Lost streets of Brixton: Geneva Road, SW9

Geneva Road off Coldharbour Lane, Brixton

Now lost beneath the Moorlands Estate development of the 1970s, Geneva Road once ran south from Coldharbour Lane, and consisted of an unbroken terrace of solid three-storey Victorian buildings with basements.

The former junction with Coldharbour Lane is now buried under Southwyck House (aka the Barrier Block), and while no trace of the original road remains, the name lives on in the nearby Geneva Drive.

Geneva Road off Coldharbour Lane, Brixton

Built around the 1870s, Geneva Road fell into a slow decline after the war, and by the fifties were housing a large West Indian community.

A contemporary report from March 1955 observed life in the area:

About 3,000 West Indians are living in the Borough of Lambeth, in South London. Most have taken homes in Brixton, packing themselves into Geneva Road and Somerleyton Road, where the houses are large and high and dowdy.

To judge from the number of windows which at night are lit up, with the shadow of a dressing-table mirror thrown onto faded, pinned curtains, a lot of the houses have been divided into flats and bed-sitting rooms. ‘For Sale–8 Lots Without Reserve’ reads a notice outside one dusty looking residence. Is this, one wonders, the work of some rogue landlord

On a wall in one these roads someone has whitewashed the slogan ‘Keep Brixton White’ The whitewash has been partly covered by brown paint and the weather has taken off some of the remainder.

But the cool, menacing words are still just discernible and it is faintly sickening to read them in the lamplight. Yet from the evidence of a number of visits to Brixton, one would say that on the whole the Jamaicans are quite unobjectionable; as sober and as responsible in their behaviour and as modest in their bearing as anyone could wish.

Lost streets of Brixton: Geneva Road, SW9

Here’s an 1870 Ordnance Survey map of the area, showing large parts of Brixton still undeveloped.

Read more about Geneva Road and see more photos and maps here.

145 Comments on “Lost streets of Brixton: Geneva Road, SW9”

  1. There’s some interesting unconscious prejudice in that quote about West Indians ‘packing themselves’ into houses – as if they had the option of nice uncrowded housing but voluntarily chose to live in overcrowded houses.

    It reminds me quite a lot of the anti Asian prejudice that was very prominent when I was growing up in London in the late 1970s / 1980s.

    Great article by the way.

      1. Hi sheila, my surname was lewis. I had two sisters karen and kaye. We lived at no.38. I dont actually remember you, but I remember betty. How are you both keeping? What is betty doing these days?

        1. Oh my goodness. So nice of you to reply to me. Sadly Betty died in May 2000. She was only 46. I have a feeling your sisters names are familiar. We were 62 Geneva. Do you remember the waglans

          1. Hi sheila, im sad to hear of betty passing. I cant believe ive had a reply from you. Your the first person to respond to any of my posts. I do remember the waglands. I remember lots of people from geneva road, but unless they are on site, theres not much chance of fi ding them,sadly. I love talking about my time in geneva road, but my husband is getting bored with it now. I live in essex now and my husband was born in essex, so he doesnt really understand our love for this road or our love for brixton. I still love the place.

  2. Where can we find pictures of the former Lambeth location: Renfrew rd, which is the site of the post 1871 ‘Lambeth New Workhouse’?

    http://www.workhouses.org.uk/index.html?Lambeth/Lambeth.shtml

    The former 18C workhouse of the Lambeth Board of Guardians appears to have existed on Princes (later Black Prince) Road. I lived in Lambeth in a Housing Coop near the underground for 5 years at the turn of the 80’s. However, I didn’t have an active interest in history of any kind at the time.

    Charlie Chaplin spent some time in a Lambeth Workhouse, probably ‘The New …’ according to the Wikipedia after his mother was taken seriously ill. They certainly lived in Lambeth.

    I’d like to see pictures of Princes road and this location if available in the same way as Geneva rd is presented here.

  3. i was born in geneva rd 1949 it was a fantastic rd i was 1 of 8 born there the kelly family no 81 we had a big basement and large garden we grew our own food and had 30 aprox chickens that rd could have been saved from demolition just look at the eyesore they replaced it with it was a crime that john major did to the great brixton that was

  4. amonkelly new member to this site looking at the pic of geneva rd the house i lived in is on the left 3/4 of the way up oppisite us live the waglands a very wealthy family they had there own night club on the second floor at the front 2 windows it was so exciting growing up there it was never a run down erea it was lambeths policy to let it go down just so that they could call in the bulldozers when i returned to brixton to see my old rd i had tears in my eyes when i saw what they had done

  5. dear graeme have you tried urban 75 jon at lambeth archives found 4 pictures of geneva rd for me that had never been seen before there is a pic of the house that chaplin lived in in kennington ? you could try emailing jon he may have what your looking for check out his web site good luck

  6. Hi this a message for amon kelly I was really interested in your own memories of Geneva Road. My great grandfather lived in Geneva Road. He passed away in 1930, some time before you were born and at some stage he had a Picture Gallery there. We have struggled tracing our family tree back further than him as he was Russian and sadly it has come to a halt. Thank you for giving an insight into the area he once lived in.

