It was part of the ancient parish of Lambeth St Mary, which was the seat of the archepiscopal Lambeth Palace, in Surrey's hundred of Brixton. Lambeth was an elongated north–south parish with two miles of river frontage opposite the cities of London and Westminster. In 1829, Lambeth was incorporated into the Metropolitan Police District. After the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, it remained a parish for Poor Law purposes, and was governed by a vestry.
The present-day London borough of Lambeth was included in Surrey until 1889. The government first suggested merging the Metropolitan Borough of Lambeth and the Metropolitan Borough of Southwark, and the southern and eastern sections of the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth (including Clapham, Streatham and Tooting) to form a new borough when defining the boundaries for the London boroughs.
R.S., town clerk, South Shields Wandsworth council opposed partitioning its borough, according to Young, who was commissioned by the government to make final recommendations on the shape of London boroughs. In spite of this, Wandsworth's proposal to merge Lambeth and Battersea was rejected by both councils.
Considering that Clapham and Streatham residents would be more familiar with Brixton than Wandsworth, Young recommended a new borough formed from Lambeth and six wards and portions of two others from Wandsworth.
In Lambeth, there are several town centres, including Brixton, Streatham, Brixton, Vauxhall, Clapham, and West Norwood. It is about three miles (five kilometres) wide and seven miles (eleven kilometres) long. Streatham, Brixton, Vauxhall, Clapham and West Norwood are the largest shopping areas (in order of size).
In the northern part of the borough are the central London districts of the South Bank, Vauxhall and Lambeth; in the south are the suburbs of Gipsy Hill, Streatham, West Dulwich and West Norwood.
There are also developed and inner-city districts in Brixton, Brixton Hill, Streatham Hill, Clapham, Clapham Park, Herne Hill, Stockwell, Tulse Hill, and Kennington, all of which have gentrification at different stages. High-density business and residential properties are being developed in Vauxhall and South Lambeth, two central districts. There are three suburbs and developed areas in Streatham, Streatham Hill and Streatham Vale, which lie between suburban London and inner-city Brixton.
The London Borough of Southwark is situated east of Lambeth, west of Wandsworth, south-west of Merton, and south of Croydon.
Several tourist attractions have developed along and around the South Bank, including County Hall, the Southbank Centre, and the National Theatre, which were previously the headquarters of Greater London Council. On the river are the London Eye and Shell Centre. Nearby are Lambeth Palace, St Thomas' Hospital, and Florence Nightingale Museum. Lambeth Town Hall and the Brixton Murals are located nearby.
Landmark church buildings include:
- St Mary's, Lambeth (now the Garden Museum)
- The four "Waterloo Churches" in the former Lambeth Parish:
- St Matthew's, Brixton
- St Mark's, Kennington
- St Luke's, West Norwood
- St John's, Waterloo
- Holy Trinity, Clapham
- St Leonard's, Streatham
- Christ Church, Streatham Hill
- Christ Church (Church of England), Brixton Road, North Brixton
- All Saints' Church, West Dulwich (Church of England)
- Holy Trinity, Trinity Rise, Tulse Hill
- St John the Divine (Church of England), Vassall Road