SW5: So why do you smile when you think about Earl’s Court?

Earls Court is an area which largely owes its existence to the District Railway which was spreading its tentacles westwards in the 1870s and 1880s rather than finishing off the Circle line in the City like it was supposed to do. It is an area dominated by vast cliff like buildings of 5 and 6 storeys; many were built as single houses and are now split up but others were purpose-built flats. During the 1960s it became known as the place for Australian and New Zealanders to stay. But today the area has gone up considerably in price and there are not too many run down properties of grim bedsits. But on the main drag. it still does feel for the most part a bit of a place to go through rather than to live.

We start our walk at the Post Office opposite the Earl’s Court Road exit to the underground station

Stop 1: Old Manor Yard

As you look across the road from the Post Office, you will see a gated mews to the left of the station building. This is Old Manor Yard. This dates from the 1870s and is on the site of the Old Manor House of Earl’s Court. There was not really a village as such at Earl’s Court. Just a few buildings associated with the manor. Not much to see but basically this is was the original heart of Earl’s Court.


Now look at the facade of the station across the road

Stop 2: Earl’s Court Station (east end)


The Metropolitan District Railway first built tracks through Earl’s Court in 1869 as part of an extension from Gloucester Road to West Brompton where there was an interchange with the West London Extension Joint Railway which ran from Clapham Junction to Olympia.  There was no intermediate station here at Earl’s Court until October 1871. The District Railway (as it became known)  was later joined in 1906 by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (GNB&PR – now the Piccadilly Line) which ran between Hammersmith and Finsbury Park serving Earl’s Court in deep level tube tunnels under the District Railway station.

The facade we see today dates from 1906 and is unusual in that the GNP&BR normally had their own distinctive buildings at almost all their other stations – designed by Leslie Green, they were covered in deep red glazed tiles. But this did not happen here presumably because there was space was within the existing station shed to house the lifts to the lower level. Even though at the time this facade was built the two railways serving Earl’s Court were controlled by the same holding company (Underground Electric Railways Company of London Limited), the two individual railway names are set out on the station front.

The lift access was supplemented in 1911 by the Underground’s first escalators between the upper and lower levels. It is said there was a one-legged man named “Bumper Harris” travelling all day on the escalator to demonstrate its safety but no evidence of this has been found by the London Transport Museum.

Now you can hardly fail to notice the blue Police Phone Box by the newspaper stand outside the station. Cross over and have a closer look.

Stop 3: The Police Phone Box

No this is not Doctor Who’s time machine  – the TARDIS. It is a modern day replica of the traditional police boxes that were once a common sight in the UK until the early 1970s when personal radios became possible.

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Unveiled in April, 1996, this box was to enable the public to contact local police at the touch of a button, There were plans to distribute similar boxes throughout London as hi-tech surveillance units, but this idea was later abandoned.

Cross back over Earl’s Court Road and turn left, ahead you will see a pub

Stop 4: Prince of Teck pub (corner of Earl’s Court Road and Kenway Road)

This pub is named after a german Royal, Francis who was Prince of Teck from 1863 – 1871 then he became Duke of Teck. He married into the British Royal family but had to rely on his wife’s income and was often heavily in debt. His daughter, Mary married one of Queen Victoria’s grandsons who later became King George V. So basically this pub is named after one of the present Queen’s Great Grandfathers


Go down Kenway Road

Stop 5: Kenway Road

The small scale of the buildings in this street comes as a bit of a surprise given the scale of most of the rest of Earl’s Court. The reason is that this is one of the oldest streets in the area, predating the coming of the railway. Architectural historian Pevsner dates the pretty two storey terrace from numbers 15 – 33 as being 1819 – 1825. Further down the road (35 – 71) the houses are even older, dated to 1807.

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Continue down Kenway Road and into the short pedestrianised section. At the end turn left into Cromwell Road.

Stop 6: Cromwell Road

The second house along is number 173 where the composer Benjamin Britten lived between 1931 and 1933. I guess the road was a lot quieter then!


Retrace your steps and keeping walking down Cromwell Road until you reach number 153. This is where the film director, Alfred Hitchcock lived from 1926 – 1939. So for a couple of years in the 1930s, Alfred Hitchcock and Benjamin Britten lived a few doors away from each other. I wonder if they ever met. By the way look at how the ivy is satisfyingly creeping around Hitchcock’s blue plaque. Now that cannot have been an accident!

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Turn back and go along Cromwell Road until Knaresborough Place where you turn left. Go straight ahead following the road as it veers slightly to the left. Continue until you reach Courtfield Gardens

Stop 7a: Courtfield Gardens 

Earl’s Court was largely developed in a period of twenty years (1870s and 1880s) but in the middle of this period the fashion changed from classical, with the use of stucco to red brick and terra cotta with “Queen Anne” or “Jacobean” motifs. You can see it vividly here in the contrast between Courtfield Gardens built in the 1870s and the next stop, Collingham Gardens built in the 1880s.

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Keep walking straight ahead – the street name changes

Stop 7b: Collingham Gardens 

Collingham Gardens together with the neighbouring Harrington Gardens was a mixture of private commission and speculative buildings by the architectural partnership Ernest George and Harold Peto. It is quite a dramatic change of style.

One famous resident was Howard Carter, of Tutankhamun fame who lived at Number 19.

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Keep walking to the end where you will get to Number 9 whose entrance is actually round the corner. Number 9 is noticeably smaller than the others and it turns out this was originally occupied by Peto.


Stop 8: The streets with two names

The street names round here are incredibly confusing as a number of the buildings are clustered private gardens and take their names from the gardens, so here we have just seen Number 9 Collingham Gardens but across the road the buildings are all in Bolton Gardens. So if you turn back on yourself and cross the street you have just come down, the buildings on your right are numbered in Bramham Gardens and the ones on your left continue to be numbered in Bolton Gardens. Confusing huh?

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Keep on walking down Bramham/Bolton Gardens until the end. Turn left into Earl’s Court Road and at the lights turn left into Old Brompton Road. Almost straight ahead across the road is out next stop.

Stop 9: Coleherne Court (Old Brompton Road)

Coleherne Court is a sprawling complex of flats with its own private garden out back. It dates from 1901 – 1904. Pevsner describes it as a “cheerful mix of Tudor and Georgian motifs”.


