SW17: Power to the people

If you were around in the late 1970s, then Tooting will always be associated with Citizen Smith and the eponymous hero who strode out of Tooting Broadway station at the start of this sitcom.  The show was written by John Sullivan, a local lad from Balham who went on to write Only Fools and Horses.  Citizen Smith starred Robert Lindsay as “Wolfie” Smith, who is the self-proclaimed leader of the revolutionary Tooting Popular Front (who are just a small bunch of his friends). Their goals are “Power to the People” and “Freedom for Tooting” but really Smith is a lazy disorganised unemployed dreamer.

A couple of fascinating facts about Citizen Smith: 1) the title of episode 2 of series 3 is “Only Fools and Horses”. Obviously this was too good a title to waste. In case you wonder where this comes from it is from a saying which originated in American Vaudeville: “why do only fools and horses work for a living?”. And 2) in the penultimate episode Sullivan finally revealed Smith’s first names: Walter Henry (think about that one)

We start our walk at Tooting’s main Post Office which is situated in a side street called Gatton Road which is just off the main road where Upper Tooting Road meets Tooting High Street. Take a left out of the Post Office and then a right at the High Street. Go a short way along to our first stop which is across the road on the left.

Stop 1: Defoe Chapel building

Although most of Tooting is late Victorian or Edwardian, there are some older buildings and this simple two storey yellow brick pedimented building next to Tooting Market  is one of them. It was built in 1776 for a Methodist congregation which had been founded some years before. It was known as the Defoe Chapel because there is supposed to be a connection to Daniel Defoe (best known today as the author of Robinson Crusoe)  but the evidence seems to be sketchy. British history online  says: “At the time of the Revolution Tooting is said to have been the residence of Daniel Defoe, according to tradition the first person to form the Nonconformists of this neighbourhood into a regular congregation.” (http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=43038 ) Anyhow Mammon seems to have taken over from God – the building is a shop now, which is kind of fitting given one of Defoe’s well known quotes is:

“Wherever God erects a house of prayer the Devil always builds a chapel there; And ‘t will be found, upon examination, the latter has the largest congregation.”

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Just next door is our next stop.

Stop 2: Tooting and Broadway Markets

One of the features of Tooting which marks it out from other shopping areas is the existence of these two indoor markets.

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There are a few food stalls, including a fishmonger and a couple of butchers, but for the main part these markets are for household goods, fabrics, clothes and bags, that kind of thing.  But you can buy almost anything here – there is even a pet shop. Tooting Market is slightly older dating from 1930 and is a simple L shaped arcade. Broadway Market is slightly younger dating from 1936 but it somewhat larger with two entrances on Tooting High Street and one at the rear on Longmead Road.

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Together there must be well over 120 stalls and there seem to be very few empty units. I wonder if this would have survived in quite the same way if it had been an outdoor street market controlled by the borough council.

Now go right through Broadway Market and come out on Longmead Road, turning right. Go to the junction with the main road (Mitcham Road). (If the market is closed go instead down to Tooting Broadway and turn left into Mitcham road).  Ahead in Mitcham Road across from Longmead Road is our next stop.

Stop 3: Former Broadway Palace Cinema, Mitcham Road

Today you see a Specsavers and a 99p shop, but behind this dull looking 1950s facade was a 1912 cinema.

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Originally called the Broadway Cinematograph Palace, it had a white stone facade with a curved arch over the entrance was topped by a large statue of Britannia. The name was changed to Broadway Palace Theatre around 1936. It was hit by a German rocket bomb in 1944 which destroyed the front of the building. It never re-opened as a cinema. After the war a new plain front was put on the building and it was converted to retail use.  But if you look behind this facade you can see a ridge of a roof and I can only surmise this is where the auditorium was.

Now turn left and walk along Mitcham Road. Across the road you cannot miss our next stop.

Stop 4: Gala Bingo Hall (Former Granada Cinema)

This is probably the best preserved 1930s cinema in the country – built as the Granada in 1931. It may look vaguely classical on the outside but inside is a baronial hall, a hall of mirrors and a massive auditorium, with sort of gothic features. It closed as a cinema in 1973 and after a few years of disuse finally found a use as a bingo hall. Although this means bright lights and a revamped stall areas , the circle is untouched and more to the point it is still here and being used unlike so many cinemas built in this era. It was given Grade II* listing in 1972 but this was upgraded to Grade I by English Heritage in 2000. There are some nice pictures on this wonderful site: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/9424

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Walk just a little further down Mitcham Road and our next stop is the library at the corner of Undine Street.

Stop 5: Tooting Library

This building was apparently built in two stages. The lower floor dates from 1902 and the upper floor from 1908. It is a handsome building of brick with (as Pevsner puts it) much terra cotta decoration.

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It has a copper galleon atop the weathervane, for no obvious reason. Do look up the side street (Undine Street) and there on the hill floating like another stately galleon is the church of All Saints which we shall eventually get to.

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Now retrace your steps, cross the road by the Bingo Hall and continue to the tube station which is a little further along on the left.

Stop 6: Tooting Broadway Station and “piazza”

This is one of Charles Holden’s lovely stations on the 1926 extension of the City and South London Railway from Clapham Common to Morden built by the Underground Electric Railway Company of London . These stations are very simple and functional but are brilliantly branded with the roundel which had been adopted by UERL. It is in the window but also at the tops of the columns which break up the windows. The roundel was later adopted as its logo by London Transport soon after it was formed in 1933.

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The junction outside Tooting Broadway station was once called Tooting Corner but it seems to have got the name Broadway by the time the trams arrived around 1900. There is a wonderful old lamp standard (presumably once gas) with sign post and of course there is the statue of King Edward VII. Both of these were here before the station.

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The observant amongst you may realise that the layout here is not quite how it looks in the opening sequence of Citizen Smith. This is because at some point in the 1980s, Wandsworth Council moved the statue from the middle of Mitcham Road to a new “piazza” in front of the station.

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Now cross Tooting High Street and turn left. Go down the High Street away from the Broadway taking the third turning on the right (Coverton Road). Then take the first on the left (Effort Street) and go in the pedestrian gate to St George’s Hospital.

