SW20: The Good Life … or Bleak Suburbia

I have to confess I have struggled a little with SW20. It is a bit lacking in history. It was just farm land here until the 1870s when development took off. And – dare I say it -SW20 does seem a bit dull on the surface at least.

I have however discovered two people with a connection to SW20 who neatly sum up how people react to this kind of suburban area. The actor Richard Briers, who is forever associated with playing typical, and not so typical, suburban husbands was born and spent his early years in Raynes Park, so he could be said to reflect the “Good Life” aspects. On the other hand there is the Irish writer, Edna O’Brien, who lived in SW20 when she first moved to London in the 1950s with her young family. She hated it, calling SW20 “bleak suburbia”. She could not wait to escape, and she did – eventually.

We start our walk at the Post Office which is at 1a Amity Grove, just off Coombe Lane in the centre of Raynes Park. Go to the end of Amity Grove and turn left. Across the road is our first stop (and the reason why the area built up in the first place).

Stop 1: Raynes Park Station

The railway was built through the area in 1838 but there was no station here until October 1871. The name Raynes Park was originally applied to the area south of the railway line where the local landowner, Richard Garth, planned to develop a new garden suburb similar to that being developed by John Innes at Merton Park. The Rayne family had been previous landowners of the farmland on which Garth intended to build. It did not quite get developed as a coherent “garden suburb” but it did get developed, and we shall visit the roads on the south side of the station shortly.

Like Merton Park, there is no actual park called Raynes Park. It is simply a device to make the area sound nice and leafy. I think John Innes also had this idea when he started to develop nearby Merton Park in 1870. He even persuaded the railway company to change the local station name in 1887 from Lower Merton to Merton Park, as it sounded better. And the same “deception” occurs further down the line at Motspur Park and Worcester Park, neither of which seem to have an actual park of that name.

The station at Raynes Park is unusual. The fast tracks run through with no platforms and but there are two pairs of platforms for the local trains as the station stands at a junction – where the line to Epsom and Chessington peels off the main line out of Waterloo. The Southern reconstructed this in the 1930s as a grade separated junction so the trains from Epsom and Chessington could pass under the main line rather than cross on the level. And I guess this meant the up and down platforms could not be opposite each other.

A distinctive feature of the station is the long footbridge set at an angle over the 4 tracks of the main line. This really stands out as the main line is already on quite a high embankment. However you do wonder what the point is. There is a subway entrance to each set of platforms and so you could interchange by going down to street level. And there cannot be many people who want to interchange between the up platforms and the down ones, so why go to the expense of building – and maintaining – this foot bridge.

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Continue along Coombe Lane, crossing Lambton Road and then taking a left into Lambton Road. Follow this road round to the right where it becomes Worple Road.

Stop 2: Pepys Court

Just along from the corner is our next stop, Pepys Court.

This block of flats was the childhood home of the actor Richard Briers who died in February 2013. Given all the suburban characters he played I associate him with one of the 1930s semis in a street that all looks the same. But he clearly came from more humble beginnings. One of his best known characters was in the sitcom “The Good Life” where he and his wife played by Felicity Kendal gave up all the trappings of modern life to become self sufficient in a 1930s semi. Although filmed in Northwood it was actually set down the road in Surbiton – or should I say Suburbiton.

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Interestingly there is no connection to Samuel Pepys. The Pepys remembered here and in the adjoining Pepys Road is a very distant relative of the famous diarist. He is Charles Pepys, 1st Earl of Cottenham who lived locally until his death in 1851 (Hence also nearby is Cottenham Park Road, Cottenham Drive and an actual park called Cottenham Park – Cottenham is a place in Cambridgeshire). Charles Pepys was a lawyer and senior politian and had two spells as Lord Chancellor in the late 1830s and late 1840s.

Now look over the road.

Stop 3: Methodist Church and Lantern Arts Centre

There is a pair of large red brick Byzantine style buildings. The one on the right is a functioning Methodist church. The building on the left looks like it was built as an assembly room or church hall. All this is probably rather too big for the current congregation but the church hall has at least found a purpose, as the Lantern Arts Centre.

It has been going almost 20 years according to the signs and has no doubt been home to myriad am-dram productions. Their aim is to involve members of the local community in their productions and they aim for creativity with a christian ethos at its heart. I see they are doing Aladdin as their panto this year  – I guess they were not best pleased to discover that the big local commercial theatre (New Wimbledon Theatre) is doing the same story this year. But I suppose it does not really matter as you do not exactly go for the story!

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Now continue along Worple Road and follow the one way system right (into Pepys Road)

Stop 4: Site of Rialto Cinema, 3 Pepys Road

Just around the corner on the right is St George’s House – one of those uninspiring 1980s suburban office blocks. This was the site of Raynes Park’s one and only cinema.

Raynes Park never had a grand super cinema but it did have just one modest little picture house dating from the silent era. Built in 1921 and originally called the Raynes Park Cinema, it was refronted in 1933. It then re-opened as the Rialto Cinema and kept this name until it closed on 23 September 1978. From what I can find out it was never part of a big chain and stayed independent until the end.

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The building stood empty and unused for several years, and was finally demolished in the mid-1980s. Not sure why the new building got called St George’s House. It is a bit of a shame that the Rialto name was not used for the building on this site.

Go under the railway bridge and ahead you will see the library and to the left is Kingston Road. The roads going off the main road to the right form our next “stop”

Stop 5: The Apostles

Estate agents always have to find a tag for an area if it does not have one already and sometimes even if it does. This chunk of Raynes Park is known as the Apostles. Not because of any religious connection or because the roads have saints names – They do not (unless Sydney and Edna count which I don’t think they do). 

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No, nothing as obvious as that. The area gets its estate agent name because there are twelve parallel streets off of Kingston Road running towards, but not actually going into, Bushey Road. (And wouldn’t it have been great if Edna O’Brien had lived in Edna Road but sadly she did not)

This area was the first part of Raynes Park to be fully developed once the station had opened in 1871.

Just as an aside, isn’t it rather fitting that at the corner of one of the Apostles streets is the Kingston area office of the Church of England’s Southwark diocese.

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Now it is a bit of a trek to our next stop. You can walk all the way down Kingston Road following the bend round to the right and the turning left at the traffic lights (into what continues to be Kingston Road). Go under the railway bridge and our next stop is on the left. Alternatively you can hop on a 152 or 163 bus from outside Raynes Park station on Approach Road for a couple of stops to Wimbledon Chase station.

Stop 6: Wimbledon Chase Station

This sad looking building dates from 1929 and was one of a number of new stations which the Southern Railway built between the wars. The story of how this station (and the line it is on) came to be built by the Southern Railway is down to the rivalry between train companies.

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This station was only built by the Southern Railway because of a compromise between them and Underground Electric Railways of London (UERL) who in the 1920s owned most of the tube. UERL needed more traffic on their lines and wanted to extend their City and South London Railway (C&SLR) from Clapham Common to Sutton and their District Railway from Wimbledon to Sutton. The two would join just near a little village called Morden. Needless to say the Southern with their virtual monopoly of train services in south London objected.

UERL said it had to extend the C &SLR at least as far as Morden because that was the first place the line could get to the surface where a depot could be built. Southern could see this would not impact too much on their traffic as it would largely steal from the London County Council tramway which paralleled most of that route. So a deal was struck. UERL could build as far as a station originally to be called Morden North and get their depot. Southern would build the line from Wimbledon to Sutton on the planned alignment but the two would not connect.

UERL opened their line first in 1926 and they had the last laugh. They included a bus turn round at Morden which allowed the area around the station to be served by feeder bus routes, as indeed it is today. The Underground route was much more attractive and gave a faster route direct into the city and west end. So the Wimbledon – Sutton line never really took off and even now only gets a train every half hour.

By the way, next time you look at a map of this area, see how you have to go through Morden station to get to the Underground depot and then if you carry on, you are close by Morden South station on the Wimbledon – Sutton line. This is just about where the junction of the two lines would have been. And of course because the Underground only built one station at Morden, they called it simply Morden although it was nowhere near the old village centre which was actually south of Morden South station.

Continue along Kingston Road and after the Nelson Hospital site (currently under reconstruction – and in SW19 so that is why it is not covered!) turn right down Watery Lane. Keep going down Watery Lane as it curves to the right.

Stop 7: Rutlish School

Just beyond Manor Gardens on the right is our next stop – Rutlish School is on our left.

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We saw the tomb of William Rutlish in nearly St Mary’s Churchyard on our SW19 walk. He was embroiderer to King Charles II. He died in 1687 and left £400 for a school for the education of poor children of the local parish (around £61,000 in today’s money according to Wikipedia). By the 1890s the charity had accumulated a considerable excess of funds. John Innes (of whom we have also already heard) was chairman of the board of trustees and was instrumental in using some of the excess to establish a school. This was in Rutlish Road, SW19 – next to Merton Park station.

