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Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Story of Brixton

Brixton is a district within the London Borough of Lambeth, and the southern terminus of the Victoria underground line. It is bordered by Stockwell to the north, Clapham to the west, Tulse Hill to the south and Herne Hill to the east. Although its original name appears to be Brixiges Stan, it was referred to in the Domesday Book of 1086 as the hundred (district) of Brixiestan.

Image: freedigitalphotos
The old hundred was a large, wooded area in the north east of Surrey, whose northern boundary was the River Thames. There was little of interest in the area until 1720, when a gallows was built to deal with the highwaymen that plagued the road between London and Croydon. By the end of that century though, farmland was beginning to replace woodland and the village of Brixton came into existence.

As the Industrial Revolution reached its peak, the bridges which had started to appear over the River Thames became the means by which wealthier Londoners could flee the grime and chaos of the city at the end of each working day. Residential developments grew up on the south bank of the Thames, and the opening in 1816 of Vauxhall Bridge resulted in a number of new houses being built around Acre Lane. Two other constructions of note were Ashby's Windmill on Brixton Hill (1816) and the Surrey House of Correction (1820). Both are still in existence today.

The 1850s witnessed another building boom; it was during these years that Brixton's largest single development, the sumptuous Angell Town, was completed. During the following decade the Chatham Main Line was laid down, giving Brixton a railway connection to the centre of London and making it even more desirable as a surburban retreat.

Brixton also gained fame as one of the best shopping areas in South London. Bon March'e, the UK's first department store, was opened in 1877, and in 1888 Electric Avenue became the first shopping street to have electric lighting. Brixton's street market was also establishing itself, and the haphazard rapidity of its growth meant that it soon required a permanent home. The three elegant arcades that resulted now enjoy protected status.

The early years of the twentieth century saw the departure of many middle class families to suburbs even further afield. The lower cost of land and improved transport links meant that they could afford larger properties and still travel into work each day.

The properties that were left empty in areas such as Brixton were usually either converted into small flats or simply abandoned. The bombing raids of World War II did nothing to improve conditions and the area was cleared after the war to make room for council houses.

The first of the African-Caribbean immigrants, who had been invited to the UK to strengthen its labour force, arrived in 1948 on the Empire Windrush. Their first, temporary home was the air raid shelter below Clapham Common tube station. Nearby Brixton, however, offered permanent accommodation and the opportunity to find work, so many decided to remain in the area, changing its dynamic once again.

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