Survey of London: Volume 26, Lambeth: Southern Area. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1956.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
BRIXTON HILL AREA
Lambeth Town Hall
In 1904, shortly after the constitution of Lameth Borough Council, a site for a Town Hall on the corner of Acre Lane and Brixton Hill was purchased for £25,000. (fn. 140) A competition was held for a design for the new building and there were 143 entries, (fn. 141) that of Septimus Warwick and Herbert Austen Hall being chosen (Plate 36b). The builders, whose tender was for £38,274, were Messrs. John Greenwood, Ltd. (fn. 142) The foundation stone was laid on July 21, 1906, by the Mayor, Alderman F. A. Powell. In a cavity under the stone the Mayor placed a sealed bottle containing a copy of The Times, a map of the borough, a list of the members of the Council and its committees, and some coins. (fn. 143) The hall was opened by the Prince of Wales on April 29, 1908. (fn. 144) The clock in the tower was the gift of Edwin Jones, J.P. (fn. 145) In 1937–8 the original architects were employed to build an assembly hall fronting Acre Lane and make other extensions including an additional storey to the existing building. (fn. 146)
The Town Hall occupies a large site at the acute-angled junction of Brixton Hill and Acre Lane. The building is well planned with its main entrance at the corner of the site, where a vestibule leads past the staircase at the base of the tower, to a rotunda from whence the corridors branch left and right, opening to offices ranged along the two frontages. These ranges are linked by a transverse wing that contains the rates office with the council chamber above. There are two principal storeys, to which an attic has been added.
The building is a good example of the Edwardian Baroque manner, fairly restrained in the main but with occasional flourishes of opulent vulgarity. The exterior is faced with narrow red bricks of a fine quality, in conjunction with an extensive use of Portland stone, based on a grey granite plinth. The tall tower dominates the composition, its simple shaft of brick bounded by straight quoins supporting an octangular stage of stone. In each cardinal face is a louvred arch, containing a clock dial and surmounted by a pediment. Symbolic figures posture against the four angle faces and there is an extravagant terminal feature of inverted consoles supporting a pedestal with a crown-like finial. The main entrance is emphasized by its setting in a semicircular feature that projects in front of the tower-base. This is entirely faced with stone and elaborately dressed with a giant order of plain-shafted Ionic columns, forming bays each containing a tall window below a circular one. The Brixton Hill front is a balanced composition with a central feature of three bays, and end pavilions each of one bay, also dressed with engaged Ionic columns and pilasters. Recessed within the middle bay of the central feature is an elaborate window with a swan-necked pediment, opening to a balcony beneath which is the secondary entrance to the building. The wall faces between the centre and end pavilions each have two tiers of seven windows, those to the first storey having arched heads. The windows in both tiers are linked by their stone setting, thus forming a series of vertical panels in the brick face. The crowning entablature is surmounted by a balustrade, broken by attic features over the centre and end pavilions. The Acre Lane front begins with a pavilion responding to that on the Brixton Hill front, but otherwise the monumental treatment is not repeated.
Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, Trent Road
In 1880 a mission was established in Brixton under the care of the Rev. Hendrik van Doorne, a Flemish priest who had lived in England for a long time. There was then no Roman Catholic church in the district, so in the following year a large house on the west side of Brixton Hill, known as No. 4 Gwydyr Houses, was purchased for £2,610. The house was Re-named Corpus Christi House and one of the rooms was adapted as a small temporary chapel. A church building fund was opened, and in 1885 John Francis Bentley, the future architect of Westminster Cathedral, who had been associated with the scheme from its inception, suggested the purchase of Bethel House, with its large gardens, as a suitable site for a permanent church. (fn. 147) Bethel House is a large double-fronted house built in 1768 and formerly occupied by Thomas Bailey, (fn. 148) the founder of Trinity Homes, Acre Lane (page 98). (fn. c1) The house was purchased for £3,550 and the foundation stone of the new church, which stands in the front garden of the house, was laid by Bishop Butt on July 14, 1886. (fn. 149)
Corpus Christi was Bentley's first important church-building commission. His plan (fig. 33) provided for a large church in the Early Decorated style, consisting of nave, chancel, ambulatory, north and south aisles, transepts, three side chapels and a tower. At the south-east corner there were to be two sacristies with an organ loft above, and at the south-west corner there was to be a presbytery. Owing to lack of funds only the chancel, the two eastern chapels and the sacristies were built in 1886–7, the contractors being Laurenson and Sons. This first part of the church was opened by Bishop Butt on June 12, 1887. (fn. 147) The transepts were added in 1904, after Bentley's death. (fn. 150) His designs were modified, the rose windows being reduced in size. (fn. 147) Any further additions to the church will involve the demolition of Bethel House, most of which is now used as a school.
