For the second ‘London Shoes’ escapade of 2019 – the ‘shoes’ took me ‘darn-sarf’ of the River Thames to the district with the strange named of “Vauxhall”.
For this jaunt I had the pleasure of being accompanied by my old mate Les Bannell – who I first met way back in 1974, some 45 years ago, when we were both junior members of staff with Barclays Bank – and then, in the late 1980’s we actually worked together at the Whitechapel/Mile End branch, when Les was the Office Manager and I was one of his assistants.
Anyway, Les has been a big follower of the London Shoes website from its very beginnings, and took a day off work to join me on a mission to find out all about “Vauxhall-London SE11” an area that is literally just a mile or so up- river from Battersea, where I was born some 62 years ago this month.
Vauxhall’s origins as a town date back to the 1200’s when a nobleman by the name of ‘Falkes de Breaute’ owned most of the land in the area and lived in a huge mansion he built there called “Falkes Hall” – this later became “Fox Hall” – and the area then evolved into being known as “Vauxhall” at the time of the opening of the “Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens” in 1729.
Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens:
From the 1600’s onwards there had always been public park land located in and around this part of London, but in 1729 the land was bought up by a Jane Fauxe, a descendant of the original land owner Falkes de Breaute.
By 1740, a formal garden had been designed and laid out with floral displays, trees and footpaths – with a view to it being an ‘outdoor’ entertainment area for London’s noble and wealthy only, rather than the general riff-raff.
Entertainment at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens at the height of its popularity comprised of dancing – eating – drinking – balloon flights – circus acts – firework displays – magnificent illuminations and lots of music – in fact, the composer ‘Handel’ was the Gardens resident musician and performed a number of ‘gigs’ there throughout the early 1700’s.
With the construction of the first Vauxhall Bridge in 1816, more and more visitors from the north of the Thames converged on Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens for their entertainment.
However, after 2 centuries worth of activity, the Gardens were demolished as there was a serious demand for residential housing and development – and the land was used for the construction of much needed housing.
Today, a small area of park land next to Vauxhall’s railway arches – is the only remaining part of what was the old Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.
Leading up to the early 1800’s the once ‘village’ of Vauxhall had become a big ‘town’ – and as a result, there was an urgent need for more roads to be constructed to connect people to other districts of London and beyond.
In 1816 the very first Vauxhall Bridge was opened which provided a route from the south side of the Thames at Vauxhall, across the River to Pimlico and beyond on the north side of the River.
Vauxhall Bridge was` then re-built in 1906, and it is this construction that is still stands today. It was the first bridge in London to carry Trams across the Thames – and later on, it was the first of London’s bridges to introduce a bus lane.
The unique aspects about Vauxhall Bridge are the large bronze statues that are attached to its ‘span’. These 2 ton, twice life-size figures depict Agriculture, Architecture, Engineering & Pottery industries that were historically prominent throughout the area – there is also a wonderful little model of St. Paul’s Cathedral attached to the side of the bridge – because on a clear day, you can see St. Paul’s dome in the far distance, from the middle of the bridge.
However, the strange thing is that unless you are on the river bank or travelling by boat under the bridge – because of where these statues are positioned, they can hardly be seen – and so a lot of people aren’t aware that they are there.
Vauxhall’s Rail Stations:
Two rail stations serve the district of Vauxhall – the overground line, which was opened in 1848 – and the Victoria Line tube which was opened in 1971.
Vauxhall ‘overground’ rail station has a specific historical significance, as it was one of the main destinations for London’s “Milk Trains”.
With the growth of the railways, milk could be transported throughout the night from rural agricultural areas – to the main city’s where it would then be bottled up and delivered to the surrounding urban towns.
In Vauxhall’s case, milk would arrive from areas in the South West – where at Vauxhall Station Platform 1, there was a huge discharge pipe that was used to syphon the hundreds of gallons of raw milk into a United Dairies bottling plant operating beside the station – once bottled up, it would then be distributed all over the ‘smoke’ so that Londoner’s could make cuppa’s and pour milk on their cornflakes!!