The flats’ most famous resident has to be Diana, Princess of Wales (1961–1997), the first wife of Prince Charles. She lived at 60 Coleherne Court from 1979 to 1981. Her parents bought her the 3-bedroom flat for £50,000 as an 18th birthday present. Diana lived there with flat mates until February 1981 when she moved into Clarence House, the Queen Mother’s residence, on the night before her engagement to Prince Charles was officially announced.  She reportedly said it was here where she spent the happiest time of her life.

You can get a tantalising glimpse of the private gardens through the gate.


Retrace your steps along Old Brompton Road crossing over Earl’s Court Road. Keep walking until just past the corner of Coleherne Road

Stop 10: The Troubadour (263-267 Old Brompton Road)

The Troubadour at  in Earls Court, established in 1954, is one of the last remaining coffee houses of its era in London. It has a club room in the cellar famous as a venue of the British folk revival in the late 1950s and 1960s.


When the unknown Bob Dylan arrived in Britain for the first time, it is sometimes said that his only guide was a piece of paper from his mentor Pete Seeger bearing the words, “Troubadour Folk Club, London, ask for Anthea”. He first performed in London here in December 1962 apparently under the name Blind Boy Grunt

Morrisey played here in February 2012. I wonder if he sang his ode to male prostitution “Piccadilly Palare”. Morrisey anoraks will have noted our title today is a quote from this song. At the time this song (late 1980s) was written Earl’s Court had a number of gay bars and clubs but I do not believe any are still operating today. And here’s a bit of Morrisey trivia, you can hear the voice of Suggs from Madness on this track.

Continue walking along Old Brompton Road and turn right at lights into Warwick Road. Cross over at crossing and take the second turning on the left.

Stop 11: 67 Eardley Crescent

A few doors down on the right hand side of this street is number 67 which was home to the comedian and actor, Hattie Jacques for 35 years


Hattie was not her real first name which was Josephine. She made her theatrical debut aged 20 at the Player’s Theatre and during her time there she appeared “blacked up” in a minstrel show called Coal Black Mammies for Dixie. She was likened to the American actress Hattie McDaniel (of Gone with the Wind fame) and the name “Hattie” stuck.

She had a life long partnership with comic actor and writer Eric Sykes and was in a number of Carry on films. She was a great friend of Kenneth Williams and is mentioned a number of times in his diaries. She loved hosting parties and he mentions he saw 1957 in there and also went to a Christmas Day party in 1972. He was invited to her 1973/74 New Year’s party but declined. He went nowhere that year – and says in his diary “If I attend one more party I shall go stark raving mad”.

Retrace your steps to Warwick Road and turn left. until your reach the entrance to the Exhibition Centre.

Stop 12: Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre


This was London first permanent centre for commercial exhibitions built in 1936/37. The orginal hall was built over the District line with a new entrance to Earl’s Court tube station constructed to facilitate easy access to the Exhibition Centre. There was a direct entrance from the underground passage which connects the District and Piccadilly lines. This was however closed in the 1990s at around the time the capacity of the Exhibition Centre was expanded by the construction of a second exhibition hall, Earls Court 2, which was opened by Princess Diana, who as we have heard was herself a former Earls Court resident.

This vied with Olympia up the road to stage all the big trade shows and exhbitions. It also doubled up as a concert venue. However the world has moved on and we now have the larger much more modern facilities such at the NEC near Birmingham and ExCel in Docklands. So Earl’s Court’s days as an exhibition centre and concert venue are numbered. Mayor Boris Johnson has recently agreed plans to demolish the whole complex, plus a bit more and to build what is virtually a whole new neighbourhood. It’s a shame to see the old place go but I guess it is just inevitable.

So we have seen how Earl’s Court developed mainly in the 1870s and 1880s following the coming of the Underground. Most buildings are huge cliff like 5 and 6 storey structures and we can see how the building fashions changed from classical stucco to red brick and terra cotta around 1880.  But there are a few buildings from earlier in the 19th century which are on a smaller more intimate scale. Earl’s Court has been home to many famous people over the years from Benjamin Britten and Alfred Hitchcock in the 1930s through Hattie Jacques for 35 years to 1980 and Princess Diana for a couple of years (1979 – 1981). And for now at least we have two concert venues of very different kinds, the intimate Troubadour and the vast Earl’s Court.

We are now at the other (western) entrance to Earl’s Court station for onward travel. Or go back to Earl’s Court Road for refreshment options.


SW4: The man on the Clapham Omnibus

The man on the Clapham Omnibus is one of those phrases you hear from time to time and perhaps wonder why Clapham and why omnibus. Basically this “man” (or nowadays “person”) is used by English courts where it is necessary to decide whether someone has acted in the way that a reasonable person would. The person on the Clapham omnibus is a reasonably educated and intelligent but nondescript person, against whom the conduct of the defendant can be measured.

The phrase was first reportedly put to legal use in a reported judgment by Sir Richard Henn Collins MR in a 1903 English Court of Appeal libel case, McQuire v. Western Morning News. But he attributed it to Lord Bowen, said to have coined it in 1871 as junior counsel defending the Tichborne Claimant case (a Victorian cause celebre about the missing heir to the Tichborne baronetcy) .

It may have derived from the phrase “Public opinion … is the opinion of the bald-headed man at the back of the omnibus,” used by the 19th century journalist Walter Bagehot to describe the normal man of London. But why Clapham? Presumably because Clapham was seen as a typical suburb which could represent “ordinary” London. And why Omnibus? It is now rather an archaic expression for a public bus, but was in more common use then. But a bus is a place where you find a random selection of strangers, and perhaps it does not have the connotations that “the man in the Clapham pub” might have!

So there you have it. Now when I lived in Clapham I went to work by bus. Conveniently the 88 bus went from the end of the street where I lived and stopped immediately outside my office. So the Clapham Omnibus will for me always be the 88, and I am the reasonable man on it, although even now not bald and I hope I am not too nondescript!

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Starting at the Post Office at 161 – 163 Clapham High Street, head south to the junction of Clapham Park Road, where you will see the tube station ahead of you.