Stop 7: St George’s Hospital

Founded in 1733, St Georges is one of the largest teaching hospitals in the country. It moved from Hyde Park Corner to Tooting in the late 1970s to this site which had housed two other hospitals, the Grove Fever Hospital and the Fountain Hospital. As you come in the pedestrian gate turn to the right and you will see a little gateway with a bust on top. This was taken from Hyde Park Corner and re-erected here. The bust is of Dr John Hunter who was appointed as surgeon at St George’s in 1768. He was one of the most distinguished scientists and surgeons of his day and was an early advocate of careful observation and scientific method in medicine.

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Now do a U turn and walk down the right hand side of the internal road (this is the only side with a footpath).

You will come to the Grosvenor Wing, followed by the St James’ Wing and then the Atkinson Morley Wing. The first of these (like the nearby Lanesborough Wing) are reminders of the original site at Hyde Park Corner. The original building was on the site of Lanesborough House (hence the hotel there now is called the Lanesborough) and the building stood at the corner of Grosvenor Crescent on the edge of the Grosvenor Estate. St James and Atkinson Morley are closed hospitals (in Balham and Wimbledon respectively) whose activities were transferred to this site.

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Most of the buildings on this sprawling site are post 1970s. But as you leave the site into Blackshaw Road, there is a group of buildings on the left which must have been part of one of the old hospitals.

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When you reach Blackshaw Road turn left. Go straight, crossing over Tooting High Street, and go into Longley Road. Sorry this is a bit of a trek but I thought we just had to include the next stop.

Stop 8a: 46 Longley Road

As you walk along Longley Road you get to a group of double fronted detached houses on the right.  At number 46, you will see a blue plaque stating “Sir Harry Lauder 1870 – 1950), Music Hall Artiste lived here 1903-1911”

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Lauder was a singer and comedian from Edinburgh who usually performed in full ‘Highland’ regalia—Kilt, Sporran, Tam o’ Shanter, and twisted walking stick and he used to tell stories and jokes involving the alleged parsimony of the Scots. This portrait of a scot did not exactly endear him to his fellow countrymen. He wrote most of his own songs. These included Roamin’ in the Gloamin’, I Love a Lassie and Keep Right on to the End of the Road. This last song was written following the death of his son in action in 1916. Strangely given its genesis, this song is used by Birmingham City Football Club as their club anthem.

Stop 8b: 72 Longley Road

But there used to be another blue plaque on this street, just a little further on at Number 72. This was for music hall comedian Harry Tate. However the building was demolished in the early 1990s and a new development of flats is on the site.  It does look like they made provision for the possibility of a blue plaque on at about where Number 72 would have been. Well maybe. Harry Tate was not his real name by the way. He was also a Scot, born Ronald MacDonald Hutchinson. He took the stage name Harry Tate when working for the sugar company, Henry Tate and Company. We of course heard a little about Henry Tate in SW16.

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Possibly fascinating fact: There is at least one other blue plaque in SW17 (they are a bit thin on the ground out here). Believe it or not it is for the writer Thomas Hardy who lived at 172 Trinity Road between 1878 and 1881. This house is just south of Wandsworth Common and so a little far to include on this walk.

Now almost opposite this new flat development is Charlmont Road. Go down this to the very end which takes you to Mitcham Road. At this corner is the Mitre pub (now rechristened “the Long Room” presumably because the main bar is one big long room). Opposite is a little pedestrianised area and on this at the corner of Church Lane is what we are going to look at next.

Stop 9: Tooting Parish Pump

Here at the corner of Church Lane and Mitcham Road is a monument which commemorates the location of the Tooting Parish Pump of 1823. There is an interesting plaque which explains that the pump was paid for by principal inhabitants of the parish and was in use until the end of the 19th century. It has a reference to two other local pumps which were privately owned and I guess they would have charged. This would have been the centre of the old village of Tooting and just close by is the parish church of St Nicolas. There has been a church here certainly since medieval times but this building only dates from 1833.

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And just a little way along Church Lane on the left is the old village school. The part you come to first dates from 1895, according to a foundation stone, which someone had badly overpainted! But then you come to an older bit which dates from 1828 (The stone is hard to read but it is just legible). Today this building is used by a muslim group.

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Keep walking up Church Lane and soon on the right you will see an entrance way with brick pillars. This was the entrance to St Benedict’s Hospital. Keep walking a little further on and turn right into St Benedict’s Close.

Stop 10: St Benedict’s Estate

This 1980s development is built on the site of St Benedict’s Hospital. The hospital building had started life as a Roman Catholic school in 1887. The upkeep proved too expensive and the school moved to Beulah Hill in 1895 when it became a home for older people. It was used as a military hospital in the First World War and into the early 1920s. The London County Council bought the site in 1930 and reequipped it as a hospital for long-stay patients. It reopened in 1931 as St Benedict’s Hospital, closing in the 1970s.

Laing Homes bought the site for housing development in the mid 1980s. The surviving remnants of the hospital buildings are the entrance gateway with its posts still which we saw on Church Lane, and the main hospital block’s portico and clock tower, which were positioned at each end of a walkway called Limetree Walk.

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Return to Church Lane, continue up the hill and turn left into Lessingham Avenue. 

Stop 11: Totterdown Estate

Lessingham Avenue is one of four parallel streets which form the major part of the Totterdown Estate. This is one of the first London County Council housing estates and is heavily influenced by the Garden City movement, having cottage like houses in a varied street scene and with Arts and Craft features – big gables, Tudor style chimneys, single and double storey bay windows and a range of door styles and porch designs.  1,229 houses were built in the period 1903 to 1911, but there are only four shops. These are where Lessingham Avenue crosses Franciscan Road. This is in stark contrast to the speculative builders who were developing the rest of Tooting at this time. They put a shop on almost every corner and of course almost none of them are still shops. Interestingly although the style of houses is Garden City like, the LCC did not follow the concept completely and make the place self sufficient. No places of work were built nearby and the residents had to rely on the electric trams which ran along Upper Tooting Road to get them to and from work. (It is easy to forget that the tube did not get here until 1926 by which time the whole area was developed. This is why the tube is still in tunnels this far out)

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When you reach those four shops turn right up Franciscan Road  and a short way along on the left is our final stop.

