Above: Modern map showing the original site of Falkes Hall.
It would seem that Vauxhall Cross – the place where Vauxhall Station, Vauxhall Bus Station and all the traffic trying to pass through the large intersection that grinds to a standstill for most of the day – is not a user-friendly as many other places in London. That is a shame because Vauxhall has a very unusual history.
If we go back to Saxon times, the land on which Vauxhall sits was just open marsh-land beside one of the many turns in the River Thames. As the Norman times arrived, it remained in the same state with a church established not far away – the now defunct parish church of St Mary, Lambeth. Around the church a village grew up but Vauxhall continued as open land.
It is generally believed that the land we now call Vauxhall was part of the extensive Manor of South Lambeth. It included whet we now know as Vauxhall, Stockwell, parts of Streatham and Mitcham as well. Many well-known place names started life as a humble farm-house, grew into a hamlet and gradually expanded. This was true of Camberwell, Eltham, Paddington and many other places. Another reason for a village coming into existence was because a religious house was founded in a remote spot and gradually a community grew up around the buildings with those who lived there serving the needs of the monastery. Examples of such villages include Bermondsey, Westminster and Clerkenwell.
Vauxhall does not fit into either of the above categories. It began at the time of King John and Vauxhall has never really been a village at all. There is no ancient parish church, for example.
The history began with a Frenchman called Falkes de Breauté who worked his way up the ‘ladder of success’ to become the Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1211. Later he was to become one of King John’s counsellors. Falkes gained possession of some of the land to the SE of today’s Vauxhall Bridge and built a ‘hall’ — which was part of his residence. It became known as Falkes Hall which included the surrounding land. It was written variously as ‘Fulke’s Hall’, ‘Faukeshall’, ‘Fawkyhall’, ‘Foxhall’ and ‘Faux Well’. The eventual spelling standardised to what we have today — Vauxhall.
Its a very long and complicated story but Falkes fell out of favour with the king. His ‘hall’ however remained for some considerable time. It was still standing until the early years of the 19th century. Its site now lies under the MI 6 Building.
The land at Vauxhall remained open – even by the 19th century – and gradually developed into a place of industry with many factories starting up next to the river and on land nearby. Believe it not, Vauxhall Motor Cars was founded as the ‘Vauxhall Iron Works’ by Alexander Wilson in 1857 on a site near the Thames. After making steam engines for tugboats, the company went into receivership in 1895, Wilson having left a year earlier. It was revived and the current Company – making motor cars – was formed in 1903 when the first Vauxhall car was made. Due to a lack of space for expansion, the company moved to Luton in 1905 but the name from its old London base at Vauxhall has been retained.
For subscription members there is a pdf to be viewed containing much more history of the area covered by Vauxhall.