Kennington: Common land

Survey of London: Volume 26, Lambeth: Southern Area. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1956.

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'Kennington: Common land', Survey of London: Volume 26, Lambeth: Southern Area, (London, 1956), pp. 31-36. British History Online [accessed 16 June 2024].

. "Kennington: Common land", in Survey of London: Volume 26, Lambeth: Southern Area, (London, 1956) 31-36. British History Online, accessed June 16, 2024,

. "Kennington: Common land", Survey of London: Volume 26, Lambeth: Southern Area, (London, 1956). 31-36. British History Online. Web. 16 June 2024,

In this section


Kennington Common

Fig. 3, plots 11 and 12

The common land in Kennington lay on the south-eastern border of the Manor, and is now covered by St. Mark’s Church and burial ground, the triangle of land between Brixton and Kennington Park Roads, and a large part of Kennington Park. The Common was bounded on the south-west by Vauxhall Creek and was marshy; Hodskinson and Middleton’s survey shows a pond near the south-east corner, and a ditch on the north-east and east sides. (fn. 6) Cattle belonging to the tenants of the Manor were grazed there, provided that they were clearly marked, and in 1660 it is recorded that 2d. was to be paid to the “common keeper” for every horse or mare and 1d. for every head of kine set to pasture there. (fn. 73) The animals were probably driven to pasture form the riverside parts of the Manor along the track which became Kennington Road. Fines for making cartways across the Common are recorded frequently in the court rolls; in some cases the carts were said to be carrying bricks.

In the 18th and 19th centuries Kennington Common gained an evil reputation. Part of it, including the site of the church and burial ground (plot 11) and the triangle of land between Brixton and Kennington Park Roads, was used as a place of execution and known as Gallows Common. Several Jacobites were executed here after the rising of 1745, and in 1866 when the removal of Temple Bar from Fleet Street was being considered, there was a suggestion that it should be re-erected in the Park to commemorate their execution. (fn. 74) Crowds came to the Common not only to witness executions, but also to hear itinerant preachers “arguing upon their different religions”, (fn. 46) and to see the cricket matches so profitable to the landlord of the Horns Tavern.

In 1801 the Grand Surrey Canal Company approached the Duchy of Cornwall with a request to purchase Gallows Common for the construction of a canal basin there. Similar proposals were made in 1807 and 1817 but they all failed. (fn. 75)

A part of the Common was surrendered for the formation of Camberwell New Road and another for St. Mark’s Church and burial ground (see below). Rights of common were extinguished over the surrendered portions and the remainder was inclosed with posts and rails. (fn. 49) After the Reform Act of 1832 candidates for the Parliamentary Borough of Lambeth were nominated on the Common and some twenty thousand Chartists gathered there in 1848 before the presentation of the National petition to Parliament. (fn. 76)

The Common was converted into a Park by the Kennington Common Inclosure Act of 1852, which extinguished all rights of common. (fn. 77)

St. Mark’s Church

Fig.3, plot 11

St. Mark’s was the second of the four “Waterloo” churches to be built in Lambeth under the Act of 1818 for providing additional churches in populous areas. (fn. 78) From the funds available to them the Commissioners for Building New Churches appointed under the Act granted £64,000 for the four Lambeth churches. (fn. 79) Considerable financial restrictions were therefore imposed on the designing and building of the churches.

The site chosen for the church at Kennington was part of Gallows Common; the Duchy of Cornwall was approached to convey the site, but it had no power to sell common land. (fn. 80) The only solution to the dilemma was to obtain an Act of Parliament empowering the Duchy to convey and the Commissioners to acquire common land of Kennington Manor. The negotiations were necessarily protracted, and in June 1823 the Lambeth Vestry expressed its desire “to avoid the unpleasant circumstance of finding the consecration of the church delayed after its completion from the want of power to convey the site”. (fn. 80) The Vestry’s fears were almost realized; the Act of Parliament did not receive the Royal Assent until June 24, 1824, (fn. 81) six days before the church’s consecration.