The Church of Corpus Christi (Plates 22, 23), in common with most buildings of Bentley's designing, has the character of an organic growth, the interior arising naturally from the plan and finding logical expression in the exterior. The building is well sited to take the fullest advantage of the site width between Trent Road and Horsford Road, with the east end set some distance back from Brixton Hill. The plan is asymmetrical, but balances on an east-west axis.
In its completed form the nave would have four arcaded bays and an aisleless extension towards the west, flanked on the north side by the porch below the steeple, and on the south side by the presbytery. the first three bays of the nave arcades open to aisles, that on the north side being flanked by a range of confessionals, while that on the south opens through another arcade to the Chapel of the Holy Ghost. The easternmost bay of the nave opens to the transepts, the northern having one bay and the southern two.
The square-ended chancel has two arcaded bays, opening on the north to the Lady Chapel and on the south to St. John's Chapel, the last being flanked by two sacristies with the organ loft over. A narrow ambulatory provides circulation space behind the reredos.
It will be seen that although the plan has transepts, there is no pronounced crossing, the nave and chancel being unified by the clerestory arcade, with two blind bays over each transept arch, and the pointed vault continuing unbroken arch, and the pointed vault consinuing unbroken from east to west. One very unusual feature of the design is the use made of different systems of bay spacing for the nave and aisle arcades, the latter having four arches to balance the three of the nave. In a similar way the outer walls of the chapels have three arches to balance the two of the chancel arcades. The resulting interplay of arcaded forms is most effective.
Bentley's design is a free interpretation of Early Decorated Gothic, realized in brick with a generous use of Bath stone, the internal brickwork being plastered while fine red bricks are used for the exterior facings. Internally, an apparent over-elaboration of form arising from the conjunction of the differently-scaled arcades, and the effect of exaggerated height, are undoubtedly accentuated by the present incomplete state of the building and the absence of the rood-loft intended to enclose the chancel. The single completed bay of the nave arcade gives only a foretaste of the whole design. Faceted piers with engaged shafts on their lateral faces provide the springing for a two-centred arch with moulded and faceted reveals, having at its apex a carved corbel-head from which rises the shafted intermediate pier of the clerestory arcade, here bisecting the arch that terminates the pointed barrel roof of the transept. Against the main face of each pier, below the springing of the nave arches but level with that of the smaller-scale chancel arcade, is a similar corbel-head supporting a shaft which rises to the vault springing. Corbels and shaft-capitals are finely carved, the former with idealized heads and the latter with naturalistic foliage.
The chancel floor is raised by three steps above the nave level. The two-bay arcade is considerably smaller in scale than that of the nave, while the pier and arch profiles are more elaborate. The difference in height between the two arcades is 'taken up in the clerestory of tall two-light three in number, set in deep splayed reveals with single shafts on the front faces, rising from corbel-heads to carry the vaulted roof. The east wall is a composition of three stages, the lowest containing the fine winged reredos setting (which was also designed by Bentley) for the high altar. Above is the triforium arcade of seven cusp-headed arches, arranged in groups of two-three-two and standing forward from the respondent range of seven lancet windows. The same spacing is adopted for the great east window, its triple arcade forming a splendid climax to the chancel clerestory. The body of the church is ceiled by a pointed barrel roof with groined in tersecting returns to the clerestory arcade, constructed of closely-spaced wood ribs framing plaster panels.
