Saturday, February 7th 2015
As usual, the first task of the day was to find breakfast. As we were heading for King’s Cross in any case, we thought to visit what used to be one of our favourite cafes but which we had not been to for a while.
The Station Cafe
At the lower end of Pentonville Road, opposite the old Thameslink Station (once the starting point for many of our journeys to the south but now reduced to being a part-time side entrance to the train and tube stations), this cafe is popular with construction workers and station staff. Even French Eurostar train crew have been spotted here enjoying a “Full English Breakfast”! Fortified in our turn by Vegetarian Set Breakfast 1 and Vegetarian Set Breakfast 2, respectively, we set forth.
King’s Cross Station
Click to see a larger version
From the cafe we walked to King’s Cross Station where we would catch a bus to our next destination. While waiting for the bus, I took a panoramic photo of the front of the station. Built in the 1850s (with recent additions), it is a fairly plain but elegant design, all the better for being fully visible now that the tatty extension containing shops that once cluttered the forecourt has been removed.
If you look carefully at the person at the bottom of the photo, about a quarter of the way along from the left, you may notice something odd: a woman with two heads! Maybe she is Zaphod Beeblebrox’s sister but a more likely explanation is that this is an artefact of my camera’s panorama function. The camera creates panoramas by stitching together several photos and between one photo and another, objects in the field of view may move and may either become invisible or appear more than once.
Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton
A place of lambs and stones
Our bus carried us well south of the Thames to Brixton Hill. If you are curious, you can situate our destination in context by looking at this Google Map. I have centred it on St Matthew’s Gardens (the old churchyard of the church), near where we disembarked. Across the road is the imposing bulk of Lambeth Town Hall. Lambeth is a London Borough and its name goes right back to Anglo-Saxon times. The borough is named after a riverside landing place attested in 1062 as Lambehitha, indicating that sheep and lambs would have been unloaded from boats here. The town hall, now a Grade II listed building, was built in 1905-8 and extended in 1935-8. The clock tower is very tall and was obviously intended to impress.
Town Hall Clock Tower
Brixton, where we spent our time, is a district within Lambeth. The name is first found in 1067 where it appears as Brixistane. This is believed to derive from an Anglo-Saxon personal name, Brihtsige and stane, meaning ‘stone’. Brihtsige was possibly a landowner or other prominent person who set up a stone, either as a boundary marker or as a meeting place.
St Matthew’s Church
Where Brixton Road divides to form Brixton Hill and Effra Road, stands St Matthew’s Church in “Gardens” of the same name which were once its burial ground. Built in 1822-4 in Classical style with Doric columns, it is today a Grade II* listed structure.
Budd Family Mausoleum
Where this triangle of land comes to a point between dividing roads, there stands an unusual but impressive monument. Nowadays, the railings around the gardens close behind it, leaving it isolated in an open paved area. Once, however, this ground too would have been part of the church’s burial ground and the monument would have stood within it. This is not just a simple monument but is in fact a family mausoleum. Beneath the obvious superstructure and not immediately visible is the family vault, accessible by a small door on the western side.
Budd Mausoleum (detail)
I first saw this monument and grave in July 2013 (see One to take home) and wrote about it as follows:
The immediate motive for creating the mausoleum was the desire of Henry Budd to provide a grave and memorial for his father, Richard Budd, who died in 1834. One face of the memorial also commemorates Henry’s wife Charlotte who died in 1848. Other names include that of a second Richard Budd, son of Henry and Charlotte, and their daughter Emmeline.
The Egyptian Revival style mausoleum was built in 1835 and its place at one end of the churchyard would have made it dominate this and set the pattern for future burials. Its occupants declare even in death their important and respectable standing in their community. Whether or not we today remember the Budds, their mausoleum stands as a fascinating piece of late Georgian funeral architecture.
The Tate Library
Over on the eastern side of Effra Road stands a rather handsome Victorian building. It proudly declares its purpose as the “Central Free Library” and you could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that its existence is owing to the philanthropy of either Andrew Carnegie or John Passmore Edwards. The inscription, however, calls it the “Tate Central Free Library” and the bronze bust in front of the building leave us in no doubt.
Bust of Sir Henry Tate
The philanthropist in this instance was Sir Henry Tate, of sugar fame, who also established the Tate Gallery.
The library, built in “Free Renaisance manner” (English Heritage, listing description), was completed in 1892. The decorative panels of on either side of the door bear two sets of initials, “HT” (left) and “LLC” (right). “HT” obviously stands for “Henry Tate” but what about the letters “LLC”? My best guess in that this stands for “Lambeth London Council”, which would have been the name of the local government entity at that time.
London Hotel, Coldharbour Lane
As we explored Coldharbour Lane, my eye was caught by this rather strange building. Stylistically, it looks as if it might be late Victorian or Edwardian but the unified grey colouration contradicts that.
