London: Pt 5 – Borough of Lambeth

5 inner London boroughs together form 1 of the greatest walking routes in the United Kingdom, through Westminster into Lambeth, round to Southwark, Tower Hamlets and finally the City of London. Lambeth was our next stop, as we crossed Westminster Bridge…


Status: London Borough of Lambeth, Greater London (historically Surrey), District, England

Date: Various

Travel: London Underground (Various)

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: London Eye, River Thames, County Hall, Kia Oval, Brixton, Southwark Town Hall, Vauxhall Tower, MI6 HQ, South Bank Tower, Oxo Tower, Surrey County Cricket Club, St Matthews Church, Ritzy Cinema etc

Lambeth 1

Looking from Westminster Bridge as you start to cross from the City of Westminster and the Houses of Parliament, 2 of Lambeth’s most famous landmarks come into view, starting with the London Eye. The Eye was constructed in 2000 as part of the Millennium Celebrations in London which also saw the arrival of the Millennium Bridge linking Southwark with the City, and the Millennium Dome which became the 02 Arena. The central wheel has a diameter of 294 ft, with the very top elevated up to a total height of 443 ft, which made it the largest Ferris Wheel in the world when it opened, a title it held until 2006 when the new Star of Nanchang opened in China at 525 ft tall. The current tallest is the new High Roller Wheel in Las Vegas, USA which opened in 2014, at 550 ft tall. The London Eye is constantly moving, although slowly enough for you to be able to step aboard as it passes. The views from the top are unrivalled in this area of London, and some of the highest in the entire city, along with the viewing gallery near the top of the Shard.

Behind the Eye sits the former London County Hall. London has a complex history with regards to local government. Originally the city grew in the small county of Middlesex, which it quickly outgrow, and suburbs of the city expanded into the neighbouring counties which encircled Middlesex, namely Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire. There was no 1 body overseeing all of the areas, so local services weren’t being co-ordinated efficiently in the rapidly growing city. As a consequence in 1889, the new County of London was created, taking parts from the other counties, as well as most of Middlesex, to create a new administrative area. The city was still growing, so in 1965 London County was abolished and replaced with Greater London, an even larger county which ploughed further into the surrounding counties. The county was split into 32 boroughs as well as the historic centre, the separate “City of London” county which borders Westminster. Greater London County Council was abolished in 1986, but an elected Mayor then took overall charge of all the boroughs in 2000, and is currently Boris Johnson.

The Hall was designed by Ralph Knott (1878 – 1929) in the 1900’s as the headquarters for the then London County Council. Like many buildings around the city, the outer facade is Portland Stone, and it actually sits on the South side of the Thames, in what is historically part of Surrey. The building opened in 1922, although it has since gone through numerous additions to turn it into the grand Hall it remains today. In the 1930’s the North & South Block areas were added, followed by the Island Block in the 1970’s. The Island Block wasn’t in keeping with the rest of the design, and was a typical 1970’s piece of grotesque architecture, and was eventually demolished in 2006.

As the Council was abolished in 1986 the building was no longer their base, and it was sold on, until eventually becoming the London Sea Life Aquarium, as well as a visitor centre for the London Eye, and the new London Marriott Hotel. You can visit the official Aquarium website here.

Lambeth 2

Wandering down the river you get a great view of the Houses of Parliament, with Westminster Bridge in front. Home to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the House of Commons and the House of Lords it is 1 of the most well known buildings in the world, with it’s clock tower, Big Ben, an international symbol for London. Find out more about the building, and the City of Westminster as a whole in my 2 posts: Part 1, Part 2.

Lambeth 5

In the 19th century, the embankment in Westminster, Chelsea & the City was built, on reclaimed land, previously occupied by the Thames. A brand new path now lined the Thames, allowing residents to have a peaceful stroll in the middle of the busy city. To line the path, George John Vulliamy (1817 – 1886, English Architect) designed his distinctive Cast-Iron lamps, which each feature 2 Sturgeons wrapped around their base, all situated on the North bank of the Thames.

These were supplemented in 1977, when replicas of the originals were erected along the South bank in celebration of the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, marking 25 years since she ascended the throne in 1952.

