Controversial but useful – new offices & workspaces coming to Culvert Road in 2024

Local business premises are an important way of ensuring there are readily accessible jobs that don’t involve commuting across the city, but they’re also quite endangered, and always under threat of being converted to flats. That said, there are more pockets of light industry still going in Battersea than many people realise (as we’ve touched on before) – many of them in the somewhat hidden-away areas that don;t lend them selves to ‘luxury’ residential development. One particularly little-known local ‘industrial’ site is Culvert Court, a sliver of land trapped between the railway and the Battersea Park Etate, which is packed full of storage units and small workshops. There’s 22,000 square feet of space overall – not a huge area (for comparison, T.K. Maxx at Clapham Juntion is about 30,000 square feet) – but what makes it particulatly odd is that the space is split in to 128 tiny little units! The small size and really rather basic condition of most of these ‘micro units’ means that they are very affordable – which is probably why the site has ended up as home to a bewildering array of small local businesses (we wrote about one of these – AL Coffee Roasters – a few months ago). Useful as this site is, it’s fair to say that the buildings are tired and have definitely seen better days, so some sort of redevelopment was almost inevitable.

The site was bought by new owners in June last year, and proposals quickly emerged for a complete rebuild of the site. The plans will create a site worth about £30m, with the building floorspace growing by about 50% – to 36,500 square feet. But maybe more importantly, it will see a mass of rudimentary single storey lockups demolished, and replaced with three more advanced modern buildings that allow for larger spaces to be rented. By creating two- and three-storey structures more space will be freed up between the buildings, even as the development creates more overall floor space. It’s being developed by Avanton, who have developed two other notable projects in Battersea – the brand-new headquarters for the Royal Academy of Dance on York Road (which was accompanied by a large residential development), followed by the redevelopment of the Academy’s former site at Battersea Square to become an extension of Thomas’s school.

This project – whose layout is shown above – was very controversial when it went ion to the planning process. An impressive 48 objections were received to the planning proposal – many of them carefully written and very detailed, and mainly from residents of Rowditch Lane and Sheepcote Lane who are likely to be the most affected (indeed, some people objected more than once). A particular concern, which we very much agree with, concerned the proposed creation of a large cluster of new ‘dark kitchens‘ – which are hidden-away kitchens that make food that’s branded as coming from restaurants you will likely recognise, but aimed directly at serving the delivery market. Culvert Road has already got several dark kitchens run by market leader Food Stars, hidden away deeper in the Parkfield industrial estate between the railway tracks. While there’s nothing wrong with the kitchens in themselves which clearly serve a significant local market, the amount of trade there has led to an absolute explosion in motorbike traffic – with the noise and danger that that entails. In our experience, some riders are very considerate – but some very much aren’t! – and the road network here was never really designed with that level of traffic in mind. The route is also the only access road for students from north of the railway to the John Burns school, which creates particular dangers when a load of speeding motorbikes are added to the mix. Problems with antisocial behaviour by the occupiers of some of the existing units at Culvert Court are also frequently mentioned. Concerns were also raised about the effect of a three-storey development on daylight in the houses immediately to the north of the site.

Sensing the level of concern about the initial proposals, the developers went away and changed the plans. The height of one of the buildings was reduced from two storeys to one, and the other buildings were slightly lowered as well, reducing (but not removing) the overshadowing of neighbouring houses and gardens. And maybe most significantly, the large cluster of proposed new ‘dark kitchens’ was completely deleted and replaced by a building providing standard industrial floorspace instead. The revised plans didn’t resolve all the concerns – and still saw another 17 objections – however the changes were actually quite significant, and this is maybe a good example of a situation where local concerns can actually lead to changes.

Following these changes, the development went to the full Planning Application Committee (rather than being decided by planning officers – which is how less controversial ones are usually decided), and it received planning permission – with 36 fairly detailed conditions that need to be met before the development can be occupied and while it is in use, stretching from evidence being needed on urban greening and rules on opening hours, to a ban on any telecoms antennas or roof terraces. It is worth noting that the planning department’s 54-page-long report was quite impressively thorough and detailed – going through the impact on houses along Rowditch Lane on a house-by-house basis and looking at the daylight impact for each property. Avanton have started work to appoint a lettings agent for the new development, and now plan to get going as soon as they can – aiming to finish by early summer 2024.

Now there’s frankly no getting away from the fact that these will not be particularly beautiful buildings! The image above shows what the entrance to the site will look like after the works are complete. They are mostly clad in grey metal, with few windows. The plans include ‘green walls’ on the northern side facing Rowditch Lane – the greenish area in the image – that could soften the industrial appearance the building when viewed from neighbouring houses. However anyone with some familiarity with the planning process will conform that these ‘greenery’ plans usually vanish from the plans once building work gets going – indeed Wandsworth is littered with planned green walls that never got delivered!. Maybe this will be the exception to that general rule…

However these non-beautiful buildings will be modern, efficient, functional ones – that are well suited to their planned use. All the new buildings will provide a good standard of flexible workspace and be easy to subdivide to a mix of unit sizes, and so be ready for use by a wide range of occupiers. The plans meet Wandsworth’s requirements that new business spaces should provide suitable loading facilities, ceiling heights of at least 3.35m, space on site for commercial vehicles, and goods lifts with a minimum loading of 500kg. In this case the plans provide flexible floorplates that are mostly free of awkward columns, and decent size doorways. The new buildings will also be up to modern energy efficiency and insulation standards, meaning that they can be heated (which was a real challenge with some of the old structures, that are a mix of old fashioned garages and repurposed shipping containers) – with both solar panels and air source heat pumps helping keep energy costs down. The second floor of ‘Building Two’ – the tall one about half way along the site – would be designated as 329 square metres of ‘Affordable Workspace’, rented out at a minimum discount of 20% to market rent. This would be backed by a legal agreement with Wandsworth Council to ensure that the space remains affordable and is properly used.

This will be a big change for Culvert Court, and it won’t please everyone as even the revised plans do not address all the neighbours’ concerns. However a redevelopment of some sort was long overdue at this useful but increasingly tatty site, and this is clearly good for business and creating local jobs. There has been quite a sharp rise in demand for warehousing and business space in central London, driven partly by the huge amount of delivery activity that we now see – at the same time as London lost almost a quarter of its industrial space over the last 20 years, mostly to housing development which tends to be willing to pay higher prices for land. This site right by the railway is well suited to business use, and we suspect that these units will be easy to let, given they are now a short walk from Battersea tube, and close to the established Parkfield industrial estate. Chances are we’ll see a similar mix of businesses as the nearby industrial areas – albeit those are bewilderingly wide, and include breweries, furniture makers, coffee roasters, gyms, builders, fashion designers, all manner of local services, and of course the rapidly growing ‘last mile’ delivery services. We’ll keep you posted as this project develops.

If you found this interesting you may also want to see our posts on the history and future of Culvert Place, including a new development site just south of the Culvert Road tunnel, one on a cluster of planned office developments around Queenstown Road station, and a wider article on the various commercial developments in Battersea.

Posted in Business, Environment, Planning, Street by street | Leave a comment

New opening: Remedy Kitchen

At the very eastern end of the street up on the Wandsworth Road, the big and beautiful corner unit that was home to Sinclair Till’s collection of carpets, fabrics and furnishings (until they moved to a new store that was somewhat smaller – but with the advantage of being right in the heart of Chelsea’s interior design heartland at Pimlico Road) has opened for the first time today – as Remedy Kitchen. Remedy Kitchen specialises in food that’s fast but also fresh, colourful and healthy – with a keen eye to the environmental impact of the business. Expect a mixture of healthy vegan & vegetarian bowls, wraps, soups and stews, including a range of breakfast pots.

Owner Fadi Chafi founded the business in 2020, as a delivery-only kitchen based in the huge complex of kitchens next to Battersea Heliport, before expanding to open an actual branch open to the public on Haverstock Hill near Belsize Park the following year. It’s clearly been a success – being shortlisted by Deliveroo for a ‘best newcomer of the year’ award, and Fadi is now returning to Battersea in a bigger way with an actual branch. The last few weeks have seen quite extensive works to the site, which has had everything restored and repaired, as well as a repaint from grey to teal that works rather well. The business has a local following thanks to the delivery operation, and this very visible new branch will bring Remedy Kitchen’s offering to a whole new audience.

It’s also good to see the new activity up at this end of the street – complementing Maiella Worth‘s recently refurbished Cafe/restaurant next door, which has found considerable success with freshly cooked Arrosticini, to the point where prebooking is definitely wise in the evenings. Further to the east, after a fairly long pause, work has now also got well underway at the former Lost Society / Artesian Well buildings, which we wrote about quite some time ago – which should bring a new Cafe and one other commercial unit back in to business. We’ll bring you an update on that site in a future post.

Remedy Kitchen. 791 Wandsworth Road, London SW8 3QJ. @remedykitchen_uk

Posted in Business, Food & drink, Retail | Leave a comment

Battersea Park Station: Step-free at last?