London Hotel and shops
It is called the London Hotel, a perfectly good name as I believe that it does indeed trade as an hotel. On the ground floor, there are three shops and the smallest police station I have seen for a long time. Renting out these properties perhaps makes up for slow times in the hotel business. So what is the secret of this building’s history? Is it perhaps an old building that has at some time received a coat of weather proofing? I have not been able to find out anything about it so far.
Brixton Village Market
Brixton has an unusually large number of markets. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen so many in one place. These include open-air street markets, covered markets and arcades. The one we explored was called Brixton Village, a covered market with “avenues” like street of shops. The above and next few pictures are all of Brixton Village.
All the usual goods are on sale – here fruit and vegetables – mostly of good quality. There were a lot of food stalls and small cafes.
If you can’t find what you need in one of the regular retail outlets, perhaps you will find it in the junk-, er, I mean, second-hand emporium.
Or change your image with a new hat and set of clothes.
This avenue was sporting some unusual and very decorative lamps.
Despite the noise and bustle, not to mention heavy feet stomping about inches from his nose, this cat seemed calm and quite at ease. He accepted our attentions with the nonchalance of one who takes these things as his due.
As mentioned above, there are also arcades providing interest and bargains for the shoppers of Brixton. One of the quaintest is Reliance Arcade which runs through other buildings from Electric Lane to Brixton Road. It was built in 1923-5 in an Art Deco style apparently inspired by Ancient Egyptian art.
Reliance Arcade, interior
The arcade consists of a single straight passage lined with the tiniest shops I have seen. Despites the smallness of the premises, businesses such as food shops and even hairdressers’ have managed to establish themselves. I suppose if you want something the size of a market stall but like to be indoors and able to lock up and the end of the day, these shops are ideal. The arcade has merited a Grade II listing but has unfortunately had to be placed on English Heritage’s Heritage At Risk Register. English Heritage reports that the Borough Council is looking at ways to protect this unique site.
Sanitary Steam Laundry
We spotted a couple of other historically interesting buildings that seemed to be in a vulnerable state too and I expect that throughout the borough there are many others. The first was the building above, partly obscured by builders’ fencing. It rejoices in the name Walton Lodge but has operated as a “sanitary steam laundry” since 1885. Sadly, it has recently closed and there is a question mark over its future. The reason for the noble sounding name is that that was the name of the dwelling house into which the business moved in 1885. For more information on this remarkable institution and more pictures, see this article in Brixton Buzz.
The other was this late Victorian (1891) tenement block, a structure that is full of character and rather splendid in its isolation. I do not know the history of this building except that recently it was occupied by squatters who have now been evicted. The building does not have an English Heritage listing but a local listing, which possibly affords some measure of protection. Let’s hope it can be saved and put to some sympathetic purpose.
Brian Barnes, 1981
Carlton Mansions is famous for another reason, namely that on its exposed eastern side it bears a large painting entitled Nuclear Dawn. Funded by the Arts Council, the Gulbenkian Foundation and the Greater London Arts Association, the painting expressed the fears and preoccupations of the Cold War period and the threat of nuclear war. For more information see the London Mural Preservation Society’s article Nuclear Dawn.
Artist unknown (to me)
After admiring Nuclear Dawn, I spotted another painting in a yard and went in to photograph it. Very colourful and competently executed, it is by an unknown artist – unknown to me, that is, as I am sure the street painting community know who paints what.
Little sign of past glories
I mentioned that Reliance Arcade runs from Electric Lane. The lane is only one of the names on an electric theme in this area. Above you see a picture of Electric Avenue as it is today and, looking at this nondescript street, you would not guess the splendours that once merited the name. This was in its heyday a prestigious shopping street, lined with shops bearing famous names, its shoppers protected from the weather by metal and glass canopies projecting from the façades of the shops, one of the first streets in Britain to be lit with electricity. To see what Brixton and London has lost, consult The rise and fall of Electric Avenue, Brixton on Brixton Buzz.
Entrance to Electric Mansions
Electric Avenue was not only a venue for affluent shoppers. It was also a street in which people lived. This doorway is one of the entrances to Electric Mansions, a once no doubt sought-after address but now fallen from grace.
Behold a Pale Horse
Artist unknown (to me)
I felt that my last photo of the expedition in some strange way summed up the whole experience. The apocalyptic theme harmonized with Nuclear Dawn, a serious work, and yet the painting seems to evince a certain gruesome humour. The horse, though skeletal, has a fleshed outline drawn around it and seems to kick its back legs skittishly. Brixton has been through many changes but is a lively area and I thought to detect an energy that bodes well for the future. Perhaps Brixton’s skeleton is clothing itself anew ready for the adventures ahead.
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