The school moved to its present site in 1957. This had been the location of the John Innes Horticultural Institution which itself had been set up under the terms of John Innes’ will in and around his old house, known as the Manor House. This building still stands as part of the school and has a blue plaque – I think this is probably the only blue plaque in the whole of SW20!

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Now it may not have turned out like this. John Innes’ will specified that his bequest should be used for either a school of horticulture that would provide “technical instruction in the principles of the science and art of horticulture and the application thereof to the industry or employment of gardening”, or a Public museum for the collection of paintings and other works of art. The trustees responsible for the money opted for the former and in 1910 the John Innes Horticultural Institution opened here. It moved to Norfolk in 1945 and of course it is this institution which created the famous John Innes compost mixes long after he died – John Innes may have been somewhat bemused that his name is generally associated with compost rather than as a philanthropist or property developer. There are also lots of varieties of fruit tree which have the name Merton because they were developed by the John Innes Horticutural Institution.

Useless fact: probably the most famous old boy of Rutlish School is Sir John Major who was prime minister from 1990 to 1997.

Now continue down Watery Lane to the end and you will see a little pathway round to Manor Road go down this to the end and turn left into Cannon Hill Lane

Stop 8: Cannon Hill Lane

Cannon Hill Lane meanders from Kingston Road to Grand Drive and it s somewhere on this road, that Edna O’Brien lived out her miserable years in “bleak suburbia”.

I do not know exactly where she lived but in a documentary on her a couple of months back I think it showed the bit of Cannon Hill Lane by the Common, which is beyond Martin Way.

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Just a by the by – according to Merton Council, Cannon Hill Common is not and never has been a common. It did not exist as a public open space until 1925 when the Merton and Morden Urban District Council purchased part of an estate around Cannon Hill House – which was built in the 1760s and demolished between the wars. 

As we have no idea where exactly to go on Cannon Hill Lane, I suggest you just go as far as the roundabout with Martin Way.

Stop 9: Joseph Hood Recreation Ground

When Cannon Hill Lane meets Martin Way at the roundabout, go right into Martin Way. A little way along on the left is the entrance to Joseph Hood Recreation Ground

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Now I am sure that most locals do not know who Joseph Hood was and why this recreation ground is named after him.

He was a local bigwig. Originally from Leicestershire, he was a solicitor, who worked on the creation of British American Tobacco Company Ltd and became one of its deputy Chairman. He was MP for Wimbledon from 1918 to 1924. He and his wife were granted the freedom of the borough of Wimbledon in 1924. In 1930 he was elected mayor of Wimbledon, an office he held until his death in January 1931.  Hood was known as a generous benefactor to the area he represented in parliament. He donated a recreation ground to Merton and Morden Urban District Council and following his death this was renamed Sir Joseph Hood Memorial Playing Fields. But this is not where we are standing. The Sir Joseph Hood Memorial Playing Fields are in Motspur Park. I cannot seem to find out why the recreation ground off Martin Way also has his name (but not as a memorial!) or why there are two recreation grounds with such similar names within a couple of miles of each other.

There is also a local primary school called Joseph Hood, just off Martin Way but again I cannot seem to find out why this particular school bears his name.

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Now return along Martin Way to the roundabout.

Stop 10: St James Church

Just past the roundabout on Martin Way on the left is our final stop – St James church

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St James Church dates from 1957. It had been planned in the 1930s when the housing in the area was developed. The church hall dates from 1936 but war intervened before the church could be built.

The church hall is very typically of that period and had a role in a recent film called “Run for your Wife” – the Ray Cooney farce. This film had vast numbers of well known faces popping up in tiny cameo roles and the scene shot in St James’ church hall included Maureen Lipman and June Whitfield.

The film was however not exactly a great success. When released in February 2013, it had the dubious distinction of taking just £747 in the first weekend. Richard Briers also appeared in this film but not at St James. I had thought this was his last movie but apparently not. The last part he played in a film was in the equally obscure “Cockneys vs Zombies”. Oh dear, he did not exactly go out with a bang!

Although the church looks quite plain on the outside, it has a little gem on the inside. It has a mural by the German jewish artist, Hans Feibusch. He fled Germany in the 1930s and after the war he had a number of commissions to paint church murals. Others in London can be found in St John’s Waterloo and St Alban’s Holborn.

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The St James’ mural is a triptych of the resurrection – all in soft pastel tones to go with the very pale green interior of the Church. And yet it is very powerful.

Sadly this is another Church that is rarely open. Even if the door is open you can only go as far as the side chapel and not into the main church.

So this brings us to the end of the SW20 walk. It has some interest but not as much as most of the other SW postcodes. For some this area represents a safe peaceful area for others it is too quiet or too soulless, or both. You pays your money; you takes your choice.

For onward travel there are buses outside the church to Morden (164 or 413) or across the road to Wimbledon (164)

And this also is the final SW postcode, so that means we are one sixth of the way through the 120 London postcodes. After Christmas, we go west, starting rather unoriginally with W1.

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SW19: Liberty, Fraternity and Infidelity

When you look for property in SW19 you will see places advertised as being in Wimbledon Village, Wimbledon Park, Wimbledon, Merton Park and Merton Abbey. But sometimes you will find it just says plain old SW19. This generally turns out to be Colliers Wood, the bit of SW19 that dares not speak its name. I am sure that the folks who live on the hill (ie Wimbledon Village) probably do not even realise their postcode extends to Colliers Wood!

SW19 is huge and I cannot possibly cover it all. So I have decided not to do my SW19 walk in Wimbledon which most people associate with SW19 but I am going to start it right here in Colliers Wood.

We start at the Post Office in Christchurch Road just a couple of doors left out of Colliers Wood Tube Station. Come out of the Post Office and ahead you will see our first stop.

Stop 1: Former Brown and Root Tower

At 17 stories, this is the tallest building in the Borough of Merton and it has the distinction of having been voted the ugliest building in London in a 2006 BBC poll and one of the 12 ugliest in the UK in a 2005 Channel 4 poll for its programme Demolition.

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Unaccountably it seems to have dropped off of the lists of ugliest buildings in more recent polls, but then I guess there is a lot of competition.

This tower was first known as the “Lyon Tower” as it was originally the headquarters of property company Ronald Lyon Holdings. But for most of its life it was known as the “Brown and Root” Tower because of the american construction company that occupied it.

It has been empty for years. Planning permission to develop the site was first granted in 2003 but not much has been done except to demolish the old car park structure at the back. Maybe 2014 will see something actually happen to the building and this eyesore will become something useful like a block of flats.

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Just as a by the by: we are here at the end/beginning of one of the Mayor’s Super Cycle Highways. This was the first one to be finished – the CS7 which runs between Colliers Wood and the City. Note the map shows the route as almost a straight line. This is no accident because the main road here (A24) broadly follows the old Roman Road to Chichester. Interestingly just south of Colliers Wood the modern road veers off this straight alignment. The roman road would have had to cross the valley of the river Wandle here at an angle and maybe it was more practical to take a diversion to avoid the boggy areas around the river. But if you draw a straight line from here southwestward it goes though Merton Abbey Mills and Morden Hall Park and then south of Morden the modern road aligns with the roman one once again.

Now cross the main road and a little way along on the right you will see a park. Go in the gate.

Stop 2: Wandle Park

Wandle Park is owned by the National Trust but managed (after a fashion) by Merton Council. It is not what you would call a very pretty park, but it has some interesting history.

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Almost immediately inside the gate is the first of two fountains – now both sadly out of use.

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This stone drinking fountain was erected as a memorial to a man called John Feeney in 1907.

And there is a verse which runs as follows:

“Calm soul of all things! Make it mine
To feel, amid the city’s jar,
That there abides a peace of thine,
Man did not make, and cannot mar”

This feels almost biblical but actually it is by Victorian poet Matthew Arnold and is the penultimate verse of his poem “Lines written in Kensington Gardens” dating from 1852. Not such a calm position here today – being right by the entrance with the incessant traffic close by.

Now follow the path round and turn left over the bridge. Eventually you will come to a second fountain. This was erected through private subscription in memory of Henry Pollard Ashby ad his son in law Robert Bloomfield Fenwick (1835-1897), who had lived at Wandlebank House from 1867 to 1895.

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Walking on from here you will see another bridge. This one is over the River Wandle. But before you do look ahead at the modern block of flats, this was the location of the Wandlebank House.

