I first came across this beautiful street while a tube strike was in progress – disruption to my usual route to work meant that I had travelled on a National Rail service into Waterloo, and had then covered the rest of my journey to work on foot. Turning off the busy Waterloo Road into a maze of residential streets, following the people heading in the direction of the City, I found myself on Roupell Street and felt as though I had stepped back in time.
Described by Time Out as “an impossibly handsome street of nineteenth-century workers’ cottages”, Roupell Street was first developed in the 1820s. The land was owned by John Roupell, whose family lived in nearby Cross Street (now called Meymott Street). The Roupells were a wealthy family, whose money had been made in lead smelting and scrap metal. Clearly John Roupell saw an opportunity to add to his income by building properties on his land and renting them out to local people.
Before the development of Roupell Street, this area had been known as Lambeth Marsh. Sparsely populated, it was characterised by marshy areas and sandbanks, although the building of Blackfriars Bridge in 1769 kickstarted the building of houses and businesses from the late 18th Century onwards. Waterloo Bridge opened in 1817 and further facilitated the development of the area south of the river.
The survival of such a street surprised me, as this area of London was devastated first by the expansion of the railways, and later in the Blitz. The large-scale development of the railway terminus at Waterloo after it first opened in 1848 swept away entire streets, particularly when the huge station we see today was built at the beginning of the 20th Century. Lambeth Council describes Roupell Street as a “historic enclave in a district which has otherwise experienced large scale redevelopment.” Further north of Roupell Street is the post war South Bank development, and immediately to the south the railway rumbles past.
The houses built on Roupell Street were not high status dwellings of the sort that have been more likely to survive in London from this period. The area south of the Thames was one of growing industry, and the people working there needed somewhere to live. The houses of Roupell Street were homes for artisans and skilled workers – joiners, metal workers, stonemasons, blacksmiths and a host of other trades. The modest two-story terraced houses have no front gardens, which shows their low status at the time when they were built. The houses of Roupell Street were later joined by more new streets, also owned and developed by the Roupell family. Collectively, these streets are known as the Lambeth Estate.
The other streets were named after members of the Roupell family – John Street, Catherine Street and Richard Street. However, as London grew and became more and more built up, it was found that a lot of streets were named after landowners and their families, and to avoid confusion the streets around Roupell Street were renamed in the late 19th Century. Catherine Street became Whittlesey Street East, Richard Street became Whittlesey Street West and John Street became Theed Street. The houses on Whittlesey Street and Theed Street include some larger, double-fronted terraces, such as the house pictured below.
In the 1970s, the houses in Roupell Street and the surrounding area passed into private ownership, and the Lambeth Estate was designated a Conservation Area in 1976. Conservation Areas are legally defined as “areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character and appearance of which it is desirable to preserve and enhance.” Today, a large number of the buildings are listed, and along with the Lambeth Estate’s Conservation Area status this prevents the houses from being demolished or unsympathetically altered.
Lonely Planet’s guide to London describes Roupell Street as being “so uniform it looks like a film set” and unsurprisingly, the picturesque and historic Lambeth Estate has been used as a backdrop to a number of films and television programmes. Theed Street and Windmill Walk were used as locations in the 1988 Doctor Who serial Remembrance of the Daleks and in July 2014 scenes from an upcoming film about the Kray twins were filmed on Roupell Street.
Today, as central London’s property market booms, the beautiful old houses of Roupell Street, Theed Street and Whittlesey Street are sought after and sell for very high prices. Fortunately, the streets’ Conservation Area status and the fact that so many of the houses are listed ought to ensure that these precious parts of London’s history are not lost to further development and continue to enthrall those who, like me, happen upon them completely by accident and feel as though they have stepped back into Victorian London.
References and further reading
Local history of the Lambeth Estate area, Lambeth Estate Residents’ Association http://www.lera.org.uk/local-history.html
King’s Arms, 25 Roupell St SE1, Time Out http://www.timeout.com/london/bars-pubs/kings-arms
Roupell Street Conservation Area Statement, Lambeth Council, 2007 (PDF) http://lambeth.gov.uk/sites/default/files/pl-roupell-street-statement-2007.pdf
Scene set for Kray twins move in Waterloo’s Roupell Street, London SE1 Community Website, 6th July 2014 http://www.london-se1.co.uk/news/view/7696
Windmill Walk, Doctor Who Locations http://www.doctorwholocations.net/locations/windmillwalk