Battersea Park railway station just keeps getting busier. It was never a quiet station, thanks to a steady stream of traffic from the Doddington & Rollo flats and the mansions around Battersea park, and some weekend traffic to the park itself. But it got a lot busier from the late 2000s, thanks to rapid development all around the station – with passenger numbers climbing by 10% every year. Pre-Covid the station had hit 2.2 million annual passengers, and was on the brink of breaking in the the top 10% busiest stations in the whole country – creating the rather surprising situation where this fairly little-known local station was somehow getting more passengers than than the grand central stations for entire regional cities such as Lancaster, Swansea, Middlesbrough and Halifax! The pandemic briefly cut those numbers in half, but Battersea Park rebounded fast, and things are set to accelerate even further as the area around the station quickly becomes a forest of new flats, with vast developments on the site of the old Battersea gasholders, in the railway arches immediately opposite the station, and along Nine Elms Lane. And it’s not just flats – at least four large office buildings are also being developed within a few minutes’ walk of the station, as well an 850-bed student hall of residence opposite the Dogs Home, which will heap more demand on the station.

Despite originally being built in a gap jammed between viaducts in an industrial area, rather than an upmarket outer suburb or prominent city centre, Battersea Park is a beautiful and carefully-crafted station that seems to have been designed to impress. And even as Battersea all around it changed beyond recognition, the station kept all of its historic charm – as our photos of the carefully restored ticket hall show, with archways, ornate plaster ceilings and ornate lighting. Unfortunately, in some respects it may have kept a little too much of its historic charm, as access to the platforms relies on a series of distinctly Victorian-era staircases. Rickety, steep, wooden steps – and lots of them! As the railway experts over at London Reconnections note in their very readable article about the station, “the steps leading to platforms 4 and 5… must be just about the steepest and narrowest set of steps leading to any station platform in the country“. And this is where our story starts, because put bluntly – this station is a hazardous nightmare for anyone with mobility issues, and not much fun for those with prams either.

Fortunately there’s a long running project called ‘Access for All‘ to make the UK’s stations more accessible – which ought to see this station improved. The project has been running for years, starting with the most well-used stations with the highest demand – which was why Clapham Junction acquired nine lifts way back in 2011. The particularly poor accessibility of Battersea Park, and the fact that it was in a rapidly growing area with both a significant elderly population, an above average proportion of residents with mobility difficulties, and a quite rapidly growing number of young families,  is probably why it was selected in the programme way back in 2014, alongside 41 other stations (that included Streatham, Peckham Rye and Blackhorse Road). These would see funds allocated during ‘Control period 5‘ – which is railway jargon for planned investments over a five-year period between 2014 and 2019. The Government press notice confirmed that ‘subject to a feasible design‘, the station would see a step-free access built from street to platform.

Now you may be thinking – 2014 is ages ago, and so is 2019 – so what on earth happened after that big announcement? The station is just as inaccessible as it was back in 2014. The problem with all government funding announcements is that it’s one thing to announce funding, but quite another to actually follow through and deliver the goods. And that ‘subject to a feasible design‘ caveat in the original announcement mattered, because Battersea Park is really not a particularly easy station to add lifts to! Platform 1, the unusual one that’s made of wooden planks, doesn’t matter as it was permanently closed a few years ago. Platforms 2&3 – the central ones, pictured above, are fairly manageable as the platforms are immediately adjacent to the station building. A lift would emerge at the very end of the platform, more or less in the middle of the photo above, and somewhere to the right of the stairs in the photo below.

Things get rather more complicated at platform 4&5 (the westbound one) – where the super-steep stairs are right at the southern end of the platform, in a spot where the platform is already very narrow, and with no space to add a lift between the two railway viaducts. This will be a real design challenge: even if there is a way for a lift to go down from the narrow platform there it would end up buried deep in the viaduct and nowhere near the main ticket hall, so unless there happen to be some implausibly convenient old passageways buried in the arches, something unusual will be needed. We can think of two possibilities – neither of them cheap: either extending the new lift from the ticket hall to central platforms 2&3 up further to have a third level, leading to a bridge across to platforms 4&5 and another lift down; or putting a lift in at the northern end of platforms 4&5 (the end far away from the station) that would run down to the road level on Prince of Wales Drive, shown below. This is the cheaper option – as our photo shows, the wooden bit between the two heavy metal bridges is actually the underneath of the platform, so a lift either to the road or one of the railway arches is reasonably doable – but this would create a second entrance and so make the station more complicated to run.

In normal circumstances, this slight engineering headache feels like the sort of problematic project that would have been quietly shelved soon after the first estimates! But fortunately we’re not shouting in to the darkness here in arguing that it still needs to happen, as we happen to have an influential ally – in the form of our local MP, Marsha de Cordova. Marsha is maybe a rare example of an MP who has a deep personal belief in the issue of accessibility, with a powerful track record of campaigning – indeed she was working for disability charity the Thomas Pocklington Trust when she was first elected an MP, and then served as shadow Disabilities Minister, and later Minister for Equalities, until 2021.

As a fearless campaigner for making buildings accessible to all, she was not at all happy that both the stations in a part of her constituency with a well-above-average share of residents who need help with mobility were woefully inaccessible. Her 2017 election campaign focussed on getting the project done – and just a few months after being elected as MP she successfully called for a debate in Parliament called “Step-free Access: Battersea Stations” whose text is available online, including this quote:

Battersea Park station and Queenstown Road station are both in Queenstown ward, which has a higher proportion of disabled people and people with long-term health conditions than does the constituency as a whole. Yet their local train stations are not accessible to them. […] Why is what I have described important? We must not underestimate the significance of barriers. Step-free access to stations can mean the difference between the ability to lead a fulfilling and flourishing life seeing friends and family and going to work, and being left isolated at home, unable to travel and excluded from participation, from leading a fulfilling and flourishing life, and from the world of work. That is the reality for far too many disabled people.

She noted that £47 million had been cut from the funding for the ‘Access for All’ funding’ project, and called on the government to restore that funding, and to put in the investment needed to build an inclusive railway, including accessible stations in Battersea.

Two years after this debate, at the end of the 2014-2019 ‘control period’ of spending, nothing had happened on the ground. But just two days before the end of the financial year there was good news, when step free works for Battersea were again confirmed – presumably because a ‘feasible design’ for the lifts had been found, and no doubt helped by the likelihood that Marsha would make a great deal of noise about it if the government tried to drop the project! The project had now slipped from Control period 5 to Control period 6 (2019-2024).

The Wandsworth Council press release also noted that ‘The council is also working with Network Rail on a comprehensive package of improvements at Battersea Park Station, to cater for increased passenger numbers as more people move to Nine Elms alongside new businesses.’ Wandsworth didn’t give a lot of detail but his was a significant development – as behind the scenes a little-noticed part of the local Transport Implementation Plan confirmed that they had allocated £21 million of funding to “Improvements to Battersea Park Station“, which would come from a mixture of the “Community Infrastructure Levy” and “Section 106” – both of which are essentially funds that developers of the new blocks of flats have to pay towards upgrading the local infrastructure around new developments. £21m is one of the largest allocations of the developer funding anywhere in the Borough (which does make sense given that most of the money was being raised from developments in the Nine Elms area) – to put it in context, the huge 2011 accessibility upgrade at Clapham Junction (which added lifts to all 17 platforms) only cost £14.5 million at the time! Coupled with Network Rail’s own funding this should allow significant improvement.

Unfortunately we understand that the delivery of the lifts at Battersea Park Station was significantly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic – which caused unavoidable delays to the project which prevented the project from moving to the next stage of design. As the UK economy took a dramatic turn for the worse, inflation started to push up the cost of materials significantly, which will not have helped the project either. A particularly problematic factor is the increasingly (and surprisingly) hostile approach the current Conservative government has taken to London itself – having seemingly given up on London from an electoral perspective, and with a determination to direct all new public spending towards its new friends in northern ‘levelling up’ constituencies. This will not have led to a particular enthusiasm for improving London’s transport. The graph below shows the funding per person that was awarded in the most recent round of ‘Levelling Up Fund‘ grants, which probably says all you need to know abut why London’s infrastructure is struggling.

But Marsha, and Battersea Park, weren’t going to give up that easily. Marsha has kept up her pressing of the Department for Transport – for example asking this Parliamentary question last autumn, which didn’t get much of an answer but which is at least one of the ways an MP can keep things quietly on the agenda:  

Marsha: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, when the planned upgrades to deliver accessible access at Battersea Park Station will start which have been deferred from control period 5 of Access for All funding. Kevin Foster (Transport Minister): The project at Battersea Park station to provide a new step-free accessible route is currently in the detailed design phase. Further updates will be provided in due course.

We understand that Marsha also wrote to Network Rail about this in October – which is always helpful, because an MP writing is much more likely to get a proper answer than you or I would – and was informed that they are working with Govia Thameslink Railway (who manage Battersea Park station) to deliver the detailed design phase of the project. Now we know the project had already missed the deadline for the 2014-2019 funding window, and it is clearly getting worryingly close to the end of the next one too (which runs from 2019-2024) without any notable progress on the ground – so a particularly good bit of news was that they have included Battersea Park on the Access for All project list for the next budget round, ‘Control period 7’, which runs from 2024-2029. Fingers crossed it won’t take until 2029 – but it at least means that the budget won’t just ‘time out’ if , as currently looks likely, new lifts are not fully delivered by next year.

So where does this leave us? Well it looks like this project is still on track, more or less. It’s taken ages, it’s been hit by Covid, by inflation, by technical headaches, and by an increasingly hostile environment in Westminster to London boroughs. But the funding’s been preserved by hook or by crook, proper design is going on, and at some stage we can expect a tender for the works, and for a planning application for delivery. There’s a large pot of cash from local property developers waiting to be spent on the station, and we know that the planned road layout upgrades to Nine Elms Lane have left a gap at the station, to not overlap any road changes that are associated with these works. We’ll keep you posted when we hear any further updates.

