Rocking Down Electric Avenue, Brixton

Electric Avenue is the Brixton, South London street that gave its name to the song that was No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the summer of 1983. I know the song and started humming it immediately after I spotted this sign above a row of stalls in Brixton Market last summer. However, I did not know about the street. 

Electric Avenue Brixton

What a happy coincidence, I thought as I stopped to take this photo. I looked forward to sharing my find with family and friends when I returned home.

A few days later, as I walked down Electric Avenue with one of my cousins, a history buff and a child of Brixton, he pointed to the sign and waving his hand towards the street, announced quite proudly, “This is the first market street in all of Britain to get electricity, that’s why it’s called Electric Avenue. It doesn’t look like much now but can you imagine how it would have looked then?”  I couldn’t but he had my attention. 

Electric Avenue runs between Brixton Road and Atlantic Avenue. It has had electricity since 1888. Old photos show an elegant, gently curved street of Victorian row houses with distinctive iron canopies.

Electric Avenue, 1912
Electric Avenue, 1912 from urban75.0rg

Now part of Brixton Market, Electric Avenue is a bustling area of street and indoor markets with restaurants, coffee shops, and stalls selling clothing, household goods, meat, fish, vegetables, and produce from Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean.  Except for the canopies, which were removed in the 1980s because of damages they had sustained from World War II bombs, Electric Avenue looks much like it did in 1912. The row houses are still there though they’re now partly obscured by vending stalls.

By the time the British Guyanese singer, songwriter and producer, Eddy Grant’s eponymous song became a hit (in 1982 in Britain, 1983 in the US), Brixton had been home to thousands of Caribbean and African immigrants who began pouring into the area in 1948.

With few jobs and poor housing, crime spiraled. In 1981, the police instituted the ‘sus law’ that allowed them to stop and search anyone they suspected of criminal activity. A riot broke out causing hundreds of injuries, damage to property and scores of arrests. Although there is no mention of the word ‘riot’ in Electric Avenue (the song), and no rioting on Electric Avenue (the street) , it is this riot that Grant references.

Electric Avenue is easily accessible from the Brixton Underground and several London bus routes, including the 109, 250, 333 and 415.

Linking this week with Travel Photo Thursday which Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Jan at Budget Travel Talk, Ruth at Tanama Tales, and Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations


Budget Travelers Sandbox

15 comments on “Rocking Down Electric Avenue, Brixton

  1. It’s incredible to see your photo with the black and white one. I always admire London’s buildings that were maintained to look how they did even after World War II. Fun to learn about the history and think of how this avenue was years before!

  2. Marty and I stayed in Brixton for a couple of weeks in 1979. We used to walk from the Tube Station through the market. Not sure if we went down Electric Avenue. Brixton had a pretty bad reputation when we were there too! We stayed in a nice little bedsit and were happy there. 🙂

  3. Love to hang out with people who are history buffs. It is a great way to learn about places. I have to heard the song (not sure I have heard it before). Does the street looks similar to the photo taken in 1912?

  4. You’re welcome, Mette! I didn’t know you lived in London. I agree, it’s easy to remember a street and where it is but not know its name. It’s usually when I’m asked directions that I realize I don’t know a street name.

  5. It was an elegant commercial street back then, not so elegant now with all the stalls. Another thing I noticed from the black and white photo is that there’s a pharmacy on the corner. I think there’s a Boots there now – that much is the same.

  6. I can bet you walked down Electric Avenue as it’s just around the corner from the station off Brixton Road.
    You were there just before the ’81 riot.

  7. I was very lucky, Ruth. I had no idea my cousin was such a history buff!
    The street looks basically the same – well, except for the stalls and the canopies are now gone.

  8. What a great post. I remember listening to that song and seeing the video many times on MTV. I did not know there was an actual street and also did not know the history of the song. Very interesting.

  9. It’s impossible to read even the title of this post without having Eddy Grant singing away in my head, I used to love that song! I met him in Barbados in about 1997 and he was absolutely lovely. Anyway that’s by the way…and I should be commenting on your post rather than banging on about Eddy Grant! I had no idea that it was the first place to have electricity and those canopies were beautiful, what a pity they got pulled down. Now I’m going to be humming “I’m gonna rock down to….electric avenue all day”! Great post Marcia.

  10. Oh, how lucky you were to meet Eddy! I had no idea about Electric Avenue either – probably the important street in Brixton!
    I know what you mean about the song, I find myself humming it a lot. Sometimes, it just seems to pop into my head, unexpectedly. Love your story about meeting Eddy Grant.

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