Common rights over the church site and burial ground were extinguished, and £ 484 6s. 3d. was paid as compensation to the Lambeth Vestry, which was presumably acting on behalf of the tenants of Kennington Manor. Part of this money was given to the Trustees of the Kennington Schools and part was used for fencing, marking and draining the rest of the Common and “for the erection of further Lamp Posts or Pillars in Saint Mark’s Church Yard and otherwise improving the said Common”. (fn. 49)

The architect appointed for the church was D.R. Roper. (fn. 80) It has been suggested that A.B. Clayton “ghosted” for Roper, (fn. 82) but this cannot easily be proved; Roper certainly dealt with the Church Building Commissioners in all matters concerning the church. The contractors were Messrs. Moore, Grimsdell and Davis. (fn. 83) The design was for a building of “The Grecian Doric Order … With Portico, and Tower, terminated with a Cupola of the Grecian Ionic Order”. (fn. 80) Roper estimated the cost at £ 15,248, the lowest figures “consistent with the Stability and Character of the Building”. (fn. 80) Of the final cost of £16,093 4s. 3d., the parish of Lambeth raised £8,442 2s. 6d. and the rest was paid by the Commissioners. (fn. 80) The first stone was laid on July 1, 1822, and the church was consecrated on June 30, 1824, both ceremonies being performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury (fn. 84) (Plates 2, 4a, 11a).

The church had accommodation for over two thousand persons. 1,082 of the sittings were rented, and under a deed of February 13, 1827 (fn. 80) the surplus of the pew rents after paying the minister’s stipend was set aside for providing a parsonage house. The first incumbent was the Rev. William Otter, later Bishop of Chichester.

Correctly orientated and sited within an extensive churchyard, St. Mark’s has a direct and wellarticulated plan on conventional lines. The body of the church forms an oblong with splayed angles, its major axis running east-west. An extension at the west end, fronted by the portico, contains an octangular vestibule placed centrally and forming the base of the steeple, flanked by staircases that lead to the gallery extending round three sides of the interior. A shallow eastern extension forms a recessed setting for the altar.

The plan is well expressed in elevations of Grecian design with a distinct Regency flavour, built in grey brick with dressings generally of Bath stone. Steps bounded by plain pedestals rise to the portico, which is wholly of Portland stone. In elevation this portico is tetrastyle in antis, but since the ends are open the antae have the form and function of square piers. The deep entablature, appropriately adorned with triglyphs, is surmounted by an ill-proportioned pediment.

Each side of the building presents a brick face divided into five equal bays by stone pilasters. Appropriately spaced within these bays are two tiers of windows, segmental-headed and without architraves, the lower tier being of squat proportion. The splayed angle walls form a further windowless bay at each end, and the return face of the portico includes a stone-faced bay containing a doorway with a window over.

The steeple, which is placed centrally behind the portico but free of the roof over the body of the church, is a curious design savouring of the ill-assorted flavours of Soane and Smirke. The square first stage has four identical faces, each with a louvred segmental-headed opening framed by wide antae and a simple entablature. At each corner is a tall pedestal-like pier crowned by an elaborate anthemion ornament. From an octangular pedestal, each cardinal face containing a clock dial flanked by stele, rises the extremely attenuated lantern. Circular in plan, its eight Ionic columns support an entablature and a hemispherical dome of stone, surmounted by a cross. A tall pedestal is introduced into each intercolumniation.

St. Mark's was a typical Commissioners' church in the arrangement and decoration of its interior. The gallery extends round three sides and over all there is a single-span ceiling, here with a shallow coved surround. Doric columns of cast-iron support the gallery, its front being appropriately adorned with a simple entablature. The walls behind the gallery are divided into bays by pilasters with moulded capitals, supporting an entablature having a frieze relief of anthemion ornament with paired sphinxes over the pilasters. The altar recess is handsomely framed by paired Ionic columns. Further plaster enrichments, including the festoon and cherub-head motifs over the windows, were introduced during the 1901 restoration.