Stop 12: All Saints Church

All Saints Church  stands just off Franciscan road a little way along Brudenell Road. It was built in 1906 under a bequest from Lady Charles Brudenell-Bruce in memory of her late husband, the first Marquis of Ailesbury. She wanted it in a godless part of South london –  so Tooting was chosen! This church may look handsome outside but inside is quite a surprise.

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The first vicar, Canon Stephens, acquired quite a few bits of Italian and Spanish church furnishings, including a copy of a Crucification painting – the original by Velazquez is in the Prado in Madrid. The installation of the choir stalls, ironwork and other furnishings (including said painting on the high altar) did not go down too well with the architect Temple Moore who felt it spoilt the design of his church. He walked off the job in protest and another architect had to finish the work. Sadly this church is rarely open, except for services. If you are lucky, you may find it open on a Saturday morning.

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Just across the Brudenell Road from the church is a small development called Bruce Hall Mews. This was the site of the original church hall, which was called the Bruce Hall. It became unsafe and had to be demolished. A new church hall was built in the early 1980s tucked away round the south side of the church and directly linked to it. So all that is left to remind us of the old church hall is the name of this small street.

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That brings us to the end of the SW17 walk. I have just realised I have walked through Tooting without mentioning what many people regard as synonymous with Tooting – the curry house. Sorry about that but it just did not seem to fit in! But suffice it to say there are lots of excellent and not so good indian restaurants all around this area.

For onward travel you can retrace your steps down hill along Franciscan Road to Tooting Broadway or else go along Brudenell Road and turn right at Upper Tooting Road for Tooting Bec station.

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SW16: Pleasure and Payne

When one thinks of Streatham (at least when I think of Streatham), one associates it with two larger than life characters – Cynthia Payne and Naomi Campbell – the former ran her “business” from Streatham, the latter was born here. I know where to go for the Payne connection but have no idea where there might be a Campbell connection in Streatham. And of course her adventures such as those with mobile phones and staff occurred elsewhere. But it did set me off thinking that if there is to be a theme to our Streatham walk it should be “Pleasure and Payne”. Afterall what great pleasure we have had from their exploits, and there is so much more other pleasurable stuff connected to Streatham.

We start at the Post Office which is located in the W H Smith store on Streatham High Road. Our first stop is just across the road.

Stop 1: Odeon (Former Astoria) Cinema

This is a rare survivor of an inter war cinema building still being used as a cinema. This building dates from 1930.

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Although now called the Odeon, this cinema was originally called the Astoria and there is a little reminder of this in the building next door. This is a block of flats over some shops and it is called Astoria Mansions. Unfortunately when I visited it was shrouded in scaffolding so this is the best shot I could get of the name plate.

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This cinema is the same family as the one in Brixton (which is now the Academy). It originally had egyptian style decoration but this was almost all lost in a “modernisation” of 1961. There are now 8 screens in this building.

Turning right out of W H Smith go down the High Road. Just a little further on across the road is our second stop

Stop 2: Tate Library

This Tate Library is somewhat grander than the one we saw in South Lambeth Road, SW8. Maybe this was because Streatham was more important and so warranted a bigger splash. Or maybe it was because Henry Tate, the benefactor, lived locally – as we shall shortly see.

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The building dates from 1890 but the clock is somewhat later. This was added in 1912, as a memorial to King Edward VII who had just died. It was funded by public subscription. The plan was for a clock tower, but they did not raise enough money!

The library is currently having a major facelift costing £1.2 million, paid for by Lambeth Council and the Mayor of London’s Outer London Fund. It is due to re-open in 2014.

Continue walking along the High Road. At the next major junction, the main road forks. Just here on the right is our next stop.

Stop 3: St Leonard’s Church

This is the old church at the heart of Streatham. There has been a church here since Saxon times, but it has been substantially rebuilt. According to architectural historian, Pevsner, the mediaeval tower remains but was rebuilt in 1841 whilst  the church itself was substantially rebuilt in the 1830s and then enlarged in 1863 to the designs of Victorian painter, William Dyce. Unfortunately there was a major fire in 1975 which badly damaged the church and destroyed most of Dyce’s decoration.

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At the far eastern end of the church beyond the main altar is what remains of a very old tomb – 13th century? (Postscript – see comment below from Rob Barber who says: “This is an effigy of Sir John Ward who built the original church. It got badly damaged during the reformation. Before the fire of 1975 it was underneath the tower and there is evidence that it was placed in various other positions around the building over the centuries.” Thanks, Rob)

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There are also some nice monuments dating from the 17th century. The ones below are from John Massingberd and wife from 1653 and John Howland from 1686.

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There is also an 18th century monument to the Thrales – the local big family who lived at a house called Streatham Park (demolished 1863). But I unaccountably failed to take a picture of their monument.

The Thrales owned the Anchor Brewery in Southwark. Dr Samuel Johnson met Henry Thrale and his wife Hester in 1765 and was a regular visitor both at Streatham Park and at Southwark until Thrale’s death in 1781.

The epitaphs of Henry Thrale and his mother in law (died 1773) are both by Dr Johnson – in latin, but there is a translation. And Hester Thrale’s documentation of Johnson’s life during this time, in her correspondence and her diary, became an important source of biographical information on Johnson after his death.

One of the fascinating links I stumbled across in my research was a website dedicated to all things Thrale:  http://www.thrale.com/

From the west end of the church, go out into the road below and turn right.

Stop 4: Bishops House, Tooting Bec Gardens

Although we are in the heart of Streatham, this road is called Tooting Bec Gardens – another example of road names to fool the unwary!

As we walk away from Streatham on the right is an elegant house with a drive. This turns out to be the official residence of the Bishop of Southwark. Southwark diocese was only formed in 1905. Previously most of it had come under Winchester and indeed there are some remains of a medieval bishop’s palace (Winchester Palace), close to modern day Southwark Cathedral, near London Bridge. Somewhere for the bishop to stay when in London.

That was a long time ago. I can see that the area round the Cathedral has not until recently been a desirable place to live. But quite why the Church chose Streatham for the bishop’s residence (and when)  is anyone’s guess – it is not exactly convenient for the Cathedral.

