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Waterloo Histories

The South Bank and Waterloo area bulges with fascinating histories, of people, buildings, transport, institutions, events, murders and more. The Waterloo Local History Society explores this history and organises public events. Scroll down this page for links to a wealth of fascinating stories, which we hope to build over time.


Is your name in the domesday book?

Lambeth was listed as a settlement in the Domesday Book; in the hundred of Brixton and the County of Surrey.  The recorded population in 1789 in 1086, putting it in the largest 20%, listed under two owners.

The book was compiled at the orders of William the Conqueror to catalogue the ownership and value of land in the newly conquered territories of England. It was completed in 1086.

In the 11th century many people did not have what we would consider a surname and were not necessarily passed on to children.  The book does record many people with surnames; many creative - such as Humphrey Goldenbollocks.

This link contains a list of all the surnames mentioned in the Domesday Book which can still be found in the UK. If yours is one of them, you have one of the earliest recorded surnames

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The romans in Waterloo

The earliest evidence of habitation in the area was discovered when County Hall  was being constructed on the south bank of the Thames in 1910. The wreck of an ancient ship was found by workers, buried in the silt. It was made of oak and had been built by the Romans who settled in these islands in 55 BC. Click here for more. 

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The first circus in the world

The South Bank has always been a place of entertainment, from Elizabethan times onwards.  On Easter Monday 1768 former cavalry officer Philip Astley and his wife Patty created a new forum for public pleasure - the circus - by bringing together a cornucopia of entertainments - trick horse-riding, acrobats, clowns and more - in one place for an afternoon's entertainment. Their first site was Halfpenny Hatch, where Roupell Street now sits, and that story is told here.  So successful were they, however, that within a year they had earned enough to build Astley's Amphitheatre, in Westminster Bridge Road.  Read more here.

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Who was Gabriel?

The name Gabriel has been a presence on the South Bank for over 200 years. Christopher Gabriel was a maker of woodworking planes from the 1770s, but from around 1812 his sons changed the business to importing and selling timber and in 1815 took a long lease on the site now called Gabriel's Wharf. The business was extremely successful, and Christopher Gabriel's grandson, Thomas, rose to become Lord Mayor of London in the 1860s, and was made Sir Thomas Gabriel. Although the company closed the wharf in 1919 the name continued and the craft shops and restaurants that now occupy it can take inspiration from how a small timber yard grew and left a permanent name on the South Bank. As for the Gabriel family, its name continued with singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel, who is Sir Thomas's great-great-great nephew!

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Who lived at Boddy's Bridge

Some residents living on this part of Upper Ground are keenly aware of the way they exist on a border of all sorts that has moved over the centuries and can be sensed in the meeting and parting of streets. Speaking of the part of Upper Ground, the old Narrow Wall on the Lambeth/Southwark border that met with Boddy’s Bridge - on the south side of Upper Ground.

In a list of newly built tenements, circa 1634, mention is made of brick and timber buildings built by Richard Boddy in 1631 on a new foundation on the land of Thomas Browker i.e. on part of the demesne land on the manor of Paris Garden. It is presumed Boddy's bridged over the sewer in front of the house for in the Token Books from 1630 - 1642 there are entries referring to him as living by Bodyes Bridge in Upper Ground.

In 1947 at the time of an extensive London County Council survey Boddy's Bridge, is closely hemmed in by high buildings, a number of which date back to the early years of the 18th century. To the east of it is an oblong paved court approached only by steps from Boddy's Bridge. A court with houses on either side and a bridge over the sewer to Upper Ground is marked on Morden and Lea's map of 1682 on the site of Boddy's Bridge, but is not named. It is shown and named on Rocque's map.
The court must originally have been similar in appearance to Queen's Arms
Court, which formerly opened out of Upper Ground to the west of Boddy's
Click for more information 

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Some of the best known historic streets in Waterloo are in the Roupell Street Conservation Area, built in the 1820s and 1830s by John Roupell.  But the name Roupell descended into scandal in the 1850s, with a story of forgery, embezzlement, parliamentary disgrace and deportation to Australia for his grandson William. Read more here.

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The London Necropolis Railway

By the mid 19th century the population of London was growing so fast that there was a severe shortage of cemetery space for the dead. This led to the creation in 1854 of Brookwood Cemetery near Woking and of the London Necropolis Railway from Waterloo to take funeral mourners and the deceased there (and bring the mourners back). The surviving building dates from 1902, to replace one gobbled up by Waterloo Station’s expansion. and has a grand arch entrance for 'first class' funerals (there was a separate entrance round the back for less affluent deceased). The Necropolis Railway stopped operating in 1941, after serious bomb damage. If you are interested in the history of both the building and the Railway, click here to learn more. 


Waterloo Libraries

Here, from 1903, is a wonderful image of Waterloo's Public Library, in what is now the Waterloo Action Centre building. The bookshelves, desks and newspaper stands may have disappeared, but the columns and arched windows are unmistakeable for anyone who has attended a meeting or dance class there - hushed silence replaced by raised voices or Rock & Roll!The first local library was housed in Hawkstone Hall, Waterloo Rd., built as a memorial for Rowland Hill, the first pastor of Surrey Chapel in Blackfriars Road, and an early and important advocate of vaccination. A significant benefactor was John Noble, who was passionate about temperance, education and free public libraries, and he funded the new library on Baylis Rd. opened in 1893 by Princess Christian, Queen Victoria's daughter. The library remained there until 1967 when it was moved to a 'temporary' site in Lower Marsh. In  2016 it moved into the Oasis Centre on Kennington Rd.  Over the last 140 years the Waterloo Library has had four homes, but for grandeur it's hard to beat the interior shown here!

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What happened to the first Waterloo Bridge?

Many people know that the previous London Bridge now sits over a man-made lake in Arizona, USA. Click here to find our what happened to the first Waterloo Bridge.

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Waterloo Bridge (the second)

It takes a knowing eye to see a similarity between Waterloo Bridge and the iconic British red telephone box. And yet the elegant curves of the bridge bear a strong likeness to the curved roof of Giles Gilbert Scott's telephone box, because he was responsible for the design of both. To read more about the bridge click here. To see a film on why it is also often called 'The Ladies Bridge', click here.

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