London, a city of variety
Only 6 miles (9km) from where I live is Brixton. I had heard a lot about this part of town already and according to many, it is one of THE places to be right now. ‘Vibrant’ is how many people describe it. ‘Dangerous’ is another word used by some. But from my personal experience, I believe that word ‘vibrant’ is much more applicable here than the word ‘dangerous.’ Things are changing for the better in South London.
Brixton and history
It is hard to imagine that 200 years ago, most of Brixton used to be rural. Nowadays, houses and flats have taken over the cityscape and there are ample of viewpoints from which it is possible to gasp at the extensive London skyline. Halfway the 1800’s, more and more workers would choose the village of Brixton as their hometown, it being only 6.5km (4 miles) away from Charing Cross in the heart of London. The town grew quickly, especially after the opening of the railway station in 1862.
The air of a successful middle-class town of yesteryear can still be felt when walking towards Windrush Square where late 1800 and early 1900 buildings grace the square. Tate Library for example dates back to 1892, and Ritzy Cinema, the second-oldest picture house in London, is located here as well.
After World War II many Afro-Caribbean immigrants came over to London and were housed in this area, near the closest job center. The United Kingdom suffered from labour shortage, hence they encouraged immigrants to move to London. Around this time, many white-middle-class families moved away from Brixton, and today, nearly one-quarter of Brixton’s population is from Afro-Caribbean descent.
When you exit the tube station, it is only a few minute walk to Brixton Market. And honestly, Brixton Market is one of the most colourful markets I have ever seen. You can buy all kinds of fresh produce here six days a week, and find vintage, retro and crafts here on Saturdays. While walking around at this market, I felt how much of close-knit community this town is. Most people seem to know each other and have a chat on their daily grocery shopping trip.
Closely after the street market and across the street, the market moves into an arcade called Brixton Village. While the outdoor market seems to be more popular among locals, Village sees more of a mingle of locals and Londoners from other places. Stalls with fresh fruit, vegs, meat and fish are being alternated by hip coffee shops and vintage boutiques. The bright walls and ceilings and the flags of different countries that decorate the market make for it to be quite colourful.
Clubbing in Brixton
It is only a few minutes walk from the markets to Windrush Square, which always appears to be a great square for photography. Just after this square you will also find Electric Brixton, which used to be called The Fridge until some years ago. The Fridge used to be one of London’s most famous nightclubs and hosted many artists such as The Pet Shop Boys, Boy George and the bands The Clash and The Smiths. Nowadays it is still a nightclub and features a diverse offer of live music.
Walking up to Brixton Hill and turning right onto Blenheim Gardens, you may wonder why you have to go into an urban street. The reason for it is that there are a few things to spot here which cannot be missed. First of all of course the famous Windmill Bar, which is well-known for its great gigs. Next door is an old post office dating from 1890’s which still fulfills its original purpose. It is not far now to another one of the town’s highlights: Brixton Windmill.
Originally known as Ashby’s Mill, this windmill dates back to 1816. It closed for operations in 1934. Brixton Windmill can still be visited during guided tours between April and October and reminds us of the rural past of this area.
It would be a shame to miss out on a visit of Brockwell Park while you’re in the area. This park located near Herne Hill Station offers some splendid views of London from the top of the hill. Here, it is hard to imagine that you are still in London when you see the park’s green fields, ponds, and community greenhouses and gardens. It even has its own outdoor swimming pool that dates from 1937, and a Grade II listed house called Brockwell Hall. Don’t miss Big Ben’s little brother, affectionately called ‘Little Ben’ when you make your way up to Brockwell Hall.
Brixton’s music history
From Herne Hill Station it is only about 20min walk back to Brixton tube station. Once back at the station, do spend a few minutes to walk around, as the concert venue Brixton Academy, which has hosted concerts of the biggest names in the music industry, is situated nearby.
Cross the street in front of the station before you make your way back home, as there is one other aspect of this area that has now turned into a must-visit. On Morley’s Department Store you will find a piece of art that got an extra dimension to its meaning only a few months ago. The mural showing the cover of David Bowie’s Alladin Sane album is situated here. This mural is the location that has now turned into a memorial place after David Bowie’s death. The artist was born just a few streets from Brixton Academy nearby the tube station and of course Brixton is still proud of that fact.
All in all, this walk is about 6km and will take about two hours. However, it is worth hanging around a bit longer in the markets. Please see the map below for details on locations that were mentioned in this post