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Continue along Tooting Bec Gardens and cross Garrad’s Road. Ahead is Tooting Bec Common. walk along the main road keeping the common to your right. Go over the railway bridge. This is the main railway line out of Victoria to Croydon and Brighton. Strange there is no station here, as this is the closest point this main line gets to Streatham but unaccountably there is no station here. The railway chose to put the stations at Balham and Streatham Common. Maybe the big landowners did not want a station here.

Stop 5: Tooting Bec Lido

Just over the railway on the right is Tooting Bec Lido. I know it seems wrong but believe me Tooting Bec Lido is in SW16 (Streatham) and not SW17 (Tooting)

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I thought I would not be able to get near but amazingly the gate was open, as there were some hardy souls swimming (apparently during the winter the pool is only open to members of the local swimming club) . So I was able to take some pictures – these are from the deep end.

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The Lido dates from 1906, although it only got the name “Lido” in 1936. It is claimed to be the largest fresh water swimming pool by surface area in the United Kingdom, being 100 yards (91.44 m) long and 33 yards (30.18 m) wide – just by comparison an Olympic size swimming pool is 50m x 25m. And it has these great little changing cubicles with bright coloured doors.

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Return to the main road. (by the way the Thrales’ house, Streatham Park was located near here on land on the other side of the road from the common)

Go back over the railway and at the traffic light junction take a right into Ambleside Avenue.

Stop 6: 32 Ambleside Avenue

As I alluded to already, I do not think we can come to Streatham without mentioning Cythnia Payne, aka Madame Cyn. Her “infamous” house is on the left hand side of Ambleside Avenue as the road curves round.

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She first came to national attention in 1978 when police raided her home and found a sex party was in progress. Gentlemen of a certain age were being entertained by ladies of a somewhat younger vintage; the currency being used in the house was luncheon vouchers. When the case came to trial in 1980, she was sentenced to eighteen months in prison, reduced to a fine and six months on appeal.  She actually served four months.

In the late 1980s there were two films loosely based on her life. Wish You Were Here, about her adolescence starring Emily Lloyd, and Personal Services about her adult life starring Julie Walters.

Isn’t it an interesting juxtaposition that this house is just around the corner from the Bishop of Southwark’s.

Continue along Ambleside Avenue until you reach the crossroads with Mitcham Lane. Turn left and cross this road. Go along Mitcham Lane a bit. You will pass a pub called the Manor Arms on your right and just beyond is a green sloping down to another road.

Stop 7: Streatham Green

Streatham Green is the historic centre of the old village of Streatham. In the middle is a rather sad looking monument. This is a drinking fountain designed by William Dyce, the Victorian painter who we came across in connection with St Leonard’s church.  Dyce is perhaps best known for his frescoes in the Palace of Westminster. He was actually working on them when he collapsed, and soon after died at his home in Streatham on 14 February 1864. The drinking fountain was subsequently dedicated to him by the parishioners of St Leonard’s. The fountain is not looking too good and is surrounded by fencing presumably because it is unsafe.

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Go across the green and turn right into Streatham High Road.

Stop 8: Former Bedford Park hotel

Just a little way down across the road, is a former pub dating from the late 1880s. This was the Bedford Park Hotel and like so many pubs these days, it has given up the battle and has a new use. Unusually this is now a shop, selling linens. All there is to remind us this was a pub is the sign in a panel above the left hand first floor window.

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There is a review from a few years back on the “fancy a pint” site see: http://www.fancyapint.com/Pub/london/bedford-park-hotel/1296

Here it is in full:

“We’ve tried with this place – we really have. It’s still awful. Yes, it should be well placed almost bang opposite Streatham station and with a fine Victorian frontage. But inside… we can only describe it as ‘grotty’. And that’s probably unfair to grot. It’s emphasis is firmly on live music and videos of music the rest of the time. We can only imagine who the regulars might be and it’s not pretty. There are worse places to drink in London – oh, heavens, we hope there are.”

Maybe some of these places deserved to close because basically they were terrible.  Time has moved on and the business model of the pub as a money making machine come rain come shine has certainly taken a dent.

Continue walking down Streatham High Road past Streatham Station.  Our next stop is soon on the right.

Stop 9: new Tesco development (site of 1930s Ice Rink and a bus garage amongst other things)

Here we have a massive new Tesco, a bus turn round and a new Leisure Centre, topped off with a block of flats. This is a huge site.

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Not sure Streatham actually needs another supermarket – we have just passed a Morrisons by Streatham Station and there is a big Sainsbury’s just down the road. But at least this Tesco development is putting something back in terms of housing and leisure facilities.

According to a quote from Cllr. Lib Peck, leader of Lambeth council: “The entire project has been a triumph of design and construction – it’s only the second time in the world that an ice rink has been built above a swimming pool.” Mmm – sounds like a recipe for problems in the future.

It is sad though that the old ice rink dating from 1931 had to go but it is good the long established ice hockey team, the Streatham Redskins, still have a home. The old leisure centre and swimming pool also went but they apparently needed a huge amount of money spent on them. And the former Streatham bus garage, which latterly found itself used for go karting, was also demolished.

But oddly this new development wraps itself around a United Reform Church – you can just see the church in the first picture. Nice to see this Edwardian building survive but you cannot help feeling that the church could have got a great deal from Tesco for the land.

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Now cross the High Road and continue until you reach the war memorial at the corner of Streatham Common North. Turn left up this road. The next stop is quite a hike uphill and so you may want to catch a 249 bus a few stops to Leigham Court Road. Otherwise just walk up the road beside the Common.

Stop 10: Henry Tate Mews (Park Hill)

At a bend in the road there are some whitish pillars and gates. This was the entrance to Park Hill where Sir Henry Tate (of sugar, gallery and library fame) lived. The house is a stuccoed neo classical villa dating from the 1830s. Pevsner describes Park Hill and its grounds as having all the ingredients of 18th century picturesque reduced to a suburban scale.

After Sir Henry Tate’s death in 1899, it became St Michael’s Convent. Then in 2004 it was turned into a private gated estate, so casual passers-by cannot get near the house, but you can get glimpses from the road through the trees and shrubs.

