Kennington, Lambeth/Southwark

A diverse district of terraced townhouses and tower blocks situated east of Vauxhall

First record­ed in Domes­day Book as Chen­in­tune, the name prob­a­bly meant ‘the farm of a man called Cēna’, although oth­ers have sug­gest­ed ‘place of the king’.

In 1337 Ken­ning­ton was giv­en to Edward, the Black Prince, and a roy­al palace was built here. Though the palace has long gone, the manor has belonged to the eldest son of England’s mon­archs ever since as part of the Duchy of Corn­wall. From 1622 the duchy start­ed to grant leas­es to Kennington’s res­i­dents, giv­ing them an incen­tive to improve their prop­er­ties. The con­struc­tion of West­min­ster Bridge in 1750 brought acces­si­bil­i­ty and ear­ly pop­u­lar­i­ty as a place of res­i­dence.

Most of the mod­ern lay­out of Ken­ning­ton was set by 1799, although the south-west­ern part, includ­ing Ken­ning­ton Oval, devel­oped a lit­tle lat­er. By 1818 the present street pat­tern was ful­ly estab­lished and the vil­lage was becom­ing a semi-rur­al sub­urb with grand ter­raced hous­es of four or even five storeys.

Ken­ning­ton Com­mon was a venue for fairs and exe­cu­tions; St Mark’s church stands on the site of the gal­lows. In 1848 a huge crowd assem­bled on the com­mon intend­ing to march on Par­lia­ment to present its Chartist peti­tion. The march was banned and the crowd was per­suad­ed by the Chartist leader Fear­gus O’Connor MP to dis­perse peace­ful­ly.

In 1852 the com­mon was con­vert­ed to “a pleas­ant place of recre­ation” and renamed Ken­ning­ton Park. This was at a time of increas­ing­ly dense build­ing all around – and old­er vil­las were suc­cumb­ing to mul­ti­ple occu­pa­tion. Karl Marx wrote in Das Kap­i­tal that Ken­ning­ton was “very seri­ous­ly over-pop­u­lat­ed in 1859, when diph­the­ria appeared.”

Ken­ning­ton sta­tion opened on the Bank branch of the North­ern Line (orig­i­nal­ly called the City of Lon­don and South­wark Sub­way) in 1890 and served the Char­ing Cross branch also from 1926. Tram and bus routes also con­verged here; Ken­ning­ton was described in the 1920s as “the Clapham Junc­tion of the south­ern roads” and St Mark’s became the tramwayman’s church.

Lam­beth coun­cil built all kinds of munic­i­pal hous­ing here from the ear­ly 1950s to the late 1970s, includ­ing sev­er­al high-rise estates. East of Ken­ning­ton Park, the Lon­don Coun­ty Council’s Bran­don estate (shown in the pho­to­graph above) was their first such project to retain some exist­ing ter­races. Kennington’s long decline is now being reversed as the advan­tages of its loca­tion prompt the reunit­ing of for­mer­ly sub­di­vid­ed prop­er­ties.

Occu­py­ing part of the for­mer Lam­beth Work­house, at 2 Dugard Way, off Ren­frew Road, the Cin­e­ma Muse­um is one of Lon­don’s view-by-appoint­ment-only col­lec­tions. It also hosts pro­grammes of tick­et­ed events.

Kennington was the birthplace in 1887 of Bernard Montgomery, later Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.

Postal districts: SE11, SE17, SW8 and SW9
Population: 15,106 (Oval ward, 2011 census – a 26 per cent increase on 2001)
Station: Northern line (zone 2)
Further reading: Jill Dunman, Lambeth, Kennington and Clapham, Sutton, 1999
and Edward Walford, Walford’s History of Stockwell and Kennington, ed. John W Brown, Local History Reprints, 1996
Website: Vauxhall, Kennington and the Oval


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