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According to the Merton Council website, Wandlebank House was built in 1791 by James Perry and owned by him until his death in 1821. The house was demolished in 1962. Perry owned the corn mill next door (which we shall see shortly) and he was editor of the ‘Morning Chronicle’ newspaper.  Perry was also associated with the construction of the Surrey Iron Railway which followed the Wandle valley and so would have run somewhere nearby, not that there is anything to see of that here now.

Go to the bridge.

Stop 3: Connolly’s Mill

Pause a while on this bridge and have a look down stream. You will see a three storey building literally over the river. This is Connolly’s Mill.

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This is a large former water mill building, dating from around 1805, and designed by the engineer John Rennie. This was the mill owned by James Perry, and according to the plaque is on or close to a site which has been used for milling for at least 750 years.The building was converted into flats in 1994. (By the way this plaque is actually on the left hand side of building as you approach it from the bridge you are just crossing).

Go over the bridge turn left and go down the street running by the river – imaginatively named “Wandle Bank”. At the end of  Wandle Bank, turn right into Merton High Street and cross the road.

Stop 4: Merton Bus Garage

Just here is a big bus garage. It is only has a small facade to the street but it goes back a long way and can house well over 100 buses.

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The  garage was opened by the London General Omnibus Company in November 1913. And recently they had an open day to celebrate its centenary. It is rather fitting that this garage is now operated by the modern day London General bus company and the building next door (a former pub) is London General’s head office.

Useless fact: the code for Merton Garage is AL – see the SW15 walk for an explanation of these codes.

Opposite the bus garage, the river Wandle runs parallel to the street and on the other side of the river is a huge shop (now a combined Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer, but originally it was Sainsbury’s Savacenta).

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Cross the bridge to the shop and go straight ahead, either through the ground floor area of the building or else skirting round it. You want to get to the other side of the car park almost directly opposite where you started.

Stop 5: The site of Merton Priory

You will see ahead of you a subway with a sign saying “Footpath to Merton Abbey Mills”.

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Stop a while here because just here at this edge of the car park and down towards the petrol station was the location of a medieval priory church.

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Now this area is today called Merton Abbey but there never was an abbey here. Actually the monastic establishment here was called Merton Priory – a Priory is lower in the pecking order than an Abbey.

Merton Priory was established in the 12th century and has several claims to fame. Thomas Becket was educated here as was Walter de Merton, who went on to found Merton College, Oxford. It was the place where in the 1230s the first comprehensive statute since the Magna Carta was agreed.  This was the Statute of Merton which allowed amongst other matters Lords of the Manor to enclose common land provided that sufficient pasture remained for their tenants. As this was the first recorded statute of the first recorded parliament, it can be viewed as the starting point for parliamentary democracy.

But with the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, the buildings were largely demolished. Much of the stone was taken down the road to build Henry VIII’s Nonsuch Palace, which itself was later demolished.

There is a fascinating website with more info: http://www.mertonpriory.org/

There is precious little left of Merton Priory today. We will see a gateway at the end of our walk and there is a bit of wall which we shall see shortly. But the most significant remains are actually below the road by the Sainsbury’s/M & S building. What is left of the Chapter House was preserved below the road built in the late 1980s (and fancifully called Merantun Way).

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You cannot actually see the remains except on special open days because they are behind some sad boarded up windows. However it looks like some money has been found to sort this out at some point.

The plan is to create a new glass wall on the south side (other side from Supermarket) just by that pylon you can see in the picture above.

Now go under the subway under Merantun Way and across the car park taking a right on the service road. Ahead is our next stop.

Stop 6: Merton Abbey Mills

At Merton Abbey Mills, there is a reminder of the Wandle’s industrial heritage.

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The Wandle powered a number of mills and so all sorts of industry sprung up along the banks. Here at Merton Abbey, a calico manufactory was established in 1724 and a second one in 1752. They not only bleached the cloth but also dyed it here.

William Morris, at the forefront of the Arts and Crafts Movement, relocated his dye works to Merton Abbey Mills in 1881 after determining that the water of the Wandle was suitable for dyeing. The complex, on 7 acres included several buildings and a dye works, and the various buildings were soon adapted for stained-glass, textile printing, and fabric and carpet weaving. The Morris works closed in 1940.

Another business associated with this location was Littler and Company.  In 1875 Littler’s started to print goods for Liberty. The hand block printed quality that Littler used became synonymous with Liberty. Liberty’s purchased the Merton print works in 1904, ceasing production in 1972.

Today Merton Abbey Mills is a crafts market with food stalls, mainly operating at the weekend.

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A number of buildings from the Morris period, and even earlier, survive, and there are displays on the history of the site. There is even one building surviving from the mid 18th century.

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This is the Colourhouse built around 1740 or 1750 and today used as a children’s theatre.

And there is a working waterwheel dating from 1860. This is unusual in having seven spokes and is said to have been the inspiration for the Merton Council logo, which is a waterwheel.

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The building now houses a pottery which uses the waterwheel.

This is a lovely enclave and could have been so much nicer. But the modern development around it sadly detracts from the atmosphere – especially the american style drive-through KFC and Pizza Hut buildings.

Cross the river by the water wheel building and then turn right, go over the main road at the crossing and pass through the archway.

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This little arch is a reconstruction of an old archway but apparently some of the walls either side are the old wall of the priory.

Walk along the road ahead (this is Station Road, although the station has long since disappeared) and at the end turn right into Abbey Road. Continue to the end of Abbey Road.

Stop 7: Nelson Arms

At the junction of Abbey Road with Merton High Street, stands the Nelson Arms.

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This pub is at the site of the lodge and gates to Merton Place, which was Admiral Lord Nelson’s home between 1801 and 1805. The pub dates from 1910 and is somewhat reminiscent of the Leslie Green tube stations with this deep red glazed tiling. There are some lovely tile murals of Nelson and HMS Victory.

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Now walk along Merton High Street going in front of the pub. Soon the old buildings finish and there is a modern housing estate. A little further along just before by what looks like a horses’ drinking trough, you will see a rectangular blue plaque on the end of one of the buildings. 

Stop 8: site of Merton Place

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This plaque explains where Merton Place used to stand.

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It is hard to work out just where the house might have been but I reckon it is probably somewhere around where these garages now stand, just near a block of flats called “Merton Place”.

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Nelson lived in Merton Place after he separated from his wife Fanny in 1801. Nelson shared Merton Place with both Sir William and Lady Emma Hamilton – a somewhat unusual arrangement. Emma Hamilton was the hostess. She had a lavish lifestyle and after Nelson’s death in 1805, she soon ran into debt and Merton Place was sold. The house was demolished in 1823 and the land developed for housing and industry. The grounds of the house were on both sides of Merton High Street and apparently there was a tunnel to link them. There is a little clump of roads to the north of Merton High Street which all have Nelson connected names: Hamilton, Hardy, Nelson, Trafalgar,Victory.

From the High Street, take a left down Pincott Road and at the end you will reach High Path. Turn right. At this junction there is another pub. This one is called the Trafalgar. It is tiny and looks like a real locals’ local (I did not venture in)

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Stop 9: St John’s Church, High Path

Just along High Path from the Trafalgar pub on the left is St John’s Church.

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This church lies in what were the grounds of Merton Place, but this is not the church Nelson would have gone to – for one very simple reason. It was not even built when he was alive. This church dates from 1913/14 to mark the anniversary of Nelson’s death – a bit late! The altar piece is apparently made from timber taken from HMS Victory and there is some stained glass by pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne Jones. Not that you can see this as here is another church which appears hardly ever to be open. It does look very lovely in these pictures. You feel you could almost be in the country but this is deceptive. The other side of the road is much more workaday London – an estate of not very special blocks of flats.

Just past the church on the left is a small garden, go in the gates.

Stop 10: Nelson Gardens

Like the church, this garden is on land donated by the great nephew of Rear Admiral Issac Smith to commemorate the centenary of Nelson’s death. There is a plaque which explains this. It is flanked by two small cannons. These are 12 pounder guns (whatever that means) and are thought to have adorned the lawn of Merton Place at one time.

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Rear Admiral Issac Smith is not a name you may have heard of, but he does have an interesting claim to fame. He was a cousin of Captain James Cook’s wife Elizabeth, and Smith accompanied Cook on two voyages of exploration in the South Pacific. Smith was the first European to set foot in eastern Australia and the first to prepare survey maps of various Pacific islands and coastlines including Tierra del Fuego in South America. On his retirement he shared a house in Clapham with Cook’s widow until in the 1820s he inherited Merton Abbey and then until his death in 1831 he split his time between Clapham and Merton.

Continue along High Path and turn left at the end (Morden Road)

Stop 11: the end of Merantun Way

Go a short way along Morden Road and you come to the end of Merantun Way. But look carefully at the road layout.