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Return back towards Streatham – there is only a path on one side. When you can, cross over to the Common side of the road and by the disused paddling (?) pool, go left into Streatham Common South. You will see a car park to your left and just ahead but to the left of the cafe there is an entrance pathway.

Stop 11: The Rookery

Go though the gate and you come into an area known as the Rookery. This was the site of Streatham Spa in the 18th century and then a house called the Rookery. After a local campaign, the site became a garden in the summer of 1913. It has just celebrated its 100th birthday, as can be seen in the floral display and the blue plaque.

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It is a delightful garden with some sloping grassed areas, some formal gardens and a cascade area. There is also a white garden, which was sadly depleted of white blossom at this time of year. However it is said this predates the more famous White Garden of Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent.

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Retrace your steps out of the Rookery and at the entrance gate turn left.

As you head back down Streatham Common South look at the views. Ahead you can see a large very white building in the distance. That is St Helier Hospital. And looking down Covington Way, you can see the two chimneys, originally of Croydon Power Station and now marking the IKEA store in Croydon.

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At the bottom of the hill you get to the main road, cross over.

Stop 12: Sainsbury’s (former silk mill)

We are going into the Sainsbury’s site, but just before we do I have to point out the Pied Bull pub to the left of the entrance to Sainsbury’s. No doubt an excellent establishment, but look at the pediment over the doorway on the far left. There is a round blue plaque which says Evening Standard 1973 pub of the year”.  Only 40 years ago!

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But we are not here to speculate on pubs of the year. We have a little bit of industrial heritage to see.

The Sainsbury’s supermarket replaced Cow’s India Rubber works in the late 1980s. But one old building from this industrial site survived. This is a three storey textile mill dated from around 1820. Pevsner says this was built by someone called Stephen Wilson in an attempt to convert the Spitalfields silk weaving industry to the factory system. The subsequent owners used the site for other purposes but did not redevelop the whole site. They just added bits piecemeal, hence the survival of this mill building.

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So that brings us to the end of our tour round SW16. A few little pleasures and a couple of surprises in there I hope.

For onward travel, you are now between Streatham and Norbury Stations but there are lots of buses running along the main High Road.

SW15: Decline and fall

We start our walk at the Post Office at 197 Upper Richmond Road which is quite close to Putney Station along the main road (the South Circular) towards Sheen. Turn right out of the Post Office and continue a short way along Upper Richmond Road (ie back towards Putney Station) to just after Burston Road.

Stop 1: 169-171 Upper Richmond Road (Site of Former Electric Palace/Globe/CineCenta Cinema)

There is just an office block stepped back from the road but from 1910 until the mid 1970s there was a cinema here.

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It started life as the Putney Electric Cinema around 1910 but from 1929 it was called the Globe. It was an independently owned cinema right up until 1968 when it was taken over by the small chain called CineCenta. In 1969 it began screening uncensored films where membership was required to gain admission. It returned to regular Art House programming in 1971 and eventually closed on 24th December 1976 – fittingly with the movie “The Last Picture Show”.

The cinema was demolished and eventually was replaced by this rather dull office block. This is the view looking along Upper Richmond Road which is to the left of the trees. The building sits back from the main road. I guess this is another example of allowing for a road widening – but that never happened.

There is a good picture of the old cinema at http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/14973 (by the way the map on this link is wrong!)

Continue to the junction with Putney Hill. Cross over Putney Hill and turn right up the Hill.

Stop 2: The Pines, 11 Putney Hill

A short way on the left is The Pines. The Victorian poet Algernon Swinburne lived here for some 30 years from 1879 until his death in 1909.

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Swinburne was by all accounts a highly excitable character and an alcoholic. Although Swinburne is often said to be a decadent poet, perhaps it was more talk than action. Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying that Swinburne was “a braggart in matters of vice, who had done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestialiser.  More on Swinburne at: http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/swinburne/acsbio1.html

Possibly fascinating fact:  Swinburne appears on two Blue Plaques in London but he has to share both. The Putney one he shares with Theodore Watts-Dunton, who owned the Pines and who had taken Swinburne in (I wonder if he realised in 1879 that Swinburne would stay 30 years!). The other blue plaque we saw in Chelsea, SW3. It is at Number 16 Cheyne Walk and this he shares with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who he stayed with in the 1860s and 1870s.

Optional Stop 2a: Ross Court, 81 Putney Hill

At this point you can take a bit of a diversion to go to the other end of Putney Hill (and I mean the other end). It is quite a hike, so you can get a 39 or 93 bus up the hill to the Green Man (Don’t get the other buses because they stop at a different place at the Green Man). From where the 39 and 93 stop at the Green Man you will see Putney Hill veers off behind the bus stop to the left whilst the main road goes straight on. Go down this bypassed section of Putney Hill and at the end at number 81 you will come to an interwar estate of flats called Ross Court.

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Nothing special except Flat 2 (in the block on the left as you go in the gateway) was where an impoverished Harry Gordon Selfridge lived out his last days with his daughter in a rented flat. Apparently he used to go up to Oxford Street from Putney by bus – he had to change on the way at Hyde Park Corner and on the second bus, he would say to the conductor: “Selfridges Please”. (Well according to a Daily Mail article http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2210421/Mr-Selfridge-Extraordinary-story-retailing-visionary-revealed.html)

Now retrace your steps to the bottom of Putney Hill and at the bottom turn right to continue along Upper Richmond Road

Stop 3: 139 Upper Richmond Road (site of Lime Grove)

At the end of the block of shops is an access road going through an archway of the building.

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Just about here was the location of Lime Grove, the birthplace of 18th century historian Edward Gibbon. His most famous work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published in six volumes between 1776 and 1788. The Putney Society have erected one of their Blue Plaques here above the roadway.

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Useless fact: when London telephone exchanges had names, the exchange for Putney was GIBbon. This translates to 442 in numbers which would have become 8442 when we moved to 8 digit numbers in London, but sadly the modern day phone numbers round here do not have that exchange number.

Return to the corner of Upper Richmond Road and Putney Hill/Putney High Street

Stop 4: Zeeta House

Now the building at the corner of Upper Richmond Road and Putney High Street dates from the late 1930s.

