Housing Histories & Oddments: Walking Southwark At The Western Border

It’s always good to start at the unknown. Southwark Notes teamed up once more with fine mate Martin Dixon for an afternoon stroll around the houses. We were going to walk the Western boundary of London Borough of Southwark from The Elephant to The Thames. Along the way we will tell tale of housing histories and current urban horrors of private over-development and new ‘race to the bottom’ tenures as well as celebrating Southwark’s extensive commonwealth of local council housing estates.

We started on the final rump of Kennington Lane just outside Snap Fitness, where we once again puzzled over the boundary marker in the road pavement. ‘LBC’ as is London Borough of Camberwell which we thought was actually called the Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell. Abolished in the amalgamation of Camberwell, Bermondsey and Southwark in 1965 to form the London Borough of Southwark, this boundary is a cute start anyhow!
What we found quite soon is that the boundary between Lambeth and Southwark is very hard here to follow directly on the crossover between Boroughs. Extensive building on the site of the Lambeth Hospital has turned the boundary into a series of dead ends, closed off alleys and tiny cul de sacs. Dante Rd is the closest you can get going up. As Dante himself says in Canto 1 of his epic poem Inferno: “Midway upon the journey of our life / I found myself within a forest dark, / For the straightforward pathway had been lost“.
Rising above the student dorms is the newish Uncle development on Newington Butts. The 44 storey tower is what is called a ‘Build To Rent’ scheme where the developer not only builds it but remains the landlord too collecting the eye watering £500 per week for a one bed flat. The site was contentious anyhow as it was backed by the Government’s former regeneration agency English Partnerships who bought the former London Park Hotel site for £18 million of taxpayers money in 2006. The express intention of English Partnerships hand-out was for the building of ‘affordable’ homes for keyworkers. That never happened. What a surprise.
No way through Holyoak Rd to the boundary.
Probably an old wall of the old Lambeth Hospital which was also once the site of Lambeth Workhouse constucted by 1873 and sited on Renfrew Road, Lambeth. They say Charlie Chaplin was in the workhouse aged 7. English Heritage reports that “Lambeth gained some notoriety when an undercover exposé: ‘A Night in a Workhouse’, by journalist James Greenwood, who spent a night in the casual ward at Lambeth Workhouse disguised as a vagrant and witnessed its filthy and overcrowded conditions, was published in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1866“.
What have we here then? Thought you might like a squizz at all the new gentrifying high rise developments of that last decade at The Elephant. L-R:
One The Elephant was Lend Lease’s bonus Top Trump that they got from Southwark as an addition to their demolishing of the Heygate Estate.
• Uncle Tower as described before.
Strata Tower, the mostly private homes tower and the one with the non-functioning wind turbines.
• Hurlock Heights, part of Lend Lease’s Elephant Park development that provided 1000’s of expensive flats for those who wanted to live where 1000+ council tenants used to live. Three bedroom flat at Hurlock is £1.5 million. Old three bedroom on Heygate Estate was approx £120 per week.
• In the mess of these new high rises sits the lovely Draper Estate. The tower block Draper House was opened in 1964 it was the tallest structure in London. The Designed by Hubert Bennett of the London City Council’s (LCC’s) Architects Department. Massive slabs of white, Italian marble creating white vertical bands run up the block.
More of the Grade II listed old Lambeth Hospital for you.
We were constantly zig-zagging over the Lambeth / Southwark boundary. Here, out of interest to these modern times, is the old Woodland Care home now up for demolition for Anthology’s scheme of ‘affordable’ housing part subsidised by the tax payer. Right now it has that other parasite going on – a property guardian scheme run by Live In Guardians and advertised as for ‘professionals’. So denuded are modern standards that ‘professionals’ can now only find a roof over their head by sharing with 10 other folks on insecure and explicitly non-tenant licenses for £600 per month in a pre-development site, shared ‘communal’ shower and all rooms unfurnished. Live In Guardians website states “You will be living in the property under a monthly licence agreement. This means that your notice period is a minimum of 28 days. We only accept working professionals, 21 and over– no children or pets are allowed in the building“.
Property Guardians are basically just live-in security guards. The Property Guardian company (of which LiveIn Gaurdians is just one of many) basically does the admin and charges both the building owner for security costs and also the charges the live-in licensees rent. Basically a classic and scummy middle man manoeuvre. Rentier capitalism at its best…er…or…is that as its worst?
