South Island Place runs west to east from Clapham Road all the way through to Brixton Road. It is unclear where the exotic name comes from or why it makes reference to one half of New Zealand, one astute reader has sent me a message saying…
‘You ask where the name ‘South Island Place’ comes from. It would be nice if there was an exotic connection to New Zealand, but I wonder if the answer is a bit more prosaic. This is just a guess, but perhaps the name was originally meant to be ‘South Holland Place’. Some of the old maps (Laurie and Cross) show it as ‘South Highland Place’ or ‘Holland Place’. It would be a logical name, given the Lord Holland connection, and it would have needed to be ‘South’ as just to the north was a terrace on Brixton Road (subsequently nos 21-39) also known as ‘Holland Place’
To modern eyes South Island Place is rather a mess, it is a mixture of buildings from all sorts of opposing eras and sits in the shadow of the Brutalist tower block, Holland Rise. From looking at maps it appears that this street is one of the first to pop up in this area that cross from Clapham Road to Brixton Road, beginning life as a rural footpath through what was in 1809 rural Surrey fields. It seems that the earliest dwellings were built in 1822, cottage style villas, some of which still stand today at the western end of the street and can be seen in the photograph above.
Later in the nineteenth century the street expanded, small houses and shops were built in the 1840’s (you can see these in the photograph section below) along the southwest and southeastern sides of the street. These were joined later in the nineteenth century by mansion block style housing of a similar type to that on Crewdson and Handforth Roads. South Island Place stood more or less like this for a good many years until the bombs of WW2 and the bulldozers of the 1960’s and 70’s.
The war wasn’t kind to this area and South Island Place was hit on a number of occasions resulting in the demolition of various properties, London County Council (LCC) often replacing these bombed out parts with estate blocks. By the early 1960’s much of the remaining older housing and shops were of a poor standard. Stables owned by hawkers stood on the corner where there is now a car park at the junction of Hackford Road, remnants of a bygone era that were swept away in order to build the Holland Rise tower block in 1967. South Island place now stands as a mish mash of 1820’s cottages, 1880’s mansion blocks, low rise council flats from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s and modern private flats and studios built in the late 1990’s.
South Island Place on 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 South Island Place stands upon. At the time it shows South Island place as a thin footpath however it’s early purpose of linking the Clapham & Brixton roads was clearly already in place. 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.
The above image is from a map produced in 1836 and is called (rather longwindedly) ‘PLAN-OF-LONDON-AND-WESTMINSTER-with-the-Borough-of-SOUTHWARK-Being-an-INDEX-to-the-Large-Plan-in-forty-Sheets’ It shows an unlabelled South Island place having developed from being a ‘Foot Path’ on the previous map above to what is clearly a small road. This area was still considered to be part of the Surrey countryside that surrounded London, note the ‘Rural Cottage’ on Clapham Road.
The above image is from a map produced a year after Crace’s Plan of London in 1837 and is called ‘Carys-New-Plan-Of-London-And-Its-Vicinity’ It is the earliest map that I have found that shows this street labelled as South Island Place.
The above image is from a map produced in 1844 and is called ‘Laurie’s Map of London’ curiously it shows South Island place mis-labelled with ‘South Highland Place’ back then maps were made by hand often by one person on their own so mistakes did occur.
The above image is from a rather ugly map produced in 1859 and is called ‘North Lambeth’ South Island Place can be seen clearly labelled and intersected by what was then called St Ann’s Road, now called Hackford Road.
The above image is from a map produced to show the various Lambeth Wards in 1876. You can see that South Island Place is still bordered by much open space to the north, large gardens belonging to the wealthy home owners that lined Clapham and Brixton Roads.
Charles Booth’s Map of London Poverty research took him to South Island place in 1895. The Map above is from 1898 and shows how Booth graded South Island Place. 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. Booth graded South Island Place as ‘Pink’ which was ‘Good ordinary earnings’.
The above image is from another map produced to show the various Lambeth Wards, this time in 1918. The gardens that were once to the north have been replaced by Offley, Handforth and Crewdson Roads.
South Island Place in photographs…
South Island Place in 1964, you can see the original shops on the south western side before the building of Holland Rise. See below for a rough idea of the same view today.