Stop 1: Clapham Common Tube Station

Clapham Common station was  the southern terminus of the City and South London Railway (C & SLR) for around 25 years from 1900. The C & SLR was the first deep level underground railway in the world – the initial stretch from the City to Stockwell opened in 1890. No one had done this before and with hindsight the developers might not have done some of the things they did. One of these was building stations with a single narrow platform with trains thundering in on both sides. C & SLR did this at four stations when they extended their original line: Angel and Euston in the north and Clapham North and Clapham Common in the south. The two northern stations have since been rebuilt but the two Clapham stations retain this odd arrangement which can feel decidedly unsafe when busy.

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Clapham Common is not quite as originally built because in the 1920s the whole C &SLR was reconstructed to make the tunnels bigger (yes the line was even smaller than the one you see today, another flaw in the original plan – you can see an original C & SLR engine and carriage at the London Transport Museum and actually sit in the carriage to get a feel for how small it was).

The present station dates from the 1920s and I suspect that the current ticket hall is not where the original one was. That is because the original had lifts which would have gone straight up from near the end of the platform but today there are escalators installed in the rebuild which take you further south.

Do take a peek at the dark brown concrete structure behind the hoardings at the corner of Clapham High Street and Clapham Park Road. This was one of a number of sections of deep level tunnels built as shelters during WWII – the idea being that after the war they could be joined up and form an express line to relieve the Northern line. They were never used for this purpose because after the war money was short and it was concluded that it would be better value for money and benefit more people if London Transport built the extra capacity on a new alignment. That eventually led to the Victoria line being built. The tunnels have therefore been mainly used for storage.

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Now from this corner look across the road to the corner of Venn Street

Stop 2: Clapham Picture House (and the super cinema that never was)

If you look at numbers 192-194 Clapham High Street on the corner of Venn Street, it looks rather grand with its tall classical façade finished with tiles. This was intended to be the entrance to a large Cinema.  In 1910 just around the corner in Venn Street, the Electric Picture Palace had opened, on the site of a former stables. But there were plans to replace this with a magnificent new cinema to be called the Coliseum, with an entrance on the High Street. Surrounding buildings were purchased for expansion. However, the company ran into financial difficulties. Only the entrance on the High Street was built by 1919.

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The Coliseum Cinema would have had almost 3,000 seats, but it never opened. See http://archiseek.com/2013/1919the-coliseum-high-street-clapham-s-w/#.UerEEtLVB8E for how it was to have looked.

The Venn Street site was turned into a snooker hall and remained so until 1992, when Clapham Picturehouse opened its doors to the public for the first time. In 1998 a fourth screen was added and the cafe-bar was extended.  It is the lurid pink building you see in the photo.

Go down Venn Street and turn left in  Brommells Road. At the end you will find yourself in The Pavement (which by the way is actually a road). Just opposite the Frog pub is a mid 19th century building.

Stop 3: The Lodge (the Old Fire Station)

This building at number 33 The Pavement is called “The Lodge”.

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It was built in 1868 as Clapham Fire Station and was used until 1902. The Metropolitan Fire Brigade was formed in 1866 as the first publicly funded fire service for London. Twenty-six new fire stations were built, but as fire appliances became larger and more were required, most of these early stations were demolished or drastically altered to make way for larger ones. Because of its constricted site, the Clapham station was replaced along the road in Old Town, leaving this old building as possibly a unique survivor.

The building now displays one of the Clapham Society’s green plaques. These commemorate the former uses of historic buildings in Clapham. It is the Society’s fourth plaque and was unveiled on 5 June 2013.

Keep walking along the Pavement and this widens out and becomes “Old Town” (also a street name). On your left, you will find what architectural historian Pevsner calls “the best houses” in the old village.

Stop 4: Old Town (Number 39, 41 and 43)

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These houses date from 1707 when Clapham was still a country village. They are really delightful and number 43 in particular has wonderful railings. Number 43 also has an architectural connection in that it was the home of John Francis Bentley, whose most famous building is the catholic Westminster Cathedral.

Keep on walking along Old Town and at the mini roundabout take the right hand road (Rectory Grove) 

Stop 5: Rectory Gardens

Just off of Rectory Grove is a remarkable little L shaped street that time seems to have forgotten. It looks like it was never adopted by the council and has no pavements with the roadway running right up to the tiny terrace houses. It all looks a bit run down and hard to believe this is 2013 Clapham.

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From what I have been able to glean, most if not all of these properties are owned by Lambeth Council – originally squatted they now seem to be on short-term lets. But the Council is in the process of selling them – see the attached links.



I suspect that this little piece of history will be gone within a few years.

Keep walking down Rectory Grove and after Turret Grove, follow Rectory Grove as it veers off to become a dead-end street to the left. At the end is St Paul’s church.

Stop 6: St Paul’s Church and garden

St Paul’s is the site of the original Clapham Parish Church. When Holy Trinity was built in the mid 1770s, it ceased to be the parish church. In 1815 the original building was demolished and replaced by the current one, with the status of a chapel of ease.

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It is a huge brick box added to in the 1870s – this addition has since been sectioned off to form the parish centre.

Interestingly some of the monuments from the old church survive including one for William Hewer who died in 1715. He lived in a house on the north side of Clapham Common. He was clerk to diarist Samuel Pepys and in fact Pepys lived at Hewer’s House for the last couple of years of his life, dying there in 1703.

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On the righthand side of the church yard is the delightfully named Matrimony Place and  off that is a community garden, fittingly called the Eden Garden. Do not venture down this path as it will lead you out of SW4 and into Wandsworth Road which is SW8 – and that would never do on our SW4 walk.

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Instead retrace your steps and turn right down Turret Grove. Here are some “rural” villas of the 1840s and further down a 21st century interloper (apparently on the market for £2,350,000)

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At the end of Turret Grove cross over North Street and have a look at these odd little signs at the start of Broadhinton Road

Stop: 7 Broadhinton Road

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A bit of research revealed that on 8 June 2013 the residents of Broadhinton Road held a street party to celebrate the street’s 150th birthday. Broadhinton Road was (mostly) built in 1863 and its name is said to come from the Wiltshire village of Broad Hinton where the owner and developer of the land, a Mr Frederick Hewitt, met his wife Elizabeth in the 1820s.

