South Acton

South Acton, Ealing

Historically, the most deprived part of the Acton sprawl, dominated – until recently – by the post-war South Acton estate

Hidden London: Palmerston Road by Des Blenkinsopp

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.

Harlech Tower, on the South Acton estate

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.

Begun in 2012, a 15-year scheme is replacing the South Acton estate with an ‘urban village’ called Acton Gardens, created by a part­ner­ship between L&Q Housing Trust and Coun­try­side Prop­er­ties.

Acton Gardens will ulti­mately consist of 3,300 homes, mostly in rela­tively compact apartment blocks such as those shown in the photo at the top of this article. Like-for-like re-provision of all social rent homes will enable all existing tenants to have a new home. Other features of the scheme include retail, commer­cial, community and health­care floor­space, a recon­fig­ured bus route to serve the site, new parks and open spaces, increased allot­ments and addi­tional play space.

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. The tower will be pulled down as part of the Acton Gardens regeneration project.

Postal district: W3
Population: 14,873 (2011 census)
Station: London Overground (zone 3)
Website: Acton Gardens
* The picture of the Palmerston Road, South Acton, at the top of this page is slightly modified from an original photograph, copyright Des Blenkinsopp, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.