However, by the 1960’s the transportation of ‘cow juice’ was by road not rail, and so the milk train service was no longer required.
Vauxhall Bus Station:
There is a massive bus station located in Vauxhall, right next to the 2 train stations.
It is the 2nd busiest bus station in London – and its claim to fame is that its structure comprises of 2 huge ‘arms’ that go upright towards the sky. These ‘arms’ contain 167 ‘solar panels’ which provide the bus station with a third of its electricity.
In the middle of all the hustle & bustle of Vauxhall’s busy roads, there stands Brunswick House – a Georgian mansion that was originally built in the mid 1600’s and then re-renovated in 1758, at a time when it stood on a 3 acre estate.
Brunswick House was owned by the railways from the 1860’s to 1994 – it then remained derelict for a few years – but today it is a high end café, restaurant and antiques showroom.
The ‘Secret Intelligence Service’ MI6 Building:
Situated on Vauxhall’s Albert Embankment is the “SIS” MI6 headquarters, which they have occupied since 1994.
In 2000 it was hit by a Russian anti-tank rocket, believed to be activated by the IRA – the rocket launcher was found in the nearby New Spring Gardens site.
The building has featured or been referred to in the James Bond films:- Golden Eye – The World is not Enough – Skyfall & Spectre
The American Embassy:
From the middle of Vauxhall Bridge you can see the new American Embassy building that was formally opened in January 2018, when the US flag was raised there for the first time.
The ‘Royal Vauxhall Tavern’:
This structurally attractive building was built way back in 1862 and opened first of all as a pub.
After WW2 it became a known gathering place for gay men – and today it is noted for being London’s oldest gay entertainment venue, particularly popular for presenting drag act shows.
The building has acquired Grade II listed status, in recognition of its importance to LGBT communities.
The ‘Vauxhall Iron Works’ was founded way back in 1863 – and manufactured pumps, cranes and marine equipment.
In 1903 it started manufacturing cars – producing 70 vehicles in its first year – one of which actually competed in the 2018 London to Brighton run.
In 1905 the Vauxhall Iron Works moved to a larger site in Luton Bedfordshire, and in 1907 changed its name to ‘Vauxhall Motors Ltd’ – and the rest, as they say, is history.
Displayed on a wall at the large Sainsbury’s supermarket in Vauxhall, is a plaque commemorating the site where the original ‘Vauxhall Iron Works’ operated from.
St. George Wharf Tower (aka Vauxhall Tower):
The Vauxhall Tower is a good example of how the Thames riverside areas that were once considered as slums have been redeveloped into affluent residential areas.
This 50 storey 594ft tall residential sky-scraper, that opened in 2014 – is currently the 8th tallest building in London – and is a significant visual landmark throughout the Vauxhall and other nearby areas.
So – after an extremely tiring day, exploring Vauxhall under London’s cold & grey January skies – me and me old mucker accomplice Les Bannell, trotted off to the “White Bear” pub in nearby Kennington, for a couple of well earned ‘cheeky’ ones.
The White Bear is one of the oldest pubs in South London, as there has been a boozer on the site since 1780, and today it still retains some of its original fixtures & fittings – and located up on its 1st floor is the award winning ‘White Bear Theatre’.
Now – the reason me & Les sought out this particular pub, was because back in 1884, one of Les’s ancestors ‘Sam Bannell’ was the publican there – so, we thought that, armed with all this amazing info, we would at least be offered a free pint……..sadly, we were wrong – as we still had to pay a ridiculous £5.50 for a small bottle of lager – and as I said sarcastically to the barman ‘at least Dick Turpin wore a bleeding mask’!!!
However, it is a lovely historic old London boozer, with a comfy friendly vibe and well worth a visit if you are ever in the area – and a venue that provided a pleasant end to an enjoyable day.