In many ways Vauxhall is a “psycho geographer’s dream come true”, according to poet, playwright and resident local expert Gabriel Gbadamosi. When the Irish-Nigerian writer was growing up in the area in the ‘60s it was a cultural melting pot, a working class community of immigrants. Today it’s the home of MI6, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, and the centre of London’s biggest regeneration scheme, with proposed skyscrapers creating homes, offices and new headquarters for the American and Dutch embassies. “On top of that there’s the gay village and then London’s biggest Portugese community is anchored there; Vauxhall is so rich in diversity,” Gabriel exclaims.
Looking back, the Lambeth local recalls a “wonderful” childhood where he wandered the bomb ravaged streets far and wide with other young children. “You could hear a car if it was two streets away. That didn’t mean that car wouldn’t knock you down, but it still just felt very free,” he reminisces.
It was also a very poor upbringing growing up with five siblings all living in a one-level flat in a divided Victorian terrace house built on the site of the old Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. “It was exactly like those old black and white films where you had the working class family crammed into one bedroom,” he muses.
An integral element of Vauxhall’s history lies in its old working class community, stemming from the immigrants who moved into the war-torn houses after the area was pounded by bombs during WWII, due to its close proximity to the river and key infrastructure that was being targeted. “My sister always called Vauxhall the poor man’s Brixton,” Gabriel laughs. “Vauxhall was a complete social leveller; you had Caribbean, African, European migrants all mixing. It was fantastic; I can’t imagine greater diversity than the one I grew up in and you can’t take that for granted.”
These memories and many others were the inspiration for Gabriel’s first novel Vauxhall, an amalgamation of experiences, from his own perspectives and the memories of family and friends who lived in the area at the time. “The book has been brewing for about five years and came from having my own children and looking at their childhood and seeing connections, and also the return of our economy falling apart and the social gracelessness when that happens,” he explains.
Now residing on the border of Brixton and Camberwell, the writer is a true Lambeth local; his two children attend a nearby school on Brixton Road. “I went to school in Vauxhall that was part of the same cluster as my children’s schools in north Lambeth. It’s very nice seeing that continuity in a multicultural, multi-ethnic diverse school population. It’s really a wonderful privilege,” he says.
Following on from the publication of his novel, Gabriel is now working with a number of European and local arts organisations to create an online walking tour of Vauxhall with the website Multiplicities.
Gabriel Gbadamosi’s Vauxhall, published by Telegram Books; RRP £12.99 is on sale now. (www.gabrielgbadamosi.com/)