By the way note the street sign. This has just the SW and no number, so presuambly predates the First World War. They are quite common in SW London, as the Councils have not systematically replaced the street signs as has happened in other boroughs.

Go to the end of Broadhinton Road crossing Lambourn Road and continuing into Hannington Road. At the end you reach The Chase, take a short detour to your right where you will find Pepys Court.

Stop 8: The Chase

Now as we have heard Samuel Pepys lived out his last years with William Hewer in Clapham. I can find no evidence to suggest that this industrial looking building has anything to do with the Pepys legacy but who knows!

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But outside is a little plaque which I thought might tell me something about the building’s history. But no – this plaque is to commemorate the street party held for the 2012 Diamond Jubilee in The Chase.

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Turn back and continue along The Chase towards the Common

Just near the common end of The Chase on the left hand side are another two plaques which commemorate more street parties: one for the 2002 Golden Jubilee and the other (a mock blue plaque) for the 2011 marriage of Wills and Kate. Well Clapham may be said to be a party place but this was not quite what I had imagined.

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When you reach the end look at the building to your right set back on the corner of The Chase and Clapham Common North Side. 

Stop 9: Clapham Common North Side

Just at this corner is a large Victorian house, which was originally called the Elms. This is where architect  Sir Charles Barry lived and died. It now forms part of Trinity Hospice premises.

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Barry was a great proponent of Italianate architecture in Britain. But his most famous work is the Houses of Parliament which is in gothic style. No doubt if he had had the choice he would have designed an Italianate Houses of Parliament but that was not the commission.

Barry famously did not design the interiors of the Houses of Parliament; that was Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Pevsner sums it up nicely by saying “The secret of the undoubted architectural success of the Houses of Parliament lies in this collaboration of two utterly different men and in the union of two utterly different views.” It is said Barry favoured regularity and symmetry whilst Pugin belived in functional asymmetry.

As it happens I have just stayed the weekend in the Grange, Ramsgate (which was the house Pugin designed for himself) and wrote this up in my other blog:


Return along Clapham Common North Side (as if you had turned left out of The Chase) and follow it as it sweeps away from the main part of the Common.

On the way to our next stop we pass two blue plaques. One at a block of flats (Okeover Manor) is for the music hall star,  Marie Kendall (1873 – 1964) put there by the Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America.

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The other is an English Heritage blue plaque at 14 Clapham Common North Side, the home of novelist Graham Greene from 1935 to 1940.

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The house was seriously damaged by a bomb in October 1940, but it was unoccupied on that night as Greene was staying with his lover in  Bloomsbury. The shell of the house survived and the interior was rebuilt after the war. The incident was used by Greene in his novel, The End of the Affair.

Cross over the road and head towards the church on the Common and go in the left hand gate.

Stop 10: Holy Trinity Church

This church replaced St Paul’s as parish church in the mid 1770s as the area round the common developed in the late 18th century and the first part of the 19th century.

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It was the church attended by a group of evangelical Anglicans who shared common political views concerning the abolition of slavery.  The Rev John Venn was rector at Holy Trinity from 1792 to 1813 and it had been his father Henry as a curate in the 1750s which helped to establish Clapham as a centre of evangelism. Other key players, William Wilberforce and Henry Thornton, lived nearby and many of the group’s meetings were held in their houses.  In their own time the group used no particular name, but they later became known as “The Clapham Sect”

The group published a journal, the Christian Observer, edited by Zachary Macaulay and they have been credited with the foundation of several missionary societies, including the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Church Missionary Society. Their efforts were eventually rewarded with the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807, banning the trade throughout the British Empire and then the total emancipation of British slaves with the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

The Clapham Sect have been credited with playing a significant part in the development of Victorian morality, through their writings, their societies, their influence in Parliament, and their philanthropy and moral campaigns, especially against slavery. Interestingly the man on the Clapham Omnibus seems to have nothing to do with any of this, so I guess he is just reasonable – not moral.

There is an English Heritage blue plaque in the porch at the front of the church dedicated to William Wilberforce and other members of the Clapham Sect.

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Just around the corner on the south side of the building is a further (bomb damaged) plaque which commemorates ten of the Clapham sect members by name.

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Stop 11: The drinking fountain on the Common

Leave the fenced area of the church by the other gate. And just a little way along is a drinking fountain and on top there is this statue of a woman giving some water to an old man. Originally located at London Bridge in 1884 it was moved here in 1895.  This was a gift from the United Kingdom Temperance and General Provident Institution, no doubt to promote the drinking of good old water.

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And what do we see at the foot of the statue, another gift. Five (empty) cans of lager and some cardboard – maybe a gift from the street drinkers of Clapham?

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Keep on walking towards the buildings and ahead is the sweep of The Pavement.

Stop 12: Macaulay’s House

On the Pavement, just before you get back to the Tube station, you will see a Little Waitrose. Only from across the street can you see a stone plaque at second floor window level, which says this is where Zachary Macaulay (of the Clapham Sect) and his son, Thomas Babington Macaulay, lived. The world has certainly changed since the Macaulays lived here.

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Just by way of an aside. you will no doubt know that the telephone numbers in London used to be in the format of three letters and four numbers with the three letters being the start of a name. Clapham fittingly was MACaulay. This translated to 622 and then with the move to 8 digit numbers became 7622, which is still one of the local exchange numbers in use today for Clapham.

Today we have seen how it does not always pay to be first in your innovation (the tube station); a cinema that never was, a fire station that used to be, the homes of architects of two of the most distinctive buildings in Westminster, two churches (one of which played a major role in the abolition of slavery), plus some street party locations. You are now back at Clapham Common tube station with its many options for eating and drinking and onwards travel.

SW3 – I used to have this girlfriend known as Elsie …

Ah, Chelsea. It’s a name that appears in many songs, but of course not everyone is about the Chelsea of SW3. For example, Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning with the sun pouring in like butterscotch would never be London and neither could Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel, which is definitely New York. However Elvis Costello is not wanting to go to Chelsea, London.

