This green footbridge near Kennington was until a few years ago a rather non-descriptive residential street, but in 2013 it was pedestrianized and renamed.
Van Gogh Walk was originally Isabel Street, which was laid out when a number of larger houses and a former nursery were developed into townhouses. It was probably 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.
This short street had a building work in 1911 and had an uneventful life until it was decided ten years ago to improve the area. A local group, Streets Ahead, had been working on improvements in the area, but their biggest work to date has been pedestrians and rebuilding the road and renaming it a walk.
However, this is not a coincidence as it is close to two schools, so improving walking in the area is seen as a key goal. The project evolved when planning approval for a nearby development resulted in £ 120,000 in Section 106 funding for local street improvements, albeit with funding from the council.
A new granite path has been laid with a pleasant mix of colors to break the monotony of black asphalt roads. A number of circle designs have been incorporated into the layout from the tiling to the semicircle planting.
Van Gogh himself was an avid 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 was the inspiration for some of the landscaping and planting”. The colors of cypress, olive, cherry and other flower trees that Van Gogh often painted are also represented here.
A small library box is next to some seating, though it is also a sign asking people to clean up after their dogs.
A metal artwork 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 pedestrianized, half is shared with local vehicles as a one-way street, as otherwise they would have been cut off — a sensible compromise.
The steering committee that led the redevelopment of the area suggested that Isabel Street be renamed Van Gogh Walk. Although it is often close to impossible to rename a street in London, as people living on the street are valid opponents, this was possible in this case as the street had no postal addresses on it. A formal application for naming was filed and Isabel Street became the Van Gogh Walk.
The renaming of the street is due to a house just around the corner where Van Gogh rented rooms in lodging between 1873-74. He was not an artist at the time, but an art dealer who worked at his uncle’s dealer, but the house is important enough now to have a blue plaque and was transformed into an artist home / museum in 2019.
His decision to stay here was probably due to cost and accessibility, but there is a tempting possibility that he chose the area as the road it is on, Hackford Road had recently been renamed – and it was previously two roads, St Ann’s New Road and … Holland Street.
The new pedestrian street itself was formally opened on March 30, 2013 – the 160th anniversary of Van Gogh’s birth.
In 2018, a bust of the man himself was added to the passage, made by sculptor Anthony Padgett in 2017, as one of a series that can all be found in places associated with the painter.