Well I am afraid that the full SW13 tour will have to wait a little due to another project – more of which anon.
But in the meantime, here is a white swan which will feature in the SW13 walk.
Architectural historian, Pevsner, says Balham was never a proper village, just a settlement on the road between Clapham and Tooting before it became absorbed in the growth of London in the 19th Century. There is really very little which predates the coming of the railway in 1863.
But of course in many people’s minds Balham will always be “The Gateway to the South” which kind of sums up a place that does not seem to have much going for it.
This phrase “Balham: Gateway to the South” is always associated with Peter Sellers but he did not write it or originally perform the sketch of that name. It was written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden for a 1950s BBC radio series called Third Division with actor Robert Beatty extolling the wonders of ‘Bal-ham’. It was only later more famously performed by Peter Sellers in a parody of an American newsreel travelogue host. This was subsequently released on the 1958 record “The Best of Sellers” and that is what everyone knows. Here is a link to that famous recording in case you want to remind yourself or indeed in case you have never heard it in full: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RTWk9QIKS0 (may need to be reloaded but should work if you do that)
We start at Balham Post Office which is 92a Balham High Road.
Stop 1: Balham Post Office
Unusually I am making the Post Office itself the first stop on this walk. Not because it is particularly beautiful or historic but because of its odd situation. It is a sixties building I would say and it sits some 10 metres back from the road in a little courtyard. Why? Well there was clearly a plan to widen the road. This is afterall one of the main radial routes out of London. Bombing had done much of the clearance further up Balham Hill as we shall see later, and to get ahead of the game the Post Office was built far back on a new building line so it would not have to be knocked down when the road was widened. Well of course as you can see the road never got widened!
Turn right out of the courtyard and at the traffic lights take the road which veers off to the left. This is Bedford Hill. After the Sainsbury’s car park, at the next set of lights, on the corner diagonal from the car park is our next stop.
Stop 2: The Bedford
The Bedford is a live entertainment pub venue which has hosted the ‘Banana Cabaret’ comedy club for over 25 years. People such as Eddie Izzard, Jo Brand and Al Murray have appeared here.
The building is extensive – the public areas spread over three floors with 5 bars and 5 function rooms. It was originally a hotel and back in 1876, the building housed the coroner’s inquest into the unsolved murder of local man Charles Bravo who was poisoned, possibly by his wife, although that was never proved.
Turn right down Balham Station Road and on the wall holding up the main line station is the next thing we are going to look at.
Stop 3: “Impressions of Balham” reliefs
On the wall are four bronze resin reliefs called “Impressions of Balham” by artists Julia Barton and Christine Thomas (and apparently also the people of Balham). This was funded by Wandsworth Council and the Urban Programme in 1991. There should be a sign explaining what this is but I think it must have gone missing. I could not see any information on the street about these reliefs. I am not sure they work very well, as they are quite hard to see. And it is hard to work out what is going on in each panel. No doubt there is all sorts of local significance, but I can’t work it out!
Keep walking along Balham Station Road and you come first to the Southern station and then to the Underground station buildings
Stop 4: Balham Stations
The station building now used by the Southern Railway dates from 1863, whilst the Underground station adjoining is a Charles Holden design dating from 1926. They are linked internally so you can interchange between the two stations without going outside but it is a bit of a trek as you are going from a station high on an embankment through two ticket halls separated by a staircase and then down an escalator to the deep level underground station. And of course it is worse going up!
On 14 October 1940 a bomb penetrated 32 feet down, exploding in the cross passage between the two Underground platforms. A bus later fell into the crater. Gas and water mains were ruptured and there was flooding which hampered the rescue effort There are some pictures on http://ww2today.com/14th-october-1940-disaster-at-balham-tube-station .Really amazing ones of the bus and the crater. It is not absolutely agreed how many people were killed – the number varies between 64 and 68. There is a remembrance plaque in the station ticket hall. The first plaque said there were 64 fatalities but this plaque was replaced in 2010 by the current one which gives no number.
This incident provides a pivotal moment towards the end of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement. The novel and the subsequent film date the event incorrectly, with the novel placing it in September 1940, and the film dating it as 15 October rather than the previous day.
Now go turn left at the tube station entrance and go under the railway bridge.
Stop 5: Balham Travelodge (Site of Palladium Cinema)
The first thing you see after the bridge is the Travelodge. This is a fairly recent addition to Balham and is a rebuild of a dull looking office block called Steel House.