In the meantime we can thank our MP Marsha for keeping at this like a dog with a bone, because this is exactly the sort of project where a tenacious MP with a strong belief in the cause can badger Minsters and senior officials to make a difference and keep a complicated project alive – and she has told us she will continue to use her voice to ensure we have accessible and inclusive transport. We can also thank Wandsworth Council, for working behind the scenes with TfL to keep this going even as it repeatedly missed delivery deadlines, and especially for negotiating a healthy amount of funding from local property developers to wards the upgrade.

But the gradual unlocking of the accessibility puzzle at Battersea Park also raise the interesting case of Queenstown Road station next door. It’s almost as bad as Battersea Park when it comes to steep steps – as our photo above shows. Admittedly it only gets about half the passenger numbers of Battersea Park – but that’s still a million a year! Quirks of its layout also means that it may be slightly cheaper to convert to step-free access, needing only one lift. Maybe unsurprisingly, Marsha has been campaigning for it to also receive step-free access. In May this year, alongside other local stakeholders, she called for it to also be made step free – and used her influence as MP to meet the then Rail Minister, Wendy Morton. This had some success: Based on her making a case, an application was been made for Queenstown Road to also be included in Control Period 7 – although we do not yet know if it will be successful. Back in 2019, when Wandsworth Council allocated £21m towards upgrade work at Battersea Park station, a much smaller sum of £350,000 was also put towards “Improvements to Queenstown Road Station“, which we presume is linked to the plans we have often reported on to add a second entrance.

Speaking of which – some works have now started at Queenstown Road. There seem to be a mix of work that is aimed at improving the building and preparing for that second ‘back’ entrance to the station (which as we have previously noted will make the station rather easier to get to from the north and the east, as well as creating a useful link between the two stations), and separate work that is associated with the fit out of the former coffee shop for reopening after several years of it being abandoned. This has been a very long running process too, but it is good to see some work now underway. As ever – we’ll keep you posted on developments, and if you can offer any additional insight leave a comment below or get in touch.

Posted in Planning, Politics, Transport | Leave a comment

Opening soon on Lavender Hill: Marhaba Minimarket & butchers

Eagle Wines traded on Lavender Hill for many years (right next to Kazim’s legendary Cafe Parisienne, home of the all day breakfast for over two decades) – offering a huge range of wines, that were notably more interesting than what was on offer in the big chains. However the business closed a few years ago, after trading for many years, we believe because the owner decided to retire from the business. The future of the premises was a bit of a mystery – but it is now being fitted out as Marhaba, a minimarket selling fresh food and veg, and in a rare return for a trade we’ve not seen on Lavender Hill for some years, a Halal butchers at the rear of the premises. As part of this, the interior has had a substantial refit to insert chiller units, and the outwards-facing shelving characteristic of a place that takes its fruit and vegetables seriously has been built behind the roller shutters.

London’s inner suburbs are famed for the mix of specialists independent food shops, with particularly strong showings of shops selling Turkish, Polish, Middle Eastern and Caribbean products (supplemented by more local clusters such as Stockwell’s strong Portuguese offering) – and these are often known for having better meat & veg than the standard fare at the supermarkets, as well as a more eclectic mix of wider provisions than you’ll find in a typical small supermarket. Lavender Hill hasn’t had an independent greengrocers for years, and has relatively non-chain foodstores in general with our half dozen corner shops focussing primarily on drinks, snacks, dairy, and longer-shelf-life produce and household goods. So it’s a warm welcome to Marhaba, who look set to fill a gap in the market.

Marhaba Freshly Halal Minimarket, 227 Lavender Hill, London SW11 1JR. As of the 12th February, they expect start trading in a couple of weeks.

Posted in Business, Retail, Street by street, Useful to know | Leave a comment

Arding & Hobbs in Clapham Junction: The first signs of what the redeveloped building will look like

We’ve reported many times on the big project underway to convert the former Debenhams at Clapham Junction, which is reverting to its original name as Arding and Hobbs, to a modern office space, with two new floors on the roof and shops at the ground level. Developers W.RE have released a new set of artists’ impressions of what the office will look like when it is complete, and we have reproduced a few of them here. Above: the roof terrace which runs along the Lavender Hill side of the building, which has transformed an area of air conditioning units and sheds, to a proper outside space for the new offices being built on the upper levels. And below: an artists’ impression of the interior with the stained glass cupola that used to be Debenhams’ top floor cafe.

The building might have been looking a bit tired towards the end of its days as a large department store, but it hid some impressive secrets from its early days – for example last summer Construction Management reported that the builders had found another stained glass ceiling – shown below – that had been completely painted over, and which was now being carefully restored to feature in the new offices.

We previously noted that progress had been good on letting the shops, with Albion & East set to occupy the corner unit as a pub, described as “Open all-day & late-night with early-morning coffee, brunch & hot-desking in the day to cocktails, wood-fired pizza & DJs at night and everything in-between“, and Amazon Fresh also set to take a unit along St John’s Road to make a checkout-free convenience supermarket. But Amazon Fresh’s rollout of convenience stores has not been as smooth a ride as Amazon had hoped, with reports that they had substantially scaled back their expansion plans. And the planned store at Clapham Junction seems to have been dropped as part of this, with that 3,700 square foot unit – the dark green one listed as ‘Tenant B‘ on the floor plan below – now available to let again. It’s a well-placed space on a busy stretch of St John’s Road and there are plenty of retailers likely to be having another look now it’s back on the market (one of which is likely to be Boots, who have an awkwardly-shaped and undersized unit a few doors down the road, and one that’s maybe too big and whose lease runs out in May next year on Falcon Road).

Another reason W.RE probably won’t be too disappointed by Amazon walking away, is that they have made progress in letting the biggest retail unit of all, the one on the corner of Lavender Hill and Ilminster Gardens (the light green one listed as ‘Tenant C‘, which had in the final years before closure been Debenhams’ Shoe Boutique and a Joe and the Juice concession). It only has a small ground floor, but these house a lift and stairs that run down to a gigantic basement – and it has unsurprisingly been let to a tenant planning to create a large gym there. We’re not sure which gym (let us know if you know!), but this is a sensible use of the space.

But back to the visuals of the newly refurbished building. The image above is a cutaway of the whole structure, showing the two-storey extension that has been gradually taking shape over the last year, and the picture below shows it in a bit more detail.

This photo shows the building above in construction, with a large concrete pump sending some concrete to somewhere on the upper levels –

This next image is the planned reception for the office floors, which will be in the area that was previously the main entrance to Debenhams on St John’s Road (the section with the escalators – which were planned to be retained in the new building as pictured below). While the retail sections will be fitted out by tenants, meaning that what we end up with won’t necessarily bear much ressemblance to artists’ impressions, there’s a good prospect that the end product in this particular bit of the building does end up looking a lot like this, as W.RE are fitting it out themselves as the landlord.

This next illustration of the reception is looking at the same area from the right.

The original ornate plasterwork ceilings have been kept – the same ceilings that have been restored as a feature in some parts of T.K.Maxx next door (and which are still there even in the parts of the building – our photo below shows an area that got uncovered in T.K.Maxx when the works created a small leak in the ceiling, and some of the false ceiling was removed).

Meanwhile, as we reported a while back the canopy over the pavement – which was not an original feature, but had been added in the 1960s – has been removed. Our photo below shows it in its final weeks…

…and the next one shows it shortly after the main bit was cut off (with the remains of the big red support girders visible)…

…and finally, here is Arding & Hobbs in its new incarnation. The 1960s canopy had been built very low: it was a surprisingly robust structure, and for reasons we may never know, even the top of it was at least a foot below the top of the original windows – hence the large space above the girders in the photo above. This means that removing it has had quite an impressive effect, letting a lot more natural light in to the shops.

W.RE have made the most of all this extra height as they installed big new windows for their existing tenant T.K.Maxx, with bronze frames that are much more in keeping with the original design of Arding & Hobbs. The white stripe in our photo below is original marble, which wasn’t particularly visible before as the canopy below it got in the way, but which has been lightly cleaned up.

The original plans also included adding a retractable awning – echoing the ones that used to be in place when the building was built, pictured below. It’s not clear whether reinstating the awnings is still part of the plans, but we suspect that this might be what is planned for the recessed areas above the glazed sections above.

One nice touch: another new sign has been installed for T.K.Maxx in the original ‘shop signage’ area, which departs slightly from their usual red and white, in favour of more muted gold lettering that’s in keeping with the listed building they’re trading from. There’s still some way to go on the building works even though the most intensive phase of building is now winding down – and while we understand some of the office space is now under offer, there’s still space if you know someone looking for a new workspace! But as we start to see some of the end products of this refurbishment project, it’s fair to say the quality is looking good.

W.RE have pushed the boat out on this project, investing substantial amounts of money in a proper root-and-branch refurbishment of every part of the building, while remaining true to their word that they would work with the building to restore its original features, and bring back the flair it had rather lost after years of underinvestment by a string of department store owners. We look forward to seeing the rest unveiled over the course of the year, and as ever – will keep you posted.

If you’ve not seen it before, do take a look at our post back in 2020 just as this development started, setting out what we can expect to see.

