Oval Partnership Briefing Note

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Any discussion of local geography would be incomplete without mentioning local rivers.


The Thames is 215 miles long and some 58 million years old but it hasn’t always followed its current course.  Originally it discharged into the North Sea near Ipswich. Around 450,000 years ago, during the the Quaternary Ice Age, the river was dammed in Hertfordshire and diverted to its current course through London.  Around, 10,000 BCE during the last ice age, Britain was connected to mainland Europe and the Thames went on to join up with the Rhine.  

In 2010, ancient mesolithic timbers, some 6,000 years old, were found near Vauxhall Bridge. .  It is possible that this area was one of the first to have bridges across the Thames (see Vauxhall foreshore -site of archaeological interest).  The plural ‘bridges’ was deliberate because thousands of years ago the local landscape was very different.  Water levels were lower and the area was marshland,  Those travelling from North to South may well have found the need for bridges or jetties to help traverse from one islet to another.  The Thames itself would not have been the well defined channel it is to day and the tidal range would have been much less.

Today the Thames is tamed, but in some ways is more dangerous. If it were not for flood defences such as the Thames Barrier much of Lambeth would be at risk of flooding.  (see the Environmental Agency flood maps).  The good news is that the neighbourhood is considered at low risk of flooding (0,5% or less in any given year or less than once every 200 years).  Of course that is referring to floods from the tidal Thames.  If one of London’s mains water supply pipe burst like it did at Vauxhall a few years ago your feet may still get wet.

[If you are tempted to get up close and personal with the Thames check out the Port of London website -Thames tide tables first.  Keep in mind that the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge is tidal and very dangerous. Do not swim there. If you are planning a walk on the foreshore respect the environment, stay close to a safe exit point and remember that some parts of the foreshore may have restricted access]

River Effra

We should all know one river in the neighbourhood but what about the other one - the River Effra?     The river is still there, travelling underground through unseen culverts.  Tributaries of the Effra come from Crystal Palace and West Dulwich eventually joining and meandering towards Brixton (near the police station at one point).  From there, the Effra flows toward Kennington before turning sharply to come out near Vauxhall bridge as seen here on the right.It originally joined the Thames a little further upstream but developments such as the bridge forced it to be moved.

Old maps of the River Effra seem to show it following the shape of what is now known as the Brit Oval. This natural contour formed by the river was possibly what inspired the owner of adjacent land to complete the curve and form the oval shape that we now know.

Never mind studying the earth, the local neighbourhood is complicated enough. The next time you visit the Oval Farmers’ Market, walk out the back gate towards Brixton and Camberwell Roads.  At one point you will be standing in SW9, SW8 and SE5. Now walk out the other gate, cross the Clapham Road and you have a choice between SW8, SW9 and SE11.  Walk across Kennington Park and you will be SE17,  Walk towards the Albert Embankment and you will be in SE1.  This is the part of London where South East meets South West and has been described as one of the most complicated as far as post codes are concerned.  Unlike some other parts of London, the post codes are not linked to historical areas.  It would be nice to say that SE11 was Kennington, SW8 Vauxhall etc, but it wouldn’t be true.  

Ok, lets forget post codes.  Where would you be if you stood outside the Oval Station (preferably not in the middle of the road)?

  1. Kennington
  2. Oval
  3. Vauxhall
  4. North Lambeth
  5. Surrey
  6. All of the above

The correct answer is all of the above. Kennington, is the historic name for the area but you would also be in the Oval electoral ward, the Vauxhall parliamentary constituency (much bigger than the historic Vauxhall area), North Lambeth.  The neighbourhood was also part of the historic county of Surrey hence the Surrey County Cricket club at the Oval.


The peoples of the neighbourhood can be split into two broad groups-Londoners and everyone else... Expecting more? Ok, lets start with where people were born.

The following table shows where persons living in the area were born at the time of the last census (the next census is due this year but probably won’t be published before 2012) .

River Effra storm outlet adjacent to Vauxhall Bridge The Thames at low tide looking towards Vauxhall Bridge with Bronze age timbers in foreground


Do you know what the Lambeth Group is?  A local community group perhaps?  Here’s a clue.  It’s about 55 million years old and is 10m to 30m thick in  London.  Still don’t know?  Well why would you (unless you are building tall towers near Vauxhall bridge or planning the new Northern Line extension from Kennington to Battersea).  Basically its a rock strata about 30m under ground consisting of vertically and laterally varying gravels, sands, silts and clay.

A geological map of London from 1883 has this area classified as ‘gravel and sand’.  Formed on top of London Clay, this was part of an ancient river bed averaging some two miles wide...much larger than the current Thames. The marshes have long since been drained and you would have to look very hard to see the original ground.  Even the banks of the Thames are mostly imported ballast.

Ambhibious bus on Thames near Vauxhall bridge Gull at Vauxhall Bridge

Local Geography

Boundaries:Ward, parliamentary, post code etc.