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87 Hackford Road, Brixton

87 Hackford Road, Brixton
click to enlarge

The Brixton walks

In August 1873, Vincent took up lodgings in the house of Madame Ursula Loyer, at 87 Hackford Road, in the fashionable London suburb of Brixton. His daily walk to Goupil's office in Covent Garden set the habit of a lifetime of making journeys on foot, and took a breathless 45 minutes. Much has obviously changed, but what did Vincent see as he strode at astonishing pace through the world's biggest city?

Leaving his lodgings he would have pulled shut the heavy wooden door and opened the decorated iron gate. Children might have been screaming and shouting in the playground of the school opposite.

Hackford Road

Hackford Road, in the fashionable London suburb of Brixton
(Danny Lee)

click to enlarge

The elaborately designed houses of his street were repeated in the neighbouring areas as he walked towards The Oval. Iron balconies and blooming spring shrubs still remain.

As a man with a religious background, he would have undoubtedly noted St Mark's Church in Kennington, started in 1822 to a design by architect DR Roper.

Vincent would have whisked passed The Oval cricket ground, which was opened in 1846 as a home for the Montpelier Club with turfs brought down from Tooting Common. In the 1870s the Phoenix gasworks sat to the right of the ground.

Approaching the gently curved crescent of houses opposite, Vincent would quickly have been on Albert Embankment. The mile-long walkway had been built in 1866-1870 to protect the low-lying areas in Lambeth from flooding during tides and heavy rain, continuing as the Victoria Embankment from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars.

In the late part of the 19th century, the Thames was a busy thoroughfare for transport, hauling and pleasure. But although the 1866 Sanitary Act required local authorities to take action to provide fresh water and waste disposal, water quality was still dubious. Vincent loved the view across the river to the Gothic-style Houses of Parliament, designed by Sir Charles Barry and completed some 30 years earlier, but was often forced to hasten across because of the smell. Vincent would have used Waterloo Bridge designed by John Rennie and opened in 1817. The bridge was replaced in 1942 because of serious structural problems.

On the north side of the river, striding out towards London's West End, his attention may have been taken by St Mary le Strand to his right, designed by James Gibbs in the early 18th century.

The National Gallery and St Martin's-in-the-Fields

The National Gallery and St Martin's-in-the-Fields
(Danny Lee)

click to enlarge

The journey ended in Covent Garden, then as now a rich mix of entertainment and shopping outlets, although the vast fruit, vegetable and flower market has since moved. He might have strayed towards St Martin's-in-the-Fields, designed in 1721 by James Gibbs, or The National Gallery built on the former site of the King's Mews to a design by architect William Wilkins in 1833.

Vincent described his time in London as the happiest of his life. And with such architecture and human displays of ingenuity, what better start to the day, especially for an artist.

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