Posted in Arding & Hobbs, Business, Environment, Retail | 3 Comments

A spruce up for the Battersea Business Centre on Lavender Hill

A lot of neighbours don’t really know what’s behind the blue gate at 99 Lavender Hill – but it’s a source for quite a sizeable amount of local employment, housing lots of local small independent businesses in what was once an envelope and wallpaper factory. It particularly stands out for the good share of creative industries – who are attracted by the generally reasonable rents, and above all that this is ‘working’ office space where you can actually build and make things, without panicking that they’re going to accidentally make a mess of some super-smart premises and cost themselves a fortune.

There are some offices in the site pre-equipped for desk-based businesses, but a lot of of the site is dedicated to workshops and light industrial offices with tough painted concrete or wood floors and white brick walls. So if you want to set up a pottery workshop, an artists’ studio, or a specialist catering firm, you can configure it the way you want it – safe in the knowledge that at the end of the lease it’ll be easy to get it back to the initial condition.

But even a business centre that’s trying not to be too showy and remain focussed on practical businesses needs to keep up with the times, and the rather tatty frontage of the Battersea Business Centre on Lavender Hill wasn’t really doing justice to the place. Mucky white paint, blocked gutters that dripped on to the pavement seating below, and crumbling windows gave an air of general decay. That’s set to change as it has a proper repaint and clean-up, with new windows and roofing, as part of a somewhat overdue refresh and rebranding of the whole site. The most visible change is that the buildings along the frontage have changed from mucky white, to a deep grey-blue that maybe coincidentally matches the branding used by Unit Management, who run this as part of a portfolio of 17 similar centres scattered around south west London.

The work has also seen several of the buildings on the site completely re-roofed, and new windows and insulation installed. The signage is being tidied up right along the building to make the shopfronts more consistent with each other. We understand the name of the centre may also change, to be called the Business Village. This investment isn’t quite on the scale that had at some stages been envisaged – we previously reported on plans to build a new building that would have provided an entrance reception with offices above; and at one stage there were also plans to create serviced accommodation on site. However the the improvements to the existing site will be welcome to the traders along this stretch of Lavender Hill, many of whose premises are also part of the centre. These include the still-not-open China Garden takeaway, pictured, which has looked for a few weeks as though it was about to start trading. As scaffolding comes down and we start to see the new look for the Business Centre, it’s good to see the owners investing to keep the centre attractive to tenants, without making it so smart that it loses its core purpose of providing sensibly-priced and practical accommodation to local businesses. And if you are looking for an office or workshop space – details of availability are here.

Posted in Business, Environment, Retail | Leave a comment

The enduring mystery of Sisters Avenue’s giant blue shed

It’s rare to see a street in Battersea without a construction site somewhere along it. Scaffolding, a slightly muddy pavement, maybe a front garden full of rubble and old timber awaiting collection. More ambitious projects might see the front garden surrounded by wooden construction hoardings. These hoardings are unexciting things, typically sticking around for a few months during the messiest part of a building project, and no-one pays much attention to them.

But Sisters Avenue, a street half way along Lavender Hill, has always been a bit different. From the outset it’s been home to rather smarter houses than its neighbours: detached three- and four-storey villas, originally designed for the wealthiest people in Battersea and making the most of the location right opposite the old Town Hall. So maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised that Sisters Avenue is now also home to a construction site hoarding doing its best to break all the records – as it’s now well on the way to its tenth birthday, and we’ve not seen any evidence of any actual construction having taken place!

If you live nearby you’ll probably have seen it – because it’s been in place since the first half of 2015! In its first year it was an ‘ordinary’ hoarding – Street View’s first capture of it in May 2015 is below. Not the prettiest thing, especially given the prominence of the site on one of the more architecturally distinguished rows of houses in the area. But exactly what you’d expect, and perfectly understandable given that the house was set to see a large basement excavated, a development which obviously needed the public to be protected. It’s far from the only basement to have been dug out round here, and all the neighbours knew it’d only be there for a few months – maybe a year if the building project hit some snags. Right?

Or maybe not… Because a year later, things hadn’t exactly got moving on the building site. There was, however, plenty of progress on the building of the hoarding itself: it had sprouted a large roof! This stretched beyond the original hoarding to also include the pathway to the front of the building. This created a very substantial structure, now visible from most of Sisters Avenue as well as from Lavender Hill.

But none of the neighbours thought the big blue shed would still be standing eight years later! The planned project had been to excavate the whole of the basement, extending the current small basement that contains a single bedroom to create three bedrooms, a reception room and a further study, and large lightwells at the front and the side of the property. A decent project, but none of this really seemed to get going. Looking at the many captures Google’s street view has of the structure over the years, ladders peeking out from behind the hoarding occasionally move slightly. A bit of the roof falls off in May 2018, and after more than a year dangling off the side of the structure it’s eventually repaired. The once-vibrant blue paint gradually fades with years of summer sunshine.

The exact contents of the shed are a bit of a mystery, but the structure seems to have become some sort of general storage space, essentially a large garden shed at the front of the property. Wandsworth’s planners eventually decided that enough was enough – maybe also conscious that the property owners might try to claim that the structure had been there long enough that they could argue it had, in doing so, acquired some rights to remain there in perpetuity. On the 29th October 2021, they issued an enforcement notice requiring the removal of the structure at Flat A, 11 Sisters Avenue, following what was described as “the unauthorised erection of a front garden timber enclosure comprising of timber hoarding to the front and sides and a timber framed shelter above at the property”. The enforcement notice required that the property owners remove both the structure at the front of the building and the one going round the side), that they restore the property to its previous lawful condition; and that they remove all debris from the site. They were given two months to comply. That should have meant that the structure would finally be gone by the end of 2021 – and we can imagine the other residents of the street breathing a sigh of relief – the end of the eyesore was finally in sight.

Or maybe it wasn’t – because over a year later, it’s still standing. It seems the owners weren’t about to let their structure be torn down without a fight – and they duly appealed against Wandsworth’s planning enforcement notice, escalating the case to the Government Planning Inspectorate. They essentially argued that the structure was a ‘permitted development’ on the grounds that it was a “building or moveable structure required temporarily in connection with and for the duration of operations being or to be carried out on that land or adjoining land”. They pointed to planning permission for the basement excavation that had been granted in July 2016 (when the hoarding was just a year old) and said that the structure was necessary for those works.

The planning inspector, Felicity Thompson, visited the site in September last year. She noted that at least some building works seemed to have taken place on site in 2017. However she noted that these works ceased “a number of years ago” following the death of the parents of the current owners (who it seems had owned the property, and were taking works forward before their death). She noted that an ongoing court case linked to the property had limited scope for further building works since then, and also notes a reference to probate processes on the property potentially concluding in 2022 – so it’s easy to see that things could have got in to a bit of a legal grey area.

However Felicity also notes that there was no evidence of substantive building works since 2017, other than the usual basic maintenance of the building. This led to her judgement that while the ‘permitted development’ exception does indeed allow structures to be built, it limits their presence to the duration of the building works. And as there’s no real evidence of any such ongoing building works at the site, the structure is not allowed. Her decision, in October 2022, says: “As a matter of fact, the [building] operations ceased and were not being carried out. The timber enclosure would not therefore constitute permitted development…”. This is a pretty clear cut conclusion – backing up the Council’s enforcement notice.

She does, however, clearly have some sympathy with the position of the owners, with suggestions in the decision document that they may have faced some sort of legal wrangles with the property. In her appeal decision she does also consider some other arguments that could be made in favour of the structure remaining: that requiring its complete removal is disproportionate, or that the two-month timescale Wandsworth allowed for its removal is too short. But to no avail, as on both grounds she comes down firmly in favour of the local authority: the structure is not allowed – and nothing short of full removal will remedy the planning breach. And a two-month timescale is completely sufficient to restore the front yard and dismantle a relatively simple wooden shed structure.

We’re already more than two months after the appeal’s enforcement deadline – and the structure’s still there. This is getting in to a dangerous space for the owners: ignoring an enforcement notice that has been upheld at appeal is not a good move. The Council has powers to take this in to their own hands now and remedy matters, and a charge can be made against the property including confiscation of income. Ignoring an enforcement notice that has been upheld at appeal is a criminal offence, and brings the prospect of trials at the Crown Court and unlimited fines.

There’s undoubtedly a sad story behind this neverending construction project, including the death that led to the original project being suddenly stopped, and whatever seems to have led to years of legal matters. There are two sides of every story, and anyone who has been involved in probate knows it’s not an enjoyable experience (and if you are the owners – please get in touch, as we’re keen to understand your side of this story better). But we’re left wondering why the hoarding wasn’t simply removed years ago – it’s hardly a major task, the wood could even be stored in the side passageway for reuse if works restart. What is so special about this ugly shed that means the owners have fought for so long, and presumably at some cost, for its continued existence? The fact of the matter is, no matter what is going on behind the scenes, there’s little excuse for leaving a supposedly temporary eyesore up for most of a decade. It’s time for this to be taken down, and maybe – if substantive building works ever start again that need a similarly giant shed – a new one could be put up. We feel for the many neighbours we know have had to put up with this thing for years, and who just want to see the back of this eyesore on an otherwise well-cared-for street.

Will the owners now do the right thing, or will this saga roll on? Ominously in late 2022 they applied for a new planning permission, for “Retention of temporary hoarding and canopy over to front and side until basement work is complete” – but then withdrew it on the 26th January. The ball’s in their court now, and we’re quite curious to see what happens next in this surprisingly long-drawn-out tale of an overgrown construction hoarding. Will the blue shed survive in to its second decade? Will Wandsworth move in to demolish it at the property owners’ expense? Might this all end in a criminal trial at the Crown Court? We’ll keep you posted.