But this is the site of the Palladium Cinema which had been demolished in the 1950’s. The cinema had opened in 1914 but was taken over by the Gaumont Company in 1928 and enlarged with a full stage facilities. The architect for this conversion was Cecil Massey. It was severely damaged by a bomb in 1940. Not sure if this was at the same time as the one that did the damage to the tube station, but it could not have been the same bomb. The pictures clearly show the crater for the bomb that hit the tube station as being on the north side of the railway bridge and we are now on the south side. The cinema never re-opened.
Keep walking down Balham High Road and across the road you will see St Mary’s Church
Stop 6: St Mary’s Church
This church started as a chapel in 1805 and as the 19th century progressed got larger and grander. The facade we see today was only completed in 1903. The interior has lavish marble and mosaic decoration dating from the 1890s.
This too was affected by wartime bombing and there is a little plaque at the front to say the clock in the tower was repaired by members and friends of the St Mary’s Sports and Social Club in memory of church and club members who lost their lives in the war.
Keep walking along Balham High Road and across the road you will see a massive block of flats. This technically is in SW17 but most people think of Du Cane Court as being in Balham so I am including it here with our SW12 walk.
Stop 7: Du Cane Court
Du Cane Court is said to be the largest block of flats in Europe built for private occupation rather than as social housing.
It has 676 flats which range from studios up to 4-bedroom flats. The block has had a number of notable residents, including comedian Tommy Trinder, actress Dame Margaret Rutherford, model/showgirl Christine Keeler, and, currently, comedian and writer Arthur Smith. Scenes for the TV series Poirot have been filmed here, and you can see why.
Retrace you steps back up to the railway bridge and keep going on. On the left just before the market is our next stop.
Stop 8: 172 – 174 Balham High Road (former cinema site)
This is the site of a very old cinema. The Cinematograph Theatre was the fifteenth cinema in a chain founded by early cinema promoter Montagu A. Pyke. It opened in September 1911 It was re-named Picture House around 1916, and re-designed and enlarged in 1927. It was taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) in 1933. In 1953, the frontage was demolished and a new facade was built. The cinema re-opened as the Ritz Cinema. The Ritz Cinema closed in 1968 and became a bingo club. Later Bollywood films were screened. The Bingo and Asian films use ended in the mid-1980’s and the building was demolished in the Summer of 1985. Now as you can see it is a shop.
Keep walking up the main road, past Waitrose and stop opposite Foxton’s Estate Agents.
Stop 9: 75 Balham High Road (another former cinema site)
There is just a branch of Foxtons Estate Agents at No 75 Balham High Road now, but this was once a building which variously had been a swimming pool, concert hall, theatre and cinema.
It started life as the The Swimming Baths Concert Hall in 1890, with a swimming pool under the wooden concert hall floor. It only had a narrow entrance on the High Road and the auditorium was behind. In 1907, it was renamed the Balham Empire Theatre showing films and it is said this is one of the first theatres to go over full time to showing films. It had several changes of name: Theatre De Luxe (1909), the Olympia (1915) and the Pavilion (1922). In 1928 it was over by Gaumont Theatres and eventually re-named Gaumont in 1949. It closed in 1960 and became a Bingo Club, It was demolished in 1974 and used as car sales space. Subsequently a new building was built on the site which kind of blends into the facades on each side.
Keep walking along the main road.
Stop 10: Balham Hill (site of Balham Hippodrome)
As we go up Balham Hill on either side of the road is a post war estate of flats called the Balham Hill Estate. Somewhere on the left hand side was the site of the Balham Hippodrome, Opened as the Royal Duchess Theatre in 1899. It had a Beaux-Arts style exterior topped by a huge copper dome under a cupola with a Classical winged figure. It had 1,268 seats and was designed by W.G.R. Sprague. In 1903, it was named Duchess Palace Theatre and films were screened from 1908. In 1909, it was re-named Balham Hippodrome Theatre, and was a full time cinema until 1915 but then reverted back to variety. It was bombed in the Second World War and was closed. It was demolished in the 1960s.
Moving on up the Hill we pass the Gateway Hotel on the left. Wonder if their guests know the significance of the name. The hotel markets itself as being in Clapham, presumably because Clapham South tube is closest.
