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.

27 thoughts on “SW17: Power to the people

  1. Loved the walk around Tooting Stephen. I lived there from 1949 until 1967. Thank you for bringing back memories of the area.

  2. Love the article and brought back lots of lovely memories for myself and my husband, I had not been back in years but two years drove through and stopped for pie and mash. What a shock going,back I felt very intimidated and very pleased to be Going back to Sussex

  3. I was born at 14 Fishponds Road in 1941 and went on to live in a nissen hut in Upper Tooting Road, then a prefab at 23 Drakefield Road, until I got married in 1961at Holy Trinity Church. I went to St Marys C of E primary school at Balham and remember my friend Christopher was killed after running out of the the school straight onto Balham High Road. I used to attend a tap dance class in a hall behind Holy Trinity School and Sunday school in a hall opposite Drakefield Road. I went on to Elmfield Secondary School for two years and after to Balham and Tooting College of Commerce. My mum was born in Sellincourt Road and my dad in Coverton Road. I remember all of the places you mention on your walk and found it very interesting. Tooting Bec common is at the top end of Drakefield Road and I spent many a day playing up there and swimming at the lido and Elmfield swimming pool too. I remember the Granada, Mayfair, Astoria and Classic cinemas and used to go to Saturday morning pictures for 6d at the Mayfair and would often get fish and chips opposite the Kings Head pub. As my daughter, Selina Draper, commented earlier that my dads cousin owned Crawfords sweet shop and would dearly love to trace our relatives, so if there is anyone reading this that can help please let us know. Thank you for this nostalgic trip down memory lane.

    • My mother worked in Crawford’s sweet shop in the late 1950s and used to bring home a bag of chocolate, coconut ice etc every Friday. I can’t remember the owner’s name but when I was sick with pneumonia, she used to send me home a box of things like grapes and brands beef essence to “build me up.’ The chocolate they made was in thick slabs with whole nuts in it. Sorry I don’t have any further information to help trace your relatives.

  4. Thank you so much, I really enjoyed the article end to end. I was born in Tooting and lived
    there from 1950 to 56, but was up from Sussex most weekends ever-after to see my relatives in
    Bickley Street, Woodbury Street, Longley Road and Southcroft Road. I really loved Tooting as a child, on a good weekend at Bickley Street, I’d maybe get a Tony Curtis at Pitas Greek Barbers next the Granada Cinema, then see a film, or wander round the market, where I heard my first ever soul music at the record shop in the corner, ( Fontella Bass, Rescue Me,) or mum and me and my sister would visit the pie and mash shop, or the putting green up behind Southcroft Road, etc.,etc., more fun than Sussex could ever be, etc.; but childhood asthma and the pea-souper smogs that would then manifest in Tooting, made country air an absolute must.

    And by the way, does anyone remember that tiny barbers shop on the bridge at Tooting Junction,
    where aged four or so, I’d be all but strapped to the chair to stop me escaping into the street and told by the vexed, teeth-clenched, war-weary barber : ‘ Watch the nice trains Sonny Jim !’ Is it still there I wonder ?

    I too very much regret that that Tooting, with all of the above described warmth, character, variety and colour, is now gone for ever : kids no more take their Nan’s washing to the Bag Wash on the Broadway, or buy trifles in Clarks the Bakers,- with the sixpence payment for that said task, – or follow the Boys Brigade Band marching down Remuir Street, or sing along the to the Wurlitzer in the Granada, – but. life is change, – and my family too were once freshly arrived from
    other climes and so very glad that Tooting could accommodate us.

    Thanks again, – and, – does anyone know why Tooting has so many seemingly French road
    and street names, Sellincourt, Remuir etc. ?

    Kind regards Andy Quin, Turners Hill, West Sussex.

  5. When the statue of King Edward stood in the centre of the Broadway the ornamental street light was situated behind. Both were sited over the public toilets that were situated on the central island. The large base to the lamp standard served as a cover for a large fan that ventilated the toilets. When the statue was removed the toilets were filled in.