  7. hi jane thank you for your comment i have loads to tell about geneva rd some of the things are very spooky funny & some sad i am writing a book about the history of brixton for example the lady polish/// architect commited suicide re the barrier block or as it is now known as brixton prison

  8. Hi My my name is Kenny Impey I to lived in Geneva road when I was a kid. I was a no. 39 on a picture that a lady posted on my facebook site I was a bit stunned, I enlarged it and I can see a woman leaning out of the window. I think it is my mum, she died many years ago sadly.
    I remember a few names, karen Lewis with a couple of sister lived opposite us. Next door 3 brothers richard is the only name in my head, Peter Butler whos dad had a nice car and we used to go swimming to the place in Holborn somewhere on Sundays. I was very sad when we had to leave.
    I could just go on and on all day.
    Kenny

    1. Hi there .I lived in Geneva terrace from 1944to 1949. Was born in Devon but we moved to brixton to number 15geneva terrace. My dad grew up in Geneva road number 102 I think.he was born 1916. He left when he married my mum I. 1939.my nan stayed till 1959. She was so sad how it had gone. I went to sussex road school. I went back in 2009 sixty years after I left! Was so surreal . had not changed much. I remember the trams running down the middle of the road.

    2. Kenny impey……I remember you well. I am christine lewis from over the road no. 38. My surname is now jacobs. All these memories people are sharing about geneva road and brixton in general is amazing. We moved away in 1968 and I have been miserable ever since. Loved that place,still do. Things look so strange now. I hardly recognise brixton now. I hope you reply to this message. Be great to se how we have all done in the years since we left.

    3. Hi kenny, I remember you living over the road. What are you doing with youself these days? Do you still live in brixton? We moved away in 1968. I did not want to move, and I still love brixton and especially geneva road. Be nice to hear from you. Regards christine lewis.

  9. hi kenny nice to hear from someone who lived in geneva rd you lived on the same side as us we lived in no 81 the kelly family you would have been nearer coldharbour lane than us we were near the top end close to geneva terrace you dont say what year you left we left in 1969 i was born there in 1949 along with 9 brothers & 2 sisters did you have the whole house to your selfs as we did your garden would have been bigger than ours sa the further up the street you went they got slightly smaller bloody great days as a kid growing up in the late great geneva rd the basements were bigger than some of the flats today that people now call home amon

  10. hi jackie can you say what year and do you know the house no ? and what was the occupation of the bread winner and up untill what year did they live there i might be able to help

  11. I was born on geneva road at no 66 in the basement to pasty and mark horsley. mums name was Lacey. arther and mary , they lived at no 54. Dont no what my granfathers occupation was. I think we all moved at about the same time 1967 ish. The waglands , and the jefferys where all from my mums family. my nan ( mary lacey) had 3sisters that lived on the street. I look forward to what ever you can tell me

  12. hi jackie i have looked through my records all i can find is that someone living at no 54 had a fruit& veg stall in electric avenue in 1950 the waglands lived on the same side as you near the top close to geneva terrace sally the wife was a loverly lady they was the wealthiest folk in geneva rd and were good friends with the crays who would visit now and again you knew when they were there as a big black american car would be outside cheers amon

  13. Hi Eamonn, we used to knock about together sometimes. Peter from No 93 Geneva Road! Went to Sussex Road School then transferredto Effra. I remember your family, we lived next door to the Vaseys’ who had a fruit and veg stall in Brixton Market. I still remember the stink when they used to boil beetroot at home!
    Great times as a kid, mass football and cricket games in the street with hardly any cars to worry about, exploring bombsites in Loughborough Park and Shakespeare Road. Front door permanently open and the old dears hanging out of the windows.
    Knew the Waglands, always loud music being played which we used to dance to in the street haha.

  14. hi peter i cant say that i rember you but it has been many years yes the beetroots cant foreget that and the hours i spent makeing wax flowers for them when did you leave geneva rd ? do you know who demolished it john major ordered its destruction and the ajoining streets and look what replaced it no wonder the architect topped herself we lived at no81 you would have been nearer geneva terrace now i think of it did you live in the basement ?? john at lambeth archives has found some pics of our street search this site for them if you havent allready amon

  15. dear editor i am sure it is i was only reffering to urban 75 ie the guardian brixton barrier block updated july 2010 it makes interesting reading i am pleased that this architect is alive and well

  16. Hi Amon, you seem to be a font of all knowledge relating to Geneva Road. I notice you mentioned you lived in number 81. My grandmother and great grand parents lived at 85 Geneva Road. I know my great grandfather died in 1930 but believe my great grandmother continued to live there until circa 1939 with my grandmother. There surname was Alexandroff and believe there was some scandal relating to them.