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It is now split into a number of shops but when it was built this was the premises of Zeeta and Company, a bakers and confectioners owned by the Kensington department store company, John Barker.

By the late 1950s Zeeta and Company had 17 stores across London but in 1958 14 of these were closed. Putney, Kingston and Croydon carried on but by 1962 all these had closed too. Hard to see but if you look closely there are grain motifs on the tops of the second floor windows on the High Street facade, a little reminder of the baking trade. There is a little bit more info on the House of Fraser archive site (they bought Barkers in 1957 which may have precipitated the closure):

http://www.housefraserarchive.ac.uk/company/?id=c1406

Today the street scene is somewhat different from when Zeeta was trading. Along the north side of Upper Richmond Road here there are no less than 7 estate agents in a row whilst on the other side and sweeping round into Putney Hill there are 5 more. And just round the corner in Putney High Street are a further 4.  So that makes 16 estate agents in all in this very small area, which I have to say I find a bit depressing.

On a positive note, this building has a rather nice sundial on the wall which was installed for the Millennium.

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It has the quote “Time like an ever rolling stream”.

Now go down Putney High Street. Take the second on the left.

Stop 5: Putney Bus Garage, Chelverton Road

Almost immediately on the right is Putney Bus Garage. It is a bit of a surprise because the streets off Putney High Street are very residential.

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Although this is a modern building, there has been a bus garage here for a very long time – at least 100 years.

Now you may not have noticed but some London buses have a little code on the side. This is their running number. Before privatisation, London buses all had an alphabetic code letter or letters followed by a removable metal plate which had a number. The letter(s) signified the home bus garage and the number was the running number of the bus that day. Some bus companies still use the old system of garage codes and associated running numbers.

The letters sometimes have an obvious connection with the location of the garage (eg SW = Stockwell). But many do not as in the case of Putney whose code is AF. Why? Because when the London General Omnibus Company started using letter codes about 100 years ago, they gave garages a single letter code, sometimes but not always related to the name of the garage, so B was Battersea but Q was Camberwell. But they soon ran out of letters so they started again with AB, AC etc.  So Putney got the letters AF. Logic prevailed later and newer garages like Stockwell were given letters which had some connection with the location. Today this garage is run by London General, a name from the past but only conjured back into life when London buses were privatised in the 1980s. This is one of the bus companies which still uses the old system.

Retrace your steps to Putney High Street and turn left. Continue along Putney High Street until you reach Putney Bridge Road which you cross over and turn down (ie right). Immediately on your left is Brewhouse Lane, go down here 

Stop 6: Brewhouse Lane

In this nondescript road on the right as you go away from Putney Bridge Road, author Hilary Mantel recently unveiled the Putney Society’s latest plaque. This commemorates Tudor politician Thomas Cromwell who was born in 1485 in the vicinity of Brewhouse Lane.

Thomas Cromwell was the great-great-great uncle of Oliver Cromwell and rose from poverty to become chief minister to Henry VIII. Cromwell strongly supported the English Reformation, but fell from power after arranging the King’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. She was not quite what Henry was expecting and the marriage was annulled just six months later. Cromwell was executed for treason and heresy in Tower Hill on 28 July 1540.

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There is nothing physical to remind us of this Cromwell connection apart of course from this new plaque.

Continue towards the river. On either side is a pub (the Boathouse on the right, the Rocket on the left)  and go to the left of the boat slipway.

Stop 7: Putney Wharf

This is a newish riverside development. The Boathouse pub (a Youngs house) is in an old building but the Rocket (a Wetherspoons) is in the ground floor of a massive apartment building, which even though it steps back still towers over everything including St Mary’s Church as we shall see shortly. In front as you turn left along the river, there is a sculpture, which it turns out is one of nine on the Putney Sculpture trail.

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This is called Punch and Judy and is the 5th on the trail (so it is right in the middle of the trail). There is a little map on the plinth, which you can follow if you want to see the others.

From here there is a good view of Putney Bridge – there has been a bridge here since 1729. It was a toll bridge until 1880.

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The current bridge which opened in 1886 was designed by civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette – who is of course famous for creating the London sewage system.

Loop round in front of the Rocket pub. You will see the “back” of St Mary’s church. Veer to the right and you soon come back to the High Street. Turn to your left and immediately here is our next stop.

Stop 8: 25/27 Putney High Street – now Odeon Cinema (Site of 2 former cinemas)

Today you see a modern(ish) Odeon Cinema dating from the mid 1970s.

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But oddly this was the site of not one but two old cinemas.

The older of the two was at Number 27, nearest to Putney Bridge Road. It first opened in 1907 as the Electric Pavilion, was renamed Blue Hall Cinema in 1920 and then the Palace Cinema in 1927. In 1930, it fell into the ownership of Gaumont British Theatres, but was only renamed Gaumont in 1955. Finally it was called Odeon from 1962. 

The other cinema was at Number 25. This was the Regal Cinema, built in 1937 by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) in their typical Art Deco style. It was rebranded ABC in 1961

In the early 1970s, EMI the owners of the ABC did a deal with the Rank Organisation who owned the Odeon. The Odeon was purchased by EMI and it closed the same day as the ABC in December 1971. Both were demolished in 1972 and a new three-screen ABC cinema – one of the first purpose built multi screen cinemas in Britain – was opened in September 1975. This cinema has also gone through a few name changes but curiously has now ended up with the name “Odeon”.

Some more info and pictures on the wonderful cinema treasures site: 

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/14969

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/14971

Now turn back towards the river

Stop 9: St Mary’s Church

In front of you and slightly down to the right of the church tower is a coffee shop which proves to be the way into the church.

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This old Church may still be standing but it has had its fair share of ups and downs. It got substantially reorganised in the 1830s, even to the extent of moving a 16th century chantry chapel from the south to the north side of the chancel. It then suffered a catastrophic fire in 1973. As a result it has been radically rebuilt, so much so that the altar is on the north side of the worship space rather than the more traditional east end. Today as you can see in the pictures, it is completely overshadowed by the apartment block in Putney Wharf (this is the one with the Wetherspoons on the ground floor).  But is still worth going in.

