Should I move house?

View of the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge and Tate Britain.
View of the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge and Tate Britain.

I was in London this week, and on Monday had a day all to myself.  After a morning at the wonderful Paul Nash exhibition at the Tate Gallery, I mooched around the area where I grew up.

Here, just at the back of Tate Britain, is the Millbank Estate.  There was a penitentiary here till 1890, and when it was cleared away, 17 blocks of flats were built as social housing between 1897 and 1902, housing 562 families. They must have seemed palaces to the former slum-dwellers who moved here.  Each flat had its own kitchen and scullery, its own toilet.  The streets were tree-lined, and there was a communal garden besides.  Even now these barracks-like buildings have an air of quality, of being built to last. Sadly, many of these flats are now in the hands of private landlords, who charge their tenants up to four times more than those who are still in the social housing system have to pay.

Millbank Estate.
Millbank Estate.

About five minutes walk away are the flats where I lived between about the ages of seven and fifteen, St. Augustine’s Mansions.  Those of us who lived there were ordinary types. There was the little old Irish lady in the flat below; the man who worked at Manbre and Garton, the sugar refiners, who once a year would take us and his wife to the wharf-side where he worked to watch the Oxford and Cambridge boat race.

St. Augustine’s Mansions.

There was the Liberal Party activist, who was disappointed when my mother wouldn’t let me take the afternoon off school one day in 1958.  Our activist friend hoped I would lay a wreath at the recently relocated monument to Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst.  My mother, an early beneficiary of education for girls, didn’t approve of suffragettes.  But later, we’d often go to our friend’s flat on Saturday evenings to watch That Was The Week That Was. I was by then the only child in my class not to have a TV at home.

Entrance to St. Augustine’s Mansions. No handsome trees there then.

Briefly, before he made the comparative Big Time, a singer lived on the ground floor.  Was it Billy Fury?  I can’t remember.

These ordinary flats are now a gated community.  Look on Zoopla, and you’ll find that the larger ones change hands at £1,500,000.

I wandered on to Tachbrook Street.  Now, as then, there is a market. Then it sold everything you’d need in  a weekly shop.  Now it’s street food from every continent, sold to the large local working community at lunch time.  I can recommend the sumac chicken from Lebanon.

Local shops sell fine cheeses, fine antiques, and the charity shops have goods with £200 price tags.

And here is a residential street.  There won’t be any local working folk living in these handsome terraces any more.  Zoopla again.  £1,750,000.

A typical local street near Tachbrook Street.

It’s rather lucky that I neither want nor need to move back into the area.

22 thoughts on “Should I move house?”

  1. As I was reading I was wondering what they would cost now. I wasn’t sure if they were Council flats when you lived there but if they were what you describe exemplifies to me all that is wrong with right to buy. it’s not that I mind people making money but I dislike enormously what is happening to neighbourhoods as a result.

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    1. Exactly. Yes, they were council flats then, and many of my schoolfellows lived there: girls whose parents worked in the local shops and on the buses and so on. Our grammar shool was socially very comprehensive in a way that can no longer be possible, I think, as social housing inexorably disappears.

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  2. I lived south of the river for 10 years plus, those prices!!!! I’m fascinated as to who can actually afford to live there these days. Love your photo of the grey Thames, very moody yet dynamic with all the cranes on the skyline.

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    1. My son and his wife, who bought a small terraced house in South London whilst it was still – just – possible, have realised they could buy a mansion by selling up and moving northwards.

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      1. Yup, we see that here in Norfolk too. Still can’t quite get my head round this housing business – all a bit crazy! Lucky son and wife, I really loved living in South London. It does have a different feel to north of the river don’t you think?

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  3. It truly is crazy here. We were the same as your son, bought at the right time, got lucky I guess – no way could we afford to move here now, and we’re not in a particular sought-after area and we’re a day’s hike from public transport! It’s not sustainable. Have you read The House by The Thames by Gillian Tindall? A few years old now but it tells the story of one of the surviving houses on Bankside, 450 years old. Fascinating stuff.

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  4. I am looking forward to the Paul Nash exhibition when it comes to the Sainsbury Centre.
    I was disgusted with Right to Buy at it’s inception and I blame it on all of the housing problems we have now. I was a housing officer working for Lewisham Council for quite a few years and could see where it would lead us. All the best houses bought up and the unsellable properties ending up as sink estates. Ugh!

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  5. I used to work near that area – on Buckingham Palace Road where it crossed Ebury Bridge. Beautiful houses. I think a friend of a friend also had a flat in one of those terraces – his very rich parents owned it and he used it as a base for dealing drugs to other rich kids… you never know what’s going on behind those closed doors!

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  6. Hmmm–we had a That Was the Week That Was, too, just for a year or so–A knock-off of yours, I think. Big cities seem to be the same all over–areas being “re-gentrified” and only affordable by the very wealthy. I always have sticker shock when I see what apartments in New York are going for!

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  7. Enjoyed your tour through your old neighbourhood. Cities the world over have lost so much in not having the mix of communities they used to – their growing exclusivity as places for only richer families is troubling on many levels.

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