  17. hi jane thank you for asking sadly this is long before i was born i have one contact who is 93 and she has no recolection of these folk only that they may have been russian or polish you might like to know that at no 85 in around 1955 a boy lived there called jhony oflarty he bacame famous he was a double for sir cliff richard doing his dangerous stunts he was the spitting image of him so at least your families house has history did you know that tommy steel a singer grew up in the great late geneva rd cheers amon

  18. re/ lost streets of brixton geneva road sw9 a contemporay report it states that the west indians packed them selfs into geneva rd 1950/1970 thiis is incorrect yes somerleyton rd did have mass overcrowding 95% of the street was west indian but geneva rd up untill its destruction was only 25% west indian & 2% nigerian i know because most of the folk had businesses in brixton arcade & brixton market some of the children of these folk carried on with the business long after geneva rd was demolished amon

  19. HI MY NAME IS JOHN EDWARDS IN TORONTO CANADA
    I WAS BORN ON GENEVA ROAD IN MAY OF 1934.
    I THINK IS WAS IN NUMBER 20.
    MY EMAIL ADDRESS IS DONDUCK49@HOTMAIL.COM .
    JUST IN CASE SOME ONE CAME FROM THR SAME TIME.
    LOVED TO EAT AT THE EEL AND PIE SHOP ON COLDHARBOUR LANE.

  20. dear editor so sad that another great pub is going to be lost to the folk of brixton lets pray that they dont pull it down the planners need to put a stop to this destruction of brixton

  21. hi john from Canada I was born long after you lived in Geneva road but I can tell you that an old lady lived at no 20 on her own she was known as the witch and had over 50 cats in that massive house on the second floor a fire broke out and sadly she died but despite the stupid rumours the whole st turned out to see her funeral and donate flowers the council paid for to be buried in blackshaw rd cemertary as is my mum & dad

  22. hi john about the pie & eel shop it was still there up until 1964 do you recall the big silver tray in the window with the eels slithering about and the old guy chopping them up as kids we would watch but runaway I would from then ever eat a bloody eel just a childhood memory

  23. Hi. I lived with my family at number 77 Geneva Road from 1953 when I was born to 1960. My parents were Laura and Alec Symes and my sisters were Kathleen and Shirley. We lived at the top and an Irish family called the Gradens lived in the basement. I went to Sussex Road School and then to Efrra. My sister Shirley had a brain tumour at the age of 10 and became blind. I remember going to the local shop to buy broken biscuits. we were also friends with Sam and Lena who ran a grocers shop. I also remember playing games with all the other children in the street.

  24. HELP! Please!

    I’m trying to trace the people who lived at 31 Somerleyton Road in January of 1950. My Nan who worked/lived there at the time as a Domestic had a child and gave her up for adoption. We are trying to track her down, My Nan’s name was Glenys Mary Howells who was 20 years old at the time and her daughter who was given up for adoption was Irene Anne Howells.

    Apparently, but I don’t know how accurate this is, Irene, was adopted by the ‘Crawford’ family who at that time were the owners/managers of the Woolworths store in Dulwich.

    Any help on this would be greatly appreciated.

    Irene was born on the 16th of January 1950.

    Thank you in advance.

    Rhys

    rhys.richardson@gmail.com

  25. hi Hilary re your post your family lived opposite us we were no 81 I remember the folk who lived in the basement the old chap use to drive a strange type of wagon it was full of chocolate and he use to give great big chunks to the kids we would all wait for him to come home from work did you have a brother who was a butcher in Brixton archade ? amon

    1. Hi Amon. I think we lived on the same side of the road as you, two doors down. No i didnt have a brother who was a butcher. My mum who is now 93 thinks that your mum was friends with Rose Graden who lived in our basement. We moved out in 1960. did you and your brother use to play pranks on each other in the road? Do you remember the terrible smog? Me and my sister used to find our way to school by holding onto the railings. We were terrified of walking through the bomb site to get there. We had happy times in the street.

  26. Hi my name is Brenda Collingridge I lived at 52 Geneva Road from 1953 until 1961 next door to the Waglands. (Billy Wagland used to take me to school) My Dad has a motor bike and sidecar. I remember Karen Lewis her sisters were Kaye and Christine her Dad was Mansell. I went to Effra school. Next door was Mary and Martin Gallagher and their children Maura Eileen Martin and Hugh Lived upstairs and Robert and Johnnie Williams lived downstairs. I remember the sweetshop at the top of the road must be Coldharbour Lane (Mrs Reeds) you could buy a loaf of bread for about a shilling then. I also remember the pie and eels shop and the eels in the silver tray and pie and liquor on the slab like tables. Wow how did I remember all that!!

