This is an extraordinary account of how a 13th century Anglo-Norman mercenary acquired a manor house south of the Thames, that would eventually give its name to the area, and the generic name for railway stations in Russia.
Sir Falkes de Breauté, was a brutal military leader and a favourite of King John and later Henry III. In 1215 de Breauté fought a successful military campaign on behalf of King John against Prince Louis of France and the Barons, by taking the City of Worcester. As a consequence de Breauté received Margaret de Redvers’s hand in marriage. His wife’s family owned a large estate in Lambeth. De Breauté, on receiving part of this land and property, renamed the manor house, Falkes Hall. Over time this name evolved into Fox Hall and ultimately, Vauxhall.
In 1224, de Breauté, having nearly triggered a civil war in England, was excommunicated and banished to the continent. He died in Rome in 1226. His heraldic crest was the griffin.
In the 17th century a large, popular pleasure garden was established in Vauxhall, close to the Thames. The garden was a multi-formed entertainment area that hosted dance, singing, trapeze acts and hot air balloon displays, plus all kinds of victuals. It was available to fee paying customers. One visitor to the Vauxhall Pleasure Garden was an English theatre manager, Michael Maddox. Maddox had experience of running theatres in Russia and he decided to export the concept of the pleasure garden to St Petersburg, Russia in the 1780s. The new St Petersburg pleasure garden was called ‘Vokzal’, after the location of the London gardens.
In 1837 the first Russian railway ran from St Petersburg to the Pleasure Gardens and the station was called ‘Vokzal’. And this name became the generic word for all Russian stations. Coincidentally, three years later, a Russian delegation arrived to study the UK rail network. One of the stations they visited was the then Vauxhall terminus (The terminus was later moved, in 1848, to new Waterloo station).
Meanwhile, in Vauxhall, around the same time, a marine engineering company was founded, along the riverside. Some sixty years later, the company began to produce motor vehicles and changed its name to Vauxhall Motors. It took, as its logo, the de Breauté griffin.
David Fathers is author/illustrator of The London Thames Path (Frances Lincoln). Follow him on Twitter: @TheTilbury