But there is one song with a Chelsea reference which could be either New York or London and that is the title song of the Musical “Cabaret”.  It is a song sung by Sally Bowles who used to share some sordid rooms in Chelsea with her old girlfriend Elsie. In the 1972 movie version Sally was played by Liza Minnelli as an american, as you would expect. But the original stage musical had Sally Bowles as an English girl, as it was in the 1951 stage play “I am a Camera” and the Christopher Isherwood’s 1937 novella “Sally Bowles”, the original source of the character. It is hard to believe the role was played by Judi Dench in the original London stage production of Cabaret, the musical, in 1968. However the fact the song was written by two americans is rather given away by the line about when Elsie died and: “the neighbo(u)rs came to snicker”. Even today I doubt whether English people snicker.

So we start at the Post Office in King’s Road SW3, which is in a rather depressing little mini mall called King’s Walk. You can tell when a shopping centre is not doing well when the anchor store is a Charity Shop.

Cross the road outside (there is a Zebra crossing) and then slightly to your left ahead of you and running off King’s Road is Royal Avenue

Stop 1: Royal Avenue


This looks so un-English – it is quite like the open spaces you get in Paris, but not quite.

Royal Avenue is a broad avenue with a road down each side and the central area of gravel with two lines of trees between the gravel and each road. A blue sign almost at the far end on the right side explains all. This road was laid out by Sir Christopher Wren in 1682 as part of a planned direct route from the Royal Hospital to Kensington Palace. King Charles II, the sponsor, died in 1685 and so the full scheme was never built. The houses on either side are according to this plaque early 19th century.


We continue to the end. You can see the famous Royal Hospital though the gates of Burton Court but as in the SW1 walk we are eschewing the big ticket items for the small and (hopefully) more interesting. At the end turn right in St Leonard’s Terrace


Stop 2: St Leonards Terrace

A very pleasant street with the first of the many Blue Plaques we shall see today. On the right hand side as we walk is No 18  where Bram Stoker lived


Bram Stoker was an Irish novelist and short story writer who is of course best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known as personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned. And if you are wondering how he got the name Bram – it turns out to be a shortening of Abraham. Obviously really, but until someone points it out you don’t know!

Continue along St Leonards Terrace until Tedworth Square

Stop 3: Tedworth Square

This is a lovely little square marred a bit by modern buildings on the north side. In the middle a small private gated garden under the care of the Cadogan Estate – there are numerous of these garden squares hereabouts but this one must be one of the smallest – if not the smallest.

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On the south side near the corner with Tite Street is our next Blue Plaque – to Samuel L Clements, better known as Mark Twain, who lived here 1896 – 1897


Recently the Guardian newspaper ran one of its “in praise of” editorials about telegrams to note the passing of the Indian Telegram service. They quoted some examples of how great telegrams could be including  an exchange between Mark Twain and his publisher:



Writing this blog I can feel some sympathy with this, especially here in SW3 where there is so much to say!

Walk down Tite Street, note the old street sign at the corner of Christchurch Street – this has only SW with no number and so presumably predates the first world war.

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The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have replaced most of the old street name signs but occasionally you will see one of these really old ones and sometimes there are ones which have Borough of Chelsea along the top and so predate the forming of the Royal Borough in 1965.

Keep walking along Tite Street until you get to the section beyond Royal Hospital Road

Stop 4: Tite Street

Tite Street was laid out in 1877 by the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) to give access to Chelsea Embankment.  It named after Sir William Tite, an architect whose most famous building is probably the Royal Exchange in the city but he also designed many railway stations including the original London terminus of the London, South Western Railway at Vauxhall (Nine Elms). He had been a member of the MBW. He died in 1873 so presumably this was a kind of recognition by the MBW.

We are focussing on the stretch of Tite Street between Royal Hospital Road and Chelsea Embankment which was a bit of an artist’s colony in the late 19th century. You have a blue plaque for Oscar Wilde at number 34. It was here at Tite Street where the Marquis of Queensberry came in June 1894 to confront Wilde about his relationship with Queensberry’s son Lord Alfred Douglas. This was the start of a chain of events which lead to Wilde pursuing a case of libel against Queensberry which in turn precipitated the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde for sodomy and gross indecency.

Across the road a little way down at numbers 31 and 33 is a stone plaque which relates that John Singer Sargeant lived and worked here. Strangely this is not a Blue Plaque

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But the one gap is where Number 35, the White House, once stood. In 1877, the painter James McNeill Whistler commissioned architect and designer, Edward William Godwin to build a house for him here. But Whistler was never able to occupy it. Whistler had a rancorous legal dispute with the writer John Ruskin over the painting called Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket. Ruskin criticised it saying: “I have seen, and heard, much of Cockney impudence before now; but never expected to hear a coxcomb ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Although Whistler won the case, he only got one farthing (¼ old penny) damages leading to his bankruptcy in 1879.

The building was demolished in 1968 and as far as I can see there is no sign anywhere in Tite Street to show it ever existed.

When you reach Dilke Street turn right and continue to the end then turn right into Swan Walk

Stop 5: Chelsea Physic Garden

In Swan Walk you will find the entrance to Chelsea Physic Garden. This was set up by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in 1676 with the purpose of training apprentices in identifying plants.


The location was chosen as the proximity to the river created a warmer microclimate allowing the survival of many non-native plants.  Cedar trees were planted here in 1683, and it is believed this was the first place they were grown in England. In 1712 Dr. Hans Sloane purchased the Manor of Chelsea from Charles Cheyne and this included the 4 acre garden. Hans and Sloane pop up  in various local street names which are on land he once owned, as of course does Cheyne.

Sloane had studied at the Garden in his youth, and was sympathetic to the Apothecaries who were struggling with its upkeep. Sloane granted the Apothecaries a lease on the land for a rent of £5 a year in perpetuity, on condition ‘it be for ever kept up and maintained as a physic garden’. A replica of the original statue of Sir Hans Sloane created by Michael Rysbrack in 1733 has pride of place at the centre of the Garden. The original, damaged by pollution, is now in the British Museum.

The garden is open to the public Tuesday – Friday and Sunday – 11am – 6pm. Adult entry price is currently £9. More info at: http://chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk/

At the end of Swan Walk turn left, cross the road and after Flood Street veer off to the right into Cheyne Walk.

