Electric Avenue, SW9

Place name

Today it may look a little rundown but Electric Avenue, Brixton, was once known as the ‘Oxford Street of the south’. Brixton had been growing in popularity throughout the 1880s attracting big department stores, in part because of its excellent transport links by train and tram. This road was carved out by John Fyfe, a granite merchant who supplied the stone for the building of the Forth Bridge, following the demolition of an existing terrace. It was so-named for being one of the first streets in Britain to be lit by electricity, sometime around 1888. Fyfe’s younger brother – Alexander Leslie Fyfe and John Martin patented the lighting system that lit up the street, using  a coal-fired generator behind one of the shops. Together as the Fyfe-Main Electric Lighting and Construction Company, they had exhibited the lighting system at Crystal Palace in 1882. It was the first electrified market in the country with the lamps suspended from the sweeping glazed cast-iron and glass canopies over the pavements in front of the shops. The Second World War took its toll on this once glittering jewel of south west London, war damage had left it looking neglected and the introduction of street traders’ barrows wore away at the remaining gloss. The last of the canopies was removed in 1989 and it was said that Lambeth Council intended to replace it, but the authority had miscalculated the costs and could not afford to put anything back in its place. The street found global fame thanks to Eddy Grant’s 1982 hit Electric Avenue.


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