Not much to say on this Lambeth Hospital Water Tower conversion. Back in the day, mates of our actually squatted this but the pigeon infestation was too overwhelming in the end. More recently some people spent a ton of money converting the Grade II-listed structure, built in 1877, to a bijou des-res. They were on what we understand to be a television programme called ‘Grand Designs’ in 2012. They paid £380,000 for it and spent a further £2 million doing it up. Years ago it was up for sale for a cool £6million but didn’t sell. The owner said: ‘I took it off the market and I’m going to wait until Elephant and Castle is developed. If you come out of the tube now, you think ‘where are we?‘. Lolz dude! Later listed for much reduced £3.5million it finally sold in June 2021.
Without getting into it too much, various bits of land and existing buildings around the Water Tower and Lambeth Hospital site are up for massive over-development including numerous high towers. There is a well run campaign Stop The Blocks doing their best.
Back in Southwark proper after walking hither and thither, we looked at the Student housing on Dante Rd built in 1993 – 1996 for London South Bank University just up the way on London Rd. There are five purpose built accommodation blocks with 204 bedrooms here and on Dante Place and Holyoak Road. Rooms are priced for this academic year at standard room for £139.00 a week and small double room at £151.00.
Another cul de sac here as a rump of Dante Rd again blocks access to the border which runs along the low brick wall at the back. We remember a pissed walk home back round this way from North Lambeth around 1989 in our first and earlier years in Southwark when we were surprised to see a small row of remaining WW2 pre-fab housing just round the corner on Brook Drive. Those colourful pre-fabs were nestled by the old Rowton House philanthropic housing that was demolished in 2000 and something for the Uncle Tower mentioned above. You can see a photo of the pre-fabs here.
Those in the know would be satisfied on passing the corner shop on Brook Drive and Hayles St knowing that ‘Come On Eileen’, Dexy’s Midnight Runners big No.1 Hit from 1982 was filmed here in the street and outside the shop which features prominently. Sadly it has come to pass that it is now being converted to housing after closing in mid-2020. On the other side of the street was the wonderful H. Wells shop, this being a ‘Confectioner’ and ‘Newsagent’ the latter always a great definition of the consumer service on offer. The windows were always full of oddities and marvels. It was converted to a flats around the start of the 2000s.
The Two Eagles pub at 27 Austral Street. The pub closed down in the 1990s and was poorly converted to flats. Funnily enough when it was empty after closure, we were passing late at night and a bit of a commotion was going on. Big van and people buzzing about. Turned out it was people we knew who were squatting it. That crew had been all over the area recently getting turfed out on a monthly basis and moving from empty care home to empty school block and then the Two Eagles. They didn’t last long here either. Nowadays a flat is reported as valued at £766,000 up 192% on the original buying price in June 2001 of £261,500. Found quite a nice comment from John W. on the World Wide Web: “As a student and teacher at the nearby London College of Printing I used the Two Eagles now and then. At that time The Elephant and Castle area could be intimidating, but the Two Eagles was quiet and calm. A quite well known artist Craigie Aitchenson was a regular, took his daschund dog in. In the Eighties Tracey Emin showed her work in a shop in nearby Walcott Square and the pub had a few evenings of overspill
Austral St runs from Brook Drive into the fancy and nice West Square with it seasonal mulberry trees. We particulary like the use of directional street names around here, Austral meaning ‘relating to the Southern Hemisphere’. West Sq of course another solid directional compass point. If you take a detour to the Square you can see the site of the Admiralty-installed shutter telegraph apparatus from 1795 which was used to convey messages to New Cross and then Chatham and Sheerness at No. 36. Round the corner a small street called Orient St doubles back to Brook Drive. Exciting on Orient St is a way old portico at No.1 as well as an old horse scratching post close to the corner with the fairly new Hedger St (named after one of the West Square builders). The houses are the survivors of a once extensive range of cottages probably intended for grooms and coachmen and a series of coach houses.