Cross over Malwood Road and on the other corner is our final stop
Stop 11: Majestic Wine (facade of former Odeon Cinema)
This is one of the distinctive Odeon cinemas. Built in 1938, it has that unmistakable Odeon style with those creamy tiles and the tower. It survived as an Odeon cinema until 1972. From 1974 to 1979 it was a cinema showing asian films, called the Liberty. Then in the early 1980s the auditorium was demolished for flats, but the facade and front section was retained and became one of the first Majestic Wine Warehouses. Interesting Majestic call this their Clapham branch. For most of its life this was the Odeon Balham, which is technically right as it is in Balham Hill, SW12, but it is so close to Clapham South station.
Shame that this wonderful facade is spoilt by all those mobile phone masts sticking out.
We seem to have visited quite a few places of entertainment (mainly from the past) and again wartime bombing seems to feature highly. But to finish here are a few words of C.Quill Smith from “Balham: Gateway to the South”:
“Broad-bosomed, bold, becalmed, benign, Lies Balham, four-square on the Northern Line”
For onward travel you have local buses on Balham hill or of course Clapham South station
The Post Office call SW11 Battersea and it does indeed include Battersea but most people will associate SW11 with Clapham Junction, which is of course not in Clapham – that is SW4. The name comes from the station, so here is another example of the railways defining what a place is called.
The London and South Western Railway (LSWR) opened its initial line from Nine Elms as far as Woking though here in 1838 but it would be another 25 years before a station was built at what we now know as Clapham Junction. A second line, initially from Nine Elms to Richmond, opened in 1846. Nine Elms was replaced in 1848 by a new terminus initially called Waterloo Bridge, now Waterloo. The London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) opened a line from Victoria to Croydon in 1860.
Then the station was finally built at Clapham Junction in March 1863 – a joint venture of the LSWR, the LBSCR and the West London Extension Railway (which ran to Willesden Junction) as an interchange station for their lines. They had an issue over what to call the station as it was between the villages of Battersea and Clapham, although nearer to Battersea. They chose Clapham as it was rather more upmarket than Battersea and the rest as they say is history.
Up the Junction is a phrase which has no doubt been used since the place first got the station. But perhaps the term “Up the Junction” really came to prominence in the 1960s with Nell Dunn’s 1963 eponymous book which became a TV play in 1965 and a film in 1968. This was no holds barred depiction of life in the slums of Battersea/Clapham Junction. Then of course there is the 1979 song by Squeeze which has nothing to do with the Nell Dunn story but is kind set in the same world albeit a bit later. (I’m really up the Junction is the last line of this song, in case you were wondering)
We shall start our walk at the main Battersea Post Office which is on Lavender Hill just up from the station. Turn left out of the Post Office. But do take a look at the Library across the road. We shall come back to this later as stop 3 later but you get a better view of the facade from here. Keep walking up Lavender Hill crossing over Latchmere Road and stopping at the next corner (Theatre Street)
Stop 1: Shakespeare House (site of Shakespeare Theatre)
On the western corner of Lavender Hill and Theatre Street is Shakespeare House which is on the site of the Shakespeare Theatre. It is currently Foxton’s Estate Agents and if you look in you will find a load of young people sitting like battery hens at banks of desks just as if they are in a call centre.
The theatre was built in 1896 to the designs of the prolific theatre architect W. G. Sprague and had a capacity of around 1200. It was mainly used for drama and plays and Ellen Terry, Lily Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt are all said to have performed here. It became a cinema in 1923 but was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War. Battersea Council bought the site with the idea of possibly expanding the Town Hall next door, but that never happened. The remains were finally demolished in 1957 and somewhat later replaced by this dull looking block.
Stop 2: Battersea Arts Centre (Formerly Battersea Town Hall)
On the other corner of Theatre Street is the old Battersea Town Hall built in 1893 and converted to become the Battersea Arts Centre in the 1970s.
The Borough of Battersea was merged with the Borough of Wandsworth in the local government reorganisation of 1965. Unlike in Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea, the name of Battersea was then completely lost and the new bigger borough was simply called Wandsworth – even though all of Battersea went into the new borough but quite a chunk of the old Wandsworth borough was chopped off and given to the new borough of Lambeth.
In due course Wandsworth chose to concentrate its offices in the much bigger and grander Town Hall in Wandsworth. But at least the old Town Hall has found a useful purpose. And of course the name of the side street (Theatre Street) derives not from the current use of the old Battersea Town Hall but from the fact there was an actual theatre on the other corner.
