Ayres Street, SE1

Ayres Street changed name in tribute to Alice Ayres – also immortalised in Postman’s Park in the City. Ayres lost her life whilst saving three children from a fire in Union Street in 1885.

John Strype mentions Whitecross Street in his 1720 ’Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster’. He called it “a pretty clean Street, but ordinary Built and Inhabited.” It is unknown how long before 1710 that the street was built.

The White Cross Cottages were built in 1890 by social reformer Octavia Hill and designed by Elijah Hoole, as model social housing. They include a hall with interior decoration by Walter Crane.

Octavia Hill – who also founded of the National Trust – campaigned for better living conditions for the poor. She had built thousands of homes by the time of her death. Hill operated on a ‘5% principle’ – investment in such philanthropic ventures should provide a 5% return on capital. Surplus rental income was put into schemes including education and playgrounds and open spaces.

The properties were managed by a network of female volunteers (and later paid workers) who operated a system of weekly visits to collect the rent. Those visits allowed the women to perform a social work role in getting to know the family and help with issues such as finding employment.

The housing scheme grew enormously, and gradually moved from refurbishing existing properties to building new ones as well – including White Cross Cottages and also nearby Red Cross Cottages.

The dense grain of local small buildings was in part eroded after the Second World War. As redevelopment occurred, larger blocks, occupied by single uses, replaced the Georgian and Victorian houses, shops and warehouses. This is particularly evident in the area between Ayres Street and Southwark Bridge Road.

Ayres Street, with its distinctive streetlamps

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