Update (10th February): No sooner had we written about the big blue shed – than it was gone! Just like that. Nothing left but a heap of materials wrapped in a tarpaulin (a blue one, of course, for old times’ sake). Looks like the owners weren’t too keen on a brush with the Courts! And it looks like the answer to the question of what was behind it for all those years is, well, nothing really – no big holes in the ground, no site equipment, no sign of building works at all. One might wonder what all the fuss was about and why the shed wasn’t taken down years ago. Rest in Peace, big blue shed. 2015-2023. We hardly knew ye.

Posted in Curiosities, Environment, Planning, Street by street | 2 Comments

Retail roundup: new shops & businesses coming to Lavender Hill

As the Lavender Hill Christmas lights go up, it’s time for another of our occasional updates on retail comings and goings in the Lavender Hill area. It’s been a busy few months since our last update on the topic, with plenty of new arrivals, and a couple fo sad departures.

First up: At the very eastern end of the street up on the Wandsworth Road, the big and beautiful corner unit that was home to Sinclair Till’s collection of fabrics and furnishings (until they moved to Chelsea) is set to become a new branch of Remedy Kitchen, with works already underway. Remedy Kitchen specialises in food that’s fast but also fresh, colourful and healthy – with a keen eye to the environmental impact of the business. Owner Fadi Chafi founded the business in 2020, as a delivery-only kitchen based in the huge complex of kitchens opposite Battersea Heliport, before expanding to open an actual branch open to the public on Haverstock Hill near Belsize Park the following year. It’s been a success – being shortlisted by Deliveroo for a ‘best newcomer of the year’ award, and Fadi is now returning to Battersea in a bigger way with an actual branch.

There’s sadder news at the Queens Arms, which we reported on a good few times as it went from empty premises back to being an actual pub: the lease is now for sale. It’s slightly out of the way but as a rare ‘proper’ pub in this part of Battersea, hopefully this can find a new landlord.

Wild for Dogs has opened at 4 Lavender Hill, next door to Sendero. It’s a small business specialising in organic, vegan and cruelty-free grooming products for dogs, which all started when founder Laura Sarao was shocked by the ingredients and quality of the products available for her new puppy. As a specialist local business Wild for Dogs has a full website and offers delivery around the UK, but where visitors and shoppers are also very welcome at the branch.

There’s a cluster of new hairdressers at the eastern end of the road. E Street Barbers SW have opened at 26 Lavender Hill and seems to be quickly picking up a loyal following. It’s a new venture by owner Jack, who has set up south of the river after six years of working at E Street Barbers’ sister branch in Hackney (with experience of working in other haidressing businesses before that as well).

He’s continued the Clapton approach of simplicity and style, adding to the growing cluster of traditional mens’ barbers on Lavender Hill including very long-estabished local barbers Froud & Co, and London Barnet barbers opposite. The east end of Lavender Hill has clearly become the place for independent hairdressers – which typically migrate here to avoid the much higher rent in the units closer to Clapham Junction, and which have plenty of local demand as you can’t get your hair cut on the internet. Jack’s happy to take walk-in customers.

Koop Studio took over the old LHP Lavender plumbing shop (after they moved to a new premises just around the corner on Lavender Hill last year), with a slightly different business model focussed on being a studio workspace that rents chairs to a wide range of creative stylists in a smart and minimalist space.

And sticking with the theme of hairdressing, Glamhair Studio has just opened at 15 Lavender Hill, on the spot that used to be a William Hill betting shop next the steep bit of Wix’s lane, which was one of three William Hills on the street to close following a major clampdown on betting regulations.

It took quite a while for this unit to be re-let (we know a good few people looked at it along the way). It’s a surprisingly large shop, and like many of the shop units it also has a basement – albeit one that is unfortunately only accessible by a hatch, so which isn’t of much use; we were slightly surprised that it wasn’t developed like many of the other nearby shops to introduce a staircase and move the ‘back of house’ downstairs, and increase the available space.

Now that it’s back in business the old betting shop has scrubbed up quite well! It certainly looks a lot smarter than it did in the final years of being a William Hill.

Firezza at 40 Lavender Hill may have a bit of disruption ahead, as the landlord has asked for planning permission to convert half of the ground floor (where the pizza oven is) and most of the basement in to a flat, leaving a much smaller shop unit with that would no longer really work as a takeaway. It’s a long established takeaway so we hope that if these plans do materialise, they are able to relocate in the area.

A few doors down from Firezza, two of the smallest shopfronts ever created on the street – where most of a unit was converted to a flat, leaving very small shop facing the street – have both found tenants. Ryan and Dan clinical massage have opened at 36 Lavender Hill. They’re very clear that this isn’t a traditional massage parlour aimed at a ‘quick rub down’ but is instead aimed at accessible and affordable treatments, particularly for those who suffer chronic/acute muscle pains and tensions, and to ease sports injuries. The co-owners are keen to change the narrative of what massage parlours and clinics currently provide, and open it up to a wider customer base in terms of ages and backgrounds who could benefit from treatments to ease their muscles. This is reflected in the more clinical and business-like design of the premises, which is quite different to the more typical styling of a massage business.

The other unit (also at 36 Lavender Hill) was even smaller as it didn’t have a basement – however is now home to Lavender Florist, the first flower shop on the street with a wide range of flowers and decorative items, who are also selling Bouquets as well as Christmas trees to order.

On the food & drink front, China Garden has slowly been taking shape at 103a Lavender hill, bringing a second Chinese takeaway to Lavender Hill following the retirement of Mr Liu who used to trade a few doors down the road a few years ago. The building works here have been quite extensive, including a full refit of the premises. This isn’t a completely new business, as we understand it’s linked to an existing takeaway – Bugatti Pizzeria – on Battersea park Road. It’s hard to say when they will open as work has been slow, but it looks as though it may not be long now.

In a good news development, the increasingly scruffy shopfront at 128 Lavender Hill that was an E-cigarette store – pictured above – is having a proper makeover, and is set to become the latest branch of the Little Dessert Shop, serving artisanal waffles, crepes, coffee, cheesecakes, cookie dough & Italian gelato. They have lots of branches in the Birmingham area and a decent handful further north in Manchester, but only a scattering in London – the nearest is in Balham.

It’s not all good news on this stretch of the street though, as El Patio seems to have suddenly closed, with a landlord notice stuck to the doors – so sudden that large hams are still hanging in the window and there’s a full wall of wine and spirits still in place.

Meanwhile work carries on, slowly, at Donna Margherita, pictured above, which we have written about a few weeks ago – who are on the long road to recovery after an unfortunate kitchen fire. It’s still not completely clear who is taking over but most of the new material needed to reopen is now in place, including pictures on the walls and tables and chairs, so while it does look more like a building site than a restaurant at the moment we’re optimistic that this should be springing back in to life fairly soon.

Further along – Thermomix opened up close to the station, as we have reported previously, bringing a new life to what had been The Corner Stone Christian bookstore. Work’s also underway to create an as-yet-unknown new business in the shop that used to be the KV Cars minicab office at 129A Lavender Hill, which had been looking rather sad for some time after they closed the office, and something is emerging at 97 Lavender Hill, a shop right next to the way ion to Battersea Business centre that had rather briefly been a showroom for The Liberty, a maker of bespoke fitted furniture.

And finally, speaking of furniture, Kennington-based Burnt Furniture are opening what e believe is a pop-up store at 125 Lavender Hill. As the name suggests, they specialise in up-cycling furniture using wood burning techniques, using a Yakisugi burning technique. This looks quite interesting, with funky colours & various one-of-a-kind statement pieces. All in all – despite stories of struggling high streets around the country, Lavender Hill is holding up quite well. It’s encouraging to see so many new businesses take the plunge, and as we always say, if you live locally do make sure you visit all our new independent traders.

Retail roundups are an occasional series on traders in and near Lavender Hill, in Battersea, London. If this is of interest, do look at our other articles on local business, on retail,or on local food and drink.

Posted in Business, Food & drink, Retail | Leave a comment

Battersea’s Rush Hill Road: History of a south London street

Rush Hill Road is a small street leading off Lavender Hill. We’ve dug in to its past, in the latest of our local history posts.

No-one knows who first named the area Rush Hill: at some point a field on the south side of Lavender Hill is recorded as being called Rush Hill, and the name’s stuck ever since.  Before the railways arrived the area was a wide open space of fields, with a scattering of large houses with generous gardens. And it was an ideal spot for those houses: being the top of a hill meant there was good air and well-drained ground (with a few natural springs), as well as far-reaching views over Battersea Fields and the Thames to London. Robert Westall’s painting below shows the view in 1848, a few years before the railways arrived and everything changed; a few familiar buildings include Westminster Abbey and Chelsea Hospital; with the pipes of the Battersea Pumping Station in the foreground giving a small taste of future industrial development.

The people living in these scattered houses were wealthy – for some these were weekend retreats from the city, others were retired. The houses were typically quite close to the road with a short drive for carriages; with much larger gardens behind including lawns, ponds, kitchen gardens, and greenhouses to grow fresh fruit and vegetables. Most of these out-of-town properties had some stabling and paddocks, as well as space for cows and pigs, and maybe also separate coach houses.

The map above shows the layout in 1801 (and takes a bit of getting used to as North is at the bottom left hand corner). In 1801 there was already a fairly extensive set of houses around all three sides of Clapham Common, the specked shaded area in the middle – with the Lavender Hill (then called Kingston Road) cutting across the map diagonally below it. There are only a scattering of houses shown on the Lavender Hill – but one is visible, right next to the label ‘Rush Hill’. This is the first mention we can find of Rush Hill, and the house in question is Rush Hill House.