The interior has, in fact, undergone extensive restoration twice, each time at the hand of an architect who was completely out of sympathy with his predecessor. In the 1870s, when the original pews were replaced by the present seating and choir-stalls, and the organ was removed from the west gallery to the east end, the mode was fiercely Gothic, while in 1901 it was revived Wren. The church was severely damaged by enemy action in September 1940; after partial restoration it was re-dedicated on April 9, 1949. In 1898 the fine late 19th century carved oak pulpit was brought from the demolished City church of St. Michael's, Wood Street. (fn. 85) The brass lectern was presented in the same year by Charlotte Darlington and was restored in 1949. In 1899 the font, which was originally erected in 1844, was removed to the west end. In 1903 eight tubular bells were given by the vicar, John Darlington. The communion rails were presented in 1905, and the oak screen in the gallery in 1919. (fn. c1) The oak screen in the chapel in the south aisle was given by Emily Sophia Kinchin in 1935. The stained-glass window on the south side of the church was given in memory of John Arnoldi Cotton and his wife; it was designed by W. T. C. Shapland and made in 1952 by Barton, Kinder and Alderson; the subject is St. John baptising Our Lord. A stone set in the south wall is crudely carved “W.H. 12 Aug 1769”.

Kennington Park

Fig. 3, plots 11, 12 and 13

With the rapid development of the surrounding area in the first half of the 19th century, Kennington Common lost its ancient agricultural purpose and became a mere dumping ground for rubbish. In 1849 an observer stated that “The stunted herbage is trodden and soiled by a troop of cows belonging to a neighbouring milkman. A kind of pond near one corner, and a deep ditch opposite South Place, are the cemeteries of all the dead puppies and kittens of the vicinity.” The vitriol factory on the east side gave off a constant stream of sulphurous vapour, and the ditches presented “an accumulation of black offensive muddy liquid, receiving constant contributions from numerous unmentionable conveniences attached to a line of low cottage erections”. (fn. 86)

In 1841 there was an unsuccessful proposal to form a park in the area between Doddington Grove and Wyndham Street a little to the east of the Common. Ten years later the Rev. Charlton Lane, minister of St. Mark's Church, perhaps alarmed by the vast Chartist gathering in 1848, led a deputation to the First Commissioner of Works and the Duchy of Cornwall requesting that the Common should be made a Park. A local committee was set up to raise £1,000 of the estimated cost of £3,650, and a Bill was promoted in Parliament, (fn. 46) which became law in 1852.

The Kennington Common Inclosure Act vested the Common in the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Works and Public Buildings, “freed and discharged from all Rights of Common and all other Rights whatsoever”. It also gave the Commissioners power to inclose, drain and plant the Common, and to divert Brixton Road and move the toll-gate and house. (fn. 77) Iron railings were immediately erected round the Common by Messrs. H. and M. D. Grissell, and the levelling and planting of the ground was completed by March 1854. (fn. 46) Prince Consort Lodge was also re-erected there by William Higgs (see page 36).

Before 1852 the junction of Brixton and Kennington Park Roads stood some 550 feet from St. Mark's Church, and a toll-gate controlling both roads stood near Magee Street (Plate 37b). The first draft of the Act of 1852 proposed a junction some 200 feet from the church, leaving more common land to the north-east of the junction The Trustees of the Surrey New Roads and a number of local inhabitants objected, and as a compromise the junction was made in its present position some 300 feet from the church; the work of diverting Brixton Road was carried out by Robert Neal at a cost of £746. The position of the toll-gate and house had also to be changed. The old house was sold for £33 and William Higgs built a new one at the reconstructed junction for £199; he also moved the toll-gate to its new position. (fn. 46) The house and gate were finally taken down in 1865.

