Abbey Orchard Street, SW1P

Road in/near Victoria, existing between 1667 and now

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Road · Victoria · SW1P ·

Abbey Orchard Street was the heart of a former slum area.

Abbey Orchard Street was build over a former orchard belonging to the monks of Westminster Abbey.

The street was built up in the rapid expansion of London following the Great Fire of 1666, but there may have been a path here long before, trodden out by the Abbey’s local peasant tenants on their way to labour in the orchard.

In time, the street’s fortunes declined.

The Devil’s Acre was a notorious slum on and behind Old Pye Street, Great St Anne’s Lane (now St Ann’s Street) and Duck Lane (now St Matthew Street) in the parish of Westminster.

In the 19th century it was considered one of the worst areas of London - The Devil’s Acre. As with a number of streets at the time, the building of Victoria Street was aimed at removing the slums in the area, and particularly the Devil’s Acre. The street was formally opened in 1851 and, as with other such projects, it displaced rather than removed the slum.

The street had been planned as an experiment in sanitary and moral engineering. In deciding the route of the street, the planner James Pennethorne’s objective "has only been to ascertain how best to improve the condition of the inhabitants of Westminster by improving the buildings, the levels, and the sewers, and by opening communications through the most crowded parts."

Pennethorne designed the street with a slight angle so that it would route through the Devil’s Acre. The slum inhabitants were displaced by the Victoria Street developments, as the quantity of low-rent houses in the area declined and they were unable to afford the rents of the newly constructed flats. John Hollingshead reported at the time that Victoria Street had divided "the diseased heart" in half, pushing inhabitants into the surrounding areas. The Bishop of London informed the House of Lords that Victoria Street had displaced 5,000 people, 75 per cent of whom moved into already overcrowded areas south of the Thames, with the remaining people staying in declining low-rent accommodation in Westminster.

New blocks of flats were constructed along Victoria Street and, according to Hollingshead, "While the nighmare street of unlet places was waiting for more capital to fill its yawning gulf, and a few more residents to warm its hollow chambers into life, the landlords of the slums were raising their rents: and thieves, prostitutes, labourers, and working women were packing in a smaller compas."

From the 1850s onwards the area around Westminster, including the Devil’s Acre, became the focus of a new movement of social housing, largely funded by George Peabody and the Peabody Trust. This movement had a lasting impact on the urban character of Westminster and many of the philanthropically funded social housing estates have survived into the 21st century.

In 1869 the Peabody Trust built one of its first housing estates at Brewer’s Green, between Victoria Street and St. James’s Park. What remained of the Devil’s Acre on the other side of Victoria Street was cleared and further Peabody estates were built after the Cross Act of 1875.

In 1882, the Peabody Trust built the Abbey Orchard Estate on the corner of Old Pye Street and Abbey Orchard Street. The estate was designed by Henry Darbishire and built on former marshland. The buildings rest on arches, supported by a foundation of piles. Like many of the social housing estates, the Abbey Orchard Estate was built following the square plan concept. Blocks of flats were built around a courtyard, creating a semi-private space within the estate functioning as recreation area. The courtyards were meant to create a community atmosphere and the blocks of flats were designed to allow sunlight into the courtyards. The blocks of flats were built using high-quality brickwork and included architectural features such as lettering, glazing, fixtures and fittings. The estates built in the area at the time were considered model dwellings and included shared laundry and sanitary facilities, innovative at the time, and fireplaces in some bedrooms. The design was subsequently repeated in numerous other housing estates in London.

Citation information: London Street Names – The Underground Map
Further citations and sources




The railways largely replaced the canals as a means of transport. Uniquely for a main line station, Victoria station was built on top of one.

Before the railway arrived in 1862, this area - like the area immediately south of it - was known as Pimlico. The Grosvenor Canal ended in a large basin here.

Victoria station’s origins lie with the Great Exhibition of 1851, when a railway called the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway came into existence, serving the site of the exhibition halls which had been transferred to Sydenham from Hyde Park. The terminus of that railway was at Stewarts Lane in Battersea on the south side of the river. In 1858 a joint enterprise was set up to take trains over the river: it was entitled the Victoria Station and Pimlico Railway; and was a mile and a quarter in length. The railway was owned by four railway companies: the Great Western (GWR); London & North Western (LNWR); the London, Brighton and South Coast (LBSCR); and the London Chatham and Dover Railways (LCDR). It was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1858.

The station was built in two parts: those on the western side, opened in 1862, with six platforms, ten tracks and an hotel (the 300-bedroom Grosvenor) were occupied by the Brighton company; whilst adjacent, and in the same year, the Chatham company were to occupy a less imposing wooden-fronted building. The latter’s station had nine tracks and was shared by broad-gauge trains of the GWR, whose trains arrived from Southall via the West London Extension Joint Railway through Chelsea. The GWR remained part owner of the station until 1932, although its trains had long since ceased to use it. Each side of the station had its own entrance and a separate station master; a wall between the two sections effectively emphasised that fact.

At the start of the twentieth century both parts of the station were rebuilt. It now had a decent frontage and forecourt, but not as yet a unified existence. Work on the Brighton side was completed in 1908 and was carried out in red brick; the Grosvenor Hotel was rebuilt at the same time. The Chatham side, in a Edwardian style with baroque elements, designed by Alfred Bloomfield, was completed a year later. The two sections were eventually connected in 1924 by removing part of a screen wall, when the platforms were renumbered as an entity. The station was redeveloped internally in the 1980s, with the addition of shops within the concourse, and above the western platforms.

The station was now serving boat trains, and during WWI it became the hub of trains carrying soldiers to and from France, many of them wounded. After the war the Continental steamer traffic became concentrated there, including the most famous of those trains, the Golden Arrow. The area around the station also became a site for other other forms of transport: a bus station in the forecourt; a coach terminal to the south; and it is now the terminal for trains serving Gatwick Airport.

Victoria is also well-served by London underground. The sub-surface Circle and District Lines opened on December 24, 1868; and the Victoria Line line came to Victoria Station with the third phase of construction of the line - the station’s platforms were opened on March 7, 1969, six months after the Victoria line had started running in outer London.
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