Stop 6: Cheyne Walk (East)

And now for some more Blue Plaques (sorry!). At number 4 is one for the novelist George Eliot, then a little way further down is one which is shared by the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the poet Algernon Swinburne who both lived at the house at Number 16.

Rossetti moved here after the death of his wife, Lizzie, from a drugs overdose in 1862 and he lived here for the best part of 20 years In the last years of his life Rossetti befriended an up and coming writer, Thomas Henry Hall Caine, who became quite well known as Hall Caine, and has now been totally forgotten. Hall Caine wrote about his friendship with Rossetti in a book “Recollections of Rossetti” first published in the 1880s and republished in 1928 for the anniversary of Rossetti’s birth. In this he tells the story of how a grief stricken Rossetti buried his notebook of poems dedicated to his wife in his wife’s coffin, only to have to have her body exhumed a few years later so he could recover the book. Hall Caine was also good friends with Bram Stoker, and in fact Dracula is dedicated to Hall Caine (but under the nickname “Hommy-Beg”!)


Stop 7: site of King Henry VII’s Manor House

A little further along Cheyne Walk between Numbers 23 and 24 Cheyne walk is an alley way with a sign saying this was the site of King Henry VIII’s Manor House.


Chelsea Manor is what gave Chelsea its name. It was acquired by Henry VIII in 1536. The young Elizabeth I of England lived here as a Princess between 1536 and 1548. Anne of Cleves also lived here and died there in 1557.  There have been three different houses on the site, the last of which was demolished in 1825 by Earl Cadogan – the Cadogan Estate still retain ownership of property hereabouts as we saw in Tedworth Square Gardens.

Go down the alley a little bit and there is a sign to warn drivers of vehicles to walk their horses – by order. Not sure by order of whom – it does not say.


Keep going down Cheyne Walk, crossing over Oakley Street and making a short detour in to a small garden ahead

Stop 8:  Cheyne Walk (middle)

Here you will soon come across a homely looking statue of Thomas Carlyle looking confortable in what looks like a dining room chair. He was a 19th Century Scottish philosopher and writer. He lived just down the street behind the statue at Number 24 Cheyne Row.


Go down Cheyne Row passing Carlyle’s House

The house was opened to the public in 1895, just fourteen years after Carlyle’s death. It is preserved very much as it was when Carlyle and his wife lived there despite another resident moving in after them with her scores of cats and dogs.  The house is now owned by the National Trust and is open Tuesday – Sunday  11am – 5pm.

More info at: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carlyles-house/

Go along Cheyne Row and at end turn left and follow St Lawrence Street round

Stop 9: St Lawrence Street

Just as you turn the corner is a square blue plaque set in the wall, which signifies that Chelsea China was made here. It was the first important porcelain factory in England starting in the 1740s. In 1769 it was bought by William Duesbury, owner of the Derby porcelain factory. He kept the factory until 1784. It was then demolished and its moulds, patterns and many of its workmen and artists transferred to Derby. So all that we have to remind ourselves of this bit of industrial history is this plaque.


At the end of St Lawrence Street turn right and you will see ahead of you Old Chelsea Church and its graveyard.

Stop 10  Chelsea Old Church and the Sloane Monument

This most prominent monument you come across is that of Sir Hans Sloane, who had such an important influence over this area.

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The entrance of the Church is at the other end from the Sloane monument. The Church was badly damaged by bombing in 1941 and has been considerably reconstructed. Sir Thomas More had his private chapel built here in 1528 and there are lots of interesting monuments. It does open to the public on some afternoons see http://www.chelseaoldchurch.org.uk/

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Just across the road from the Chelsea Old Church is a sunken garden, do venture in.

Stop 11 Roper’s Gardens

The story of this garden is a little sad. It was laid out as a garden in 1965 and is only here because the area was bombed. It is said this was Sir Thomas More’s orchard, but there is nothing to show of this. There are three to have a look at. First and most obvious a bronze figure, The Awakening” by Gilbert Ledward.


Then hidden away towards the church a little memorial to Gunji Koizumi, who was apparrently the father of British Judo.

And finally and most intriguingly an unfinished stone relief. It looks very like Epstein and if you go round the back you discover it is. It commemorates the fact that he lived and worked at a studio on this site from 1909 to 1914.


Walk down Old Church Street away from the river until you get back to King’s Road

Stop 12: Cineworld Cinema

Now you may be wondering why our final stop is a rather dull looking 4 screen cinema at the corner of King’s Road and Old Church Street. Well back in the 1970s this building was home to the stage musical, the Rocky Horror Show, for just over 5 years.


The show had started at the Royal Court’s 63 seat studio theatre with a run of a month from 19 June 1973. The cast included Tim Curry, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell (billed as Little Nell) and Julie Covington as well as Richard O’Brien, who wrote the book, music and lyrics. Record producer Jonathan King saw it on the second night and signed the cast to make the original cast recording over a long weekend that was rushed out on his UK Records label.

The production was so successful it transferred to the 230-seat Chelsea Classic Cinema, a little way down on Kings Road from 14 August 1973 to 20 October 1973.  This cinema was being redeveloped (and is now a shop). So it then moved again to this building which at the time had around 500 seats. The name was changed to the King’s Road Theatre. At the end of its run at the King’s Road Theatre on 31 March 1979 it transferred to the Comedy Theatre (now the Harold Pinter Theatre). Here the show required some restaging as it was the first theatre that the musical had played at with a traditional proscenium arch stage. For the first time, the musical was also split into two acts with an interval. It finished its run there on 13 September 1980. It has been revived numerous times since and has been having a 40th anniversary tour in the UK. And of course there is the famous 1975 film which has also kept the show alive.

Sadly this building shows no sign of this little bit of history After Rocky Horror it went back to being a cinema, being successively known as the Classic, Cannon, UGC and finally now Cineworld.

And that brings us to the end of our SW3 walk – a walk where we have met a number of really famous people of the late 19th century, but also touched on how this area is much more historic that it first seems – with royal connections in the 16th century and innovative manufactury in the 18th century although there is little tangible left to see.

We are now on King’s Road and so there are plenty of buses for onward travel. 

