An increasingly upmarket district that nevertheless retains many council-built flats, situated on the south bank of the Thames, north-east of Wandsworth
Battersea is one of the oldest recorded place names in the London area. A late seventh-century charter makes reference to ‘Badrices ege’, the island of a man called Badric. The parish church of St Mary was in existence by 1157, although nothing of the original structure has survived.
The Abbey of Westminster held the manor at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, when it passed to the Crown, and then in 1627 to the St John family, whose manor house stood east of the church.
Industries were established on reclaimed marshland beside the Thames, including a shot foundry, a whiting (whitewash) works and a brewhouse at Nine Elms. From the 1740s to 1756, decorative enamel boxes were made at York House, and several other manufacturing businesses were equally short-lived.
St Mary’s church was rebuilt in the mid 1770s and is shown in the photo at the top.* Most of the manor house was demolished in 1793, and later became the site of flour mills. Away from the river, most of Battersea was used for market gardening, with a few clusters of dwellings around the church and in Falcon Road and Bolingbroke Grove.
The coming of the railway to Nine Elms and Clapham Junction and in 1858 the simultaneous opening of Chelsea Bridge and Battersea Park prompted developers to lay out estates of reasonably priced housing for the middle classes all along the route to Clapham Common. Shortly afterwards, however, Battersea was divided up by an increasing number of railway lines and as a result property prices dropped, with some of the larger houses being subdivided to allow occupation by ‘persons of humbler circumstances’.
New stations were opened at Battersea Park and Queenstown Road and grids of terraced cottages were laid out, including in the 1870s the Shaftesbury Park estate, the work of the same philanthropic company that later built Queen’s Park.
By 1871 the population of Battersea had increased almost tenfold in 40 years and it tripled again before the end of the 19th century, when most of the residents were skilled artisans employed in local service industries. The Latchmere estate of 1903 was the first to be built by an London County Council borough.
Battersea council was a famously progressive body, in 1906 gaining the first British-born black councillor, John Richard Archer. In 1913 Archer was elected mayor, another first.
Blocks of municipal flats replaced much of Battersea’s Victorian housing before and for several decades after the Second World War. The most unspoilt part is the old village, south of the church.
In recent years, much of the riverside has filled with luxury apartment complexes, of which the most dramatic is the Montevetro building, which is (all too clearly) visible behind the church in the photo at the top. Price’s candle factory, which took the place of York House, has been converted into flats.
The Northern line extension to Battersea Power Station is expected to open in 2020.
Battersea was the birthplace of the jazz pianist George Shearing and the TV personality Michael Aspel. Other former residents include the author GK Chesterton and the naughty artist-craftsman Eric Gill.