Nine Elms

Nine Elms, Wandsworth

A mixed-use riverside area situated between Battersea Park and Vauxhall, presently being promoted as the New South Bank


The Embassy Gardens development, as seen in May 2014
The Embassy Gardens devel­opment, May 2014*

There was a IX Elmes Farm here in 1646 and agriculture continued to dominate the riverside landscape into the 19th century, with market gardens growing asparagus and other veget­ables for the London markets.

In 1838 the London and Southampton Railway Company opened its terminus at Nine Elms. The line was extended to Waterloo in 1848 and Nine Elms became the site of a goods yard and locomotive works. A gasworks was built and in 1865 this was the scene of the largest explosion in 19th-century London – a million cubic feet of gas ignited and eleven men were killed in the blast.

The neigh­bouring housing was inevitably cramped and grimy and there was widespread poverty among the residents.

In 1914 the Women’s Freedom League estab­lished the pioneering Nine Elms Settlement in Everett Street, serving children with dinners of veget­arian soup and large slices of pudding, which they could either eat there or take home.

From 1933 Battersea power station was built on the western side of Nine Elms. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s structure has a steel girder frame and exterior brick cladding and is said to be the largest brick building in Europe. It was actually two power stations, the second of which was not built until 1953, when the third and fourth chimneys were added. Following a progressive run-down, the power station closed in 1983 and was there­after repeatedly touted for conversion to some kind of major leisure destin­ation, with a succession of investors failing to deliver on their extra­vagant promises for the renov­ation of the structure itself and enhance­ments to the surrounding area.

In 1974 Covent Garden’s flower market and fruit and vegetable market moved to Nine Elms, taking over the site of the north and south railway goods depots. New Covent Garden now has more than 200 businesses employing 2,500 people, and claims to supply 40 per cent of the fresh fruit and veget­ables eaten outside of the home in London and to be used by three-quarters of London florists.

Artist's impression of Riverlight's six pavilionsWaterside apartment complexes have recently added an upmarket resid­ential aspect to Nine Elms, notably in the form of the six ‘pavilions’ now under construction at Riverlight (artist’s impression shown left). Away from the shoreline, the area’s numerous depots and warehouses have been elbowed out to make room for high-profile mixed-use projects. The most conspicuous of all the devel­op­ments will be the new American embassy, which is expected to open in 2017.

A Northern line extension is planned to run from Kennington to Battersea, with a stop at Nine Elms. A new pedes­trian and cycle bridge is proposed to cross the Thames from Pimlico to a site near the US embassy.

Despite the desire of Chelsea football club to relocate here, Battersea power station is now being redeveloped as a giant block of flats, tightly hemmed in by yet more blocks of offices, shops and homes, in a Malaysian-owned scheme that may not be completed until 2023. The £8 billion project will include a six-acre riverside park.

Battersea power station’s status as an iconic London landmark was bolstered in 1977 when the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals featured a giant pig flying between its chimneys.

Postal district: SW8
Stations: Northern line (Nine Elms and Battersea (at the power station) proposed for 2019 on a new branch from Kennington, zone 2)
Website: Nine Elms on the South Bank
Twitter: Nine Elms London
Further reading: Colin Allen, Transplanting the Garden, Covent Garden Market Authority, 1998

 

* The photograph of the Embassy Gardens development, on this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Stephen Richards, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.