Nine Elms

Nine Elms, Wandsworth

A mixed-use riverside area situated between Battersea Park and Vauxhall, presently being redeveloped with a forest of upmarket apartment blocks

Hidden London: Embassy Gardens CGI

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.

Hidden London: Riverlight's six pavilions, seen from the river

Water­side apart­ment com­plex­es have recent­ly added an upmar­ket res­i­den­tial aspect to Nine Elms, notably in the form of the six ‘pavil­ions’ of Riverlight (CGI shown above). 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 high-pro­file devel­op­ment is the new Amer­i­can embassy – which opened in Jan­u­ary 2018 – and the sur­round­ing Embassy Gar­dens estate, which is shown in the CGI at the the top of this arti­cle, with the embassy itself on the left. Pres­i­dent Trump has described Nine Elms as a “lousy” and “hor­ri­ble” loca­tion for the embassy.

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.

Hidden London: new blocks accompanying the Battersea Power Station redevelopment

Despite the erst­while 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. Aspects of the devel­op­ment have been described in the Archi­tects’ Jour­nal as “grim, dire and dystopi­an” – but Fara­day House, shown on the right in the CGI above, won a RIBA Lon­don Award in 2018.

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

 

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* 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.