Rush Hill House was older than the other houses in the area, and its origins are obscure – we know that it was also a fair bit larger than the other houses, having been built at some stage in the 1700s. It’s mentioned in the will of Hop Factor Thomas Barry in 1770, but described as ‘my two messuages’ in the occupation of Edmund Rush on the south side of the road. A ‘messuage’ is an old word for a house – suggesting that Rush Hill House may initially have been a semi-detached pair of houses that were later combined into one larger residence. By the time it was a single property there were eight bedrooms, and a generously sized 30-by-18-foot drawing room.

Rush Hill map
Extract (c) OS, via the National Library of Scotland’s impressive map archive

It’s the large house in the middle of the map above – complete with a double-ended driveway, a large south facing garden an orchard, and a couple of outbuildings near Lavender Hill.

This first mention of the house also gives a clue to the future name of the street: Edmund Rush was a mason living in Battersea, whose will dated 1782 is held at the National Archives. He was a noted builder in the 1750s and 1760s, responsible for several very upmarket streets in Mayfair including Dunraven Street in Mayfair, part of South Street, and some huge terraces at 5 and 6 Hyde Park Place. It seems that as an early tenant (and possibly a fairly well known one, given he was building some of the most expensive property in London), his name may have ended up attached to the house and the area.

Peter Dollond, via Wikimedia Commons

Towards the end of the 1700s, Rush Hill House became the home of Peter Dollond – pictured to the right. Peter had grown up in Kensington, but left the family silk business to set up a shop in Kennington, where he designed and sold some of the best telescopes and optical instruments of the day – conveniently only a short trip from Rush Hill. This went very well indeed, and he built what became the national chain Dollond & Aitchison (which was to survive for several centuries, finally being rebranded to Boots opticians in 2015).

In 1842 Lavender Hill was described as ‘a most respectable and social neighbourhood’, and Rush Hill House went on to house a series of successful City businessmen including John Ashlin, a corn trader; followed by John Harvey, a banker and railway promoter, Intriguingly one of John A’s sons went on to marry John H’s daughter, suggesting that there must have been some sort of link between the successive occupiers. It was still a grant country house, with ten acres of land including a significant landholding to the north side of Lavender Hill.

But change was on the way. The railways started their inexorable spread in the 1840s, and were accompanied by all sorts of dubious new neighbours! The first sign of change was Beaufoy’s Acetic Acid factory, which was built in about 1830 by Lambeth vinegar entrepreneur John Beaufoy close to the junction of Lavender Hill and Queenstown Road (and for some time thereafter remembered in the naming of The Beaufoy Arms pub, which appeared at some point before 1870 and survived in one form or other until a few years ago). Much stinkier stuff was to follow to the west, with a Size works being developed near where the Hare & Hounds pub now stands. Size was an early type of light glue, used in painting, and was made in a notoriously smelly process of treating and then boiling animal skins and hooves. The rural surroundings that had made Rush Hill House a popular getaway for over a century started to be replaced with dense new terraced housing aimed at the lower middle classes – at first a tricke of development and gradually a flood of building work as, one by one, the landowners sold their fields to developers. New houses surrounded the villa on three sides, and the previous tree nursery to the west was replaced by Essex & Company’s wallpaper factory – who made products such as the print illustrated to the right – which later went on to make envelopes and house a bus garage (and which is still standing, having been converted to Battersea Business Centre). Outside the house’s front gates Lavender Hill itself was evolving from a country lane to a busy commercial street.

A big smart country villa was looking increasingly out of place in this environment. Rush Hill House was well built and had outlasted most of the old country houses, but by now the writing was well and truly on the wall, and it’s easy to imagine that the later residents – surrounded by terraced houses, noise and strange industrial smells – will have known that the sun was setting on Battersea’s time as a place for big country villas. Sure enough, in 1872 Rush Hill House and its generously sized garden were put up for sale – described as “a favourable opportunity for carrying on successful building operations”.

The land was bought and developed by Henry Shadwell Willett (a solicitor at Gray’s Inn, turned property developer) and Thomas Graves (a plumber in Marylebone, turned builder) – reflecting the way everyone who could was trying to get involved in the frenzy of building. On Friday the 4th October 1873 the Borough agreed plans to create a new road, which had been drawn up by their agent H. C. Bunkell, a builder / estate agent based on Holloway Road.

This is where our first archive document comes in: with the help of Wandsworth’s ever-helpful archives we found the original plan for the street, pictured below. The 19th century paper had crumbled a bit over the years, so ended up being a bot of a jigsaw! The clerk’s notes on the left give some insight in to how roads got created: he named the road ‘Rush Hill Road’, named the proposed mews street ‘Crombie Mews’, and approved it only on condition that the proposed road be extended another fifteen feet or so to the south “to the boundary of the estate” and so could in future be connected to to Gowrie Road, that “the proposed mews be not at any future time converted to dwellings“, that “no barrier or obstacles to the free access to + use of the same street + mews by the public are at any time erected or caused“, and that the developer put up a street name sign at each end of the street until the houses were built, at which point the signs were to be fixed to the houses.

Plan of Rush Hill Road and Crombie Mews (c) Wandsworth Heritage Service, archive ref BP/6/5/460

Thomas Graves only built one house on Rush Hill Road – Number 1 – which seems to have been a bit of a show home for what could be built along the rest of the street (and if you look closely, the brickwork between No 1 and No 3 still has a visible dividing line). He then sublet the rest of the land along Rush Hill Road itself to James Mulvey who, sticking with the theme of everyone becoming a builder, had until then been a printer and lead trader based on Euston Road.

The leases – one of which is pictured below, and which include James’ signature and wax seal pictured above, would run for 98 years for an annual rent of £6 per house (although most of the houses ended up being bought as freeholds well before the end of the term).

It was James who built the two big terraces (each of 15 houses) pictured below, in 1874 and 1875. Thomas set out quite a lot of conditions in leasing the land to James, mostly aimed at ensuring the the street was built to a high standard, essentially echoing the design of the one house Tomas had already built: James had to “complete and finish fit for habitation in every respect and with the best materials of their respective kinds and in a good substantial and workmanlike manner and of the value of three hundred and fifty pounds at the least” – about £32,000 in today’s money. James also had to “complete a footpath six feet wide with a proper stone kerb“, and to build smart walls and fences around the houses.

The North-London origins of both Thomas and James are also somewhat evident, as these houses originally all had front parapets with a cornice, pictured below. Parapet walls like these were usually chosen on main roads, or the typically more expensive streets north of the river, as they were more expensive and complicated to build; using them on a cul-de-sac in south London was rather unusual.

Behind these parapets were London butterfly roofs made of Welsh slate, with a V-shaped roof and a central gutter draining towards the back of the house – again something more common north of the river, in contrast to the visible roof and chimneys more typical of other houses away from the main roads in Battersea.

At the same time another local builder, Mark Chamberlain, had sublet the 300-foot street stretch of Lavender hill along the north side of the plot and was building Rush Hill Terrace. To the west of Rush Hill Road he built six particularly large and ornate four-storey houses between 73 & 83 Lavender Hill, each complete with double-height bay windows and a North London-esque steep flight of steps up to the front door to give the best views from the front rooms.

Mark understood that first impressions mattered when selling Victorian houses, and clearly liked to make his houses look more impressive by using good-quality decorative stonework around the doors and windows, as well as in the large cornice. The stonework – pictured below, albeit all now painted over as became the fashion – was actually an innovative form of terracotta, all supplied by famous sanitary engineer George Jennings of Lambeth, who had developed a profitable side business selling intricate moulded stone to decorate houses all over the Clapham area. This was a high-end product and it didn’t come cheap: the money ran out during the construction of the terrace, and the houses were briefly mortgaged to Jennings to pay for the stonework!

To the east Mark built a row of slightly simpler three-storey houses with shops on the ground floor, at 57 to 71 Lavender Hill; pictured below – without baty windows, but once again showing his liking for George Jennings’ distinctive moulded-stone surrounds above the windows. These houses, as well as those along Rush Hill Road, originally had ornate balustrades on top of the parapets, but almost all have since been removed or replaced – we don’t know why but presume that there must have been a bit of a structural issue with the original design at some stage.

Mark later leased more land further to the east and extended his row of shops with houses above all the way to Taybridge Road (from No. 55 all the way down to 29 Lavender Hill, encompassing what is now the Co-op supermarket – pictured below). He used the same design; albeit a small gap is still visible in the brick between No. 55 and No. 57. Mark was a really prolific local bulder, and was clearly on a bit of a roll at this point as he went on to build even more of the same design to the north of Lavender Hill on the now-demolished southern section of Tyneham Road, as well as The Craven pub on the left of the photo below (originally in contrasting red brick), as well as big terraces of houses nearby at 2–18 Taybridge Road, and 33–41 Stormont Road, and even more houses further down Lavender Hill, as well as a gigantic five-storey terrace at 70-82 The Chase (which also has the same window surrounds as his Lavender Hill terrace).