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A lot of the old monuments were severely damaged in the fire, but some bits were salvaged and are on display on the walls.

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However this church is best known for its association with one event from the English Civil War.  In 1647 there were a series of discussions about the make up of a new constitution for England. They are known as the Putney Debates, because the debate started here at St Mary’s on 28 October 1647 although they soon moved to the nearby lodgings of Thomas Grosvenor who was  a senior officer in the army.

There is a very professional looking mini exhibition display about the Putney Debates, which is well worth a look.

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Return outside and have a look at the clock tower

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The clock tower has a sundial, which is of somewhat older vintage than the one on the Zeeta House building with the words: “Time and tide stay for no man”

Go in front of the clock tower towards the river and cross the High Street at the junction with Lower Richmond Road.  Go a little way along Lower Richmond Road which runs beside the river.

Stop 10: Kenilworth Court

Soon on the left hand side is a large block of flats with no less than three Blue Plaques. Two were erected by the Putney Society – one is for Lord Hugh Jenkin, at one time local MP and Minister for the Arts and the other for Gavin Ewart, described as a noted poet but I have to confess I have not heard of him.

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But the one that intrigues me is the English Heritage plaque for Fred Russell who lived here from 1914 to 1926. The plaque describes him as the father of modern ventriloquism.

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Turns out this is because he is said to be the first person to use a knee-sitting figure. He started off as a journalist, but from 1882 began performing in public his hobby of ventriloquism. In 1886, he went professional after being offered an engagement at London’s Palace Theatre.

Now go down to the river on the right hand side of the Star and Garter building opposite and go to the riverside, and walk towards Putney Bridge (ie to the right)

Stop 11: Boat Race Marker and Boat Houses

On the SW14 walk, I mentioned in passing that the start and end of the annual Oxford/Cambridge Boat race is marked by stones bearing the letters “U. B. R.”. The end point at Mortlake was just off our route, but the start point in Putney is right on our route just down from Putney Bridge.

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Now walk along the river away form the bridge and just a little further on are a series of boat houses – I counted 11. This has a wonderful atmosphere even when there is almost no one on the water. It makes for a rather unique little bit of London.

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Keep walking along the riverside.

Stop 12: Festing Road (aka Festive Road)

Now just before the gardens, take a left down Festing Road. This is where David McKee, creator of the children’s character Mr Benn, used to live.  In the books, Mr Benn lives in London at 52 Festive Road. Apparently inspired by Festing Road, McKee actually lived at number 54 – next door.

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In November 2009 local residents installed an engraved paving slab in his honour – see BBC news report http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8375309.stm .

McKee is quoted as saying “I think it was because in the first book I drew myself looking out of the window, and I thought it would be quite nice to have him next door”.

I am not sure this slab is still in situ as I could not see it when I visited!

And that I am sorry to say concludes our walk through SW15. For onward travel return to Putney High Street.

So we have seen a glimpse into 16th Century (with Thomas Cromwell), the 17th Century (St Mary’s and the Putney Debates) and 18th century (when Edward Gibbon lived here). Putney was the place where two very different colourful characters (Swinburne and Selfridge)  lived out their last years. We have seen the decline and fall of some 20th century cinemas and wound up at a real address which has been fictionalised in children’s books. Again much more than I expected when I first started out in walking SW15.

SW14: Once Sheen – never forgotten

In Post Office terms, SW14 is Mortlake but it also covers East Sheen and the two bleed seamlessly into one another. Interestingly in addition to East Sheen, there is North Sheen, which is beyond the London postcodes in TW, but there is no South Sheen (that would have to be in Richmond Park) or West Sheen. There was a West Sheen, or possibly it was just Sheen, but when Henry VII rebuilt his palace at Sheen after a fire in 1497 he renamed it Richmond after his earldom in Yorkshire. And the name Richmond stuck.

We start our walk in East Sheen at the Post Office in Upper Richmond Road. Turning right out of the Post Office and walking along the main road (which is the South Circular), we soon come to a junction with traffic lights. The directional street signs tell us we are Milestone Green.

Stop 1: Milestone Green

There is actually a milestone at this junction in East Sheen, unlike the Red Rover in SW13 where there is no longer anything called the Red Rover. However there is no Green here, it is just a paved area with the milestone and a war memorial.

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The milestone itself is interesting. One face says we are X (10) miles from Cornhill in the City and another face is not exactly clear how far we are from Hyde Park Corner. The carving is odd because it looks like it has been altered at some point. Maybe we are VI (6) miles or maybe we are a further 3/4 mile because 3/4 appears further down.

Hyde Park Corner was chosen presumably because in the 18th century this was felt to be the beginning of London proper coming from the west. Hence the Duke of Wellington’s house (Apsley House) there was known as Number 1, London. But why Cornhill? This is a road that leads into the junction by the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England. I would have thought it might be more logical to use a building like the Bank of England, the Royal Exchange or the Mansion House as they are at a spot rather than a road which has length.

We go up Sheen Lane away from the South Circular Road on the same side as the Milestone.

Stop 2:  173 Sheen Lane

Soon ahead of us is a building which juts out and causes the road to narrow. Now why would that be?

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It turns out this building is the former stable building of Sheen House. This was the big house hereabouts but it was demolished in 1907 and the land developed for housing. I guess this explains why the modern road has to narrow to get round it, as the stable building was there before the road or at least before the road was this wide. The building is yellow brick and has 7 bays, with a little clock on top. This has the nice touch of a carriage as a weather vane, a subtle reminder of the former use of the building.

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Retrace your step down Sheen Lane, crossing over the South Circular and the Pig and Whistle pub is immediately on the left.

Stop 3: Pig and Whistle pub

This pub looks fake.

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Pig and Whistle is almost a joke name and the front looks like it has come out of a catalogue for old pubs, The brickwork is too clean and there is not layer upon layer of paint on the woodwork. Yet the sign on the front says “Est circa 1924”.

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I found this post on Beer in the Evening:  http://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs/s/11/11989/Pig_and_Whistle/East_Sheen which confirms my doubts:

“One more thing, it says ‘est. 1924’ on the sign outside – this is incorrect. It’s only been in existence since 1987 – before this there was a larger, grander pub known as The Bull.”