Now cross the road and return back down Lavender Hill
Stop 3: Battersea Library
The main library building on Lavender Hill dates from 1890 and has an extension dated 1924 at the side for the reference library which you can see in Altenburg Gardens.
The main building looks like it has been stripped of its original features but the reference library has survived. Go in, turn left once you are in the main library area and go down a little corridor and through these wonderful doors. You are then in this top lit panelled room, with a gallery. It is not all old fashioned though – there are quite a few pcs available for public use.
Return to the street and turn left. Keep walking down Lavender Hill, passing the 1950s Pavilion Chambers, a reminder that hereabouts was the Electric Pavilion (later the Pavilion Palace) Cinema, another wartime bombing casualty. It was built in 1916 and was actually across the road where the ASDA car park is now.
After the junction with Ilminster Gardens, you will reach what is now Debenhams.
Stop 4: Debenhams (Former Arding and Hobbs) Department store
Arding and Hobbs started in 1876 but their store on this site was destroyed by fire in 1909 and had to be rebuilt. And what a rebuild. It is perhaps the best example of an Edwardian department store in suburban London. But despite this major anchor store, Clapham Junction never really developed in to a proper sub-regional shopping centre like Croydon or Kingston. Perhaps it was just too difficult to find sites for more large shops, so apart from Woolworths, Marks and Spencer and Perrings Furniture store, Clapham Junction did not have big shops.
Arding and Hobbs became part of the Allders group and when that went bust in 2005, this store was taken on by Debenhams, so at least it is still a department store.
Walk along the Lavender Hill side of the store and cross over St John’s Road and go up St John’s Hill. At the corner of Severus Road is our next stop.
Stop 5: The Grand
This is the only completely surviving theatre by an architect called Woodrow. The exterior is unusual, if not unique. It is a massive, confident, red brick cliff with pink stone dressings, The exterior has a vaguely Indian flavour. There are classical details, but it is very severe. The interior is sort of Chinese which makes for an odd combination.
Opened in 1900 as a music hall, it became the Essoldo Cinema in 1930 and then in 1972 it was converted again, this time for bingo.
In 1991 the building was partly restored and altered for live music concerts. Wetherspoons made a bid to convert it into a pub but failed. The building carries on as a nightclub with some live music, and still retaining its original name; the Grand.
Apparently the Grand is still in a pretty good state, It has much of its original decoration, most of its structure remains intact and it is said it could be converted back into a theatre if someone had the money and vision.
More info on the Grand (and also the Shakespeare which was covered at Stop 1) on the fabulous Arthur Lloyd site: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Clapham.htm
Now up a little bit and across the road is the recently reopened Brighton Yard entrance to Clapham Junction station. This was for many decades disused but has just been reinstated. Clapham Junction has 17 platforms linked by a subway at the eastern end and a bridge at the western end. Until this entrance was reopened there was no exit off the bridge.
Now if you have an Oystercard, Travelcard or Freedom Pass, then go through the barriers and we will come out the other side of the station. Otherwise you will have to go back down the hill and turn left at the Falcon pub into Falcon Road. Then you can pick up the walk on the other side of the railway underbridge.
Stop 6: Clapham Junction Station
There are signs on some of the platforms saying it is Britain’s busiest station, without specifying by what measure. Each day about 2,000 trains pass through the station, more than through any other station in Europe. It is not the busiest station by number of passengers actually using the platforms, because most pass through and do not get off. But it is a key interchange station.
The Brighton yard entrance does look very modest for such a busy station but of course it is not the main way in which is further back down St John’s Hill.
But the thing I love about going in this way is how when you go over the bridge the whole vista opens out and you get to see a long way to the east and north. You can see the Shard and the St George’s Tower at Vauxhall very clearly from around the Brighton lines area (pictures taken between platforms 13 and 14). You can actually pick out some of the other city buildings like the Gerkin, Walkie Talkie and Tower 42. I guess you could always have done this but it is only now with the Shard that you know roughly where to look! You also get a peek of the London Eye although I could not capture this on camera!
Then further over the bridge (about Platform 6), you get to see Canary Wharf. It is odd that you do not see this at first and it only comes into vision as you go over the bridge and the angle changes.
Whilst we are over the low numbered platforms, I have to mention Oscar Wilde. On 20 November 1895 , Oscar Wilde passed through this station on his way from Wandsworth Prison to Reading Gaol to serve a two year sentence of hard labour for gross indecency. He had to stand for half an hour on the platform, shackled. Crowds gathered and a complete stranger spat in his face.