    1. hi Brenda great to hear your memories of the late great Geneva rd you must remember sally wagland the daughter a bit on the plump size blond hair we were 10 at the time when we became girl and boy friend do you recall the waglands bar / club on the first floor at the front I couldent wait to grow up and buy a drink there the shop was at the top through the bomb site and on the corner and yes I remember mrs reeds I use to buy my mums fags there great days cheers amon

    2. Hi brenda…got a nice suprise when I saw your comment. I remember your family well. Doris, jim and your brother keith. Hope you are well as we are. What year did your famy move away? We left in1968. We moved to essex. We are still there. Be nice to hear how your all keeping..

  27. hi Hilary your right the boy who was a butcher lived over the road re the pranks me and my brother use to creep over the road tie cotton to the door knocker go back to our house and pull the cotton the old chap came to the door we let him get halfway up the stairs pull the cotton again he came down opened the door looking everywhere for us if you are interested type in / then and now Geneva road off coldharbour lane and you will see pics of Geneva road thanks to jon of Lambeth archives

  28. hi all ex pats of Geneva rd Brixton can any one remember the rd being demolished and has any one got pics of its demolition I heard from the lbc that the London yellow stocks were used to build a estate on Brixton rd towards the oval ?? any info most welcome cheers amon

  29. Hello I lived at no 84 in the mid 60’s and moved out just before the demolition of the road in the 70’s.
    Somerleyton Rd was a bombsite, and i had a great time playing there with my siblings.We shared the house with three other family’s.eventually we got the whole house and it was huge, we could ride our bikes in the house..
    ..

  30. hi Miguel thank you for that imformation I never knew that somerleyton was pulled down before Geneva rd did you know that the late somerlyton houses were even bigger than Geneva if you check out the pics you will see that there are 3 windows at the front I went to a party there in my teens I thought my house was big but when I saw inside I was amazed today the houses would fetch upto 2 million pounds if they were still standing re 82 would have been opposite us cheers amon

  31. Hi I am trying to find any information about my mother. No record of birth can be found the only definite piece of information I have is from her marriage certificate stating that her address was 28 Geneva road SW9 in1947. It says her father was a welfare officer named Edward Lawrence and it lists her name as Helen Joyce Lawrence aged 25 but we can find no records at all. Any info gratefully received!!

  32. Hi all. My name is Andy and we used to live at no 48 from 1962, when I was 5 years old, to 1967 before we moved to Loughborogh Park. We were a Greek family of 5 and shared the house with 3 other families, us living in 2 rooms on the ground floor..Like many others that have commented, these were very happy days, playing in the streets everyday, doors open, in and out of each others houses….I remember the Waglands, the mother ( was her name Betty?, can’t remember),used to take us in occasionally and feed us, there was Mr Chin, who had a cafe in Railton Road, who used to show us magic tricks in his basement flat which was a few doors from us…great times!!

  33. hi andy nice to hear about your memories about the late great Geneva rd with regard to the waglands the mums name was sally a very kind lady her door was always open as a kid I use to run errands for her get a sixpence go to the bakers in railton rd at closeing time and buy a large bag of stale cakes great days even if we had nothing as kids cheers amon

  34. Wagland , mother’s name was betty , she was my mum’s aunt. My mum was pasty lackey, brother George, mother Mary ,father Arthur. Does anyone know of them?

  35. hi Jackie you are correct I stated that the mums name was sally but it was her daughters name after 50 years the old brain cells go on the same side as betty going down towards coldharbour lane aprox about 8 houses was a family who had a removel firm can not recall there name they were also money lenders the street relied on them when times were hard

  36. hi Jackie you are correct it was maud & jimmy wagland sally was the same age as me she would be about 62 by now maybe one day she will hear about this site and get in touch

  37. I seem to remember that Sally Wagland had a greengrocers shop on the corner of Sussex Road and Sussex Grove called ‘Sally’s’ !! She would be older than 62 now. I think you are thinking of Patsy Wagland who would be around 60 now.

  38. hi Jackie we lived opposite no 81 the Kelly family can she remember the bar on the second floor [front ] with red & white canopy if you check out earlier comments you will see some who remember the music etc I use to run errands for maud and get a sixpence wonderfull lady loved all the kids on the street small lady and plumpy sally had blond hair I think

  39. Hi Jackie, how great to hear people commenting on all those years ago, the bar in the living room lol. Thanks for letting me know about this site it’s great. God I remember you so well Amon, thanks for comments on mum she really was the salt of the earth.

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