SW2 – Over the hill and far away to … Streatham

Now here’s a funny thing. I always associated SW2 with Brixton but when I came to look at the area SW2 actually covered I discovered most of the places I thought of as Brixton (the tube station, the market, the police station, the former Bon Marche department store and the Academy) are all actually in SW9.

SW2 really only starts at the Ritzy cinema and Lambeth  Town Hall and then heads up Brixton Hill and actually includes a fair chunk of the northern part of Streatham. So we start not in the centre of Brixton but at the Post Office a couple of bus stops up Brixton Hill at nos 104 – 106.

Walking away from Brixton town we go south towards Streatham and soon turn right into Blenheim Gardens, passing the victorian red brick Post Office sorting office and a tatty looking pub called the Windmill which is apparently a thriving music venue, although you would not know from the outside. Continue to the end of the road and enter Windmill Gardens and head towards the Windmill.

Stop 1: Brixton Windmill

Yes, an actual windmill. Here in SW2 and the sails go round too, although sadly they cannot grind flour at the moment.


This windmill was built in 1816. It was known as Ashby’s mill as they were the family who owned the mill for its entire working life. Wind power was used to mill flour until 1862 by which time the area had become too built up and apparently this meant the windmill could not operate efficiently. Milling was moved to Mitcham but this site continued to be used by the Ashbys for storage. When there were problems with the water wheel at Mitcham, the Brixton mill was put back into use with steam power in 1902. Later a gas engine was used. The mill continued to produce flour until the 1930s.

The Mill was listed as Grade II* in 1951  and was bought by the London County Council from the Ashby family trust in 1957. In the early 1960s, the council laid out the area as an open space but most of the buildings associated with the Mill were demolished.  It is now owned by Lambeth Council and supported by a group of local residents who formed the Friends of Brixton Windmill in 2003.

Although the sails can turn, the milling machinery does not work. The friends are now fundraising to get the mill grinding flour again. The friends do tours from time to time (no charge but voluntary donation willingly accepted), but if you want to visit the upper floors you should book in advance to guarantee a place on the tour. More info at http://www.brixtonwindmill.org/home

Retrace your steps to Brixton Hill and turn right. Continue along Brixton Hill until  Waterworks Road where you should turn right

Stop 2: Brixton Waterworks

Passing a closed down pub (George IV) which looks like it is soon to be a Tesco and ahead is another surprise. A waterworks established under an Act of Parliament of 1832. Originally built as a resevoir by the Lambeth Waterworks Company so that it could expand the area to which it supplied water beyond north Lambeth.

The Lambeth Waterworks Company sold off surplus land to the prison next door in 1836, when it wished to expand.  By the 1870s the reservoir had been covered, presumably to minimise contamination. The Lambeth Company became part of the Metropolitan Water Board in 1903. By the second half of the 20th century the covered reservoirs with their brick vaulted roofs had grassed over and were used as a sports ground.

Thames Water still own the site so you can only get as far as the gates. But peeking through the gates you can see the windmill beyond the industrial buildings. I now realise this was was I was looking at from when I went up the windmill (see last photograph in this group)

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Apparently the London water ring main passes under this site at about 45 metres below ground. But this is not something you see from the gate.

Retrace you steps back to Brixton Hill and turn right continuing to Jebb Avenue.  You can go down Jebb Avenue a little way for our next stop

Stop 3: Brixton Prison

There has been a prison on this site since 1819. It was first known as Surrey House of Correction. The building was extended at various dates, and in 1852 the prison was sold to Sir William Tite, an architect, as an investment, who sold it on to the Government less than a year later at a profit said to be £4,550. The Surveyor General of Prisons at the time was one Colonel Jebb so hence the name of the street that runs into the prison.   The prison now serves a number of courts in South London and houses a mixture of remand and sentenced prisoners. This picture was as close as I thought I would go to the prison!


One notable inmate in 1967 was a certain Mick Jagger, although he only stayed one night. Presumably he was let out on bail pending appeal. He had been sentence to three months for a drugs offence but this was later amended to a conditional discharge on appeal.

Go back to Brixton Hill and find a safe place to cross, but do try and look back towards Brixton, as you will see a good view of the City (but not in my photo!)


Stop 4 : Rush Common

Now you may have noticed that the buildings on the eastern side of Brixton Hill are set back a long was from the road and in a number of places there is grass but in other places it is used for car parking. This is Rush Common, which it turns out is rather unique.


This is not actually a Common in legal terms. According to Lambeth Council, it is not registered under the Commons legislation. Rather it is subject to the Rush Common Act 1806 – an Enclosure Act, which enclosed and divided certain common lands into private ownership to allow for their better use.  Section 17 of the Act sought to maintain the open character of Rush Common land by preventing building, which I guess is why almost all the buildings are set back so far off the road. Subsequent legislation amended the Act, providing powers to allow for the building of St Matthews Church and to provide enforcement powers, which now rest with Lambeth Council.

There are buildings or parts of buildings on parts of Rush Common Land but these were constructed before planning controls were introduced. But a large proportion of Rush Common Land is in Council ownership and used as public open space or housing land as part of residents amenity space. The remainder is in numerous private ownerships and made up of residential and commercial properties with distinctive deep frontages. There is no right of access onto the land that is in private ownership. More info on this unusual arrangement, including the planning controls which apply, is  on the Lambeth Council website:  http://www.lambeth.gov.uk/Services/HousingPlanning/Planning/RushCommonland.htm

Keep on walking down the east side of Brixton Hill until you reach this closed up looking building just before the junction with the South Circular Road

Stop 5:  Old Tram depot

The sign over the arch gives the game away. It says LCC trams. And yes this really was a tram shed and amazingly it is still used today by the Arriva bus company. Their sign is by the door.


Trams were a key reason why this area developed in the first place. First of all the horse trams of the Metropolitan Street Tramways Company came in 1892. However as the horses would have found it difficult to get up Brixton Hill, a cable haulage system was introduced. Apparently much like the San Francisco cable cars, except the cable was only used for the hill and the rest of the route to Westminster Bridge was still drawn by horses. This was in fact the second cable car line in London, the first was opened in Highgate in 1884. The tramway on Brixton Hill was electrified in 1904 and this unique way of working disappeared.