Lambeth 4

Continuing along the river, we passed underneath the joint Hungerford and Jubilee Bridges, shown above. The original bridge (Hungerford) opened in 1864. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859, famous British Engineer), it carries a railway line into London Charing Cross station, located at the far side of the bridge. The station originally opened in  1864, as the terminus of the South Eastern Railway between London and various places in Kent.

Underneath the station lies Charing Cross Tube Station, whose history began in 1906 when the platforms of the new Baker Street & Waterloo Railway Station opened under the name “Trafalgar Square”. A later addition would be a then separate extra underground station called Charing Cross on the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway in 1907. It wouldn’t be until 1979 that the 2 stations were combined to form the singular Charing Cross seen on the tube map today, served by the Northern & Bakerloo Lines. There is 1 extra set of platforms however, as in 1979 the 1st major section of the Jubilee Line opened between Stanmore and Charing Cross. In 1999 the line was extended through to Stratford via Canary Wharf, with the line now veering off after Green Park, before Charing Cross. Charing Cross was now effectively a branch line with only 1 station, so the platforms were closed, and the Jubilee Line bypassed it altogether.

In 2002, to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee, a footbridge was built on either side of Hungerford Bridge to allow pedestrians to cross the river here as well as trains. The new sections are shown on the picture as the tall white towers which hold the suspension cables which in turn hold the footbridges aloft.

Lambeth 3

Across the river just past the bridges the distinctive square Clock Tower of Shell Mex House rises 190 ft above the trees which line the riverside. Completed in 1931, it housed the HQ of Shell-Mex & BP Ltd, created when Shell & BP both merged in 1932. They eventually split again into separate companies in 1975, and Shell-Mex became the sole occupants of the building, which they sold on to Pearson PLC (Publishing Company founded in 1844) in the 1990’s. The Clock on the building is the largest in London, and is an instantly recognisable landmark to any regular visitor to the city.

Directly in front of Shell Mex House you can just see Cleopatra’s Needle, a large obelisk given as a gift to the United Kingdom by Egypt in 1819, which stands on the Westminster side of the river.

Lambeth 6

Further down the river, as we approached the border with Southwark, we could see the dome of St Pauls over to the left, 1 of Londons most famous Churches, located in the City of London square mile. To the right, a number of the cities other landmarks, a series of skyscrapers completed over the last few decades, dominate the skyline. You can find out more about the individual towers in my City of London Pt 1 Post here.

On this side of the river, the well known facade of the Oxo Tower protrudes above a number of newer tower blocks, although they are all actually located in Southwark, not Lambeth. It’s history mirrors that of the Tate Modern further along the river towards Tower Bridge, in that it was built as a power station in the 19th century, a function it continued until sometime in the 1920’s when it ceased production. It was soon bought by the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, who began to make Oxo branded food. They had the old power station converted into a factory, and emblazoned their logo at the top of the tower. Today Oxo is long gone, however the logo remains, and the interior of the building is home to various shops, restaurants and exhibitions.

To the right of the Oxo Tower is the South Bank Tower, originally built in 1972 up to a height of 364 ft. It was owned by IPC Media, a publishing company who eventually moved out in 2007. The tower was earmarked for residential use, and in 2011 the decision was made to extend it upwards, with 11 extra floors which would make the building 509 ft, 200 ft taller than the previous version. It’s estimated completion date is sometime during 2015.

We would soon be passing over the boundary into the London Borough of Southwark, which stretches along the river past the Globe Theatre, Tate Modern, City Hall and Tower Bridge, amongst others, so our story must end here until my next post, Southwark.

Lambeth 7

Our visit to Lambeth was not over however, as the following day we took the tube to Vauxhall, an area of Lambeth West of the Houses of Parliament, just visible in the distance. Vauxhall is definitely an up and coming area, not least because of the presence of some of Londons newest landmarks, starting with the SIS Building, shown above.

The SIS (Secret Intelligence Service, aka MI6) was founded in 1909, as a joint department by both the Admiralty and the War Office. The organisation was a major player in both WWI and WWII, gathering intelligence from around the globe. It would soon become the feature of various spy thrillers, including the famous James Bond 007 novels written by Ian Fleming (1908 – 1964, Author and former Naval Officer), where Bond was a secret agent working for MI6 to foil plots by the Soviets and terrorist organisation SPECTRE. The SIS Building was even featured in a few movies, from the World is not Enough to Skyfall.