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It it rather odd. The carriageway splits and there is a wide grass verge in the middle. This is because Merantun Way was never finished as intended. The plan was to extend it further along the disused railway track to join Kingston Road thereby bypassing the level crossing on Kingston Road. It would have sliced through Merton Park but it never happened because of local opposition in the late 1980s. That opposition mutated into a strong community group which put up candidates in the borough elections and today Merton Park continues to be represented by independent councillors. This does not usually matter but it has since 2006 because the main parties are so evenly balanced in Merton. So the Merton Park councillors have been the king makers, allowing the Conservatives to run the administration from 2006 until 2010 and then Labour from 2010. It will be interesting to see whether Merton Park councillors will play such a pivotal role following the 2014 elections.

If it is not too muddy you actually walk along the route of the old railway line on the other side of Morden Road from Merantun Way (see picture)

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But if it is wet, you can head back past the Staples store and turn left and go down a street called The Path which then leads you into Melbourne Road and then onto an open space. Either way you will end up in the same place a junction of pathways. Here you can take a short diversion following the signs for the Merton Park tram stop. 

Stop 11a: former Merton Park station building

This path will lead you to the end of Rutlish Road and there where the traffic has to turn round, there is a building that looks like a station building.

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The reason it looks like a station building is because it is the original station house of Merton Park station. The rest of the station is gone and is now just a tram stop with nothing to show that there was actually a railway station here.

Retrace your steps to the path junction and follow the other path (or if you have not made the diversion, take this path)

Go over the tram line and into Merton Park.  At the end of the path cross Dorset Road and go down Sheridan Road. When you reach Church Lane, turn left and soon you will reach St Mary’s Church. This is a bit of a trek but it is worth it.

Stop 12: St Mary’s Church

You could almost be in a country village. All that is missing is the village pub (there are no shops or pubs in the Merton Park estate).

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Now this is the actual church which Nelson went to and it still has his pew apparently. If you can, go in and see the various memorials as well as stained glass by Burne Jones and Morris and Co made locally at Merton Abbey Mills.

There are a couple of interesting tombs in the graveyard. At the front between the war memorial and the lych gate, is a fairly weathered one, which is of William Rutlish, who was embroider to King Charles II. Presumably this was a well paid trade and Rutlish left money to found a school. Rutlish School still exists just over the border in SW20 as we shall see in the next walk.

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And then if you go into the graveyard, you pass by an archway on the right and a fair way in on the left is John Innes’ grave. We will hear more of him in SW20 also.

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Returning back to the entrance do have a look at the archway between the churchyard and the vicarage.

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This is a norman arch which came originally from Merton “Abbey” and was reconstructed here in 1935, paid for by Gilliat Edward Hatfeild (yes that is the right spelling). Hatfeild was the last owner of nearby Morden Hall Park and it was he who bequeathed that property to the National Trust. However it is over the border in SM4.

We have reached the end of our SW19 walk. Much of the story of this part of London can only be told with the fragments of what is here today and it is kind of sad that more has not survived of this historic part of London.

It seems we are in a country village here by St Mary’s but if you go down Melrose Road and then turn left into Dorset Road you will be at Kingston Road and then Merton Park tram stop in less than 10 minutes. Alternatively there are buses to Wimbledon and South Wimbledon from Kingston Road.

SW18: Forever Youngs

We have reached Wandsworth, which for me is forever Youngs, even though Youngs Brewery closed down in 2006. Well the town centre is not the prettiest with the one way system carrying both the radial route to Portsmouth (A3) and the orbital South Circular Road (A205). No wonder the place seems permanently congested. Then there is the Southside Shopping Centre which is still called the Arndale by many locals even though it was rechristened in 2004. And it is here that the river Wandle reaches the Thames – it is surprising that many people do not make the connection between the Wandle and Wandsworth. Maybe people do not realise the river is here – it is not easy to see as the Southside Shopping Centre is built over it.

We start our SW18 walk at the Post Office on the High Street, just to the west of the Southside Shopping Centre.

Turn left out of the Post Office and just a little way along across the road is our first stop.

Stop 1: W G Child and Sons, 106 – 108 Wandsworth High Street

This is a remarkable survival. This company has been producing bespoke suits for over 120 years spanning 5 generations, making them one of the oldest family run tailors in London.

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According to the company’s website, the business was established by William George Child in 1890 and although the family were tailors before this date, this was the starting point of the current business. The location of Wandsworth was chosen at that time as it was known as a prosperous and thriving area with many potential customers and no rival tailoring businesses.

They opened a second shop at Clapham Junction, run by one of the two sons of William George, with the original Wandsworth shop run by the other son Charles. This situation continued on through into the 1940s when with the start of World War II production was given over to the war effort, and uniforms were made instead of suits. In 1944 both branches were hit during German bombing raids with the total destruction of the Clapham Junction branch and the partial destruction of the Wandsworth branch. The Wandsworth shop was rebuilt and continues to operate to this day. Sadly it was the end for the sister shop in Clapham.

And the thing is that this is not some dowdy survivor. It is a working business and they clearly put a lot of work into keeping the shop front well maintained and also in having proper window displays. But it must be a struggle.

Stop 2: Former Wandsworth Borough News Offices, 144 Wandsworth High Street

Now just a little way further along after before the start of West Hill is an old business which did not survive beyond a few years into the 21st century.

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Here was the office of the Wandsworth Borough News. First published in the 1885, its 123-year history finally came to an end just before Christmas 2008. In its last years it had been a sub-edition of the Surrey Comet. In effect now it has been incorporated into the Wandsworth Guardian which gets distributed free across the borough. The Guardian is the last local newspaper standing in this part of London.

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Today their old office is an estate agents but there is this lovely sign – a silhouette of a man reading a newspaper – to remind of what used to go on here.

Now retrace your steps back down the High Street, crossing over when convenient. 

Stop 3: former Youngs Brewery

Just opposite the Southside Shopping Centre, you can see on the left of the road the River Wandle flowing down towards the Thames, having come out from a tunnel under the shopping centre. On the right hand bank is the now defunct Youngs Brewery. Until its closure in 2006, the Ram Brewery in Wandsworth was claimed to be Britain’s oldest brewing site in continuous operation, with a history dating back to the 1550s when a Humphrey Langridge leased the Ram pub here.

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In 2006 the brewing operation was transferred to a new company, Wells & Young’s Brewing Company Ltd, which was a joint brewing venture with Charles Wells of Bedford. Young’s held 40% of the shares in the new company but sold their stake in 2011. However the Young’s name continues in beers produced by Wells & Young’s, and the Young’s company still runs pubs.

There have been plans for redeveloping the site but in the current financial climate they have so far come to nothing. However in July 2013 Wandsworth Council gave consent for the redevelopment by a company called Minerva. This will provide 661 new homes and will include a 36 storey residential tower. There will also be shops, cafes, bars and restaurants plus space for a micro brewery and museum.

Brewing has apparently continued at the Ram Brewery site since Young’s departed for Bedford.  John Hatch, one of the Young’s brewing team, was retained as site-manager by Minerva and was charged with making sure that brewing continues in the interim period until any microbrewery or brewpub can be developed.

Youngs famously has a ram as its logo. This can be seen on a weathervane on the site.  And the pub at the corner of the brewery, dating from 1883, was latterly known as the Ram, although it had at one time been called The Brewery Tap. This became the visitor’s centre for the Brewery and so is now also closed.

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Take a left at the Ram Inn and go down Ram Street (here are a lot of Rams here). 

Stop 4: Surrey Iron Railway plaque and stones, Ram Street

You may wonder why we are coming down this desolate street. But there is something worth seeing here. Once you go past some gates to the Brewery, soon on the left you will see some stones in the wall and a metal plaque.

This is virtually the only tangible reminder of the Surrey Iron Railway which is claimed to be the first public railway in the world.
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The Surrey Iron Railway opened in 1803 between Wandsworth and Croydon to bring lime, chalk, fuller’s earth and agriculture products to London. This had horses drawing wagons down cast iron railway tracks. But what makes it the first public railway is that it was open to anyone who wanted to carry their goods along the route – in effect a different kind of toll road. The company did not operate its own trains, and passengers were not part of the equation. The initial route was around 9 miles following along the River Wandle, by then was becoming industrialised with numerous factories and mills. Later there was a branch to Hackbridge and an extension to Coulsdon.

