Series exploring the most venerable buildings in each London borough.
Lambeth — named by the Anglo-Saxons as a river-landing place for lambs — has some truly ancient pockets. Indeed, the oldest structure in London falls within its borders. In 2011, 6,000-year old timber piles were discovered on the foreshore at Vauxhall. But what is the borough's oldest structurally complete building? Believe it or not, it's a museum.
The Church of St Mary-at-Lambeth
If you've ever set foot inside the Garden Museum, then you've also experienced Lambeth's oldest building. The museum is housed within the church of St Mary-at-Lambeth, which is an architectural mix of medieval and Victorian stonework.
The tower is the ancient part. It was constructed in 1377, making it an exceptional survival for central-ish London. Even then, it was built on venerable religious land. The earliest church known on the site was built by a lady named Goda (Edward the Confessor's sister) in 1062. Still earlier, a king of England drank himself to death hereabouts (or was he poisoned?).
Incredibly, the tower was almost demolished in the 1970s. We can thank Rosemary Nicholson, founder of the Garden Museum, for its salvation.
The churchyard contains its own treasures. The most notable is the tomb of the great naturalist John Tradescant, which itself is pretty aged. Dating from 1662, it ranks among the oldest structures in the borough. Further, the remains of five Archbishops of Canterbury were rediscovered within the church during recent restoration work. Speaking of whom...
St Mary's stands beside another ancient building that has a debatable shout as Lambeth's oldest. Lambeth Palace has served as the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury for some 800 years. Much of its fabric is Tudor or more recent, but some sections claim greater antiquity.
The undercroft is undoubtedly the most senior space. It is thought to date from 1220, predating St Mary's by 150 years. Whether a subterranean room within a wider complex counts as a building, however, is open to debate. The oldest structure above ground is the Lollards Tower, from around 1440.