many bomb-sites, and is still popular today. The Blitz took its toll on Lambeth as can be seen from the bomb map created by the ARPs. Local people suspected that German bombers mistook the dome of the Imperial War Museum (formerly Bethlem Hospital) for St. Pauls. Later, a V2 rocket destroyed Lambeth Baths on the corner of Kennington Road and Lambeth Road where Lambeth Towers now stands. Kennington Road is also the location of the often-overlooked space plaques, attached to the trees on the west side, which commemorate the astronauts who took part in the Apollo missions.

The Victorian era brought major changes, not least physically, to Vauxhall. A new viaduct connected the London and South West Railway to its new terminus in Waterloo and saw the creation of the Necropolis Railway connecting to the cemetery in Woking. The City and South London Railway, the first electric underground line, arrived in 1890, running from near Bank to Stockwell. Kennington is now the only surviving original station. Vauxhall was badly affected by the cholera outbreak in 1848 and the Doulton Works, which dominated the skyline during the nineteenth and early 20th century, provided pipes for the new sewers being put in place along the Embankment by Joseph Bazalgette to improve London’s sanitation. Poverty and poor education were commonplace in Lambeth during the 19th century. A local vinegar manufacturer, Henry Beaufoy, set up a ‘ragged school’ in what now is the Beaconsfield Gallery in Newport Street. His son Mark, who inherited the vinegar business when he was ten, grew up to become the local MP, supporting an 8-hour working day and introducing it in his factory. Mark also set up the Beaufoy Institute, the foundation stone of which which was laid by his wife Mildred. In his younger days he was a keen footballer and played in the 1879 Cup Final at the Oval. In the centenary year of women first getting the vote, we found out about suffragist Muriel Matters, of Fentiman Road, who chained herself to a grille in the House of Commons and during efforts to remove her, became the first woman to speak in Parliament. She was also known for her use of a hot-air balloon from which she dropped leaflets across London.

Year 5 hosted a visit to the school by a former student, Gideon Tekeste, who left in 1995. He was given a guided tour and shared stores about his time at Walnut Tree Walk, including tales of a ghost in the attic!

Our presentation took place at the Vauxhall Gardens Community Centre. Developed from improvisations by Year 5 and set in the office of the Vauxhall Times, the staff of journalists, correspondents, photographers and illustrators are busy putting their newspaper ’to bed.’ With all the huge changes in the area that happened during the reign of Queen Victoria such as the arrival of steam trains and the new electric underground, the reporters are pleased to meet a real live Victorian able to talk at length about cholera and sewers. They also encounter prominent local suffragist, Muriel Matters and an ARP warden who laments the loss of the Lambeth Baths. The newspaper appears after a rousing chorus of ‘The Lambeth Walk’ and breaking news of a new walnut tree in Walnut Tree Walk! Our newspaper – The Vauxhall Times – can be viewed here