In 1823  the engineer George Stephenson was approached to supply a locomotive for the line but he realised that the cast-iron rails could not support the weight of a steam locomotive. This meant the Surrey Iron Railway never made it as a “proper” railway. It was not a commercial success, and in 1844 the proprietors sold it to the London & South Western Railway, which sold it on to the London and Brighton Railway. They obtained an Act of Parliament authorising closure in 1846. Part of the route did get reused as a railway towards Croydon and some of this route remains in use today but as part of the Wimbledon – Croydon tram line.

Now retrace your steps back down Ram Street and turn left in to the High Street (actually you get a better view of our next stop from across the road by stop 6, which is where this photo was taken)

Stop 5: Former Palace/Gaumont Cinema

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Although it was opened as the Palace Theatre in 1920, this was a purpose built cinema and does not appear ever to have been an actual live theatre, apart from performances on the cinema organ perhaps. It was initially independent but came under Gaumont British Theatres management in July 1930. It was re-named the Gaumont Theatre in 1954. Having closed as a cinema in 1961, it was a bingo club until 1979. The building lay unused for three years until 1982 when it became a church. In 1992 it came back into entertainment use as a nightclub called the Theatre. It is now a gym. So I guess apart from this facade there is not really much left of the old cinema.

Cross over the High Street and just a little way to the left is our next stop (again you actually get a better view of the whole building from the other side of the road – ie where you have just come from.)

Stop 6:  The Spread Eagle, 71 Wandsworth High Street

Here we have the magnificent Spread Eagle pub, one the many Youngs pubs in Wandsworth. The current building dates from 1898, although this site had been a coaching inn for many years before that.

This is a splendid pub , with a lovely porch over the pavement. But inside is a real treat with fabulous glass and mirrors. Some nice pictures on http://www.pubs.com/main_site/pub_details.php?pub_id=221

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Now just around the corner in Garrett Lane, there is a building dating from 1890 which was constructed as the Assembly Room for the Spread Eagle pub.

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From 1908 it was operating as a cinema, the Biograph, and it is claimed this was the first licensed cinema in the country. It was subsequently known as the Picture Palace, the Picture Palladium and the Court Cinema. It closed in 1931. The building was later used mainly as a warehouse – after the war, Young’s Brewery used it to store beer crates. Wandsworth Council have put up one of their green plaques.

Our next stop is across the road.

Stop 7: Southside Shopping Centre (formerly the Arndale Shopping Centre)

Opened in 1971 and originally called the Arndale Centre, it was said to be Europe’s largest indoor shopping centre at the time. Southside has 530,000 square feet of retail space. Interestingly this is just a little smaller than Selfridges, the UK’s second largest single store.

The centre was looking a bit sad by the 1990s but there was a concerted effort in the naughties to sort the place out, including that name change from the Arndale Centre. However it has an odd mix of shops – there cannot be too many shopping centres where two of the largest stores are Waitrose and Poundland! There is more redevelopment going on the northern and eastern sections involving the demolition of office accommodation and the creation of a further 220,000 square feet of retail space, which will include a Debenhams, apparently.

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Useless fact: The name “Arndale” is a combination of  parts of the names of the two people who set up the original company – Arndale Property Trust: “Arn” is from Arnold Hagenbach and “dale” is from Sam Chippendale. Just think if they had used another combination, we could have had the Old Chip shopping centres.

Just before you reach Sainsbury’s you will see a garden. This is the old burial ground of the parish. Take the path through this green space. (Actually the second photo of the shopping centre is taken looking back through this garden)

At the end follow the road straight ahead until you reach St Ann’s Hill where you turn right. A little way along on the left is our next stop. 

Stop 8: St Anne’s Church

At the top of the hill is a church called St Anne’s, which is odd given the street is called St Ann’s Hill. It is a so-called “Commissioner’s” church – built as a result of an 1818 Act of Parliament which set up a Commission for “promoting the building of churches and chapels in populous parishes”. The first of these churches were also termed Waterloo churches because they were looked upon as national monuments built in thanksgiving for the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.

St Anne’s dates from the early 1820s and was designed by Robert Smirke, best known for the facade and main block of the British Museum. Architectural historian, Pevsner does not like this church describing it as having “unhappy outer proportions … and a circular tower, exactly twice as high as it should be.” But I think it is lovely but then I am not an expert on Greek Revival architecture.

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Now go back down St Ann’s Hill right to the end and at the bottom you will see the corner of Wandsworth Town Hall across the road on the left.

Stop 9: Wandsworth Town Hall

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The Town Hall we see today was built in three phases, and as Pevsner puts it “none distinguished”. The part at the far end along the High Street (almost next to the Pavilion Theatre) is the 1970s brick bit which houses the modern day reception. Then comes a mid 1920s section and finally the bit on the corner of Fairfield Street is from the mid 1930s  You can see why after the boroughs of Wandsworth and Battersea merged in 1965, the new borough chose to make Wandsworth Town Hall its main home.

The 1930s section is triangular and goes around a courtyard and with forecourt gardens. There is a frieze around the outside showing Wandsworth’s history, although I find it impossible to distnguish what events are portrayed.

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And there is a lavish entrance hall. One thinks of the Thirties as a time of austerity but clearly the council felt it could spent what must have been a significant amount of money on these new offices. It does not look like it was done on the cheap.  Interesting though the council chose to call this “Wandsworth Municipal Offices” according to the words set in the stonework – it was not the town hall or civic centre. I wonder why.

Now cross over the High Street and go to the right (eastern) side of Fairfield Street.

Stop 10: The Royal “Pool”

On the eastern side of the junction between the High Street and Fairfield Street is a curved brick wall with a large stone plaque, in front of which is a round brick walled bed with a tree and other plants in it.

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The stone plaque explains about this odd arrangement which derives from a Royal visit on 14 July 1937. The plaque reads as follows:

“This pool, with its surroundings, has been provided from a fund subscribed by local citizens of the Borough of Wandsworth commemorating the visit to Wandsworth of Her Majesty Queen Mary on July 14th 1937 to open the new municipal offices. Her Majesty drove through the borough escorted by the Mayor and Mayoress, Councillor and Mrs W H Heath when she was welcomed by 500,000 people. By the fund raised, 55,000 flags were distributed down the line of route, 42,000 bags of sweets given to the children and 250,000 people attended firework displays at King George’s Park, Streatham Common and Clapham Common. On the site containing the pool, Her Majesty paused after the opening ceremony and a choir of 2,000 children sang”

Well isn’t it unusual to have a Royal visit recalled in a such a way. Sad though there is no actual pool here now and judging by the size of that tree in front of the stone, there probably has not been a pool there for a long time! And you do have to wonder about some of those numbers.

Go up East Hill away from the Town Hall. This is the A3/A205.

Stop 11: Huguenot Burial ground

At the top of the hill the A3/A205 splits into two one way streets. In the middle is a grand looking Italianate building called Book House.

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It was built in 1888 for the Board of Works – I assume this was for the local Wandsworth District Board of Works, which was in effect a predecessor body to the borough council. Behind Book House flanked by these two one way streets is something rather unusual – the Huguenot Burial Ground

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The burial site was opened in 1687 and closed in 1854. It was used by the Huguenot refugees who settled in Wandsworth during the seventeenth century, fleeing France after the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The burial ground later became known as Mount Nod.  In 1911 a memorial was erected to the memory of the Wandsworth Huguenots. This describes says how they “found in Wandsworth freedom to worship God after their own manner. They established important industries and added to the credit and prosperity of the town of their adoption”.

It looks like it has been tidied up a bit but it seemed very closed. Mind it is not a transquil spot with major roads on either side. At the far end a footpath separates the burial ground from St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church. Funny how there should be a catholic church hard by the last resting place of so many French protestants.

Cross to the north side of East Hill and go down Alma Road.

I am conscious that this walk has not really had much about the residents of this area – it’s been all about buildings and artifacts. At this point I offer you a little diversion off Alma Road to see the street where someone famous once lived. As you go down Alma Road you will see Dighton Road on your right. Take this and then take the third on the left. If  you do not want to do this just carry straight on.

Stop 11a Bramford Road

Bramford Road is a fine street of small mainly gentrified terraced houses. You used to be able to tell the gentrified houses because they did not have net curtains. Now you can tell them because they tend to have these little wooden blinds which usually only cover the lower half of the window. Normally painted a off white or pale grey, they prevent the curious passersby seeing too much without the owners having to have the dreaded net curtains.

However I did not bring you down here to talk about blinds. I thought I would just mention that according to Wikipedia, Tony Blair shared a house here with Lord (Charlie) Falconer in the late 1970s when they were both young barristers. Don’t know exactly when or which house, but I thought it was worth sharing!

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To regain our route turn left at the end of Bramford Road, and go straighht on to the Alma. If you have not taken the diversion then you will find our next stop at the end of Alma Road.