All the references I can find say he was standing on “the centre platform” which for a station which probably had 17 platforms even then is not too helpful. If you were going to Reading today from Clapham Junction you would go from platforms 5 or 6. But who knows which platform was there and being used for Reading trains in 1895! (and does it matter?)
Now go down on to Platforms 1 & 2 and then go into the subway turn left and go out through the Grant Road exit. Turn right and go past the bus turnround and then turn left into Falcon Road. Cross Falcon Road at the zebra crossing (Chicken Spot is on the corner across the road)
Stop 7: The “Afghan” roads
The road which joins Falcon Road here is Afghan Road and it is one of a little knot of streets which from the period of the houses I would guess have names connected with the second Anglo Afghan War (1878 – 1880).
The local estate agents call this area “Little India” which does show a complete lack of historical or geographical knowledge and total cultural insensitivity given none of these places are actually in India. But that’s estate agents for you. Note the somewhat unusual spellings of what we today know as Nepal, Kandahar and Kabul.
There is one interloper in this group which does not bear the name of a place in Asia. It is Patience Road. Probably named after a girl or woman but nevertheless perhaps a reminder that we should not rush into wars especially in or around Afghanistan.
If you have ventured into this group of roads, then return to Falcon Road and keep walking up to the junction with Battersea Park Road, cross over and go down Battersea High Street – one of those high streets that never really made it as a shopping area. Keep walking down the High Street, going past the fire access gate and under the railway bridge. Ahead on the left is our next stop.
Stop 8: Katherine Low Settlement, 108 Battersea High Street
This is a curious pair of buildings – early 19th century on the left and on the right a turn of the 20th century extension, with green glazed tiles at the lower level. This is the Katherine Low Settlement. It is a multi-purpose community and social action centre and its stated purpose is to fight the effects of poverty and isolation.
Katherine Mackay Low was born in the United States in 1855. Her parents were British. After her mother died in 1863, her father brought the family back to England and settled in Leamington. When he died, the family came to London, and Katherine devoted herself to the care of the less fortunate. She died on 2 January 1923. Her friends raised the funds to create the Katherine Low Settlement which was opened on 17 May 1924 by the then Duchess of York (later Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother)
Although this charity dates back to 1924, it is on the premises of an early charitable organisation (the Cedars Club) which apparently foundered after the First World War when ill-health forced the retirement of its principal, Nesta Lloyd (presumably the Miss Lloyd who laid the foundation stone of the extension).
Continue walking along Battersea High Street and you cannot fail to see our next stop
Stop 9: Le QuecumBar (Gypsy Jazz)
Well this is a surprising find in a Battersea back street.
Le QuecumBar is apparently a unique 1930′s Parisien style live music venue, specialising in promoting the Gypsy guitarist, Django Reinhardt, Gypsy Swing and those who perform it. It was a style born in 1930s Paris, drawing on nearly 2000 years of Gypsy culture. This place claims to be the world’s premier Django Reinhardt gypsy swing venue, but I guess there’s not too much competition for that accolade.
However this is definitely on the list of places to go (I can’t recommend it yet as I haven’t been inside so don’t blame me if it’s awful. But I am happy to take the credit for pointing you in its direction if it’s wonderful!)
Keep walking along Battersea High Street, and on the left you will come to what is now called Thomas’s Battersea school
Stop 10: Thomas’s Battersea school (former Sir Walter St John School)
Thomas’s is a group of private schools in inner London. Although a family run establishment they have come to be seen as a feeder for major British Public Schools.
The Battersea site occupies a Grade II listed building. A large part of the structure dates from the late 1850s and is by William Butterfield, the gothic revivalist architect – one of his best known works is All Saints Margaret Street just off Oxford Street.
The building housed the former Sir Walter St John Grammar School, founded in 1700. The School was reorganised as a comprehensive in the 1970s but eventually closed in 1986. Thomas’s London Day School purchased the building in 1990 and so the building continues in educational use.
It seems the Sir Walter St John school had an unusual legal status which meant that when it closed the assets did not revert to the local education authority. Instead the Sir Walter St John’s Educational Charity was formed with these resources in 1992. This continues to support disadvantaged children in the former Boroughs of Battersea and Lambeth.
