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Melanie Backe-Hansen

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‘Going down the Northcote’: the history of Northcote Road

06/28/2012

Northcote Road is situated between Wandsworth Common and Clapham Common in the southern part of Battersea, and today is most known for its market and shopping, as well as running through the heart of one of the most popular addresses in this part of London. However, up until the late 19th century much of this area was covered in open fields, except for a few farm buildings and large country houses.

Waterfalls and farm animals
Just over 100 years ago Northcote Road did not exist, apart from a small farm track, but instead it was the site of the Falcon Brook, running through the middle of the Bolingbroke estate. The only building, situated near today’s Shelgate Road, was Bolingbroke Farm, with the remainder of the area open farmland. The Ordnance Survey map in 1874 shows Falcon Brook running from Battersea Rise down to near today’s Chatham Road, and particularly noted a number of waterfalls along the way. Much of Battersea was agricultural land until the mid 19th century, with Lavender Hill literally lavender fields, along with fields of vegetables and flowers for the London markets, and as late as the 1880s farm animals still wandered the streets.

Railways and building boom
The introduction of the railway brought about drastic change in the fields of Battersea and Clapham. Clapham Junction station opened in 1863 and was to become the busiest station in Europe. The new form of transport brought industry and business to the area, as well as providing transport for commuters into the centre of London. This created development, and most particularly a building boom, providing new homes for workers and middle-class commuters. It was also at this time, in 1865, that the first section of Falcon Brook was covered over and redirected by the Metropolitan Board of Works.

Leader of the Conservative Party
The name Northcote is believed to originate from politician Stafford Northcote, first Earl of Iddesleigh, who began his career as private secretary to William Gladstone, and later rose to become Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1874. He was leader of the Conservative Party from 1876 to 1885 and Foreign Secretary in 1886, but the following year he died suddenly at No.10 Downing Street.

The markets
Northcote Road was laid out in the 1880s, with the first section going as far as Chatham Road, and the remainder down to Broomwood Road was originally known as Swaby Road. The whole stretch of road was named Northcote Road in the 1890s. It was at this time that the famous Northcote Road markets were established. Prior to this, market stalls had been situated further down the hill in St John’s Road and along Lavender Hill, much closer to the busy centre by Clapham Junction Station. However, market sellers were evicted from St John’s Road during the 1890s and they had no alternative but to relocate to Northcote Road.

Shopping and ‘nappy valley’
Northcote Road also became known for its permanent shops, including long-standing providers such as the Dove Butchers, trading since 1889. The road soon gained a name as a shopping destination and the phrase ‘going down the Northcote’ becoming a common local expression. However, by the 1990s the market stalls were under threat, as new residents wanted a different shopping experience other than just apples and pears from their market stall. The introduction of parking restrictions also brought a further threat to the market traders. Fortunately Northcote Road evolved and continued as a popular shopping destination, as well as a highly sought after address. In the early 21st century, the area evolved again and many new residents were professionals and young families, so much so that the area gained the name ‘nappy valley’ for the number of young children and push-chairs in the area.

Today, Northcote Road offers many fashionable shops, cafés, restaurants and bars, along with a number of independent specialty stores selling honey, wine and cheese along with traditional fishmongers, florists and antique dealers.


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I am a specialist in researching the histories of houses across London and the United Kingdom and was formerly the house historian for Chesterton Humberts. In this blog, I will be sharing stories of my adventures and discoveries and hopefully inspiring you to look twice at the history behind your own front door or your area of this great city.

The name Northcote is believed to originate from politician Stafford Northcote, first Earl of Iddesleigh, who began his career as private secretary to William Gladstone, and later rose to become Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1874.

Much of Battersea was agricultural land until the mid 19th century, with Lavender Hill literally lavender fields, along with fields of vegetables and flowers for the London markets, and as late as the 1880s farm animals still wandered the streets.

It was at this time that the famous Northcote Road markets were established.
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This created development, and most particularly a building boom, providing new homes for workers.
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Hopefully inspiring you to look twice at the history behind your own front door or your area of this great city.

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Along with fields of vegetables and flowers for the London markets.
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Providing new homes for workers and middle-class commuters.
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