Happily we were back on a more defined border now as the top side of Brook Drive is in Southwark and over the road is Lambeth. Here you are walking above the old Neckinger river hence the probable name Brook Drive as the river’s water source was close to hear when the area was just rural and marshy St George’s Fields. It was on this street that Martin once lived in a short-life housing coop in the 1990s. We looked up at his bedroom window and he recounted names of those who also lived there.
Brook Drive has loads to look at. Lots of fine details as well as new builds that nestle in the old terraced street who were built after the war in sites of quite extensive bombing damage in The Blitz.
Behind Brook Drive is the Imperialist War Museum which is free and teaches you lots about why killing people you don’t even know on behalf of made-up nation states is a bad idea. The Imperial War Museum was once the old Bethlem Hospital, infamous as Bedlam and a place for the incarceration of those suffering severe mental health problems who wereir then gawped at by richer persons allegedy in their right mind. The amazing early French proto-socialist Flora Tristan writes of her visit in 1839 in her excellent book ‘The London Journals’ about visiting and seeing ‘James Hadfield, the man who had attempted to kill George IV by throwing a stone at his head; he has been in Bethlem for 22 years‘. She concludes that he doesn’t seem ‘mad‘. We were fascinated by this old boundary wall of the Bethlem Hospital that dates from 1835. There are a few ventillation pipes dotted along the wall as you go which no-one seems to know much about. There is even one growing into a plane tree closer to the large 15 inch naval guns that dominate the front of the Museum grounds.
More of the excellent wall for you.
The wall has a whole host of recognisable cartoon characters on it too. This one Mr Ecstasy.
Outside the Museum is a very small section of the Berlin Wall featuring a slogan by the graffiti artist ‘Indiano’ aka Jürgen Große who was using the wall at the time to posit ideas. This one not that inspiring we found. In December 1989 we were at the Berlin Wall as it was being chipped away at and climbed on and over. It was quite a moving experience despite our hunger and being freezing we then at an age of adventure which meant drinking lots of coffee, eating only Bombay Mix and not bringin a sleeping bag to the truck we were meandering about in with a load of London-based party people.
Surrounding the Museum is Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park. We stumbled through the World Garden which is tucked away behind another wall close on Lambeth Rd. Here the boundary of Southwark and Lambeth runs around the Park along Brook Drive, up Kennington Rd and turns a right angle onto Lambeth Rd. You can find in the Garden some Yucca, Aloe Vera, Cactus and an overgrown pond.
Here we did well to show you the actual borders. This one Lambeth side…
…and this one on the Southwark side as the boundary veers North up King Edward Walk. The building in the photo sits next door to the impressive 18 3-storey houses of Barkham Terrace that runs along but is set back from Lambeth Rd. From 1907 until 1984, parts of the Terrace were the Catholic Nursing Insititute. In subsequent years, the Terrace has housed different private providers of lived-in mental health rehabilitation. At the other end of the street is the only remaining one-storey lodge house of the Terrace and it is quite nice. The building in the photo has some sort of heraldic motif set in the front wall.
This is the side of Barkham Terrace as it ends on King Edward Walk. Guessing these were previously windows.
The long standing adult education Morley College sits mostly on the other side of the boundary divide in Lambeth. Here though, outside the Southwark-sited Morley Gallery at 61 Westminster Bridge Rd are a lovely set of hexagonal basement pavement lights bringing clarity and life into the basement. Unlike many pavement lights and coal plate covers, there is no makers mark here.
Crossing over Westminster Bridge Rd, these dividing lines for bike traffic also serve as a marker for our boundary. The road ahead Morley St continues the tradition of one side being Lambeth and one Southwark.
This is the very good throughway at the bottom of the majestic Amigo House on the Dodson and Amigo Estate. Amigo House is unusual because although it is one of those familiar-looking London County Council deck-access blocks, the house is 8-storeys tall and not the more usual 4 or 5. It also originated from Southwark Metropolitan Borough Council in the mid-50s and not the LCC. Built from brick, it has many lovely art deco features such as 14 circular windows that run up the structure on one side. Importantly tenants and residents on Dodson and Amigo Estate have been fighting to avoid the demolition of what they call Little Dodson, a small set of 8 flats at 49-56 Dodson St that Southwark wants to get rid of to make space for infill new council homes. We wrote a lot about how Southwark’s infill development has met and lot of opposition from tenants across quite a few estates who don’t want to lose amenities such as call parks, open spaces, garages, TRA halls but support new council homes here.