I think the Bull was actually right at the corner of Sheen Lane and Upper Richmond Road and extended down Sheen Lane. This pub was built on the part of the site of the old pub along Sheen Lane.

Keep walking along Sheen Lane and soon we reach a level crossing. We are at Mortlake Station. It is not entirely clear where East Sheen ended and Mortlake began. But I assume we have now got to Mortlake.

Stop 4: Mortlake Station

This is the next station after Barnes on the way to Richmond. The line was built in 1846, but unlike Barnes, Mortlake station no longer has its original building. It has this odd arrangement of a footbridge next to a level crossing. Presumably this is to allow pedestrians to cross the railway when the barriers are down. And the barriers come down a lot as there are frequent trains along here.

As a result this area is not good to drive in. But this level crossing is not the only source of delay. The main road through the centre of East Sheen is the South Circular – and this is constantly busy, often the traffic is just crawling.

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Almost immediately after the station on the left is Mortlake Green. Go down the path by the sign which says 1 & 2 Mortlake Green.

Stop 5: Mortlake Green

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According to Richmond Council (and they should know) Mortlake Green was formerly known as Kings Arms Field. The site was given to the residents of Mortlake by Earl Spencer in 1860 for their perpetual use and enjoyment as a recreation ground.

Ahead the Stag Brewery dominates the scene. But before we look at that, we are going to look at a pub. So go straight across the green and at the road turn left. A little way a long across the road in the shadow of the brewery is the Jolly Gardeners pub.

Stop 6: The Jolly Gardeners pub

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Unusually for a pub right next to a brewery, it is not connected to that brewery. It is a Young’s house. How audacious for Youngs to have a pub in the shadow of someone else’s Brewery.

In the 18th century the pub was called the Three Tuns. The present name appeared in 1796 as a possible reference to the expanding market gardens of the area. The current building dates from 1922.

Mortlake is famously the end point of the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. There is a marker stone on the riverside but it is a little too far off our track to visit. But if you want to see it go down the road beside the Jolly Gardeners (Ship Lane) and then when you get to the river turn left.  The University Boat Race Stone – marked “U.B.R” – is 112 metres downstream of Chiswick Bridge (ie before you get to the bridge).

Stop 7: Mortlake Brewery

Now walk back along the main road in the direction you have come. This is Lower Richmond Road. Soon you see one of the main gates to the current Brewery site. This area has been used for brewing since the 15th century. In 1889 the brewery was acquired by James Watney & Co., which later became Watney Combe & Reid. When Watney’s Stag Brewery in Victoria, was demolished in 1959, the name was transferred to Mortlake Brewery. Hence the Stag  relief on this little office block by this gates

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The road turns and there is a small roundabout. The road to the right is Sheen Lane and goes back to the station but we take the road to the left, which is Mortlake High Street.  Along the left hand side is possibly the oldest large building on the Brewery site – a formidable Victorian industrial building which has the date 1869 above the name. It looks a bit like a prison from the road.

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The Brewery is now operated by Anheuser-Busch and produces Budweiser(!). In 2009, Anheuser-Busch merged with InBev and announced they would cease brewing on this site. It has not happened yet but clearly this is a major riverside site with huge potential for development. I am sure that in 5 or 10 years time, this area will look very different – and somewhat less industrial.

Stop 8: Mortlake High Street

Keep walking along Mortlake High Street and on the left are some delightful Georgian houses. First comes Numbers 101 and 103.

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Then the next group to watch out for are Numbers 115, 117 and 119.

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And finally Number 123 which has gate piers and interiors circa 1720 according to Pevsner, who also says the house and garden were painted by Turner. But these are paintings that got away – one is in the Frick Collection in New York and another in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. The Tate, famous for its Turner collection, only has some sketches and engravings.

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These houses are unusual in London because their gardens back onto the river. Today there is a public path between the gardens and the river but even so this is a rare sight in London.

We can loop back and get down to the river across this little green. When you get to the river turn left along the riverside path to see these houses from the back.

 Stop 9 Mortlake Riverside

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Just a little way along there is another alleyway which comes down to the river, turn left up that.

Stop 10: Tapestry Court

There really is precious little to remind us that Mortlake was once an important location for the production of tapestries in the 17th century. But there is this little path, named Tapestry Court. Here is a little green and on this green is a small stone which says it is the site of the Lower Dutch House, part of the Mortlake Tapestry Works. But before that, this was the site of the house of John Dee – mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, alchemist and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I.  He lived in Mortlake during the latter part of the 16th Century dying here in 1608 or 1609.

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Return to the main road and across it you will see St Mary’s Church.

Stop 11: St Mary’s Church

Although this is an old church it was largely rebuilt in the 1880s. But the west tower dates from 1543 and is reputed to have been built by order of King Henry VIII.

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Go to the right of the church and you find yourself at the end of Church Path. This is a long straight path, which according to the sign was used for walking funerals from Sheen – until that is the railway severed the route.

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Go down Church Path but take a left down Fitzgerald Road. At the end of Fitzgerald Road turn left into North Worple Way and continue to the Roman Catholic church of St Mary Magdalen. Go in the gates and go to the graveyard which is round the back of the church – the access is to the left of the church.

Stop 12: Sir Richard Burton’s tomb

In this churchyard is the most extraordinary tomb. This is a mausoleum for Sir Richard Burton, explorer and translator of the Arabian Nights. It is in the form of a tent. It even has folds as if it were cloth but it is stone. Truly once seen never forgotten, or perhaps once Sheen never forgotten! Except we are still in Mortlake, I think, as we are north of the railway.

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Return to the front of the church and turn right into the street (North Worple Way). If you continue along here, it leads back to Mortlake Station, for onward travel.

Well this has been a surprising walk. Mortlake is so dominated by the Brewery which looms large over so much of the riverside, you do not expect to find too much. But there are these little reminders of a historic past – the stable building of the big house at East Sheen, some tudor connections and a 17th century Tapestry works. And perhaps the most surprising find is the tomb of Sir Richard Burton, not what you expect to see in a small graveyard in suburban London.