By contrast with the well-lit chancel, the transepts seem shadowy, receiving their light through two tall single-light windows with trefoil heads, and the small traceried rose in the lunette above. The chancel side chapels have lateral arcades of three bays, the moulded arches rising from delicate shafted piers of quatrefoil plan. The north arcade stands free before a corresponding range of three-light windows. That on the south side opens to the organ loft. Each chapel has an east window of five lights. The arched heads of the windows generally are enriched with cusping and pointed trefoils are often introduced.
Externally, the quality of Bentley's design is best observed in the completed east front. The chancel end, bounded by massive frontal and lateral buttresses with gabled heads, is a tripartite composition dominated by the great three-arched window and crowned by a gable. The lower side chapels have recessed gables and are flanked by octagonal turrets with faceted conical roofs. The pronounced verticality of the design is checked by the introduction of several horizontal stone bands.
The completed portion of the north elevation includes the side of the Lady Chapel, with three triple-light windows between buttresses, and the north transept with its gable-end rising almost to the parapet line of the chancel, where the clerestory windows are linked by canopied panels. Chapel and chancel walls finish with simple corbel-tables behind which rise the steeply pitched roofs of slate. The south elevation is similar except that the chapel is here replaced by the twin-gabled wall of the sacristies and organ loft.
Bentley designed and supervised the execution of some very good stained glass for this church, some of which was unfortunately destroyed during the last war. There survive, apart from some fragments in the east windows of the two chapels, two complete windows in the Lady Chapel, and the seven lancets of the triforium of the east end of the chancel. The transept glass is by Osmond Bentley. (fn. 151)
Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Primary School, Trent Road
This school was opened in 1902 (fn. 152) in buildings standing in the back garden of Bethel House. More buildings have been added subsequently and the school now occupies a large part of Bethel House as well.
St. Saviour's Church, Lambert Road
At a meeting held at St. Matthew's vicarage on March 24, 1873, a Committee was formed to build a new church. The proposed new district had a population of nearly 4,000, and a great deal of building was in progress. “The meadow-lands and brick-fields of a few years ago are now either covered with long rows of houses, or else marked out for fresh streets. ” (fn. 153) A site costing £775 was acquired and was conveyed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The church (plate 15b) was built to accommodate 938 people and was designed by E.C. Robins. (fn. 153) The first stone was laid on July 15, 1874, by James Watney, M.P., (fn. 33) and the church was consecrated on September 29 of the following year. A Consolidated Chapelry was assigned shortly afterwards. (fn. 153)
St. Saviour's is designed in Gothic style and is faced with Kentish ragstone with Bath stone dressings. The tower at the north-west corner has four circular corner pinnacles and an octagonal louvred lantern, and is a conspicuous landmark in the neighbourhood. The nave has six arcaded bays, flanked by low aisles with lean-to roofs. The arches rest on circular columns with vigorously carved foliated capitals, and the clerestory windows contain plate-tracery.
Parkside Primary and Secondary School, Bartley Road
This school was built for the London School Board by W. Downs of Walworth, whose tender for a school for 792 children was for £8,167. (fn. 154) The architect was E.R. Robson (fn. 31) The school opening was August 19, 1875. (fn. 32) was remodelled in 1913; it is a plain three-storey brick building.