Here above the door way pictured before is the heraldic shield of Southwark Metropolitan Borough Council.
More pretty details, this one on the old London School Board school building on Dibdin Row adjacent to Dodson and Amigo Estate. The London School Board constructed over four hundred schools across London during its time.
KJ’s The Barber has seen better days sadly. Martin said he used to get his hair cut here on occasion. Behind on the Lambeth side is the refurbished Century House that used to be the HQ of the UK MI5 security services. It was converted horribly in the postmodern style of the times in 2001 to luxury flats.
KJS The Barber again.
The redoutable No.12 bus seen in model form through the windows of KJs.
As we wondered on our way, we came across this fairly new building at the top end of Morley St as it reaches Waterloo Rd. To our suprise, somewhat interested in housing matters and all that, this is the Coopers Close Housing Cooperative. We read that “the estate has 63 properties, ranging from one bedroom apartments to two bedroom maisonettes. Cooper Close operates as a Co-operative with its own Management Committee who handle the day to day running of the estate on behalf of the London Borough of Southwark. The make-up of the estate is roughly two-thirds leaseholders and one-third council tenants“.
Coopers Close Housing Cooperative plaque showing us that it all began in 1987. The plaque was posted in 2008 to celebrate 20 years although we added up 1987 to 2008 to be 21 years. Well done Coopers Close.
The plaque refers to this mosaic artwork outside Coopers Close in a little garden on Waterloo Rd.
We took a slight rightwards detour from the boundary to visit another fine Southwark Council estate building across on Waterloo Rd. This is Mawdley House. We remember getting the bus home late at night in the mid 200s and seeing the artist Tracey Emin working in her Tracey Emin Museum that used to be at 221 where Kings & Queens Dry Cleaners now is.
Outlasting Tracey Emin is Anjays that has been there since time immeorial selling its Slat Panel Systems and Jacket Busts for shops old and new. It was closed so we could not purchase any Jacket Busts.
Priscacara fossils are commonly preserved in the Fossil Lake deposits of Eocene age in westernmost Wyoming“, we have been informed. It was a temperate bass fish fossilised up to 56 million years ago. This one is £400 from the London Fossils and Crystals shop at 217 Waterloo Rd.
The Bottle & Baskets mini market is located on the corner of 1 – 8 Quentin House on the Webber and Quentin Estate, also built by Southwark Metropolitan Borough Council. The estate is 163 properties. and is now managed on behalf of Southwark by a Estate Tenant’s Management Organisation.
It is here at Gray St that we continue to follow the borders of Southwark. The Hampton Hilton is in Lambeth.
More of the exquisite Webber & Quentin Estate with it s very good solid white balconies at front along Gray St.
Webber & Quentin Estate continues into the right hand side of Chaplin Close, off Webber St and Valentine Place. They are in Southwark but only just. These homes and through the gates ahead is Lambeth once more hence the green street sign.
We had to detour slightly as there is no way through Chaplin Close. This though is a good detour. Here is Valentine Place leading to Pontypool Place. Despite Southwark designating Valentine Place a ‘Conservation Area’ in September 2012 that wasn’t really up to snuff as most of the buildings here were demolished or have had only the facade kept! What you can see on the right hand side is the remaining facade of the old Maltina Bakery Company built in the Edwardian neo-classical style. The building is yellow brick with golden terracotta dressings. Inside the facade centered around a courtyard is a shitpit of gated and overpriced new homes. A 2-bed room flat here is £1 million.
The closest you can get to following the boundary North is the fantastic alley Pontypool Place. Never ever seen nor heard of it before but Martin knew it and was keen to show it to us. Check this out: “Pontypool Place is a small; partially Yorkstone paved passage off Valentine Place. Two cast-iron bollards remain in Pontypool Place. A Grade II listed cast-iron cannon-shaped bollard, tapering to the base with a domed cap and set on a square base. The other bollard is unlisted and inscribed with ‘Clink 1812’. This bollard has been relocated from the former historic estate ‘Liberty of the Clink’. An Act of 1786 established the Clink Paving Commissioners who were responsible for lighting and paving. The commissioners ordered 60 cast-iron street posts from Messrs. Bishop and Co, of which this is one“. Samuel Bishops Iron & Nail Warehouse was at 8 Bankside and they sold these bollards at Two Guineas a pop. Both bollards are Grade II listed. Amusingly we didn’t notice either of the bollards nor photograph them. The one in the photo is modern and boring. Definitley recommend loitering here in the alley. Good place to do nothing and soak up the atmosphere.
