OLD KENT ROAD MAPS AND RESEARCH
OLD KENT ROAD EH LISTINGS
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OLD KENT ROAD COMMUNITY FORUM
Up to date information and documents from the OKR Community Forum, discussing the future of the area and the changes that are happening
OLD KENT ROAD ARENA 1985
Short History of the Old Kent Road. Text taken from the Survey of London
1. Rise and demise
Pre C19th: Following the course of the old Watling Street, which extended from Dover to Canterbury, was the road followed by nearly all travellers from the days of the Romans, the days of pilgrimages and crusades, and thence again until the formation of railways. Rocque’s Map, published in 1750, shows the thoroughfare lined with hedgerows, bespeaking its rural character in the days of George II. 1
C19th: The opening of the Surrey Canal (Walworth to Rotherhithe) in 1811 changed the character of Old Kent Road from rural to industrial. Various tanneries were established along the road and there was a soap processing plant. Older properties that had been used by upper and middle classes were converted into the flats for the emerging working class population. The Metropolitan Gas Works founded in 1833 was based on Old Kent Road. It covered an area of more than 13 square miles (34 km2). By the time the Bricklayers Arms goods station opened in 1845, the road was entirely built up. At the time, Old Kent Road had one of the highest population densities in Europe, with an average of 280 residents per acre. However, sections along the road still had success with commercial trade, with various market stalls and sellers, until the construction of the tramway in 1871 pushing traders off the road.
Public Services and transport infrastructure were introduced in the mid late C19th including Old Kent Road Railway Station at the southern end of the road which opened in 1866 and closed in 1917. The London City Fire Brigade first opened a fire station around 1868. The most recent station was built in 2014.
In 1906 it was reported that a “well-designed Turkish bath [which] forms one of the departments of the public baths” had been “recently erected. The Old Kent Road Baths were the only public bath in London which had Turkish bath facilities at the time. The baths were intended to include two swimming baths, each measuring 75 feet (23 m) by 30 feet (9.1 m), 30 first-class 44 second-class slipper baths for men, eight first-class and 16 second-class slipper baths for women, and five rain douche and spray baths. The 1923 Municipal Year Book noted the “great success” of Turkish and Russian baths on Old Kent Road. In 1913-4 alone, the Old Kent Baths were used by 188,336 private bathers, 14,687 of which used its Russian, Turkish, or special electric baths. 1
Victorian Old Kent Road also accommodated two libraries, around 39 pubs, a range of department stores including Carters.
During the 19th and 20th century, the industrial and working class makeup of Old Kent Road also made it a haven for entertainment, pub brawls, organised crime and violence. The notorious Richardson’s operated in the area, and boxing clubs (including the Thomas A Beckett) based around Old Kent Road became popular.
C20th: In the 20th century, much of the property was demolished for urban redevelopment, including the post WW2 creation of Burgess Park as part of the County of London Plan in 1943. In 1968, a flyover opened at the road’s northern end, allowing direct access onto the New Kent Road catering for the main flow of traffic. During the 1970s, run-down Victorian properties on and around Old Kent Road were demolished in order to make way for new housing estates.
In the 80s and 90s Southwark Borough Council did not consider Old Kent Road to fit the characteristics of an urban town centre, and consequently large retail parks more in character of out-of-town schemes have been developed over earlier properties. Pubs and other places of entertainment on Old Kent Road have been gradually closing since the 1980s.
2. The New Kent Road developed as a convenient shortcut
“It being an inherent tendency in human nature, to take short cuts where possible, there is little doubt that soon after the monks of Christ Church obtained possession of Walworth in the C11th they began, when the state of the ground permitted, to find a way across the fields from the Canterbury Road (Old Kent Road) to Walworth Manor to avoid making the detour up to St. George’s Church and down Borough High Street to Newington Causeway.”2
On the 1681 plan of Walworth Manor the field north of Walworth Common Field has the legend “King’s High Way” written across it, and by a series of gates, the path can be traced across the neighbouring fields to Newington Butts. Rocque’s map of 1761 shows the old path and a new straight road cutting right across it. This was the New Kent Road built under the Act of 1751. Towards the end of the century terraces of two- and three-storey houses, began to appear on either side. Many of them still survive, and their plain brick façades and the simple decorative treatment of the fanlights, door surrounds and ironwork, though frequently repeated, give them a certain dignity even in decay. The road also has a spaciousness lacking in many of its 19th century counterparts, for the 1751 Act stipulated that the road should be not less than 42 feet wide and many of the older houses still retain their front gardens. 2
3. Places of note: Licensed Victuallers’ Asylum
In 1827 the Licensed Victuallers’ Asylum was founded, on six acres of freehold land lying just off the Old Kent Road. It consists of a group of one storeyed houses, chapel, chaplain’s residence, board and court rooms, library, &c., set round two green lawns. The idea of establishing an institution wherein the distressed members of the licensed victuallers’ trade, and their wives or widows, might be enabled to spend the latter part of their days in peace and quietness, was conceived by the late Mr. Joseph Proud Hodgson. At the centre there is a beautiful little chapel enriched with stained-glass memorial windows, and also several handsome marble tablets, in memory of donors to the institution. This was destroyed during WW2 and remains ruined, although is currently used for events. Facing the Asylum Road, is erected a marble statue of the late Prince Consort, which was unveiled in 1864 by the Prince of Wales. 1
St. Thomas à Becket Pub at junction of Albany Road & Old Kent Road
St. Thomas à Waterings was situated close to the second milestone on the Old Kent Road, and was so called from a brook or spring, dedicated to Chaucer’s pilgrims, passed it on their way to the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. It was known as the boundary of the City liberties. The precise situation was as near as possible that part of the Old Kent Road which is intersected by the Albany Road. This spot was in the old Tudor days the place of execution for the northern parts of Surrey; and here the Vicar of Wandsworth, his chaplain, and two other persons of his household, were hung, drawn, and quartered in 1539 for denying the supremacy of Henry VIII in matters of faith. The last persons executed at St. Thomas à Watering were a father and son, who suffered the penalty of the law for murder about the year 1740. 1
Public Houses and places of recreation
One of the most noticeable features on the Old Kent Road is the number of public-houses, each with its swinging sign and drinking-trough for horses. Among these houses of “entertainment for man and beast” is the “Kentish Drovers,” (1840) which has existed here for about a couple of centuries, and was a well-known halting-place on the road to Kent, at a time when the thoroughfare was bordered on either side by green fields and market gardens.
