Brixton Hill

Brixton Hill

Brixton Hill: the development of the area

Image: Copyright © London Borough of Lambeth/ Lambeth Archives

Although located just three miles from Charing Cross, in 1800 Brixton had more in common with the villages of rural Surrey than with London. Brixton Hill was still relatively rural when the mill was built in 1816, and until the middle of the 19th century it remained largely undeveloped and agricultural.

The first developments occurred around 1800, with settlements near Stockwell, Brixton Hill and Coldharbour Lane. The new suburb started to grow from the 1820s as plots of land were sold by the Manor of Stockwell, and many of the first incomers were quite wealthy people with large families, live-in servants, and their own carriages to get into the City. In the 1820s, St Matthew’s Church was built, along with the other three ‘Waterloo’ churches, to serve the rapidly growing population of the parish of Lambeth.

There was a huge transformation in the area between the 1850s and 1890s, as railways and trams linked Brixton with the centre of London and speculative housing development took off.

Brixton Prison

Image: Copyright © London Borough of Lambeth/ Lambeth Archives

Soon after Brixton Windmill had been built another development occurred just to the south – the creation of Brixton House of Correction, more commonly known as Brixton Prison, which was built in 1819-20 on five acres of land purchased from the manor.

The prison moved to Wandsworth in 1851, and the land was sold, only to be bought back in 1853 for a Women’s Prison. That experiment lasted 16 years and it closed again in 1869. It was used as a military prison in 1882-1898 and in 1902 became London’s male remand prison. In recent years it has become a training establishment aiming to equip prisoners due for release the skills to succeed in employment.

Lambeth Waterworks Company

In 1834 the Lambeth Waterworks Company bought 16 acres of land in Brixton, just south of Ashby’s Mill. Here it created a new headquarters and a large open-air reservoir.

The company had been established in 1785 with works in north Lambeth. It built Brixton reservoir so that it could expand the area to which it supplied water and it built a pipeline to pump water from Kingston (above the tidal limit of the Thames). The company planned to store, settle and filter water at the Brixton site. But in the 1850s when the water was tested, little filtration was occurring, as the sample contained animal hairs and other unwanted substances.

The Lambeth Waterworks Company sold off surplus land to the prison in 1836, when it wished to expand. By the 1870s the reservoir had been covered (normal practice by that date), and in 1902 the company was taken over by the Metropolitan Water Board.

During the second half of the 20th century the covered reservoirs with their brick vaulted roofs were grassed over and subsequently used as a sports ground. Thames Water still retains the 11-acre site to the south and west of Windmill Gardens and use it to monitor a deep main serving the West End.

Building speculation

Image: Copyright © London Borough of Lambeth/ Lambeth Archives

By the 1840s, despite owning a flourishing milling business and bakery, John Ashby decided to join the speculation in Brixton and build houses close to his windmill.

In 1843 he agreed with builder John Muggeridge of Brixton Road to let the eastern half of his land for building, and seven houses fronting Cornwall Road (now Blenheim Gardens) were erected. One small single-storey house with a stuccoed front (formerly number 23, later number 47) survived into the 1960s.

On the north side of Blenheim Gardens, extensive brickfields had been built by the middle of the 19th century. But by the time the 1870 Ordnance Survey map was published, the brickfields had been replaced by terraces of small two- and three-storey houses on the north and south sides of Cornwall Road and a small estate of similar houses extending northwards to Brandon Street (just south of the current Lambert Road).

By the same date there was ribbon development of substantial middle-class villas along the western side of Brixton Hill, though there were still fields to the north. By 1894-6, these fields had disappeared, and street after street of terraced houses had been built.