A neon nod to Lavender Hill’s history, hidden away among Battersea’s new flats

Taking the bus along Queenstown Road on a rainy winter evening, if you cast your eye down one of the obscure side streets full of bins & delivery lorries you might just spot a huge sprig of Lavender glowing in the darkness.

Lavender‘ is a big neon artwork by Margate-born, Cardiff-based artist S. Mark Gubb, on the side of the railway arch between Majestic Wine & the new ‘Vista’ development.

It draws from the local farming of lavender, back in the days when the low-lying areas of the Shaftesbury Estate & Battersea Park were famed for their production of melons and asparagus, and the drier, higher land up on what was to become Lavender Hill was developed as a series of lavender fields.

Much of this was down to the Huguenots, a group of Protestants of whom around 200,000 fled persecution and massacres in northern France in the 1600s, and found a warmer welcome in the UK. They’re probably most famous for having set up a silk-weaving district in Spitalfields – but they also settled around the country including a cluster in East Hill between Wandsworth and Battersea (hence the still-standing Huguenot burial ground as well as street names including Huguenot Place & Nantes Close). They were a skilled people and – as well as being a valuable addition to Wandsworth’s then-thriving clothing industry – are believed to have made major upgrades to the farmland in the area, including the lavender fields.

When discussing Battersea before the railways, it’s worth a mention of this 1848 watercolour by Robert Westall of ‘Battersea Fields’ – showing the view looking towards the Thames from Lavender Hill, with the open farmland and (possibly) lavender cultivation that existed before the industrial era (click for a larger version). The Royal Hospital Chelsea and (in the foreground) Battersea Pumping Station (which was built eight years previously in 1840) are both visible. This was painted a few years before the railways were developed and Battersea changed forever!

Later, the area was of course swamped with houses and industry – with little remaining of the agricultural days other than surprisingly good soil in many Battersea back gardens – so it’s nice to see this little modern reminder of Lavender Hill’s past.

It’s part of a wider set of art around the new development around Berkeley Homes’ ‘Vista’ development. At the moment it is a little tucked away, and somewhat surrounded by building site hoardings and security controls – but as the adjacent ‘Prince of Wales Drive’ building project on the other side of the railway – which is also being built by Berkeley – is completed this is set to become a new public route under the railway, and it’ll get a lot more noticed.

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