One surprise is that despite the explosion of building work in 1874, the original Rush Hill House villa was not demolished. Despite its garden and driveway being replaced by eight shops and forty six terrace houses, and the western outbuildings and stables being demolished to make way for the new road, the main body of the house just got incorporated in to the new development and stayed in place for another fifteen years, jammed in behind the shops in Lavender Hill and now known as the somewhat less glamorous ’63 Lavender Hill’. Why this was done remains a bit of a mystery, and having a big old house jammed in to such a small space must have been a strange state of affairs. What we do know is that the last occupant of the old house died in 1887, at which point the remains of the villa and a small bit of garden were sold at auction and redeveloped – once again by our ever-active local builder Mark Chamberlain – to build the Mews. This unexpected life-extension for the old villa probably explains why Mark’s previous houses along Lavender Hill to the west of Rush Hill Road were built as grand houses with back gardens, while the ones he built to the east were built with more modest shops on the ground floor and buildings running to the back of the plot (pictured below): there simply wasn’t space for back gardens there, as there was still a giant old villa in the way!

The original approval for the road included a condition that it be extended all the way to the edge of the plot, to allow a link to Gowrie Road, which had been developed as the Lavender Hill Park Estate by a different developer. A piece of land had been left unbuilt along the north side of Gowrie Road to provide for a connection. However amid slightly unclear circumstances, the land was instead donated by the developer to Reverend Erskine Clarke of Battersea to be a new church; the ‘Church’ plot is pencilled in in this map of that estate drawn part-way through its development, which we think is showing the plans for gas lighting by means of red and black dots:

Plan of the Lavender Hill Park Estate (c) Wandsworth Heritage Service, archive ref BP/6/5/32
st matthew's battersea

St Matthews Church was designed by William White, who also designed St Mark’s on Battersea Rise, and built by W. H. Williams. It had an Early English style supposedly reflecting 13th century designs, including a vaulted roof and sacristy, and a small churchyard on either side that allowed access from Rush Hill Road to Gowrie Road. It could seat 550 and cost about £3,000 to build (about £400,000 in today’s money). It opened in April 1877 – two years after works had reached completion on Rush Hill Road.

It started life as a daughter church of St Mary’s Battersea, and was served by curates from that parish. In 1895 a new parish was created to reflect the growing local population, and at first it was assumed that St Matthew’s – which was squarely in the new Parish – was finally going to get its moment in the limelight and would of course be the church for the new parish. However the Ecclesiastical Commissioners insisted that the building was not substantial or impressive enough, which led to the bigger and more prominent church instead being built at St Barnabas, at the top of Battersea Rise instead. St Matthew’s was again relegated to being a daughter church of St Barnabas.

rush map 1894
OS map extract via & (c) National Libraries of Scotland

This permanent second-rank status meant that St Matthew’s was never a great success. The somewhat unloved church continued to be see some use until 1941 when it was permanently closed. Soon after closure it was damaged (but not destroyed) by bombing in the War. It lingered on for two more decades in increasingly decrepit condition, before finally being demolished in the early 1960s, leaving an open space that for some time was used as car parking and as an informal neighbourhood play area. Demolition paved the way for the site to be sold to Battersea Borough in 1967 for redevelopment as Council housing. Not many records remain of the Church, maybe reflecting its limited use in its later years, and the only photo we’ve found is the one to the above showing the Church from Gowrie Road – however it is shown on most maps, including a ‘Sunday School’ building between the Church and the start of the terrace of houses on Rush Hill Road. It’s not been completely forgotten at its old ‘parent’ Church though – as St Matthew’s old communion plate is still in use at St Barnabas.

The block of 12 flats built on the site (eight of them with two bedrooms, and four having one) has no name – and despite having a somewhat hidden garden area, it seems to have made no reuse of any of the elements of the old church in its landscaping.

One feature of the church has survived though: two large London Plane trees on Gowrie Road, and the huge one at the south end of Rush Hill Road, are the same trees as in the photo of the Church above. The access path through the churchyard was also made permanent as a narrow alleyway, Rush Hill Passage, connecting Rush Hill Road to Gowrie Road.

Planning application extract (c) Solon Housing, via WHS

The houses on Rush Hill Road were unusually large houses for Battersea – they all had two reception rooms on the ground floor connected by a double door, and four large bedrooms on the upper floors. They had a bathroom, and two WCs right from the start (one on the first floor and one outside), and a kitchen and a separate scullery.

The ground floors were built to impress with solid brick walls throughout, thick oak doors, and cornicing and high ceilings – while cheaper materials were used on the upper levels where it was less important to impress visitors. The houses had gas lighting, and each house also had eight fireplaces for heating.

The shape of the original plot of land meant that one street could be fitted in with plenty of room to spare, but fitting two in would be difficult – which led to one of the distinguishing features of the street, in that the odd-numbered houses also have 90-foot back gardens, which are enormous compared to the 15-20 feet more typical of many other houses in the Lavender Hill Park Estate next door. The walls between the gardens were built of brick rather than wood, and some of them still survive. The houses also have an extra five feet or so of garden at the front, which would typically have been planted with somewhat exotic plants when the street was first developed.

The huge amount of space behind many of the houses is also where one of the more mysterious design choices emerges: having eight fireplaces in each house implied a considerable amount of coal being delivered on a regular basis; which in a middle-class house would usually mean either a ‘coal hole’ (a drain cover in the front garden or pavement that led to a coal storage basement), or a pathway running behind the houses with gates to the gardens (where it could be delivered to a back garden coal store). These houses had neither, despite having plenty of space to accommodated a rear entrance passageway; so all the dusty coal had to be carried through the front corridor.

Another unusual feature is that the houses are not built in symmetrical pairs. Typically a terrace house puts every second house the other way round, so that the doors are in pairs next to each other and the back extensions can share a wall and chimney stack – meaning a big chimney is only needed every two houses because chimneys are shared between two houses. In Rush Hill Road every house (apart from No. 1, which was built by a different builder) is built the same way round. This is a bit more visible with the photo below, taken from the back of the houses, where every roof of the rear wings is angled the same way, showing that all the houses had the corridors and staircases on the right hand side of the house.

Building like this needs more bricks and effort; and seems to be another sign of the North London origins of all the developers – being done purely to create a more regular spacing of the bay windows and doors at the front of the terrace. The grander terraces north of the river were typically not built in pairs, as it was seen as slightly upmarket for each house to clearly had an independent entrance that was not immediately next to the entrance to the neighbouring house.


James Mulvey seems to have also had an account at George Jennings, and while his Rush Hill houses did not feature any window surrounds, the budget did stretch to include a different stone moulded capital for each house either side of the front doors. These pass mostly unnoticed now, but would have been part of the marketing of the houses in their day, and came at some cost to produce. A good few of these stone capitals seem to be based on various Acanthus plant designs – a long established Greek design that became very fashionable in the 1870s – but ivy, ferns, fruit, and in just one case (at 22 Rush Hill Road, and possibly a special request by a Victorian buyer) a king and queen also feature. The terraces also have a band of diamond-patterned stone running the whole length of the terrace just below the windows on each floor.

The big Rush Hill houses proved popular with the middle classes; selling quickly. They stayed pretty desirable, and we have some idea of how they were doing 25 years later in 1900 because Charles Booth – in his huge project to map out poverty and wealth right across London on a house-by-house basis – visited Rush Hill Road and categorised it as pink, which was code for “Fairly comfortable. Good ordinary earnings.”. Mark Chamberlain’s houses along Lavender Hill – which were larger – were shaded red, the second highest category, representing “Middle class. Well-to-do.“.

Booth Poverty Map extract (c) LSE Booth archives

This reflects a pattern that was to change drastically as card came on the scene: the big grand houses on the main roads were the best houses for the richest people. Only when these became traficky thoroughfares, did things change – at which point these huge houses were typically split up in to smaller flats for the less wealthy, while the quieter houses on the back streets remained desirable. The previous failure to make Rush Hill Road a through road, thanks to the unloved St Matthew’s Church, also started to play to the advantage of Rush Hill Road which – thanks to being a cul-de-sac – remained a rare traffic free street in the area.

The map Booth was using wasn’t especially accurate: St Matthew’s is in the wrong place, Rush Hill Road was shown as connecting to Gowrie Road (it never did), and Craven Mews / Rush Hill Mews is completely missing. Booth spotted the latter anyway and shaded it light blue, as shown below, which was code for “Poor. 18s. to 21s. a week for a moderate family“. It also suggests that despite the original rule that the mews were never to be converted to dwellings, this had already happened by about 1900 as someone was clearly living there!

Not much changed over the next century. The mews, built as stables, somehow got renamed from Craven Mews to Rush Hill Mews. The original stable blocks were demolished in the 1930s and replaced twenty lock-up garages with corrugated asbestos roofs.

Planning application extract (c) rights holders, via Wandsworth Heritage Service archives – Rush Hill Road drainage plans

The image above shows the layout of the original stables and coach houses in Rush Hill Mews, and the one below is from the proposals to demolish them and replace them with garages. They show an interesting feature of early ‘planning applications’, in that the Council wasn’t too worried what you built or what it looked like, as long as the sewerage arrangements were up to an adequate standard! Most of the early plans in Wandsworth Archives are showing proposed drainage setups, which had to be submitted for approval – reflecting continued caution after huge cholera outbreaks that had taken place in London in the 1830s and 1840s,

As ever, the coach houses would by the 1930s have seemed old fashioned, and ready for replacement with something more modern and suitable for cars – but the new garages, which were fairly small and which had asbestos roofs, eventually also became obsolete as cars got larger, and were demolished in 1996 and replaced with five houses with their own external car parking.