The Windmill, Blenheim Gardens
At the auction of Stockwell Manor in 1802, Christopher Chryssell Hall of the Borough of Southwark, merchant, purchased part of the Manor which was conveyed to him in the following year. (fn. 24) acres and lay south of the present Blenheim Gardens; it can be identified with the parcels of land marked 83–89 (inclusive) on the plan of the Manor on Plates 74 and 75. Very little development took place before 1850, most of the fields being used for diging brick earth until the 1870. (fn. 155)
In 1817 John Ashby of Brixton Hill, miller, obtained a lease for 99 years from Hall of two acres of land (plot 84) on the south side of a new road to be called Cornwall Road (now Blenheim Gardens), together with a “Brick corn Mill” and other erections. (fn. 156) The windmill was erected in 1816—17 at the south-west corner of the two acres (Plate 43). Save for a brief period in 1862—4, when the sails of the mill were removed and new machinery installed, the windmill was in continuous use by the firm of Ashby until 1934. (fn. 157) It has been listed as a building of architectural and historic interest under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947, and the London County Council is purchasing the site for an open space (1955). The mill is built of stock brick, painted over, and is surmounted by a gallery and a wooden boat-shaped cap; the gallery was added later. The ancillary buildings are of brick-nogged and weather boarded construction with pantile roofs.
No. 47 Blenheim Gardens
In 1843 John Ashby agreed with John Muggeridge of Brixton Road, builder, to let the eastern half of his property for building, and seven houses fronting Cornwall Road were erected by Muggeridge. (fn. 156) Only one, No. 47, has survivedl; it is a small single-storey house with a stuccoed front.
Nos. 49 and 51 Blenheim Gardens
No. 49, the Mill House, was erected as a family residence for the Ashbys; (fn. 156) it is a plain two-storey stock brick villa with a central entrance. No. 51, which stands in the yard approaching the mill, is a small two-storeyed villa, faced with stucco and of rustic appearance.
Lambeth Waterworks, Jebb Avenue
The Company of Proprietors of Lambeth Waterworks was established in 1785 with works in north Lambeth. (fn. 159) In 1834 the Company obtained an Act of Parliament (fn. 159) in order to extend the area to which it might supply water. In the same year some 16 acres of land in Brixton were purchased from Christopher Chryssell Hall, (fn. 24) and a reservoir and works were built.
In 1818 the Justices of the Peace for Surrey decided to enlarge the prison at Kingston and to build two new Houses of Correction, one at Guildford and the other at Brixton. (fn. 160) About five acres of land forming parcel of the part of Stockwell Manor which had been acquired by Christopher Chryssell Hall in 1802 were bought for £400 per arce (fn. 161) from Florance Young. (fn. 24)
A further strip of land on the west side of the prison was bought in 1836 from the Lambeth Waterworks Company. (fn. 24) Designs for the prison were drawn up by Mr. Chawner, the County Surveyor. (fn. 162) His plan (fig. 34) bore some resemblance to the recently erected model prison at Millbank, for the central feature was a polygonal building from which the governor could watch the prisoners at work. But whereas the six main blocks of cells at Millbank were arranged like the petals of a flower round the governor's office, those at Brixton were arranged in the form of a crescent, and so provided for expansion at a later date, “should the encreasing Depravity of the lower Orders subject the County to that burthensome Obligation”. (fn. 163) The whole prison was surrounded by a high wall with a large gatehouse on the north side.
The wall and the gatehouse were built in 1819, (fn. 164) and when they were finished 25 prisoners were sent to help in the construction of the main blocks. (fn. 165) The experiment was not altogether successful, for three prisoners escaped in 1820 and the governor was dismissed. (fn. 166) When completed the prison contained 149 single cells and 12 double ones, the capacity of the single ones being 360 cubicfeet, which compared very unfavourably with the 911 cubic feet of the cells at Pentonville Prison, erected in 1840–2. (fn. 167) Estimates of the cost of the building vary considerably; Mayhew, quoting figures supplied by the Clerk of the Peace for Surrey, says that the cost of the land, the building and the erection of the treadmill was £51,780; (fn. 168) but a report presented to Quarter Sessions in 1852 says that the original cost of the building and fittings was £32,000 exclusive of the cost of the land and treadmill. (fn. 169) The first figure probably includes the cost of later works.