Continue to the end of Battersea High Street and you get to a little square which is lovely. It is a shame there are not more bits like this around here. Turn left into Vicarage Crescent
Stop 11: Vicarage Crescent
There are a few more nice bits before industrial and commercial Battersea takes over. In a courtyard is a 19th Century warehouse which now houses the Royal Academy of Dancing and then there are some early 19th century houses, one of which has a blue plaque to Edward Wilson, one of the antarctic explorers who died on Scott’s ill fated expedition to get to the South Pole.
Fascinating fact time: Wilson was a qualified doctor who trained at St George’s. The students’ cafe at the modern day St George’s Hospital Medical School is apparently named Eddie Wilson’s.
Cross the road and pass through the little garden to the riverside walk.
Stop 12: Riverside Walk and St Mary’s Church
And so we reach the river. Vicarage Crescent is separated from the river here by just a small green area. As you face the river turn right and walk along. It is a bit of a mixture. A few houseboats moored and some of an earlier generation of riverside flats – not the massive blocks you get now. Across the river looms Lots Road power station, built in the early 1900s to provide electricity for the underground. It finally closed in 2002 and awaits regeneration – if that is the right word for a former power station!
And at the end of this stretch of the riverside walk we get to the lovely St Mary’s Church. A little overshadowed by a newish block of flats, it does have the feel of a New England church as do so many of the churches of this period – this one was built in the late 1770s, although there has been a church here since medieval times. But I can’t help feel a little sad here as to how there are just fragments of the old Battersea left and some of what has been built since the war is ugly or dull or both.
We are now at the end of our SW11 walk. We did not quite make it to Battersea Park or Battersea Power Station but we did get a feel for the late Victorian/Edwardian splendour that existed around Clapham Junction station and we ventured in old Battersea even if there is are only fragments left to see.
There is a bus stop close to the church to get the 170 down to Clapham Junction. To go the other way walk down to Battersea Square or else you can walk along Battersea Church Road and pick up any number of buses at the southern end of Battersea Bridge.
SW10 is a really small post code tucked in between SWs 5, 6 and 7. It does not really have a heart as such. The Post Office calls it West Brompton but even that is hard to pin down. I am not even sure if West Brompton station is actually in SW10. Some or all of it could be in SW5 and 6. Anyhow we start at the other end of SW10 which has the great name of “World’s End”. Apparently this was named after a 17th century tavern which gave its name to a hamlet on the King’s Road. I guess it might have seemed like the World’s End given how bad the roads were then and how long it would have taken to get here from what was then London! The modern day pub of this name dates only from 1901 and is sadly closed at the moment, so we won’t be going there. We begin at the World’s End Post Office at 351 – 353 King’s Road which is just inside SW3 but only just.
So turn left out of the Post Office and head away from Chelsea and as the King’s Road bends you enter SW10. Take the first turning on the left (Milman’s Street) and almost immediately to the left is our first stop.
Stop 1: Moravian Burial ground
Enter through the gate and you go into a peaceful garden which is actually the Moravian Burial Ground (which may or not be open – hopefully you will strike it lucky). This was first used for burials in the 1750s by a protestant group which originally hailed from what is now the eastern Czech republic. The burial ground is split into four quarters: married men; unmarried men; married women and unmarried women. Everyone gets the same basic headstone flat in the ground regardless of status.
The Moravian Church had met in Fetter Lane in the City but their chapel was destroyed in the blitz so they settled here, where they had their burial ground already.
It all looks a bit like a bowls club – it’s just those flat gravestones that give the game away.
Now go down Milman’s Street to the end – which is Cheyne Walk
Stop 2 Cheyne Walk (and some famous SW10 residents)
The buildings on this stretch of Cheyne Walk are hard on the road unlike further east where they mostly set back from the busy traffic flow. And this bit of Cheyne Walk in SW10 is certainly busy as it is part of a sort of ring road. We already saw a few blue plaques on the SW3 part of Cheyne Walk. But here in SW10 section of Cheyne Walk, we have a veritable treasure trove of blue plaques, plus an important non-blue one.
At the corner of Milman’s Street on the right is No 104 with plaques to poet Hilaire Belloc and artist Walter Greaves who lived in the same house at different times.
Then if you turn right you get to No 108 where Sculptor John Tweed lived and then next door at No 109 where painter Philip Steer lived and died. Not sure I have heard of either of these!
Keep going and you will see a metal(?) plaque to show that the artist J M W Turner lived and worked at No 119. And just next door at No 120 (and quite a bit later) lived women’s rights campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst
Interesting that probably the most famous person out of these six (Turner) is the one who does not have an actual blue plaque. Such is the hit and miss nature of blue plaquery.
