Above: There are no elegant terraces of houses in Lambeth High Street. These 19th-century houses stand beside Lambeth Road, which is a short walk away. They are typical of the district.
The title ‘Lambeth (Village)’ has been used to avoid confusion with the two other names of London Borough of Lambeth or the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth. The original centre of the village was where Lambeth High Street is today. Remember that, until the 1800s, there was no Albert Embankment and ramshackle buildings lined the riverfront. At the northern end of the High Street was the parish church of St Mary which served a large parish which extended south as far as a small part of what is now known as Crystal Palace Parade.
From early times Lambeth had a large residence standing beside its parish church. It was the manor house of Lambeth. At a later date, the manor house was acquired by the Archbishops of Canterbury for use as their London home – which it is still being used for to this day. For most of its life, it was simply called Lambeth House. It is now known as Lambeth Palace – not because it was ever lived in by royalty but because it is traditional to call the residence of a bishop a palace. The village of Lambeth was quite an ordinary village which developed near the Thames. The only feature that was not ordinary was that the Archbishops of Canterbury had their London residence within the village.
Until Westminster Bridge and Lambeth Bridge were constructed, the only dry crossing was London Bridge. To make reaching Westminster from Lambeth easier, a horse ferry was inaugurated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with all tolls being collected on his behalf. That horse ferry is remembered by Horseferry Road, on the Westminster side of the Thames.
Lambeth became well-known for boat building, especially for the construction of Ceremonial Barges, owned by the Livery Companies in the City of London. Even more ornate were the State Barges, used by the royalty on important occasions which were repaired in Lambeth and often stored in large boat-houses. The small slipways and boat-yards that were a feature of the Lambeth riverside were all swept away when the Albert Embankment was constructed – extending north from Vauxhall Bridge and ending beside Westminster Bridge. The embankment has given Londoners a walkway which is now quite a tourist attraction due to its magnificent views.
In the 19th century, the old St Thomas’s Hospital that was founded in St Thomas Street, in Southwark, decided to move to Lambeth and had a large hospital built on a site beside the Thames, overlooking the Houses of Parliament. Some of those hospital blocks still remain but the block nearest to Westminster Bridge was demolished in the 1970s and a new modern block was erected, externally clad in white bricks.
Many manufacturing companies started in and around the village of Lambeth which is why Lambeth High Street hardly looks like a traditional high street at all. The high street has no shops and there are no houses either and only one pub. One particular company in the high street was Doulton – famous for its manufacture of almost anything related to pottery, including fine bone china, pottery bottles and lavatory pans. The company was founded in Lambeth and remained on its site near the Thames – to the south of Lambeth Bridge – until the 1970s. Doulton now operates from its site at Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, in the centre of the English pottery area.
While the old village of Lambeth can be considered to be situated around Lambeth High Street, the district of Lambeth today extends west from the boundary of the London Borough of Lambeth with its Southwark neighbour to an ill-defined boundary a short distance north of Vauxhall Bridge. From that point south, the district is known as Vauxhall. The history of the land around Lambeth village is almost limitless. It is one of the most historic parts of Inner London.