MI6 moved into their new building here in Vauxhall in 1994, from their previous home close to Waterloo Station further along the river, which was seen as insecure and outdated. The redevelopment of the area around Vauxhall in the 1980’s provided the chance to build a large office block, which the government purchased for use by MI6 in 1987. At the time MI6 was still officially the secret, so it wasn’t until 1994 that the existence of the organisation was put out into the open, and it has been common knowledge ever since that the building is their HQ.

I took the picture from Vauxhall Bridge, which links Lambeth with Chelsea on the North side of the Thames. Various designs were put forwards and later abandoned for the new crossing, situated between Westminster and Battersea Bridges, but the wrought Iron structure, designed by James Walker (1781 – 1862, Scottish Engineer) was finally opened in 1816. It was initially called Regent Bridge, after King George IV (1762 – 1830) who became Prince Regent in 1811 due to the ill health of his father, King George III (1738 – 1820). The title allowed George IV to exercise many rights and powers of the King on behalf of George III, although some powers were limited by the British Government.

The Bridge would only last until 1898, when it was demolished and replaced by a new Granite/Steel construction, completed in 1906.

Lambeth 8

The MI6 Building is located East of Vauxhall Bridge looking towards Westminster, whilst on the West side, the 594 ft Vauxhall Tower soars over the new residential flats that line the river. Designed by an architectural firm from Weybridge in Surrey called Broadway Malyan, the tower houses 223 flats, spread across its 52 floors.

Lambeth 9

Looking West up the River, the towers of the former Battersea Power Station come into view. It is only 3 miles West of Westminster, however a bend in the river obscures it from that distance away.

The Station was constructed in 2 phases, starting with Battersea A in 1929, which took 4 years to build. Upon its completion in 1933 it was generating around 243 MW. The Station at this point only contained 2 chimneys, as Battersea A was only the Northern section of what you see today.

In 1945, just after WWII ended, construction of Battersea B began, and by the 1950’s the 2 sections were generating over 500 MW. B brought with it the final 2 chimneys, completing the largest brick building in the whole of Europe, whose exterior design was created by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880 – 1960, English Architect) who also designed the Tate Modern, which I mentioned earlier.

Battersea A & B closed in 1975 and 1983 respectively, but the building wasn’t demolished, it was earmarked for conversion. The most recent plans are to turn the building into residential flats, as the centrepoint of a much larger land redevelopment which includes parks, restaurants and shops, along with a proposed extension of the tube to a new station called Battersea. The chimneys are currently being removed as they are unsafe, but they will be rebuilt in their original form, to preserve the now much loved image of the station which had generated so much controversy when it was 1st announced.

Moving away from Vauxhall Bridge we moved South, along the A202, which crosses Vauxhall Bridge from Chelsea and continues towards the Kia Oval a mile or so down the road.

Cricket has always been a popular sport in England, particularly County Cricket, home to such teams as Lancashire Lightning, Essex Eagles, Durham Dynamos etc and of course Surrey, whose home ground is the Oval here in Lambeth. Lambeth itself, prior to 1889, was part of Surrey, with the Oval now being extraterritorial, outside the main county, along with the HQ of Surrey County Council in Kingston-upon-Thames, transferred into Greater London in 1965.

The County Team, as well as the Oval itself were both founded in 1845, and aside from Cricket it has been the host of various important sporting events. These include the 1st ever FA Cup Final, back in 1872, and the worlds first International Football match, between England & Scotland in 1870, which ended 1-1.

As far as Cricket goes, Surrey has a rivalry with Middlesex County Cricket Club, based in Westminster at Lords, and games between the 2 sides are referred to as the London Derby. Also, aside from Yorkshire on 32, Surrey has the 2nd best record in the County Championship, at 18 titles.

Lambeth 13

Further along the A202 from the Oval lies St Mark’s Church, inhabiting an area that was once part of Kennington Common. In 1745 over 140 rebels who were part of the Jacobite Revolution were executed on the Common, and the Church was eventually built over this end of the Common in 1824, named after the gospel writer St Mark. Like many Churches across London, particularly the City, the Church was all but destroyed during the Blitz, with only the main pillars, and Cupola Tower above still standing. Whilst the original plan was to flatten the ruins, after years of fighting for the Churches reinstatement, it was rebuilt, and opened in 1960.