Retrace your steps a little along Cheyne Walk and go down Riley Street (by the Painted Heron building). Follow this road round past the fire access gate and into the Cremorne Estate. The road snakes left and then right. Go past the children’s playground and ahead you will see a passageway through a fifties building which leads you back to King’s Road. Here’s picture in case you think you are lost!
Go through that passageway and turn right. Across the road from two phone boxes is our next stop.
Stop 3: No 430 King’s Road
The striking thing about No 430 King’s Road is the large clock that goes backwards. But this shop has history! In its current guise, it was designed by Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood in 1980 and is supposed to resemble a cross between the Old Curiosity Shop and a Galleon.
In the 1970s this shop went through many images but its most famous incarnation between 1974 and 1976 was as SEX – the name was in big pink letters on the front. It was the shop whose clothes defined the punk era. Their slogan was “Rubberwear for the office”. Amazingly this shop is still part of the Vivienne Westwood “empire” after all these years.
Now cross King’s Road and as the road bends you will see a turning to the left (Park Walk). Go down this and then take the second on the right (Elm Park Road). Go over the cross roads (Beaufort Street) and then take the second on the left which is Elm Park Gardens. The buildings we are going to stop at are on the left but you may find you get a better view if you are across the road.
Stop 4 Elm Park Gardens (and a couple more famous SW10 residents)
Elm Park Gardens occupies the site of a mansion called Chelsea Park. The grounds were planted with mulberry tree in 1721 in the hope of establishing a silk industry here, but to no avail. The buildings we see today date from 1885 and architectural historian, Pevsner, describes them as tall, somewhat grim houses.
Strange then that one of the funniest women of the post war era – Joyce Grenfell – should choose to live in a flat here. She is perhaps now best remembered for her one-woman shows and monologues,one of her most well known roles was a harassed nursery school teacher. In the 1990s, Maureen Lipman did a fantastic one woman show based on Grenfell’s work (Re: Joyce) which she toured extensively.
Now just next door at Number 32 is the house where Labour Politian Sir Stafford Cripps was born in 1889. Stafford Cripps was a senior minster in the first post war Labour Government. His last post was as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1947 – 1950)
Walk to the end of Elm Park Gardens and at the end turn left into Fulham Road (do not cross Fulham Road yet). Stop at the traffic lights where Beaufort Street and Drayton Gardens meet Fulham Road. Our next stop is diagonally across the junction
Stop 5: Cineworld (Former Forum/ABC) Cinema
At the corner of Fulham Road and Drayton Gardens is the Cineworld cinema. Originally built as the Forum in 1930 , it was the first of the three big Forum cinemas built for Herbert Yapp the others being in Kentish Town and Ealing. It was acquired by ABC in 1935. Like many large cinemas of this era, it originally had full stage facilities. Although still in use as a cinema, very little remains of the 1930s original apart from the outside walls.
Random (and unverified) fact: on the Fulham Road elevation there used to be an Oddbins off licence. In one of the 1996 TV special episodes of Absolutely Fabulous (called “The Last Shout” I think), the outrageous Patsy Stone is revealed as living in a store room above this shop.
Now cross Fulham Road and go down Drayton Gardens on the right hand pavement. Stop at Primrose Cottages which are a short way along on the right.
Stop 6: Primrose Cottages (93 – 95 Drayton Gardens)
There are two stones at either end of Primrose Cottages which tell the same story. Basically the original cottages of 1816 were rebuilt by a Thomas Johnson in 1840. Strange that this inscription goes into such detail about the ownership of the freeholds suggesting there may have been some sort of dispute. Who knows?
Now look across the road where there is a modern block of flats
Stop 7: Site of Paris Pullman Cinema (90? Drayton Gardens)
A cinema first opened on this site in January 1911. It was called Bolton’s Picture Playhouse. It had a brief interlude as a live theatre club after the Second World War but was revamped with a new modern facade as the Paris Pullman Cinema in 1955. It specialised in art house films and had around 250 seats all on a single floor. It closed in May 1983 and was demolished to be replaced by a block of flats.
Go down Drayton Gardens almost to the end.
Stop 8: No 1 Drayton Gardens
At the very end (or as it is No 1 at the very start) of Drayton Gardens, is the house lived in by Mervyn Peake, author of the Gormenghast trilogy. Somehow a neat white stucco house in SW10 does not look right for someone who created the amazing gothic fantasy that is Gormenghast.