During discussion of the plans of the prison the Surrey Justices asked for the advice of Mr. Orridge, governor of the new House of Correction at Bury St. Edmunds. (fn. 163) A treadmill had been installed there in about 1818 by (Sir) William Cubitt (fn. 170) and in 1820 he was asked to prepare plans for a similar machine for Brixton House of Correction. (fn. 171) His plans were approved by the Justices, and in 1821 a tender from John Penn to erect a treadmill and keep it in repair for five years for £2,910 was accepted; Cubitt was offered £400 for his services. (fn. 172) Radiating out from the governor's office in the centre of the prison were the airing yards in which the tread-wheels worked by the prisoners were established (fn. 173) (Plate 37a). These tread-wheels were connected to the mill-house which contained the machinery for grinding corn. Each wheel could be adjusted to the strength of the class of prisoner in the yard. At Brixton the space stepped over by each man in one hour was 731 yards. The advantages of the wheel as a method of employment were considerable; the prisoners required no instruction, they could not shirk their share of the labour nor waste or misapply materials, and there was endless work which could be started or stopped at a moment's notice. (fn. 173) Nevertheless the tread-wheel was immediately denounced by some writers as inhumane; Thomas Allen, the historian of Lambeth, for instance, wrote that for women it was ‘only fit to be used in the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition”. (fn. 174)
The House of Correction was frequently very overcrowded. By 1846 as many as four prisoners sometimes slept together in a single cell. In the following year the Justices resolved to build a large new House of Correction at Wandsworth. (fn. 175) After this prison had been completed the Justices decided to sell the Brixton House of Correction, and in 1852 they offered it to the Government. (fn. 169) An Inspector of Prisons reported very favourably on the possibility of using it as a criminal lunatic asylum, (fn. 169) but no action was taken, and on September 8,1852, the prison was sold by auction to (Sir) William Tite, the architect of the South Metropolitan Cemetery at Norwood, for £8,450. (fn. 176)
Tite bought the prison as an investment, and intended to demolish it and sell the materials. He was therefore quite prepared to sell the prison as it stood to the Government, provided that he made a reasonable profit. Discussions for the purchase of the prison began immediately after September 8,1852, and in November Tite gave the Government one month's option to buy it for £12,930. (fn. 169) But in December Lord Derby's ministry resigned, Lord Palmerston succeeding Spencer Walpole as Home Secretary. (fn. 177) Owing to the change of government nothing was done about Tite's offer, and in January 1853 Colonel Jebb, Surveyor General of Prisons, reported against the purchase of the prison. Meanwhile Tite was becoming justifiably impatient and arranged for an auction of the fabric to take place on February 28,1853. (fn. 169) Lord Palmerston was, however, intending to introduce a Bill for the partial abolition of transportation, which would require a considerable expansion of prison accommodation at home. (fn. 178) On February 16 Colonel Jebb suggested that Brixton prison might be very useful for this purpose, and nine days later a provisional agreement for the purchase of the gaol for £13,000 was signed. (fn. 169) The formal conveyance was dated May 14,1853, and left Mr. Tite with a profit of £4,550.
The prison was intended for use as a convict prison for women. A new block of cells was built at each end of the crescent, and other additions made in 1853 included a chapel, wash-house, baths, infirmary, kitchens and houses for the officers; these alterations provided accommodation for 700 women. The first prisoners entered on November 24,1853. New prisoners were confined to the old part of the prison for probationary discipline. (fn. 179)
Nos. 176–182 (even) Brixton Hill
These houses stand on part of the Nine Acres Field purchased by Florance Young of Southwark from Christopher Chryssell Hall in 1818. (fn. 180) They were erected between 1824 and 1830 (fn. 38) and were left by Young on his death in 1835 to his four sons. (fn. 180) There were originally twelve houses but only Nos. 176–182 survive. They are two pairs of stock brick houses of three storeys and semi-basements, with wings of the same height which contain the entrances. Each pair shares a poorly detailed pediment, and the houses are devoid of ornament except for the Victorian gabled porches added to the entrances of Nos. 176 and 178.