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By Peter Conchie (20 September, 1997, The Independent)
For those in the know, Stockwell is as chic as Chelsea and Hampstead. Boasting a lively Spanish quarter and a Grade II-listed bus station, it is also the home of such luminaries as Will Self and Joanna Lumley
"I have a room such as I have always longed for," the 20-year-old Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his parents from London in 1873. "I have a delightful home and it is a great pleasure to me." To which area of our magnificent capital was he referring? Hampstead perhaps, or Chelsea, Bayswater or Chiswick? That the answer is Stockwell may surprise a few people, but this ancient and historical area is full of such surprises.
Even its stoutest defender would concede that the secrets of Stockwell take some unearthing, but therein lies the pleasure. A thriving Spanish and Portuguese quarter centres around the tapas bars and restaurants halfway up South Lambeth Road. According to Harden's restaurant guide, the best of these is Rebatos which is "full of atmosphere" and offers "very good value tapas" but there are half-a-dozen others.
Stockwell also boasts the real Albert Square, whose most famous resident is the actress Joanna Lumley. The Royal Albert pub, just around the corner on St Stephen's Terrace, has a beer garden, bar billiards and a spacious pool-room upstairs. Further south, past Will Self's place on Lansdowne Way, is the highly recommended Surprise pub on Larkhall Lane. A short hop from there brings you to Jeffrey's Road, where the band KLF once lived in a squat, while the 1950s elegance of the Grade II-listed Stockwell bus station is worth a moment's appreciation. For those wishing to linger longer, St Monica House is a fine B&B on Clapham Road run by Maltese nuns.
Among significant figures to have been commemorated with a blue heritage plaque are Lilian Baylis, former manager of Sadler's Wells (27 Stockwell Park Road), Violette Szabo, heroine of the French Resistance and subject of the film Carve Her Name With Pride (18 Burnley Road) and, of course, Vincent Van Gogh (87 Hackford Road).
The original settlement of Stockwell formed around Stockwell Green, which is currently a shabby and non-descript residential triangle, but was once a green and pleasant bit of land. The first part of the name derives from "stoc", the Old English word for "wood". "Remarkable fine water" was drawn from wells on the site and breweries thrived. Inns and taverns naturally followed with the Plough (dating back to 1666) and the Swan (circa 1780) being among the oldest. The latter is now an Irish/tribute band pub and features acts like the U2 doppelgangers. It is also allegedly a former thinking spot of the Aldwych bomber.
Van Gogh fell in love in Stockwell - and that's no surprise to those in the know.
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