Now retrace your steps along Drayton Gardens and take the first right (Priory Walk). At the end turn right and go straight ahead where you will soon come to The Boltons.
Stop 9: The Boltons and St Mary’s church
This is an elegant street it consists of two shallow crescents with a garden in the middle.
Splitting the garden into two sections is the church of St Mary’s. The entrance to the church is on the western arm of The Boltons (left hand side of gardens as we approach). The church was built in 1850 and were it not for two pieces of 21st century art would be just a well kept but rather dull early Victorian edifice.
The first thing that strikes you as you come in is a strange red glow on the right. This turns out to be the 2008 Crucifixion window by Craigie Aitchison (1926 – 2009). He was a Scottish painter, best known for his many paintings of the Crucifixion, Italian landscapes, and portraits (mainly black men or dogs). He had a simple childlike style, which is not to everyone’s taste!
Then to the left of the main altar is a small chapel with an elegantly displayed bronze sculpture by Naomi Blake. The plaque nearby says it was dedicated by a Rabbi and blessed by the Bishop of London on 10 September 2000 during the 150th anniversary celebrations of the church. Strange to have a Rabbi involved given the subject matter (Pieta = Virgin and dead Jesus) but maybe this is something to do with Naomi Blake being a holocaust survivor.
Now retrace your steps and turn right into Tregunter Road. Just along on the left is our next stop
Stop 10: No13 Tregunter Road
Here we have one of those so called iceberg houses under construction. There is little left of the original structure apart from the outer walls and they are digging a double level basement which will have a pool (natch!) and will extend under the front and rear gardens. It does seem kind of mad but I guess it does at least keep the style of the original street. Glad I do not live next door while all this work is going on.
Continue down Tregunter Road and turn left into Hollywood Road. At the end ahead in Fulham Road is the next stop
Stop 11: Chelsea and Westminster Hospital artworks
I believe this hospital has since it opened in 1993 had artworks scattered around.
There is one particularly large one installed high up on the walls on the right as you come in. This is Assembly/450 by Joy Gerrard dating from 2011. It is an installation designed for the location which consists of 450 steel and polycarbonate spheres and steel rods. All very striking and when you get close you get odd reflections in the spheres which I guess is the idea.
But there is also a quirky “artwork” right by the door as you come in from the street. I guess you might call it a begging robot!
Turn left out of the Hospital and walk down Fulham Road, crossing over when convenient. After Ifield Road on the right, you will get to the southern entrance to Brompton Cemetery. Go in the gates.
Stop 12: Brompton Cemetery
Brompton Cemetery is one of the so-called Magnificent Seven – seven large cemeteries founded by private companies in the mid-19th century in response to the lack of space for new burials in inner city burial grounds, mostly churchyards and the concern these burial grounds were becoming a health hazard.
Oddly this is the only one managed by the Royal Parks Agency. Why?
There are some relatively famous people we might want to look for- such as suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and Sir Henry Cole (of 1851 Great Exhibition fame) But it is not at all sign posted and there is no guide or map available, so I have no idea where they might be. I guess you have to go on one of the guided walks run by the friends of Brompton Cemetery or else spend a long time looking!
So we shall just have a stroll through the main path which takes you to the Chapel and then down the long avenue to the northern entrance. The first section has been left to become an atmospheric wild meadow but further on things are more kempt.
Two particular graves drew my attention, both on the long main avenue on the left just after the chapel. First was one for a Russian Orthodox Metropolitan – Antony of Sourozh (1914 – 2003). This was one of the only graves with flowers. But not cut flowers, in effect it was a flower bed.
The second, close by, was for the rt hon Sir George Dashwood Taubman Goldie, which modestly proclaims he was founder of Nigeria! His Wikipedia entry says: “In many ways, his role was similar to that of Cecil Rhodes elsewhere in Africa but he lacked Rhodes’ thirst for publicity.” So maybe that is why we have not heard of him!
Keep walking to the main gates. At the end on the entranceway are a couple of contradictory signs as to opening times. Perhaps the bottom one replaced the top one and they never got round the removing the first one.
We are now at the end of our SW10 walk. We managed two burial grounds and a crucifixion, plus a lots of famous people on the way. And we saw how Sex lead on to The World’s End at 430 Kings Road!
We are now close to West Brompton station for onward travel. This is just a few minutes to the left along Old Brompton Road.