Planning application extract (c) rights holders, via Wandsworth Heritage Service archives – Rush Hill Road drainage plans

The houses gradually saw electric power installed, and the old fireplaces gradually gave way to gas fires and modern heating systems. The houses had seen electric power installed from the early 20th century, and an early cable TV system was installed by British Relay Wireless Ltd along the terraces in 1960 (a wayleave agreement for the cables, which ran just under the front parapets, is shown below).

The 1960s and 1970s saw a gradual decline in the fortunes of Battersea, as its remaining industry and employment along the riverside faded away. There weren’t many takers for the large, draughty old houses of Rush Hill Road! The houses along Lavender Hill were almost all split up in to smaller flats that were easier to sell, while the Solon Wandsworth Housing Association saw an opportunity to build a portfolio and bought eight of the Rush Hill houses, splitting each one in to two flats. By now modern records exist in the archives, including detailed building inspector reports – and we can see that the work involved was sometimes considerable, including comprehensive upgrades to the infrastructure of what had in by then become fairly dilapidated houses, and in several cases extensions so that both upstairs and downstairs flats could have access to parts of the large gardens. Solon went on to build up a portfolio of 1,100 houses in all, before being forced to merge with Wandle Housing Association in 2004, after a review by the Housing Corporation – following concerns about its finances and what was described as ‘unorthodox’ management – decided that Solon was “unmanageable” and had made poor decisions that put its whole business at risk. The forced transfer of all Solon’s houses to another housing association was very controversial, with accusations made that Solon’s assets (including those of many tenants with shares in the association) were being stripped, and that Wandle had “hit the jackpot” in getting hold of all these by now rather valuable houses – but it went ahead nonetheless, and although a few of the houses Solon had taken on have since gone back in to private ownership, Wandle still manages several houses on the street.

IMG_6111 (2)

From the 1990s onwards Battersea’s popularity for families grew, and as the area’s popular state schools, proximity to Clapham Common and generally decent housing saw what had been seen as a rather gritty and industrial neighbourhood “rediscovered” by wealthy professionals. The seeds of gentrification started around Northcote Road, but as a trickle of development became more of a tidal wave it swept out down the Lavender Hill, with process exploding and developers seizing opportunities right left and centre among the unmodernised houses. Rush Hill Road was no stranger to this process, which saw several of the houses that had been spit to flats recombined to single houses.

Many of the houses saw extensions upwards and backwards – many going from three to four storeys as the butterfly roofs proved particularly easy to turn in to an additional floor. Rear extensions appeared right left and centre, and scaffolding became an increasingly present feature of the street as the houses saw ever more substantial renovations and modernisations to develop modern living accommodation.

Rush Hill Road’s tall terraced houses with their parapet rooflines are slightly different to the rest of the Battersea backstreets – but they’re by no means unique, as they have a sister terrace on Wandsworth Road close to its junction with North Street, which we think was also built by James Mulvey (pictured below). Apart from lacking a parapet, and having a more conventional roof running side-on to the road, these houses are exactly the same design as the Rush Hill Road houses – even down to the two arched windows in the original front doors, the band of diamond-patterned stone running along the terrace under the forst and second floor windows, and the moulded stone capitals either side of the doorways. Again they are not built in alternate left-handed and right-handed versions (hence a lot of chimney stacks, and rather more complicated back wings than would usually be built).

More intriguingly, there’s also a single house at 43 Stormont Road of the same design as the ones on Wandsworth Road, marooned amid a series of completely different designs by other builders involved in the building of the neighbouring Lavender Hill Park Estate (it’s the darker-coloured one in the middle of the terrace shown below); which was built in 1876, a couple of years after the start of work on Rush Hill Road, by Thomas Graves – the one who had built the very first ‘show home’ at 1 Rush Hill Road, before selling off the rest to James Mulvey. The white-painted house to its right, 45 Stormont Road, was also built by Thomas and looks like a ‘stretch’ version of the Rush Hill Road design, taking a space that could almost have accommodated two houses – with its entrance at the side. Quite what was going on on this piece of land is a bit of a mystery, as it was unusual and not very efficient to build a terrace of just two houses, especially with one stretched and one not! Meanwhile the four houses to its left – somewhat covered by scaffolding in our photo – also have all the signs of being a miniature development by Mark Chamberlain (the one who built so many houses along Lavender Hill), as they have the tell-tale expensive window surrounds.

This brings this history to the close – with Rush Hill Road continuing as as a popular place to live, a far cry from its beginnings as a smart country house up on the hill with views of the Thames. However one final claim to fame for Rush Hill Road is that it has a track by The Orb named after it, Rush Hill Road, released in 2018. We know that The Orb’s co-creator and longest-running member Alex Paterson grew up locally and still lives nearby, and Battersea sees a good few references in their wider work. Keen-eyed viewers will notice the music video features Rush Hill station (which has more than a passing resemblance to the old entrance to Reading).

If you find our occasional and typically over-detailed local history articles of interest, you may enjoy a long article on the complicated history of the Cedars Road estate, a similarly detailed look at the past of Culvert Place, a photo story about the Shaftesbury Estate drawing on its conservation designation, an article about the cluster of derelict buildings around the old Artesian Well bar on Clapham North street, and an article about the area around Falcon Lane (big Boots & Asda) that dives in to the area’s messy past and some scary 1970s road-building projects that very nearly got built!

Special thanks to the staff of Wandsworth Heritage Service, and to those on the street who shared bits of useful knowledge and assorted old documents as we wrote this article.

Posted in Curiosities, Local history, Planning, Street by street | 2 Comments

Take a moment to appreciate the architecture of Battersea’s Reference Library

It’s a bit hidden away on a side street, and now that the main access is through an unglamorous corridor from the main lending library few people even notice it. But if you venture down Altenburg Gardens to the old main entrance, hidden away behind Clapham Cycles, it’s quickly clear that Battersea’s reference library is quite an unusual building. It was built back in 1924, at a point when the streets and houses around were already fifty or so years old, and when the main library building facing Lavender Hill was already thirty years old and had already had one extension at the back to create what’s now the children’s section.

The main library facing Lavender Hill was an important building for Battersea: the town had been growing enormously as it industrialised, going from being not much more than a rural village in 1850 with 12,000 inhabitants, to a substantial industrial town with well over 100,000 people. Despite being by far the larger town Battersea was still managed by its much smaller neighbour Wandsworth, which had caused years of frustration. Finally the Council – or ‘Battersea Vesry; as it was then known – managed to detach itself from Wandsworth, and the new library which opened three years after the separation in 1890 was one of the brave new local authority’s first big construction projects, and was given a prominent site on Lavender Hill.

They ran a design competition for the main library, which received ten entries, and the winner was local architect Edward Mountford. It was his first commission from the Battersea a local authority, and a possibly helpful factor in him winning was that his design was the only one of the ten that could be built within the £6,000 budget! It proved an excellent move on his part, and the Council clearly liked his design – as he was soon also commissioned to design the much larger and bigger-budget Battersea Town Hall (now Battersea Arts Centre).

The Battersea library proved a success – and a few decades later in 1924 the library grew again, to incorporate a reference library, which was built with the aim of helping with the education of the Borough’s young adults. This was an interesting time to be building something: the 1920s typically mixed post-First World War optimism with years of economic depression, and there was generally a shortage of both money and materials. Optimism was clearly the approach here, and the spirit of the new library investment is reflected in the Latin motto carved in stone over the entrance, – Non Mihi, Non Tibi, Sed Nobis – which translates as ‘Not for Me, Not for You, But for Us.’ When people did manage to get things built in the early 1920s there were quite a variety of architectural styles, stretching from very traditional styles that were essentially continuations of Victorian designs, all the way to the first signs of the modern streamlined designs that would become very popular in the 1930s.

The reference library could have just taken the obvious approach and built in a similar style as Edward Mountford’s original library, or the Voctorian terraces around it – but instead it adopted a quite different style to the neighbouring Victorian terraces, and built a design that was, and remains, really quite unusual for the area. The architect was Henry Hyams, and he adopted an ‘Arts and Crafts‘ architectural style, a phase of architectural design that focussed on traditional materials, techniques and craftsmanship, as a movement against what was seen as the increasing mass-production of buildings and materials at the time. Arts and Crafts was a big movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but by 1924 it was becoming pretty clear that commercial forces the movement had tried to counter were unstoppable, and the Arts and Crafts movement was declining; no further public buildings in Battersea were ever built like this one.

This becomes very apparent looking at the building, which only has a small street presence but which really goes long on hand made details including intricate carved stone arch above the door, copper and glass lamps, mosaic tiling on the doorstep, hand made metal guttering, and lots of use of oak and Portland stone.

Compared to the original library project where money had been tight and where Edward’s success had relied on getting a lot of mileage out of a limited budget, it’s pretty clear that by 1924 Battersea was a rather wealthier place and that it could afford to splash out on a building of the very highest quality. The whole library is now Grade II listed, and it is maybe a pointer to the quality of the build that it’s still doing exactly the same as it was when it opened in the 1920s. There may be more computers and photocopiers and wifi, and there have been a few lifts and ramps added over the years to improve access – but it is still well used, and its main focus is still serving its basic purpose as a calm and pleasant space for quiet study.

The new reference library was a building that set out to show the skill and style of traditional building crafts, and nearly a century later while the battle against mass-produced buildings may be well and truly lost, the reference library’s old-world charm and meticulous attention to detail still pays testament to those skills and remains an impressive (if underappreciated) part of Battersea’s architectural heritage.

Posted in Curiosities, Local history, Street by street | 1 Comment