South Acton, Ealing
The most deprived part of the Acton sprawl, dominated by the post-war South Acton estate
South Acton was farmland until the 1859 enclosure award but thereafter began one of the most intensive phases of development seen in the London area at that time. The British Land Company acquired several fields and laid out a network of terraced streets. Thousands of new Londoners arrived from all over the British Isles in search of a job and an affordable home. Many men were employed as labourers in nearby brickfields while their wives worked in Acton’s burgeoning laundry industry, either for one of the larger concerns of ‘Soapsuds Island’ or taking in washing at home.
South Acton gained a railway station in 1880, on what is now the London Overground’s North London line, and a tube station in 1905, on a short spur line from Acton Town. By this time the settlement had a population of 15,000, many of whom were living in increasingly overcrowded surroundings. Conditions barely improved throughout the first half of the 20th century.
It was not until after the Second World War that the municipal authorities acted to clear the slums. The council compulsorily purchased all the properties on streets that lay immediately north of South Acton station and began to replace these with blocks of flats, the first of which were completed by 1954. South Acton tube station closed in 1959. More blocks of flats went up in the early 1960s, including two of 22 storeys. These subsequently exhibited many of the problems typical of such projects, and some have since been demolished as part of a major regeneration programme involving several housing associations.
At the 2011 census, 57 per cent of South Acton’s residents were white and the main ethnic minority was of black African birth or descent. Significant minorities of residents are of Indian, black Caribbean and Arabic heritage. Most homes are rented, primarily from the council or privately.
Until 1988 Harlech Tower, in Park Road East, doubled as Peckham’s Nelson Mandela House in the classic television comedy series Only Fools and Horses.
Postal district: W3
Population: 14,873 (2011 census)
Station: London Overground (zone 3)
William Hogarth’s ‘little country box by the Thames’ in Chiswick is now a museum and gallery.
Camley Street Natural Park is a miniature ecological wilderness just north of St Pancras station.
Junction Road has a gastropub that was restored in 2010 with help from English Heritage.
You can’t go inside Debenham House but even from the street it’s a remarkable sight.