Stop 12: The Alma and Old York Road 

Here the enclave of tiny terraced houses comes down to Old York Road – a little local centre with a few shops and cafes. Some of the shops are still old school but mainly this has been thoroughly gentrified. There is a nice pub on the corner called the Alma. This name derives from the Battle of the Alma which took place  on 20 September 1854 and which is usually considered the first battle of the Crimean War (1853–1856). The battle is named after the River Alma in the Crimea.

Interestingly the actual pub dates from 1866, according to the pub’s website, wich is a bit later than one might expect. It was first leased by Youngs in 1872 and they bought the freehold in 1883. Still owned by Youngs, it now has a “boutique hotel” attached at the back. Lovely as it undoubtedly looks I cannot help wondering what visitors from outside London might be expecting and whether they might find this gentrified corner of Wandsworth just a little bit disappointing.

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So this brings us to the end of our SW18 walk. Wandsworth undoubtedly suffers from being sliced up by the one way system which carries both the A3 and the South Circular Road. But there are some nice bits and some interesting historical connections. And with the renaissance of the Shopping Centre and the development of the Brewery with its riverside location, it has the potential to be a great deal better.

We are now right by Wandsworth Town station which has a reasonable weekday daytime service into Waterloo, Putney and Richmond – not so good evenings and Sundays though. Otherwise there are buses to places like Fulham and Tooting.

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.

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.

SW13: A white swan … and other birds

NOTE: Sorry for the delay in continuing the London Postcodes Walk blog. This was because I went on holiday (a trip across the US by train) and decided to blog about that. If you would like to read about my american journey, follow the link:

http://crossingamericabytrain.wordpress.com/

If you want to stay in south west London, read on with this post about SW13.

We start our SW13 walk at the Post Office in Church Road which is near the Red Lion pub, a little bus ride from Hammersmith.

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Turning right out of the Post Office we walk down Church Road and at the traffic lights by the Red Lion pub, we continue straight. This is Queen Elizabeth Walk and soon on the left is our first stop

Stop 1: London Wetland Centre

This is a wetland reserve managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. It was formed out of four disused Victorian reservoirs.

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The centre first opened in 2000 and covers more than 100 acres. Apparently many birds which have now made their home in the Centre cannot be found anywhere else in London, Unfortunately this is also on the flight path to Heathrow, so you get one of those big shiny metal birds flying over every 90 seconds when they are landing from the east!

The Wetland Centre is well worth a proper visit, but sadly not today as we have the rest of Barnes to see. More info at: http://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/london/

Keep walking down Queen Elizabeth Walk and on your right are the Barn Elms Playing fields

Stop 2: Barn Elms

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It may not look much now, but somewhere on the land over there on the right of the path was the manor house of Barnes, known as Barn Elms. Before the reformation, the manor house was in the ownership of the Archbishop of Canterbury. During the reign of Elizabeth I, it was home to Sir Francis Walsingham – known as “Elizabeth’s Spymaster”. By the 1660s Barn Elms had become a fashionable destination for picnics and Samuel Pepys arranged boating parties here. The house was remodelled in the 1770s by Sir Richard Hoare (whose great grandfather founded the private bank C Hoare & Co), and his son Richard Colt Hoare extended it in the early 19th century. Sadly the house became derelict in the 20th century and was burnt out then demolished in 1954. And now it is just playing fields, although somewhere there is an ice house, an ornamental pond and a lodge. But it not anywhere near here.

Keep walking down the path until you reach the river.

Stop 3: Riverside walk

On this side is a tranquil pathway and it is hard to believe you are actually in London. Across the river (in SW6) is Craven Cottage, home of Fulham FC.

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Retrace your steps back along Queen Elizabeth Walk to the Red Lion, cross over and go down Church Road. Almost immediately on the right is our next stop.

Stop 4: Olympic Building

This building started life in 1906 as the Byfield Hall, a theatre for the Barnes Repertory Company. It became a cinema with various names (none of which were “Olympic”) and then in 1966, it became Olympic Studios. This was the name the studios had had in the previous locations and so the name came along with the studios. Many famous rock and pop stars have recorded here including the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Queen and U2. It was closed down by the then owners EMI in 2009 and has been converted back to being a cinema.

(Note: since I researched this postcode the Cinema and Cafe have now opened. More info at:

http://www.olympiccinema.co.uk/?page=8 )

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Just a little further along Church Road on the same side is the Homestead.

Stop 5: The Homestead house

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This is a delightful 18th century house with a lovely garden. Sadly we can’t pop in for tea.

Keep walking down Church Road, and not surprisingly you get to the Church, which is on the right.

Stop 6: St Mary’s Church

St Mary’s is an old church, with bits dating back to medieval times. But it suffered a major fire in 1978. The Victorian and Edwardian additions were lost but the Tudor tower and much of the original Norman chapel survived. It has been substantially rebuilt, not that this is obvious from the road. It has a great sundial on the clock tower with the motto “Abide with us for the day is far spent”. Not entirely sure what this means! Perhaps the word “from” should be in there between “far” and “spent”?

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Keep walking along Church Road and on the right we get to the Grange.

Stop 7: The Grange

This is another lovely house. It is described by architectural historian, Pevsner, as early 18th century but altered and added to. He goes on to say it has good early 19th Century railings and overthrow. The overthrow, I deduce from the glossary in Pevsner, is the bit over the gate – in this case where the name of the house is spelled out.

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We continue along Church road to a pub and opposite is Barnes Green

Stop 8: Barnes Green

Barnes Green has what I guess might be described as the village pond – with ducks. It is all very pretty and makes you feel like you are in a village. Indeed there is a very enthusiatic website about the “village”:  http://www.barnesvillage.com/ which tells of all sort of open-air and covered markets each month. Barnes Green is also the site of the Barnes Fair, held each year on the second Saturday of July.

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We follow the path as the road veers to the right and becomes Barnes High Street. This has a higgledy piggledy range of buildings which do not quite come together as a satisfactory whole. We are going to walk down the whole of the High Street, avoiding the temptations of coffee shops (or pubs) until we come to the river again.

Stop 9: Barnes Riverside

The river of course does a huge loop around Barnes and we have cut across from one side of the loop to the other. The view along the river here is also lovely here. It is so undeveloped – particularly on the other side, where there are playing fields.

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On the right is the Bull’s head pub, for many years a famous Jazz venue. Unfortunately it is now closed but said to be undergoing a major refurbishment. Not yet clear though whether it will continue the live jazz tradition.

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Walk back along the river walk towards the railway bridge (which is listed and dates from the 1840s). On the left, are two famous people’s houses. First comes Gustav Holst who lived here from 1908 to 1913, but apparently the river air, frequently foggy, affected his breathing. So he and his family moved.

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And just a little way along at No 14 is the house lived in by the dancer Dame Ninette de Valoise from 1962 to 1982. She was named Edris Stannus by her parents  which is unusual enough but she changed her name to Ninette de Valoise when she was about 13. Clearly this was deemed a more suitable name for a ballet dancer. She went on to have an illustrious career. Most notably, she danced professionally with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and later established The Royal Ballet. And she lived to be 102!

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Return back along the riverside and turn back down Barnes High street. At Barnes Green take the right hand road (Station Road) and follow this. The traffic veers off to the left but you keep walking along Station Road, which not surprisingly leads you to Barnes Station.

(if you want to short circuit this, you can get the train from Barnes Bridge Station which is just along from Dame Ninnette’s old house)

Stop 10: Barnes Railway station

Amazingly Barnes Station has one of the oldest surviving station buildings in London. It dates from 1846 and is the only one of the Tudor style buildings constructed for the Richmond line stations which still stands. It was designed by William Tite, who was responsible for a number of the early London and South Western Railway stations. This of course is the man after whom the Metropolitan Board of Works named a new street in Chelsea after his death in the 1870s. (Tite Street is where Oscar Wilde and John Singer Sergeant lived – see my SW3 walk)

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Sadly the building is no longer part of the working station, but at least it is still here.

Go up the steps to Rocks Lane which is the road that passes over the station. Go down Rocks Lane away from Barnes, until you reach the major road junction.

Stop 11: The Red Rover

This junction where the A306 (Rocks Lane/Roehampton Lane) crosses the South Circular is called the Red Rover, for no obvious reason today.

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But until about 20 years ago I would guess there was a pub on the corner called “The Red Rover”. It was demolished and replaced by this block of flats, And all there is to remind us now is the name over the road sign.

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Turn back on yourself and go along the road called Queen’s Ride. Stay on the left hand pavement for now and go up the slope towards the railway bridge. Across the road you will see the shrine to Marc Bolan.

