SW9 in the 1950's & 60's

The following websites have excellent information and photos for this part of London.





Many parts of SW9 that I knew as a child have not changed a great deal apart from some buildings being smartened up and the bomb-sites being built upon.

I’ll start with Hackford Road as this is where I lived as a child. The biggest change here must be the flats along both sides which at that time were mostly rented, our landlord being Pannett & Neaden.  These have been modernised and upgraded somewhat since those days, I remember our flat still having a 19th century style gas geyser in the bathroom. Outside the first few flats on our side had brick walls at the front while the next dozen or so had what looked like steel water pipe fixed together (made great climbing frames for the kids). The remainder were left open although these all had railings which were possibly removed during the war.   At the top of the road (the Brixton end) were some small businesses, one of which was Drings Sausages. At the corner with Hillyard Street was a typical corner shop offering most grocery needs, it was one of those old fashioned shops where one could take an empty bottle to be filled with vinegar. Also the lady running it would, if one wanted a small loaf and she had sold out, cut a loaf in half and sell that. On the opposite corner was one of several bombsites in the area which served as dumps and playgrounds and on November 5th would see a bonfire built lit and neighbours gathering to let off their fireworks. At the far end the Reay school looks a lot smarter with the strip in front planted up. Next to school was a slightly neglected looking house while next to this was the entrance to a yard where waste paper was baled and loaded onto articulated lorries.

A pair of semi detached houses in Hackford Road circa 1959. The basement on the left hand side was disused for many years. Railings have since been installed at the front of both houses restoring the original appearance, the original railings having been removed during the war.


The street lighting was by gas until the mid 50’s and can remember watching the mantle being replaced in the one nearest our flat. Only the tops were changed when converted to electric.  The lampposts themselves were cast iron with round bases painted blue with tapering fluted columns and a c-shaped top painted yellow some of which can still be found in the area.

Left: part of a snap-shot from 1954 showing a typical gas street lamp in Hillyard Street.
Behind the wall is one of the local bombsites.

South Island Place has seen more changes with many of the buildings having made way for new. Opposite Hackford Road was a library which opened around 1960 having been built on another bombsite.  Around the corner towards Clapham Road were a row of shops and some stables behind, while the other way a terrace of cottages have been replaced by modern buildings.

Caldwell Street, I can’t remember what was between Hackford Road and Clapham Road apart from a sweet shop that backed onto the Reay school.

Southey Road, again here older houses have been replaced. I remember there being a derelict house between Cranworth Gardens and Hackford Road. Although it was boarded up my friend and I found a way in only to come face to face with our mothers on the way out.

Hillyard Street, quite some changes here. Next to the corner shop were a row of houses which finished opposite Cranworth Gardens. There were then some prefabs then a newspaper/confectionary/tobacconist next to what is now Penbury Close. On the opposite side the bombsite has now been built on while at the Brixton Road end was a bare plot where there had once been prefabs. This was taken over by gipsies for a short time.

Clapham Road, gone is a family run garage. In the 60’s paraffin was a popular fuel for heating and this garage had a good trade in paraffin sales, one could drop off an empty jerry can and it would be delivered full by the owners wife on and motorcycle with a box sidecar. Further along is a large building, this was Freemans mail order headquarters for many years and was a large employer of  local people in their packing department, now a mix of residential and business units.

Normandy Road/Melbourne Square. There was a Post Office and barber shop on the Brixton Road/Normandy Road corner until the late 50’s, the barber relocating further along to a shop near Kennington Park. At the other end The Cowley Arms (see below) having had a name change is now flats. Next to this was a small garage doing general car repairs, this has gone and replaced by a house. Opposite the end of Normandy Road was a short cul-del-sac with another small garage, this one with an MOT sign on the wall. Next to this was a small park which at that time was fenced and gated. Around the corner was Melbourne Square which ran almost parallel to Normandy Road. At this end was the rear of the 2 houses next to the Cowley and the gates to the back yard of the pub. Further along were some small businesses in open yards. On the opposite side were a row of houses then, opposite the rear gates to the pub, were the footings and front path of a house which had possibly been bombed in the war and was rather overgrown at this time. For some reason this was fenced off rather than open like most. Further along towards the main road was the Flay plant hire yard.      

Part of an early 1960s A to Z map.
Note the library in South Island Place and Isabel Street between Liberty Street and Hackford Road now renamed Van Gogh Walk.


A later A to Z dated around 1970.
Much development and road alterations have taken place to the area to the East of Brixton including the shortening of Melbourne Square.



 Few remain as pubs. More information can be found here:


The Russell Hotel , or Brady’s, on the corner of Brixton Road and Road is now a Tesco local store.



 The Cowley Arms, Normandy Road, was renamed The Normandy. When it was renamed is not certain, but not at the end of the war as suggested elsewhere, it was The Cowley well into the 1960’s. During the 1950’s and 60’s it was a Trumans house and was run by Mr & Mrs Walton. It consisted of a saloon bar on the left and a public bar on the right with accommodation to the rear and on two floors above. At the front was a large lounge which as I remember was the full width of the building, great for children’s parties. At the rear was a large yard with a high wall around and solid gates opening onto Melbourne Square. The building has been renovated and turned into flats.

