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The History of Lambeth

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The London Borough of Lambeth stretches in a narrow line that runs up from the Surrey Hills to meet the River Thames . Lambeth is mentioned in Domesday Book of 1086 as Lanchei and the Norman tax survey records that the manor was shared by Lambeth Church and Count Robert of Mortain. In the middle ages the small settlement at Lambeth Marsh immediately opposite the Palace of Westminster was mainly inhabited by boatmen who worked on the Thames nearby. The present borough of Lambeth shares approximately the same boundaries as the ancient manor
and parish of Lambeth, but with the addition of the old parishes of Streatham and Clapham . They were amalgamated into Lambeth in 1965.

In 1190 the manor of Lambeth passed to the Archbishop of Canterbury . The Archbishop’s residence, Lambeth Palace , was opposite the Palace of Westminster and connected by a horse ferry across the river. Little other development existed in the area until the 18th century. A smattering of industry was strung out along the riverside. Lambeth was known for glassmaking, pottery and boat building.

When Westminster Bridge opened in 1750 it marked the beginning of a period of major development in Lambeth. Blackfriars and Vauxhall bridges soon followed as transport in and out of London opened up new suburbs and enabled city residents to escape the noises and smells of urban squalor. The pace of this development received another boost with the coming of the railways in the mid 19th century. The
population grew such that the parish church of St Mary at Lambeth could no longer cope. Four new churches were built during the 1820s: St Mark in Kennington ; St John in Waterloo ; St Luke in West Norwood and St Matthew in Brixton . The parish of St Mary and its medieval tower sit next to Lambeth Parish. The rest of the church dates to a Victorian rebuild by Philip Charles Hardwick. The church was scheduled for demolition during the 1970s. The church is now the Museum of Garden History featuring the tomb of the famous plant collector John Tradescant the elder and his son within the churchyard.

The expansion spread further south as the railway reached Brixton, Herne Hill , Clapham, Norwood and Streatham. In Norwood the population grew from 600 to 6000 in just 50 years. The urban sprawl continued and by the 1930s rural Streatham was a thriving suburb and had developed a reputation as a centre for entertainment.

Slum clearance and the war led to a policy of demolishing large 19th century properties and replacing them with modern public housing estates. The policy persisted into the 1970s but is now seen as the cause of as many problems as it attempted to solve. Today, the London Borough of Lambeth has five town centre areas: Brixton, Clapham and Stockwell , North Lambeth, Norwood and Streatham.

The area now called Brixton used to be known as Brixistane, meaning ‘the stone of Brihtsige’ after ancient stones that once stood there. Brixton became synonymous with Afro-Caribbean culture after the 1950s. People from the former British colonies of the West Indies accepted the invitation to come to Britain to live and to help the country recover from the ravages of the Second World War .

Development started in earnest in the Brixton area after the construction of the Vauxhall Bridge in 1816. Building work stretched along Acre Lane, Brixton’s oldest buildings include number 46 Acre Lane built in 1808. Between the 1860s and 1890s railways and trams linked Brixton with the centre of London bringing a massive boom to the district. Electric Avenue was so named in 1880 when it became the first street in the area to be lit by electricity.

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