Stop 12: Marc Bolan

This is the location of the car crash which killed glam rock star Marc Bolan in 1977.  In 2007, this site was recognised by the English Tourist Board as a “Site of Rock ‘n’ Roll Importance” in its guide “England Rocks”.

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To see the shrime more closely retrace your steps and you will see over the road how the right hand path leaves the side of the road. It should be possible to cross Queen’s Ride at this point. Do this and go down this path to see the shrine in detail.

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It is a remarkable collection of stuff. There are a couple of formal memorials. There is a small plaque and nearby is a (rather ugly) bronze bust of Bolan installed in 1997  to mark the twentieth anniversary of his death.

And then there is the informal stuff – the flowers, ornaments, messages, poems. There were at least three white swans when I visited – a reminder of his first hit: “Ride a White Swan” from 1970.

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We are now at the end of our SW13 walk. At first SW13 appears just a bit suburban. But it does have the historic connection with Barn Elms, there is also one of London’s oldest railway station buildings, the wonderful Wetlands Centre and music connections: Gustav Holst, Olympic Studios and the Bolan shrine. Not bad for what looks like a bit of a backwater. A shame this lovely area is so blighted by aircraft noise.

For onward travel, return to Barnes Station, or else there are buses at the Red Rover to Putney or Richmond.

SW12: Gateway to the South

Architectural historian, Pevsner, says Balham was never a proper village, just a settlement on the road between Clapham and Tooting before it became absorbed in the growth of London in the 19th Century. There is really very little which predates the coming of the railway in 1863.

But of course in many people’s minds Balham will always be “The Gateway to the South” which kind of sums up a place that does not seem to have much going for it.

This phrase “Balham: Gateway to the South” is always associated with Peter Sellers but he did not write it or originally perform the sketch of that name. It was written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden for a 1950s BBC radio series called Third Division with actor Robert Beatty extolling the wonders of ‘Bal-ham’. It was only later more famously performed by Peter Sellers in a parody of an American newsreel travelogue host. This was subsequently released on the 1958 record “The Best of Sellers” and that is what everyone knows. Here is a link to that famous recording in case you want to remind yourself or indeed in case you have never heard it in full: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RTWk9QIKS0 (may need to be reloaded but should work if you do that)

We start at Balham Post Office which is 92a Balham High Road.

Stop 1: Balham Post Office

Unusually I am making the Post Office itself the first stop on this walk. Not because it is particularly beautiful or historic but because of its odd situation. It is a sixties building I would say and it sits some 10 metres back from the road in a little courtyard. Why? Well there was clearly a plan to widen the road. This is afterall one of the main radial routes out of London. Bombing had done much of the clearance further up Balham Hill as we shall see later, and to get ahead of the game the Post Office was built far back on a new building line so it would not have to be knocked down when the road was widened. Well of course as you can see the road never got widened!

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Turn right out of the courtyard and at the traffic lights take the road which veers off to the left. This is Bedford Hill. After the Sainsbury’s car park, at the next set of lights, on the corner diagonal from the car park is our next stop.

Stop 2: The Bedford

The Bedford is a live entertainment pub venue which has hosted the ‘Banana Cabaret’ comedy club for over 25 years. People such as Eddie Izzard, Jo Brand and Al Murray have appeared here.

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The building is extensive – the public areas spread over three floors with 5 bars and 5 function rooms. It was originally a hotel and back in 1876, the building housed the coroner’s inquest into the unsolved murder of local man Charles Bravo who was poisoned, possibly by his wife, although that was never proved.

Turn right down Balham Station Road and on the wall holding up the main line station is the next thing we are going to look at.

Stop 3: “Impressions of Balham” reliefs

On the wall are four bronze resin reliefs called “Impressions of Balham” by artists Julia Barton and Christine Thomas (and apparently also the people of Balham). This was funded by Wandsworth Council and the Urban Programme in 1991. There should be a sign explaining what this is but I think it must have gone missing. I could not see any information on the street about these reliefs. I am not sure they work very well, as they are quite hard to see. And it is hard to work out what is going on in each panel. No doubt there is all sorts of local significance, but I can’t work it out!

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Keep walking along Balham Station Road and you come first to the Southern station and then to the Underground station buildings

Stop 4: Balham Stations

The station building now used by the Southern Railway dates from 1863, whilst the Underground station adjoining is a Charles Holden design dating from 1926. They are linked internally so you can interchange between the two stations without going outside but it is a bit of a trek as you are going from a station high on an embankment through two ticket halls separated by a staircase  and then down an escalator to the deep level underground station. And of course it is worse going up!

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On 14 October 1940 a bomb penetrated 32 feet down, exploding in the cross passage between the two Underground platforms. A bus later fell into the crater. Gas and water mains were ruptured and there was flooding which hampered the rescue effort There are some pictures on http://ww2today.com/14th-october-1940-disaster-at-balham-tube-station .Really amazing ones of the bus and the crater. It is not absolutely agreed how many people were killed – the number varies between 64 and 68. There is a remembrance plaque in the station ticket hall. The first plaque said there were 64 fatalities but this plaque was replaced in 2010 by the current one which gives no number.

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This incident provides a pivotal moment towards the end of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement. The novel and the subsequent film date the event incorrectly, with the novel placing it in September 1940, and the film dating it as 15 October rather than the previous day.

Now go turn left at the tube station entrance and go under the railway bridge.

Stop 5: Balham Travelodge (Site of Palladium Cinema)

The first thing you see after the bridge is the Travelodge. This is a fairly recent addition to Balham and is a rebuild of a dull looking office block called Steel House.

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But this is the site of the Palladium Cinema which had been demolished in the 1950’s. The cinema had opened in 1914 but was taken over by the Gaumont Company in 1928 and enlarged with a full stage facilities. The architect for this conversion was Cecil Massey. It was severely damaged by a bomb in 1940. Not sure if this was at the same time as the one that did the damage to the tube station, but it could not have been the same bomb. The pictures clearly show the crater for the bomb that hit the tube station as being on the north side of the railway bridge and we are now on the south side. The cinema never re-opened.

Keep walking down Balham High Road and across the road you will see St Mary’s Church

Stop 6: St Mary’s Church

This church started as a chapel in 1805 and as the 19th century progressed got larger and grander. The facade we see today was only completed in 1903. The interior has lavish marble and mosaic decoration dating from the 1890s.

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This too was affected by wartime bombing and there is a little plaque at the front to say the clock in the tower was repaired by members and friends of the St Mary’s Sports and Social Club in memory of church and club members who lost their lives in the war.

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Keep walking along Balham High Road and across the road you will see a massive block of flats. This technically is in SW17 but most people think of Du Cane Court as being in Balham so I am including it here with our SW12 walk.

Stop 7: Du Cane Court

Du Cane Court is said to be the largest block of flats in Europe built for private occupation rather than as social housing.

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It has 676 flats which range from studios up to 4-bedroom flats. The block has had a number of notable residents, including comedian Tommy Trinder, actress Dame Margaret Rutherford, model/showgirl Christine Keeler, and, currently, comedian and writer Arthur Smith. Scenes for the TV series Poirot have been filmed here, and you can see why.

Retrace you steps back up to the railway bridge and keep going on. On the left just before the market is our next stop.

Stop 8: 172 – 174 Balham High Road (former cinema site)

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This is the site of a very old cinema. The Cinematograph Theatre was the fifteenth cinema in a chain founded by early cinema promoter Montagu A. Pyke. It opened in September 1911 It was re-named Picture House around 1916, and re-designed and enlarged in 1927. It was taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) in 1933. In 1953, the frontage was demolished and a new facade was built. The cinema re-opened as the Ritz Cinema. The Ritz Cinema closed in 1968 and became a bingo club. Later Bollywood films were screened. The Bingo and Asian films use ended in the mid-1980’s and the building was demolished in the Summer of 1985. Now as you can see it is a shop.

Keep walking up the main road, past Waitrose and stop opposite Foxton’s Estate Agents.

Stop 9: 75 Balham High Road (another former cinema site)

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There is just a branch of Foxtons Estate Agents at No 75 Balham High Road now, but this was once a building which variously had been a swimming pool, concert hall, theatre and cinema.

It started life as the The Swimming Baths Concert Hall in 1890, with a swimming pool under the wooden concert hall floor. It only had a narrow entrance on the High Road and the auditorium was behind. In 1907, it was renamed the Balham Empire Theatre showing films and it is said this is one of the first theatres to go over full time to showing films. It had several changes of name: Theatre De Luxe (1909), the Olympia (1915) and the Pavilion (1922). In 1928 it was over by Gaumont Theatres and eventually re-named Gaumont in 1949. It closed in 1960 and became a Bingo Club, It was demolished in 1974 and used as car sales space. Subsequently a new building was built on the site which kind of blends into the facades on each side.