  6. A very enjoyable read. Having spent the war years in the north we moved back to London in 1947. The family home until 1957 was a prefab on The Avenue on Tooting Bec Common. I attended, Hillbrook, Franciscan and Bec Schools. Saturday mornings were spent at the Mayfair Childrens Cinema which cost 6d. An extra 3d and a ration coupon allowed us to buy sweets at Crawfords sweet shop.on Upper Tooting Road.
    My first experience as a wolf cub was at Bruce Hall but we became members of the Holy Trinity Church congregation and I continued my scouting experience as a member of the 4th Balham and Tooting Scout Troop.
    I now live in the US and seldom see Tooting however I feel blessed to have lived my childhood with the freedom of Tooting Bec Common to play on as well as the several area bomb sites, the abandoned AA gun emplacements, the allotments and the Lido.
    Thanks for the SW17 walk. I know most of the places you visited and was able to follow your footsteps throughout. The memories are a personal treasure.

  7. I grew up in Tooting, it was such a nice…if somewhat scallywag !…place to live. I moved out in the early 90’s because it was changing into something I didn’t like. It hurts me to see how invaded it has become and the atmosphere is now anything but welcoming. You could have included the famous Harringtons Pie & Mash shop on Selkirk Rd…It was THE finest P&M shop in London ( In my findings ) Well done though on covering a place that deserves remembering …and remembering is the best way to visit Tooting to unfortunately 💔

  8. I grew up in Tooting and well remember the “lots o fun” amusement arcade near the station..Also the many excellent pop tours hitting the Granada…Beatles, Stones, everybody.
    Tooting now is like another planet…At least the 2 markets have somehow survived.

    • Thanks for the comments, Alan. Yes Tooting certainly has changed. And if Crossrail 2 ever gets built that will make a huge difference – and possibly the loss of Tooting Market, as it may be needed to build the new line and station, according to the safeguarding maps.

    • I remember you Alan. You used to live in Totterdown Street. Very friendly with Pauline Rich, Pauline Lowe and Graham Slade.

  9. I was born in Franciscan Road over fifty years ago and lived in the area until I was 17. I recently came back to visit my family and was absolutely shocked. I could not believe it was the same place. I’m afraid I loathed it. When I lived there we had a real sense of working class community which has now disappeared. It is now an awful place (unless you live around the common). I wouldn’t return if you’d paid me.
    Many thanks for a great article.

  10. Yes, it was my Dad Arthur that had the cafe in Tooting Market who ran it with my Mum Iris. I also worked in there too in between jobs.My Dad sadly passed away in Dec. 2000, a lovely man who is very much missed. He spent most of his life working in Tooting, as a young man he worked in the amusement arcade, near the underground. In he’s 20’s he had the key shop in Tooting Market with his brother Bill, and carried this on as well as the cafe till the late 1990’s and closed due to ill health.
    We had seen many changes through the years, not sure for the better!!

  11. I have read with interest this walk around Tooting. It took me back to my childhood and to when I worked in Arthurs Café in Tooting Market. It changed hands in about 1998, when Tooting changed a lot. I remember going to Girl Guides in Bruce Hall…..what wonderful memories. Thank you so much.

      • I have many memories of Tooting as I lived in Ashvale road…opposite the Central Hall as it was then. Lived there in Tooting until 1999. Many of the places I remember have now been pulled down but I still remember clearly. So pleased you have done this walk.

    • This is my first visit to this website and it is absolutely brilliant! Really enjoyed reading it. My Mum comes from Tooting and I’ve been researching her family. I wonder Shirley do you remember a sweet shop, opposite the Classic Cinema? My Granddad’s cousin owned it and we are trying to find out more about it. We believe it was called Crawfords.

  12. Well done, Stephen. Deep research and interesting facts. I’ve lived here for 30+ years and have seen many changes in that time. The Mitre pub had riding stables behind it when I was first here! I used to boast about having two blue plaques in the road next to mine and am sad that Harry Tate has not be reinstated. They do say that Daniel Defoe also had something to do with a house in my road . . . .

    • Thanks. As ever, I find more things than I have space for, eg Mitre stables. Interesting what you say about Mr Defoe. He is also said to have lived just off Church Lane – or maybe not.

  13. Yes indeed a great read again! My paternal grandparents lived in Sellincourt Road in one of probably only two houses built in the 1930’s so regular visits were made in 1950/ 1960s and some years beyond. My dad spent many happy hours at the Tooting Granada. Maternal grandparents used to live at 207 Blackshaw Road – house since demolished as part of St George’s Hospital Estate. Used to get my made to measure suits from Kretts Tailors in Mitcham Road which managed to keep going to about 2008 I believe. Good to see some of the old landmarks are still there but many have gone and the population has changed beyond recognition in the last 40 years or less. Where it will end one cannot say. I’ll leave it at that! Very well done again.

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