The “Thomas à Becket,” at the corner of Albany Road, commemorates the spot where the pilgrims first halted on their way from London to Canterbury. The oldest of the inns in the Old Kent Road, perhaps, is one near the Bricklayers’ Arms Station, which rejoices in the somewhat singular sign of “The World Turned Upside Down.” The house is supposed to be upwards of two hundred years old, and down to about 1840 its sign-board represented a man walking at the South Pole. 1
The Paragon was designed by Michael Searles and built in 1789–90 for the Rolls family. Searles also designed the Paragon at Blackheath, and John Summerson comments that in both cases the name was given point by “strict architectural regularity on a rather unusual and decorative plan.” The Paragon was demolished in 1898 for the erection of a school. The rusticated gate piers in artificial stone at the entrance to each side of the Paragon still remain, the gardens having been formed into a small public open space. 2
Residents in the Paragon included 2
No. 3, in 1840–50, William Oke Manning, a legal writer and, in 1855–63, George R. Corner, who published a number of papers on the history of Southwark;
No. 4, in 1789–91, Michael Searles
No. 6, in 1829–55, Bryan Donkin, civil engineer and the inventor, among other things, of a method of packing meat and vegetables in airtight containers
No. 8, in 1802–04, John Rolls, the lessee of the ground and owner of the Rolls Estate , in 1805–09,
George Gwilt the elder, architect, surveyor to the County of Surrey and district surveyor of St. George’s, Southwark.
No. 15 between 1826 and 1832, William Chadwick, who built many of the houses in Trinity Street and Square.
155 Old Kent Road
No. 155, on the east side, is the Rolls Estate office designed by Michael Searles and built in 1795 for his own occupation. It is a plain two-storeyed building with a steeply-pitched slate roof. The house retains its original railings with a lampholder at the centre of its frontage, and is known from its stucco facing as the White House. Michael Searles was surveyor to the Rolls Estate, as were his son and grandson after him. He lived in the house until his death in 1813, and it continued in the occupation of his family until the death of his grandson, Robert Thomas Searles, in 1863. The last of the male Rolls’s was the Hon Charles Stewart Rolls who was the pioneer motorist and aviator who formed the Rolls Royce partnership with Henry Royce. 3
Deaf and Dumb Asylum
This admirable institution, the foundation-stone of which was laid by the Duke of Gloucester in 1807, was a large but plain and unpretending edifice, separated from the roadway by a grove of trees. This asylum or school was the first established in England for the Deaf and Dumb, and was originally opened in 1792, in Fort Place, Bermondsey. “The term of each pupil’s stay is five years; they are taught to read, write, draw, and cipher, to speak by signs, and in many instances to articulate so as to be clearly understood. They are wholly clothed and maintained by the charity, are instructed in working trades, and in some cases apprentice-fees are given. The Asylum is amply supported by the wealthy; and besides its annual receipts from subscriptions, donations, and legacies, &c., it has some funded stock. The pupils are elected half-yearly, without reference to locality, sect, or persuasion.” 1
The school was enlarged in 1819 and re-built in 1886–87. The original boundary railings still remain with honeysuckle ornament to the gate standards. It later became The London County Council School for the Deaf.
1 Edward Walford, ‘The Old Kent Road’, in Old and New London: Volume 6 (London, 1878), pp. 248-255 https://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol6/pp248-255.
2 ‘New Kent Road’, in Survey of London: Volume 25, St George’s Fields (The Parishes of St. George the Martyr Southwark and St. Mary Newington), ed. Ida Darlington (London, 1955), pp. 117-120 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol25/pp117-120
3 ‘Tabard Street and the Old Kent Road’, in Survey of London: Volume 25, St George’s Fields (The Parishes of St. George the Martyr Southwark and St. Mary Newington), ed. Ida Darlington (London, 1955), pp. 121-126 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol25/pp121-126.
C21st Newspaper articles