History of Walworth

Walworth, Newington and the Elephant & Castle relate to suburban development in two important ways. First, there are many good examples of Victorian estate developments in these areas; secondly, the Elephant & Castle’s role as a major transport hub was an important stimulus to development across a wide area of South London. Walworth and Newington are two names for the same geographic area; the former (an ancient name that probably means ‘the farm of the Britons’) is usually applied to the manorial context, while the latter (13th century in origin, meaning ‘the new town’), is applied to the parish.

The roads predated the buildings. The building of the New Kent Road, London Road and St George’s Road in the 1750s created a major east-west axis from the Kent Road to the new Thames bridges, and turned the crossroads into a transport hub. The Elephant & Castle is first heard of by that name – adopting a contemporary fashionable pub name – at the same time.

Building started along the area’s main roads. In 1808 the Walworth Road was described as being lined with elegant mansions and there was much building along Kennington Road. The grandest development was the Paragon, built by Michael Searles around 1788 at the junction of the New and Old Kent Roads (another of his Paragon developments, on Blackheath, also survives).

Newington and Walworth are really mid-19th century creations. The Trinity House Estate, splendidly set around Francis Bedford’s classical church of the 1820s, survives largely intact. The developers Henry Penton (who gave his name to the north London district of Pentonville) and Edward Yates built many houses in the later 19th century; the church, which owned much land south of East Street, redeveloped its properties in art and crafts tenement style in the early 20th century. Other more commercial tenements were built at Pullen’s Buildings and on Rodney Road.

After World War II the area underwent a radical transformation due in part to the influence of the popular ‘activator’ philosophy on governmental urban planning. Many Victorian homes were replaced with very large housing estates in modernist style, such as the Brandon, the Heygate and, biggest of all, the Aylesbury.

See historic maps of Walworth