The cottage style villas to the left of the picture above are the oldest houses on the street, they were the first to be built and three still remain. British History Online in Survey of London: volume 26: Lambeth: Southern area by F. H. W. Sheppard describes these buildings as follows:
‘Nos. 11–43 (odd) South Island Place
Formerly No. 4 and Nos. 23–8a (consec.) South Island Place
Nos. 11–43 form a continuous terrace of plain two-storey cottages. The front of each cottage contains a rectangular window and a round-arched doorway on the ground floor, two rectangular windows on the first floor, and finishes with a plain coped parapet. The four cottages at the east end have their ground-floor windows set in elliptical-headed recesses, and there are apron panels above the upper windows. Nos. 31 and 41 alone have simple fanlights which are respectively of radiating and circular pattern. Nos. 11–41, March 23, 1822; William Richard Self, July 29, 1823; James Collins of Kennington, mason.’
The photo above shows South Island Place in 1964, you can see the original early Victorian dwellings that lined the southeastern side of the street and survived until the 1970’s.
Roughly the same view today, the terraced houses of the 1840’s are replaced by Bernard Sunley house, a private residential block for the elderly built in 1976.
The two photographs above show what appear to be rag and bone men and their horses that were kept on the corner of South Island Place and Hackford Road. I wonder if they are the stables of Edmond Smith whose Cab Proprietary business stood here according to Kelly’s Directory 1903. A cab proprietor being the owner of one of the many ubiquitous london horse and cart companies, the principle way of getting around the city before the motorcar and the omnibus. Perhaps when the business died out due to lack of demand the stables were kept in use by local hawkers.
The above photograph, taken in 1967 shows the construction of Holland Rise, the first of eight identical blocks that were built in Lambeth using a precast factory-built method. You can see that the builders have cleared all of the area around the base of the tower where the old row of shops used to stand as seen on the photograph further up. The tower was opened in November 1967 and stands at 62 metres or 200ft high and is built in the Brutalist style so popular in the 1960’s. The block was constructed by 80 workmen using 3,720 slabs cast from 13,500 tons of concrete. Other facts noted at the time included: 2,000 light switches and points, 500 water taps, 3,500 panes of glass and 1,600 feet of cable for TV and radio
You can see in the above picture that council blocks fill the spaces left by WW2 bombs and 1960’s modernisers.
Almost every inch of space on South Island Place has been filled by newer properties such as this funny little house that has squeezed between these considerably older buildings, occupying the site of a bomb hit.
The newest building to land in the street is seen above. Michael Haines House, built in 2008 stands on the site of the old South Island Place library and previous to that a row of houses that were destroyed in WW2.
The lost shops of South Island Place…
The cutting above is taken from Kelly’s Directory 1903 and it shows the variety of businesses that once filled South Island Place. If you have poked around elsewhere on this website you will no doubt have noticed that almost every street once had shops and businesses, far more than our sprinkling of Londis and Tesco of the modern day. The difference back then of course was that many shops specialised in one product rather than the supermarkets of today that stock everything.
A South Island Place Ghost Story…
The following text is taken from unexplainedmysteries.com all copy write and credit goes to them for the following spooky story…
In 1984 a trainee manager was required (as part of his training programme) to walk the tunnel of the Northern Line…when all the trains had stopped running for the night…between Oval and Stockwell stations.
As he trudged up the dark and silent tunnel, armed only with his battery powered torch, he came across an older man working in a wider section of the tunnel. The workman was using an old fashion Tilly lamp. These paraffin fuelled lamps had once been in common use on the London Underground but, by 1984, they had all but disappeared having been replaced by battery powered torches.
The trainee manager stopped for a chat with the workman.
The trainee manager made a comment about how unusual it was to see someone still using an old Tilly lamp to which the workman replied that he preferred the Tilly lamp to the new torches. The trainee manager then asked the workman whether this wider section of the tunnel had a name and was told it was called South Island Place. After saying goodnight to each other, the trainee manager set off again on up the tunnel and arrived shortly after at Stockwell Station.
He then rang the station supervisor at Oval Station to inform him that he had safely completed the required track-walk and that the track appeared to be in good order. He was just about to hang up the receiver when he suddenly remembered the workman he had seen and so he told the supervisor about the workman he had seen in South Island Place. The supervisor then informed him that there was not supposed to be anyone working on that section of the line that night. A search of the track between Oval and Stockwell Stations was hastily organised to locate the workman but no trace of him was ever found.
The trainee manager later found out that the ghost of a workman who had been killed by a train in the 1950s near South Island Place had been seen on numerous occasions. The workman had been operating a very noisy compressor at the time of the accident and he probably never heard the sound of the approaching train that was about to end his life. The unfortunate driver of the train that killed him reported that, at the time of the fatal collision, the man had been carrying a Tilly lamp…