The names of the roads
The streets that make up the Crimsworth-Thorparch area were built, between the late 1880s and mid-1890s, by a builder from the North of England. This is the reason the streets are named after northern towns. (Goldsborough, Cowthorpe and Thorp Arch are near Wetherby in North Yorkshire. Crimsworth is the name of the area to the north of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.)
Prior to this development the area was a watercress farm. Evidence of the fountains that irrigated the land can still be seen in the cadence of the house fronts as you look down one of the longer streets.
The houses were built to accommodate employees of the adjacent locomotive works that serviced the new railway at Nine Elms. This was the largest terminal in London at the time, before it was overshadowed by the opening and rapid development of Waterloo, which was more central. The land occupied by the locomotive works is now the New Covent Garden Flower and Vegetable Market.
Why they look as they do
Building was spread over a few years. As it progressed, the design of the houses altered substantially with changing taste. The first buildings (towards the north end) were sold or let as two flats with a communal front door, a curtain separating upstairs from downstairs. This proved unpopular and the design was changed to give each flat its own separate entrance. It is a common mistake to think that the single door dwellings were designed as houses and not flats: they were not. The roof terrace, a relatively new innovation for a working class house, was the “back yard” for the upstairs occupants. Not many years before, the buildings would have been built as back-to-backs. An Act of Parliament to prevent further back-to-back development became law shortly before these houses were built.
The little estate was well served: it had a post office and general store, a school, a pub (The Friendly Zulu) and off-licence, as well as the facilities on the main Wandsworth Road with its many public houses, shops and later the large Granada Cinema (now the South Bank Sports Centre).
A slow decline
In 1891, even before the houses in all four streets had been completed, the London and South Western Railway moved its carriage and wagon works from Nine Elms to Eastleigh in Hampshire. By 1909 locomotive manufacture had also transferred. The area subsequently functioned mostly as a goods marshalling yard and refuelling facility for the locomotives.
Two world wars took their toll: the old school was bombed and some properties in each street were lost. Being next to an important railway junction had made us a prime target.
The shops had closed by the 1950s and by the 1970s the area was somewhat in decline.
Then more disaster struck. The streets were subject to a compulsory purchase order with the intention of demolishing everything.
But the community rallied round: the local residents were not about to let happen what two world wars couldn’t do. A residents’ association was born, and after a long battle the area won a reprieve.
With its close proximity to the centre of London, the popularity of the area was on the increase.
The residents’ association is still operating and asserts itself when a major cause needs support.
Towards the future
Rising house prices are making the area less affordable than at any time in the past. However, once here, residents like to stay. Many have lived here all their lives – sometimes in the same flat, sometimes moving around. It is not uncommon to have held more than one address in the same street.
Residents of all social backgrounds happily live together and pull together to keep the community spirit alive. Of course we lock our doors (this is London after all!) and we are not forever in and out of each others’ houses, but people say hello, take in parcels for each other and take notice of car alarms: little things that make a place home.
The residents are currently looking at ways of developing and improving the area for everyone.