There are some great pictures of the old trams on the Urban75 site: http://www.urban75.org/brixton/history/brixton-hill-tram.html

This particular building is of a later vintage by which time the trams here had been acquired by the London County Council. It was designed by the London County Council’s architect, G Topham Forest. This shed opened 1924 and had a modest capacity of 30 electric tramcars, operating in conjunction with the larger shed which is now where Brixton Bus garage is – more of which anon. For many years this was occupied by a motor dealer but in the nougties, it was apparently acquired by London Buses and so Arriva now use it in conjunction with their Brixton garage, so it has kind of gone full circle.

We now cross back over Brixton Hill and then the South Circular Road.

Stop 6: Crown and Sceptre pub

This Wetherspoon pub was built in the 1820s or 1830s. According to Weatherspoons, the queen’s dress-maker, Norman Hartnell, was born in Streatham, the son of the publican of the Crown & Sceptre. As the last two pubs (George IV by the Waterworks and the Telegraph – between the prison and the tram shed) we have passed have shut down, this was pretty much the first place for a short refreshment break. Looks better from the outside but there is a shady outdoor seating area.


Cross over the main road which has now become Streatham Hill, and keeping walking towards Streatham. On your left is a private 1930s development of flats 

Stop 7: Pullman court

According to architectural historian Pevser, this development is a “display of the motifs of picturesque modern planning and design, with old trees as part of the composition” with a grouping three and seven storeyed blocks. The walls are of white plaster and there are metal railings and metal window frames.  Looks very nice from the outside but I am not sure about these kind of developments. Apparently most of the flats are on 126 year leases dating from 1976, so they have less than 90 years to run which I am told does not make for an attractive proposition for a mortgage. And then of course there are the service charges.


Stop 8: Brixton Bus garage

This is one of the really big bus garages. It started life as noted above as a tram depot and in fact it provided the steam driven winding gear for the cable tramway of late victorian times. Nothing of that orginal building exists as the current garage dates from the early 1950s.  One little curoisity is that many buses terminate here but they never ever say they are going to Brixton Bus garage. They use the destination “Streatham Hill, Telford Avenue”. I guess this was to avoid confusion as Brixton Bus Garage is really in Streatham. But it could not be called Streatham garage because there used to be another garage on the south side of Streatham which was called Streatham Garage


Past the bus garage, there are three palaces of entertainment on the west side of the road in quick succession all dating from the late 1920s and early 1930s.  

Stop 9: Former Streatham Hill Theatre

First is the Streatham Hill Theatre, designed by noted theatre architect G.W.R. Sprague together with architect W.H. Barton. It was Sprague’s last theatre and was one of the largest live theatres to be built in the suburbs of London with originally with around 3,000 seats over three levels.


The theatre opened in November 1929. It was always independently operated, and was a popular live theatre with just some limited cinema use. The auditorium received a direct hit from a German V1 rocket bomb on 3rd July 1944. One person was killed and several were injured. However as the Streatham Hill Theatre had previously operated so successfully, clearly it was felt that it could again be successful as a live theatre. The building was restored back to its original glory, re-opening on 26th December 1950. But clearly the world was moving on. It finally closed as a theatre was in June 1962 and was converted into a Mecca Bingo Club later that year. It is still open but is now called the Riva Bingo club.

About 5 years ago a local artist Timothy Sutton saw some of the patrons standing outside having a cigarette as they have to do following the smoking ban. He painted their portraits which can be seen at  http://www.bingogirls.net/

Walk a little further down the road where you can see boarded up a bowling alley which was at one time a cinema. 

Stop 10: Former Gaumont Palace cinema

The Gaumont Palace cinema opened in March 1932. Gaumont was a national chain of cinemas which never really made it, ending up being bought by Odeon.


This building has not had a happy life and was used as a cinema for only about 18 years in total. Like the Streatham Hill Theatre, it was also damaged by a German V1 rocket in July 1944. But it had to wait longer to be rebuilt only reopening until July 1955 by which time it was called just the Gaumont. It closed as a cinema in March 1961 and the interior was reconstructed as one of them new fangled bowling alleys, which opened in January 1962.

I guess it was not such a great loss to the stock of London cinemas because according Allen Eyles in his “Gaumont British Cinemas” book:  “the Auditorium was uninspired and had acoustic problems: an echo could be heard at the back of the circle from certain positions.” He goes on to suggest that this cinema was no match for the nearby Astoria (later Odeon) or Regal (later ABC) cinemas.

The bowling alley closed in early 2008 and the building has been unused since then. Apparently there are plans for redevelopment. Hopefully the facade will be saved.

And just a few more steps along another sad looking building, a closed down night club.

Stop 11: Former Locarno Ballroom

This is the former Locarno Ballroom, opened in 1929 by the band leader Billy Cotton. It was one of the first, if not the first, purpose built ballrooms in Britain. This formed a chain owned by Mecca. Many stars appeared here in the early days including Glenn Miller, Laurel & Hardy and Charlie Chaplin. In the sixties bands such as  The Rolling Stones and The Small Faces were here. And before disco took hold this was the place to come to dance, and these ballrooms, the Locarno included, would feature in the original “Come Dancing” television series.

The Locarno has undergone many changes, becoming a disco and nightclub with numerous name changes from ‘The Cats Whiskers’ in 1969, ‘ The Studio’ in 1984, ‘The Ritzy’ in 1990 and finally ‘Caesars Night Club’ in 1995.  When the doors closed in 2010, an article in the Local Guardian advertised the auction of the chariot and horse that once adorned the entrance.

“For sale: one Roman chariot, four horses, featured in a Spice Girls video – price on application. Preferred buyer local to area”

Like its near neighbour the former Gaumont cinema, it is awaiting redevelopment. Planning permission has been given for a residential and shopping development.

So now we are practically at Streatham Hill station and still in SW2. In addition to the train there are numerous buses for your onward journey. Alternatively there are the delights of Streatham proper to “tempt”, but we must wait until we get to SW16 before we venture there. So the SW2 walk has been a very different character to the first walk in SW1. We started with the workaday world – a mill, a waterworks and a prison, moved through a little bit of transport ending up with three examples of how mass entertainment developed in the inter war years. Now on to SW3 which will certainly be different again.