Mowll Street is a straight road that runs from Brixton Road to Hackford Road, it is almost entirely residential. Mowll Street was previously called Chapel Street and prior to the buildings we see today this site was occupied by earlier houses for which few records remain. From looking at Charles Booth’s poverty map (further down on this page) the tenants of Chapel Street were poor.
Charles Booth in his ‘Survey into life and labour in London’ says ‘An Ecclesiastical Commission estate and is marked for speedy demolition, the first fruits of which are seen in South Island Place, Chapel Street, St Ann’s Road and a bit of Brixton Road; though the district will suffer by the building of higher houses and the formation of new roads on the considerable open spaces that still exist, the social trend will be upwards; owing to the accessibility to the City, there is a great demand here from clerks.’
The street name was changed from Chapel Street to Mowll Street between 1936 and 1938. The name Mowll comes from William Rutley Mowll who was the Vicar that oversaw Christ Church (at the Brixton Road end of Mowll Street) being rebuilt.
British History Online tells us “Two houses at the rear of the church in Chapel (now Mowll) Street were purchased for the erection of a hall which was to accommodate the congregation during the rebuilding of the church. The foundation stone of the new hall was laid on July 24, 1897, and the building was completed in 1899. The foundation stone of the new church was laid on December 13, 1898, by Princess Christian, and the old church was demolished in the following year. A six-foot strip of land was given up for the widening of Chapel Street.”
It is unclear exactly when Chapel Street was developed into the rows of mansion blocks that we see standing today. The properties appear to be late Victorian/early Edwardian. They are not quite as old as those of Handforth and Crewdson Roads. The appearance of the mansion blocks in Mowll Street is quite similar to those in nearby Cranworth Gardens which were built between 1899 and 1901.
Mowll Street in maps…
The above image is from a map produced in 1809 and is called ‘Laurie and Whittle’s New Map of London with its Environs, including the Recent Improvements’ This is the oldest map that I can find that shows the area that Mowll Street stands upon. Note that at the time Brixton Road was known as ‘The Washway’ due to the Effra flowing along one side of it. This area was predominantly rural at the time of this map, it is hard to believe that such an urban area was once considered idyllic however back then the sound of flowing water, the abundance of open space and the sound of birdsong would have been a welcome retreat from the City itself.
“Pigot & Co.’s Metropolitan Guide & Miniature Plan Of London from 1820″ shows that Mowll Street still did not exist at this time
Laurie’s Map of London 1844.
This is Cross’s New Plan of London 1861, the street should have been called Chapel Street, it appears to be mis-labelled. Looking at the street on this map Mowll Street appears to have quite a few houses on it.
Charles Booth’s Map of London Poverty research took him to Chapel Street (Later renamed Mowll Street) in 1895. The Map above is from 1898 and shows how Booth graded Chapel Street in light blue which indicated ‘poor’. The key to what the colours mean can be seen to the right of the image. For more information on Charles Booth and the classification of poverty see here. It is one of only two streets within my project boundaries that were graded as ‘poor’ by Booth. This particular map is also interesting as it shows us exactly how many houses were on Chapel Street before it was developed into the rows of mansion flats we see today.
Chapel Street can be seen here on this 1918 Ward Map. It is remarkable to note how much the area has built up over the years, especially when scrolling up to the 1809 map when this entire space was empty.
High density heaven…
Mansion Blocks were first built when land in the few London locations acceptable to the wealthy was scarce, and demand for a pied-à-terre in the capital was high. Although the need to build upwards was obvious, investing in the early mansion blocks was risky because flats, no matter how superior, were tainted with two unpalatable associations. Firstly, they were usually seen as cheap accommodation for the lower classes. Anyone buying one would find themselves living in uncomfortable proximity not only to their neighbours, but also to their domestic help. And, secondly, and perhaps even worse, they were the home of choice for foreigners. But of course, the new developments across London were a great success and Mowll street continues to provide spacious flats in sturdy well designed blocks.
Max Wall …
On the side wall of Glenshaw Mansions at the Brixton Road end of Mowll Street is a Heritage Foundation Blue Plaque in honor of the comedian Max Wall who was born at 37 Glenshaw Mansions.
Max Wall (12 March 1908–21 May 1990) was the stage name of British comedian Maxwell Lorimer. His performing career covered theatre, films and television.
Wall was a son of the successful music-hall entertainer Jack (Jock) Lorimer and his wife Stella. He was born near The Oval, in London. In 1918, during World War I, Wall was saved from death by his cast iron bed-frame, but both his younger brother and their were killed by a bomb from a German Zeppelin that destroyed their house.
Wall made his stage début at the age of 14 as an acrobatic dancer in a pantomime, but is best remembered for his ludicrously attired and hilariously strutting Professor Wallofski. This creation notably influenced John Cleese, who has acknowledged Max Wall’s influence on the creation of his own Ministry of Silly Walks sketch for Monty Python. After appearing in many musicals and stage comedies in the 1930s, Wall’s career went into decline, and he was reduced to working in obscure nightclubs. He then joined the RAF during WW2 and served for 3 years until he was invalided out in 1943.
Wall re-emerged when producers and directors rediscovered his comic talents, along with the expressive power of his tragic clown face and the distinctive sad falling cadences of his voice. He secured television appearances, and having attracted Beckett’s attention, he won parts in Waiting for Godot and Krapp’s Last Tape. In 1966 he appeared as Père Ubu in Jarry’s Ubu Roi, and in 1972 he toured with Mott the Hoople on their “Rock n’ Roll Circus tour”, gaining a new audience. His straight acting gained him this review in 1974:
“Max Wall makes Olivier look like an amateur in The Entertainer at Greenwich Theatre…” (The Guardian, 27 November 1974)
He also appeared in Crossroads, Coronation Street and what was then Emmerdale Farm. He also played an ex-con in Minder, with George Cole.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Wall occasionally performed a one-man stage show, An Evening with Max Wall, in which he recaptured the humour of old-time music-hall theatre.
His last film appearance was in the 12-minute movie A Fear of Silence, a dark tale of a man who drives a stranger to a confession of murder by answering only Yes or No to his questions; those two words, repeated, were his only dialogue. The film won a gold award in the New York Film and TV Festival.