The Oval is served by it’s own Tube Station, simply known as “Oval”. The Station opened in 1890 when it was part of the City & South London Railway, which became the 1st standard gauge railway to be merged into the tube network. Today the station is on the Northern Line, between Stockwell (interchange with the Victoria Line) and Kennington.

The interior of the station features a number of Cricket themed murals, due to its location near the Oval. Cricketers jump up and down the walls, and in the 2nd picture it appears 1 of them was literally bowled over!

Brixton 1

Leaving Lords, we took the Tube from Oval on the Northern Line towards Stockwell, and changed there for the Victoria Line down to Brixton, which is the location of Lambeth Town Hall, shown above, a fine Edwardian building designed by Septimus Warwick (1881 – 1953, Architect), and Herbert Austen Hall (Born 1881, Died ??, Architect) at the start of the 20th century. The 2 formed a firm called Warwick & Hall in 1905, which lasted until 1913.

Completed in 1908, the buildings stand out feature is the 134.5 ft Clock Tower at the front. Since 1965 when the new London Boroughs were created, including Lambeth, it has housed Lambeth Borough Council, the successor to the former parish of Lambeth.

Brixton 2

The Town Hall sits at the West end of a large public square known as Windrush Square, which contains some of the areas most notable buildings. To the East lies the Tate Central & Public Library, completed in 1892 by Sidney R. J. Smith (Victorian Architect). The money to build the Library was donated by Henry Tate (1819 – 1899, Lancashire Philanthropist), and a bust of him can be seen on the right in front of the Library.

He also donated money to the Tate Britain, which opened in 1897 in Chelsea, directly opposite the MI6 Building.

Brixton 3

The square meets the Churchyard of St Matthews to the South, which features the Mausoleum of Richard Budd (1748 – 1824), for Mr Budd of 35 Russell Square near the Post Office Tower. It was paid for by his son, Mr Henry Budd after his fathers death in 1824, and erected here in Brixton, his birthplace.

Whilst the main ornamental features of the Mausoleum are above ground, Budds tomb lies far beneath it, in an underground crypt which became the family vault, and may have been finished in 1826.

The Church itself was designed by Charles Ferdinand Porden (1790 – 1863) in the 1820’s as Brixtons new Parish Church, opening in 1924. The idea for the building came about thanks to the Church Building Act of 1818, which stated that new Churches could be built alongside an existing 1 if a quarter of the areas population couldn’t be accommodated in the original Church. At that time the Parish Church was St Mary-at-Lambeth, a few miles away from Brixton itself. Land was eventually acquired, and laws passed to allow the Churches construction and happily it escaped the Blitz, so all of it’s main features are original.

Brixton 4

Looking back towards the Tate Library, you can see the Ritzy Cinema directly to it’s left, a quaint little Cinema which was designed by EC Homes & Lucas, and completed in 1911. When it opened it was called the “Electric Pavillion”, and was notable as 1 of the earliest purposefully built cinema buildings in the UK. It would go on to close in 1976, but thanks to the intervention of Lambeth Council it was re-invented and restored, becoming a Cinema once more. It remains a Cinema to this day, with the name having been changed to Ritzy Picturehouse quite recently, although it is known locally simply as the Ritzy Cinema.

We returned to Brixton tube station, the terminus of the Victoria Line, and made our way back into central London, with many other Boroughs to explore. Lambeth has been an incredible place to look round, with plenty of history and landmark buildings to enjoy. It benefits from being 1 of the very central London Boroughs, and things like the London Eye and County Hall are enjoyed every bit as much as the corresponding landmarks on the Westminster side of the river. The Tube as a whole is mainly focused to the North of the Thames, however a few lines do snake across the South, with 8 Underground stops across Lambeth as a whole, on the Jubilee, Bakerloo, Northern, Victoria and Waterloo & City Lines.

Various London Overground routes pass through Lambeth, and London Waterloo, the busiest London Terminus Station (and British Station overall), is also located in Lambeth, close to the border with Southwark. Waterloo provides services out towards Southampton, Portsmouth, Salisbury, Exeter and Guildford, across Surrey, Dorset, Hampshire, Wiltshire etc.

Lambeth is mainly thought of as an area around Westminster, but there is much, much more to it, with interesting landmarks at Vauxhall, the Oval and Brixton, providing plenty for the curious tourist/visitor to explore…


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