More of the mysterious Pontypool Place as it snakes left taking you to the other side of Chaplin Close and then to Boundary Row – one of the few mentions of the boundary in the landscape but undoubtedly the boundary of the older St Saviour Parish and not of the modern Borough of Southwark.
Once again heading North you turn from Boundary Row into Ufford St and then pivot back into Short St although the street is in no way short! On one side Lambeth and the large Peabody Estate block scattered around various cute streets. On the other Southwark side the modern St Andrews Church and the lovely 4-storey Milton House.
A load of balls on the Lambeth side.
What were we saying earlier – Milton House.
Crossing the hustle and bustle of The Cut and you get to the very long street Hatfields which is also the route of border once more. By this time the light was fading so the photos get more and more iffy.
At 33 Hatfields there is this charming deco building that is now adjoined by a new modern block from the 60s or 70’s. Peering through the window and you seem to see loads of switching gear like a Telephone Exchange.
More details from 33 Hatfields.
Lambeth here but always loved this striking lightwell in the block. This building is one of the impressive blocks of Peabody’s Stamford St Estate.
15, 16 and 17, Hatfields – more Grade II Listed stuff. Built 1905 and listed for its reinforced concrete frame. Formerly a printing works but now flats and offices. At the end of Hatfields at Stamford St is Dorset House, an 8-storey office building of rusticated stone, which curves to follow the road. It was built during 1931-33 for Iliffe & Sons, who printed periodical magazines. It was later occupied by IPC magazines. Nowadays tenants include HM Revenue & Customs. Hatfields itself is curious as there was a lot of hat manufacturing around this area many years ago: ‘By the 1840s this meant the hat-making trade was mostly concentrated between Borough High Street and Blackfriars Road (though some hatters remained in Bermondsey). Note the name Hatfields, a street west of Blackfriars Road where many hat manufacturing companies were based in the 19th century. It forms the boundary between Southwark and Lambeth“. For a short account of Southwark hatmakers and strikes see here. Just up Stamford St to the right is the site of The Mad Hatter pub and hotel that was formerly occupied by the hat maker Tress & Co.
Crossing Stamford St and up Broadwall and finally we reached the last building on our boundary walk. Here is the famous Oxo Tower from 1929 with its defiant illuminated Oxo detailing built to get round a ban on having a big Oxo sign on display.
This is the remant of something or another as you pass through the Oxo Tower blocks. This building is called The Bargehouse. We were tired and cold at this point.
Perhaps less well know than the Oxo Tower itself as a landmark is that the site is managed by Coin St Community Builders who managed via lots of community organising by local people to take control of a large Thames riverfront site in 1984 with the support of the GLC. With the closures of the docks and wharves around the end of the 60s, large swathes of land were then subject to speculation and massive office building plans. Locals wanted homes and not more office space. Lots on those battles here. Today Coin Street Community Builders have managed to establish housing cooperatives on the site which is excellent stuff indeed. Redwood Housing Coop in the Oxo Tower building is made up of 78 flats. When a vacancy comes up, half the flats take people of the local housing waiting lists and the other half from Coin St’s own list. Other coops on site are Palm (27 homes), Iroko (59 homes) and Mulberry (?). Our photo is of a load of control switches that we liked the look of.
Quite by chance we stumbled upon this great exhibition of various fights and struggle by locals for homes, jobs and amenities. Called “Blackfriars SE1 in the 1970s – Community action in a London neighbourhood” it looks at all sorts of interesting historical manifestations of the people’s will on Bankside and beyond a little up and down The Thames sites. You can see all the panels like the ones in the photo here. As Southwark Notes, we are a part with many other local Southwark groups and people of that continuing making demands on the local council for more council homes and less for profit developments.
We ended out Southwark boundary walk by staring into The Thames itself.
Somewhere here on the foreshore is the divide between to the two Boroughs. Here endeth our historical walk and story telling jaunt. Thank You all for coming.

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