This verdant walkway near Kennington was until a few years ago a rather non-descript residential road, but in 2013 it was pedestrianised and renamed.
Van Gogh Walk was originally Isabel Street, which was laid out when a row of larger houses and a former nursery ground was developed into terraced housing. It was likely named after Countess Isabella de Fortibus one of the richest women in 13th-century England, who owned the Manor of Stockwell and South Lambeth, which was later seized by King Edward I, who had long coveted her property.
Baring some building work in 1911, this short street had an uneventful life, until a decade ago when it was decided to improve the area. A local group, Streets Ahead had been working on improvements in the area, but their largest work to date has been the pedestrianisation and redevelopment of the road, and of renaming it as a walk.
This is no random location though, as it’s close to two schools so improving walking in the area is seen as a key aim. The project evolved when planning approval for a nearby development resulted in £120,000 of Section 106 funding for local street improvements, although with funding from the council.
A new granite sett path has been laid down with a pleasing mix of colours to break up the monotony of black tarmac roads, A number of circle designs have been incorporated into the layout from the tiling to the half-circle planting.
Van Gogh himself was a keen gardener, and much of the planting is inspired by some of his paintings, with the “bold, swirling brushstrokes of blue and yellow in his painting Undergrowth with Two Figures were the inspiration for some of the landscaping and planting”. The colours of cypress, olive, cherry and other blossom trees that Van Gogh often painted are also represented here.
A small library box is next to some seating, although so is a sign asking people to clean up after their dogs.
A work of metal art in the passage next to the playground may look like a randomly designed fence, but maybe you can see a missing ear in the design?
Although it looks fully pedestrianised, half is shared with local vehicles as a one-way road, as otherwise they would have been cut off – a sensible compromise.
The steering group leading the redevelopment of the area suggested that Isabel Street be re-named Van Gogh Walk. Whilst re-naming a London street is usually close to impossible as people living on the street are valid objectors, in this case, it was possible as the street had no postal addresses on it. A formal re-naming application was submitted and Isabel Street became Van Gogh Walk.
The renaming of the street is due to a house just around the corner, where Van Gogh rented rooms in lodgings between 1873-74. He wasn’t an artist at the time, but an art dealer working at his uncle’s dealership, but the house is important enough now to have a blue plaque and was converted into an artists home/museum in 2019.
His decision to lodge here was probably due to cost and availability, but there’s a tantalising possibility that he chose the area as the road it’s on, Hackford Road had recently been renamed — and it was previously two roads, St Ann’s New Road and… Holland Street.
The newly pedestrianised road itself was formally opened on 30th March 2013 – the 160th anniversary of Van Gogh’s birth.