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25th January 2024

The Venus of Vauxhall

Brunswick House will re-emerge restored from beneath her scaffold shroud

Travellers along the Portsmouth Road [aka Wandsworth Road] will recently have noticed Brunswick House enveloped in scaffolding. The tradesmen of Messrs Fullers, established historic building contractors of Walthamstow, are carrying out urgent works to the old House under the supervision of Murray John Architects, conservation specialists.

Over the years Brunswick House has gradually lost its original and extensive riverside gardens to candle factories, gas and water works, railway yards and cold stores – not to mention the massive St George Wharf development.

But the most damaging incursion has been the relocation of Nine Elms Lane to within 15 foot of the House. From early morning to late at night heavy laden 40’ articulated lorries and eight wheel tippers thunder past the house where previously horse drawn costermonger carts, Hansom cabs and four wheel ‘growlers’ were the only traffic.

The ‘ironworks’ in the road surface [modern manhole covers] can hardly bear the constant hammering which is, in turn, transmitted to the venerable lime mortar laid brickwork and stonework of the old House.

Our corner of Vauxhall has survived explosions at the Gas Works in 1865, the Blitz eighty years ago, even the helicopter crash of 2013 – but the inexorable thud of heavy goods traffic is, we are advised, threatening the integrity of the building – particularly the splendid Neo Classic porch and the flat arches above the windows.

A thorough survey of the stone pediment and cornice has shown that they are losing their grip on the walls; their old wrought iron cramps are rusted and the rust is blowing the mortar joints; tell tale debris is found at the foot of the building every week.

Something needed to be done – and urgently.

Window reveals are being rendered in lime mortar, sashes comprehensively repaired and repainted [perhaps for the first time in fifty years], chimney flues lined and flaunching replaced, repointing on the chimney stacks attended to, modern hopper heads replaced with original lead work and lead flashing and roofing is being installed as original in place of bituminous modern substitutes.

And this is all within the shadows of “the biggest regeneration zone in Europe” – an hubristic orgy of fifty storey coloured concrete, aluminium cladding and double glazing.

Brunswick House has been described as “a dignified and refined old lady fallen into reduced circumstances and bad company, surrounded by giant and impertinent interlopers” – it is to be hoped that with the ministrations of Messrs Fullers she will emerge as if from a Mayfair Beauty Parlour, the Venus of Vauxhall and that henceforth she will be given the respect she deserves.