As part of this month’s Walworth History Festival, a team of local history enthusiasts from the borough conducted their own research into the history behind their families’ front doors…
Reg O’Donoghue says during the course of his research it dawned on him how remarkable it is that he has ‘survived’ in this corner of Walworth for 86 years and counting.
“Born in South Street, now renamed Dawes Street, adjacent to Wooler Street in 1933, my early memories were of living with my parents in Portland Street until my marriage to Maureen in 1958,” he says.
The couple went on to spend the next 20 years moving no more than 400 yards, including flats in Liverpool Grove, Saltwood Grove and then, finally, 21 Wooler Street, one of the ‘cottages’ in the Octavia Hill Estate.
“Under the original landlords, the Church Commissioners, properties were only rented out to the children of existing tenants; an early example of the ‘closed shop’.
“This was a clever stance taken by the landlord, ensuring any rent arrears that was run up by the children would be ‘discussed’ with their parents,” he says.
The land came into church ownership hundreds of years ago, when it was still rural and outside London
“In about 1750, I believe, areas such as Walworth become suburbs as people from the city started to live south of the river.
“Then, in the late 18th century, trains allowed city workers to live further out and poorer people moved to the area. Octavia Hill was an 18th century social reformer who led the way in providing social housing for the poor.
“Imagine our shock and horror then of having this tranquillity shattered by the news that 1,100 properties were about to be sold off by the Church Commissioners in Walworth, Vauxhall and Waterloo.
“The residents feared their rents would be hiked up once the estates were taken over by a consortium, pricing them out of their homes,” he remembers.
By this time, Reg and Maureen had celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary (1983), 40th (1998), 50th (2008) and even their own Diamond jubilee in 2018 after 60 years together.
“The thought I might have to leave 21 Wooler Street appalled me,” he says.
Amid these concerns, tenant associations started a campaign to oppose the sell-off, with support from MP Harriet Harman – all to no avail.
The properties were sold on and, within weeks he says, the rent went up by twelve per cent.