Best for…silly clowns
World’s first circus
Roll up, roll up, to the site of the world’s first modern circus, now home to St Thomas’ hospital, a place where equally astonishing things happen these days. Established by cavalry officer Sergeant Major Philip Astley at Ha’Penny Hatch, Lower Marsh, 1768, the groundbreaking Lambeth circus kicked off with horse riding exhibitions and dramatic stunts. Ringmaster Astley soon realised he would need to spice things up if he was to maintain ticket sales, so added variety to its repertoire in the guise of tumbling, slack wire and a clown named Burt. The origin of the name ‘circus’ derives from the word ‘circle’, after Astley discovered the ideal space in which to execute mounted stunts was a ring of 13 metres in diameter.
Best for…history boffins
If you are seeking the oldest part of London forget the Tower and London Bridge. Gaze instead either side of the southern end of Vauxhall Bridge where a group of piles sticking above the water at low tide have been dated to the Late Bronze Age, more than 3,500 years ago, and are nearly as ancient as Stonehenge. Moreover, another group of piles, just downstream in front of the MI6 spy centre, date to the Mesolithic period – a staggering 6,000 to 7,000 years ago. Archaeologists believe the piles could be part of a platform associated with fishing in the river. (Historical titbit courtesy of Victor Keegan’s Smartphone app, Gems of London)
Best for…art lovers
Van Gogh’s home
The home of one of Lambeth’s most famous residents – a Mr Vincent Van Gogh – has been sold for £565,000. The Dutch artist lived in 87 Hackford Road SW9 for about a year in 1873 when he was twenty years old while he was working at an art dealership in Southampton Street. in 1873. During his stay – which is commemorated by a blue plaque – he fell in love with Eugenie Loyer, the daughter of the landlady, and made a sketch of the house, entitled The Hackford Road, which is now in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. The house was put up for auction by estate agent Savills and bought by an ‘admirer of the artist’s work’.
Best for…music buffs
David Bowie’s birthplace
No guided tour of SW9 is complete without a stop-off at 40 Stansfield Road, where David Robert Jones – who later, of course, became ‘70s glam rock icon David Bowie, singer of such timeless tunes as Space Oddity, Starman and Changes – was born on January 8, 1947, and lived until 1953 when his family moved to the suburbs of Bromley. To mark Bowie’s early life in Brixton, the Brixton Pound recently decided to feature the musician on their £10 note, made up in his Aladdin Sane guise.
Best for…altruistic locals
Where: Clapham Common
In an unassuming church surrounded by trees and grassy lawns, a group of eighteenth century local Christians was instrumental in the abolition of slavery. The Clapham Sect worshipped at the common’s Holy Trinity church and, led by local resident William Wilberforce, fought for religious and humanitarian causes, forming the Abolition Committee in 1787. They campaigned tirelessly, taking their petitions and demonstrations to parliament with the help of testimonials from freed slave Olaudah Equiano, and in 1807 The Slave Trade Act was passed, with slavery in the British Empire eventually ending in 1838.
Best for….fruit loops
Where: Lambeth Bridge
Next time you’re crossing Lambeth Bridge, take a moment to glance up at the four stone pineapples sitting on top of the columns at either end. The foreign fruits were added to the bridge – which was build in 1862, then moved slightly upstream in 1932 – to commemorate the Tradescants, a Lambeth family best known as gardeners (one was gardener to Charles I) and the first people to grow exotic fruits such as pineapples and nectarines in Britain.