Left: the Cowley Arms around 1966.



The Lord Palmerston, corner of Hartington Road and Camellia Street. One of the few buildings to survive the extensive demolition and rebuilding in the area during the 1950’s, was I believe, a bistro before being converted to residential use.

Claim to fame: Russ Conway visited the pub in 1962 to push over a pile of pennies for charity. Left: Russ Conway's autograph from that night.

The White Horse, Brixton Road. One of the few pubs remaining although under a couple of name changes, Bar Lorca and now Jamm.  Set back from the road it had a cobbled forecourt and a horse trough close to the road.


Brixton and the market.
   Unfortunately I do not have any photos of Brixton from this time apart from the one on the right, but some memories. A popular shopping area for many years with a wide range of goods available and at that time what was thought of as unusual and exotic foodstuffs stocked to cater for the growing Caribbean community. Fruits and vegetables now common included yams, mangos, sweet potatoes and plantains. Saturdays saw a regular trip for the weekly shop calling into a number of favourite retailers. There was no set order as I remember so will start from in Brixton Station Road from Brixton Road. About the fourth arch up was a fishmongers which also fronted Atlantic Road which I knew as Carlo's. Like many of the shops and stalls this was probably the name of the fishmonger rather than the shop. The Atlantic Road side had a tank of live eels. A little further on was a Victor Value self service store (the Victor Value chain was later bought out by Tesco). Just up from here was a green grocery stall, a very popular family business never without a queue. Ken was the chap here along with his wife and at busy times his mother and father and occasionally his teenage son. Next to this was a key cutting kiosk and then a sweet stall which in summer attracted many wasps. It was then around the corner to the Granville Arcade (now Brixton Village). There were a number of shops I remember here, Dick the butcher on the corner of 3rd Avenue. In 2nd Avenue a pet shop which had a parrot on a stand outside, not sure how friendly it was but the way it had chewed the metal food and water bowls at each end suggested it was best to keep ones hands away. On the corner of 2nd Avenue and I think 5th Avenue was Ted's toy shop (think this was the name of the shop not the owner) with a wide range including Dinkie, Corgi and Matchbox cars along with Triang products and many other brands. Towards the Atlantic Road entrance was an excellent fruit stall and a soft ice cream stand. From here it was to Electric Avenue and David Grieg for bacon and cheese. There was a toy and model shop we would sometimes visit in Colharbour Lane, not for toys but to drop a penny into a slot in the window to operate a model railway in the front window. Woolworths store was between Electric Lane and Brixton Road where we would stop for a sandwich and milk shake before heading home. Alternatively we would get some chips from a busy fish and chip shop which was in Beehive Place.


Taken by a street photographer somewhere around Electric Avenue. Not unusual in 1955 but would fall foul of many health and safety laws not to mention animal welfare laws nowadays. 

  During the 1950’s car ownership was of course much lower than today and so there were only about six cars along Hackford Road. Of those I remember  a VW Beetle, a Hillman Minx, a Ford Consul Classic, a Standard Vanguard and a 1948 MG TC. The MG had a very distinctive registration number (EG8888) and is still on the road today, I remember it as being red but is now black. A neighbour who was a London cabbie would occasionally park his cab outside and created some interest when he came home with one of the “new” FX4 cabs.  There was also an American convertible (possibly a Ford Galaxy) which belonged to a man friend of a neighbour which would turn up at times. Other American cars locally were a Studebaker parked in Morrat Street and a ’59 Chevrolet Impala often parked off the Brixton Road.  Although strange to look at these days the three wheeled Scammell Scarab lorries in British Railways livery were a common sight and not given a second glance in those days. It was also about this time that the controversial Renault Dauphine “mini-cabs” appeared, covered in advertisements.

 At that time other means of transport were in common use. Rag and bone men would be a regular sight with their horse drawn carts and bell-like calls of “rag-bone” and “lumber”. A coal merchant too would come round seated on a similar cart, calling out “coal-man”. From this time I remember a man riding a delivery bike loaded with toffee apples, sounding a bulb horn to attract attention to his wares. Also on a bike were knife and scissor grinders whose bikes could be put on a stand and belts added which drove a grinding wheel by peddling. Hand carts to were a common sight with window cleaners using them with their ladders on top and a bucket or two hanging from one end. The landlord of the flats would at times need to send their handyman or builder round to carry out repairs, he too would turn up with his tools and materials loaded onto a hand cart. Only when it was a larger two man job would they use, as I can remember, a Volkswagen pick-up. There was a chimney sweep that came round although he had a van it was a strange three wheeled vehicle with a motorcycle type front wheel and a canvas apron below the windscreen. It was not only the rag and bone men who would collect recyclable materials, the dustmen had a high sided trailer behind their dustcart into which they would throw any recyclable  material after tipping the dustbins into an old tin bath and sorting.


One of the dentists with a surgery in the area was Mr Bragg in Stockwell. 
Left, a Christmas card sent to his patients in 1958, the kit-bag possibly a reference to his time as a dentist in the army.