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.