A triangular piece of ground containing about three-quarters of an acre in front of South Place, now Kennington Park Place, was not fenced in after the Act of 1852 because it was not part of the Common. The inhabitants of South Place protested that if the land were left unfenced it would be used by the undesirables who had hitherto given the Common a bad name. The triangle of land had been included in the area to be purchased for the Park, but the owner, Captain Faunce de Laune, objected to its being incorporated in the Park. In 1864 the inhabitants of South Place obtained a leasehold interest and fenced the land at their own expense. Captain de Laune's successor, another de Laune, offered the land to the Commissioners in 1884 for £3,000, but his offer was declined. The inhabitants’ lease lapsed in 1886 and de Laune erected a notice-board offering to let the land as a nursery ground. (fn. 46)

At this point the impact of wider considerations provided a solution of the problem. Before 1888 several other London parks as well as Kennington Park had been maintained by the Office of Works, although not Crown property. For some years Members of Parliament sitting for provincial constituencies had objected to this practice, on the ground that provincial parks had to be maintained out of local and not central government funds. The vote for the London parks was defeated in 1887, and in the same year the London Parks and Works Act transferred Victoria, Battersea and Kennington Parks, among other properties, to the Metropolitan Board of Works; (fn. 87) the Board immediately purchased de Laune’s land for £2,000. (fn. 88) The London County Council took over the Park in 1889.

In 1920 the Kennington Park Extension Committee was formed to raise subscriptions for the purchase of six acres of land (fn. 89) adjoining the south-east corner of the Park. (fn. 90) These six acres were part of a croft of land and natural pasture containing eight acres, known as Shotesgrove in Hazards Marsh (fig.3, plot 13) which lay near Hazards Bridge over Vauxhall Creek. (fn. 2) The formation of Camberwell New Road had divided Shotesgrove, leaving some six acres on the north-east side of the road. By 1920 four of the six acres were covered by houses whose leases were due to expire between 1921 and 1924, and the remaining two acres were taken up by a private road and a playground used by the schools of the district. With contributions from the Lambeth and Southwark Borough Councils and from other bodies the Committee raised £15,101 and the balance of £23,256 was contributed by the London County Council; the purchase of the land was completed in December 1921. (fn. 89) The six acres are now occupied by a flower garden, swimming pool and children’s playground.

At the suggestion of the Master of Bolton Street school, a gymnasium was erected in the Park in 1861 opposite the church of St. Agnes. (fn. 46) In 1862 Felix Slade presented a drinking fountain; the steps and the bowl were of granite and were surmounted by a bronze vase upon which Jacob, Rebecca, Hagar and Ishmael were represented in low relief. The fountain was designed by Charles H. Driver; the bronze work was executed by Messrs. Elkington and the mason’s work by Thomas Earp. (fn. 91) The bronze vase has now been removed, and the bowl is used as a jardinière. Another fountain, representing “The Pilgrimage of Life” was modelled by George Tinworth and was given by Sir Henry Doulton in 1869. (fn. 46)

Prince Consort’s Model Lodge, Kennington Park

Fig. 3, plot 12

This building was originally erected by the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes as part of the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Society was established in 1844 with the Prince Consort as its President; its Honorary Architect, Henry Roberts, was a pioneer in the improvement of working-class housing. Through the influence of the Prince Consort a site at the Knightsbridge Cavalry Barrack-yard adjoining the Great Exhibition was obtained, and model houses for four families were erected there. (fn. 92) The houses (Plate 73a, fig. 7) were designed by Henry Roberts, and embodied a number of novel ideas. Each flat had a livingroom, three bedrooms (each with separate access) and a scullery fitted with a sink, plate-rack, coalbin, dust-shaft and meat-safe; there was also a water-closet. (fn. 93) The living-room had a cupboard heated by warm air from the fireplace. (fn. 93) The most prominent feature of the design was the covered central staircase in the front, which gave access to the two upper flats. The construction of the houses was equally unusual. Hollow bricks were used, whereby it was claimed that “dryness, warmth, durability, security from fire, and deadening of sound, are obtained, as well as economy of construction to the extent, as compared with the cost of common brickwork, of at least 25 per cent”. (fn. 94) No timber was used for either the first floor or the roof, which were formed with flat arches of hollow brickwork, rising from eight to nine inches, set in cement, and tied by wroughtirom rods connected with cast-iron springers, which rested on the external walls and bound the whole structure together. Concrete was used for levelling off the arches. The internal face of the walls was so smooth that plastering was unnecessary. (fn. 94) The total cost of the four dwellings was £458 14s. 7d. (fn. 93) The design was subsequently used in a number of places, notably in Cowley Gardens, Stepney, in Fenelon Place, Kensington and in Hertford, but the use of hollow bricks, despite its advantages, was never very widespred. (fn. 93)

Figure 7.:

Prince Consort's Model Lodge, 1851-2. Henty Roberts, architect

After the Great Exhibition had closed, the houses were re-erected in 1852 by William Higgs on their present site for £557. The projecting porch at the back, which does not form part of the original design, was probably added at this time. The houses were to be used as homes for two attendants and “as a Museum for Articles relating to Cottage economy to which the public may be admitted”. (fn. 46) When the outside staircase was enclosed in 1898, (fn. 46) part of the ground-floor set of rooms was used as store-rooms and offices, and the remainder, together with the upper rooms, was inhabited by the Superintendent of the Park. (fn. 95)


  • 2. C.R.O., “A breife abstracte of the Survey of the manor of Kennington taken by John Norden 1615".
  • 6. D.C., Survey of the Manor of Kennington, 17 85–1786, by John Hodskinson and John Middleton.
  • 46. L.C.C, Kennington Park Papers (deposited by H.M. Office of Works with the Metropolitan Board of Works).
  • 49. V.M. June 4, 1825.
  • 73. D.C., Kennington Court Rolls, Oct. 24, 1660.
  • 74. The Builder, 1866, p. 437.
  • 75. D.C., Gallows Common Correspondence.
  • 76. The Times, April 11, 1848.
  • 77. 15 & 16 Vict. c. 29, public.
  • 78. 58 Geo. III c. 45, public.
  • 79. Survey of London, vol. XXIII, p. 32.
  • 80. C.C., File 18135.
  • 81. 5 Geo. IV c. 103, public.
  • 82. Georgian London, by J. Summerson, 1945, p. 208.
  • 83. C.C., Church Building Commissioners' Minutes, Sept. 24, 1822.
  • 84. The Gentleman's Magazine, 1827, part 1, pp. 10 and 11.
  • 85. Lambeth Official Guide, 7th ed. (N.D., c. 1939), p. 86.
  • 86. The Builder, 1849, p. 44.
  • 87. 50 & 51 Vict. c. 34, public.
  • 88. M.B.W Minutes, Jan. 13, 1888.
  • 89. L.C.C. Minutes, July 18, 1922.
  • 90. D.C., Kennington Park Extension 1920–22, Correspondence.
  • 91. The Builder, 1862, p. 206.
  • 92. The Builder, Jan. 2, 1953: “Henry Roberts, 1802–1876” by A. M. Foyle.
  • 93. The Brick Builder, 1951, pp. 122–124.
  • 94. Official Descriptive, Illustracted Catalogue of the Great Exhibition, 1851, vol. 11, pp. 774–775.
  • 95. L.C.C. Minutes, May 24, 1898.
  • c1. In about 1923 the rector bought an old carved oak reredos, then in the church of St George the Martyr, Southwark, but originally from the demolished City church of St Michael, Wood Street. This he placed at the back of the west gallery to fill the void left there by the removal of the organ to the east end in 1874.