Keep walking along the main road.

Stop 10: Balham Hill (site of Balham Hippodrome)

As we go up Balham Hill on either side of the road is a post war estate of flats called the Balham Hill Estate. Somewhere on the left hand side was the site of the Balham Hippodrome, Opened as the Royal Duchess Theatre in 1899. It had a Beaux-Arts style exterior topped by a huge copper dome under a cupola with a Classical winged figure. It had 1,268 seats and was designed by W.G.R. Sprague. In 1903, it was named Duchess Palace Theatre and films were screened from 1908. In 1909, it was re-named Balham Hippodrome Theatre, and was a full time cinema until 1915 but then reverted back to variety. It was bombed in the Second World War and was closed. It was demolished in the 1960s.

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Moving on up the Hill we pass the Gateway Hotel on the left. Wonder if their guests know the significance of the name. The hotel markets itself as being in Clapham, presumably because Clapham South tube is closest.

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Cross over Malwood Road and on the other corner is our final stop

Stop 11: Majestic Wine (facade of former Odeon Cinema)

This is one of the distinctive Odeon cinemas. Built in 1938, it has that unmistakable Odeon style with those creamy tiles and the tower. It survived as an Odeon cinema until 1972.  From 1974 to 1979 it was a cinema showing asian films, called the Liberty. Then in the early 1980s the auditorium was demolished for flats, but the facade and front section was retained and became one of the first Majestic Wine Warehouses. Interesting Majestic call this their Clapham branch. For most of its life this was the Odeon Balham, which is technically right as it is in Balham Hill, SW12, but it is so close to Clapham South station.

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Shame that this wonderful facade is spoilt by all those mobile phone masts sticking out.

We seem to have visited quite a few places of entertainment (mainly from the past) and again wartime bombing seems to feature highly. But to finish here are a few words of C.Quill Smith from “Balham: Gateway to the South”:

“Broad-bosomed, bold, becalmed, benign, Lies Balham, four-square on the Northern Line”

For onward travel you have local buses on Balham hill or of course Clapham South station

SW11: I’m really up the Junction

The Post Office call SW11 Battersea and it does indeed include Battersea but most people will associate SW11 with Clapham Junction, which is of course not in Clapham – that is SW4. The name comes from the station, so here is another example of the railways defining what a place is called.

The London and South Western Railway  (LSWR) opened its initial line from Nine Elms as far as Woking though here in 1838 but it would be another 25 years before a station was built at what we now know as Clapham Junction.  A second line, initially from Nine Elms to Richmond, opened in 1846. Nine Elms was replaced in 1848 by a new terminus initially called Waterloo Bridge, now Waterloo. The London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) opened a line from Victoria to Croydon in 1860.

Then the station was finally built at Clapham Junction in March 1863 – a joint venture of the LSWR, the LBSCR and the West London Extension Railway (which ran to Willesden Junction) as an interchange station for their lines. They had an issue over what to call the station as it was between the villages of Battersea and Clapham, although nearer to Battersea. They chose Clapham as it was rather more upmarket than Battersea and the rest as they say is history.

Up the Junction is a phrase which has no doubt been used since the place first got the station. But perhaps the term “Up the Junction” really came to prominence in the 1960s with Nell Dunn’s 1963 eponymous book which became a TV play in 1965 and a film in 1968. This was no holds barred depiction of life in the slums of Battersea/Clapham Junction. Then of course there is the 1979 song by Squeeze which has nothing to do with the Nell Dunn story but is kind set in the same world albeit a bit later. (I’m really up the Junction is the last line of this song, in case you were wondering)

We shall start our walk at the main Battersea Post Office which is on Lavender Hill just up from the station. Turn left out of the Post Office. But do take a look at the Library across the road. We shall come back to this later as stop 3 later but you get a better view of the facade from here. Keep walking up Lavender Hill crossing over Latchmere Road and stopping at the next corner (Theatre Street)

Stop 1: Shakespeare House (site of Shakespeare Theatre)

On the western corner of Lavender Hill and Theatre Street is Shakespeare House which is on the site of the Shakespeare Theatre. It is currently Foxton’s Estate Agents and if you look in you will find a load of young people sitting like battery hens at banks of desks just as if they are in a call centre.

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The theatre was built in 1896 to the designs of the prolific theatre architect W. G. Sprague and had a capacity of around 1200. It was mainly used for drama and plays and Ellen Terry, Lily Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt are all said to have performed here. It became a cinema in 1923 but was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War. Battersea Council bought the site with the idea of possibly expanding the Town Hall next door, but that never happened. The remains were finally demolished in 1957 and somewhat later replaced by this dull looking block.

Stop 2: Battersea Arts Centre (Formerly Battersea Town Hall)

On the other corner of Theatre Street is the old Battersea Town Hall built in 1893 and converted to become the Battersea Arts Centre in the 1970s.

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The Borough of Battersea was merged with the Borough of Wandsworth in the local government reorganisation of 1965. Unlike in Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea, the name of Battersea was then completely lost and the new bigger borough was simply called Wandsworth – even though all of Battersea went into the new borough but quite a chunk of the old Wandsworth borough was chopped off and given to the new borough of Lambeth.

In due course Wandsworth chose to concentrate its offices in the much bigger and grander Town Hall in Wandsworth. But at least the old Town Hall has found a useful purpose. And of course the name of the side street (Theatre Street) derives not from the current use of the old Battersea Town Hall but from the fact there was an actual theatre on the other corner.

Now cross the road and return back down Lavender Hill

Stop 3: Battersea Library

The main library building on Lavender Hill dates from 1890 and has an extension dated 1924 at the side for the reference library which you can see in Altenburg Gardens.

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The main building looks like it has been stripped of its original features but the reference library has survived. Go in, turn left once you are in the main library area and go down a little corridor and through these wonderful doors. You are then in this top lit panelled room, with a gallery. It is not all old fashioned though – there are quite a few pcs available for public use.

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Return to the street and turn left. Keep walking down Lavender Hill, passing the 1950s Pavilion Chambers, a reminder that hereabouts was the Electric Pavilion (later the Pavilion Palace) Cinema, another wartime bombing casualty. It was built in 1916 and was actually across the road where the ASDA car park is now.

After the junction with Ilminster Gardens, you will reach what is now Debenhams.

Stop 4: Debenhams (Former Arding and Hobbs) Department store

Arding and Hobbs started in 1876 but their store on this site was destroyed by fire in 1909 and had to be rebuilt. And what a rebuild. It is perhaps the best example of an Edwardian department store in suburban London. But despite this major anchor store, Clapham Junction never really developed in to a proper sub-regional shopping centre like Croydon or Kingston. Perhaps it was just too difficult to find sites for more large shops, so apart from Woolworths, Marks and Spencer and Perrings Furniture store, Clapham Junction did not have big shops.

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Arding and Hobbs became part of the Allders group and when that went bust in 2005, this store was taken on by Debenhams, so at least it is still a department store.

Walk along the Lavender Hill side of the store and cross over St John’s Road and go up St John’s Hill.  At the corner of Severus Road is our next stop.

Stop 5: The Grand

This  is the only completely surviving theatre by an architect called Woodrow. The exterior is unusual, if not unique. It is a massive, confident, red brick cliff with pink stone dressings, The exterior has a vaguely Indian flavour. There are classical details, but it is very severe. The interior is sort of Chinese which makes for an odd combination.

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Opened in 1900 as a music hall, it became the Essoldo Cinema in 1930 and then in 1972 it was converted again, this time for bingo.

In 1991 the building was partly restored and altered for live music concerts. Wetherspoons made a bid to convert it into a pub but failed. The building carries on as a nightclub with some live music, and still retaining its original name; the Grand.

Apparently the Grand is still in a pretty good state, It has much of its original decoration, most of its structure remains intact and it is said it could be converted back into a theatre if someone had the money and vision.

More info on the Grand (and also the Shakespeare which was covered at Stop 1) on the fabulous Arthur Lloyd site: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Clapham.htm

Now up a little bit and across the road is the recently reopened Brighton Yard entrance to Clapham Junction station. This was for many decades disused but has just been reinstated. Clapham Junction has 17 platforms linked by a subway at the eastern end and a bridge at the western end. Until this entrance was reopened there was no exit off the bridge.

Now if you have an Oystercard, Travelcard or Freedom Pass, then go through the barriers and we will come out the other side of the station. Otherwise you will have to go back down the hill and turn left at the Falcon pub into Falcon Road. Then you can pick up the walk on the other side of the railway underbridge.

Stop 6: Clapham Junction Station

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There are signs on some of the platforms saying it is Britain’s busiest station, without specifying by what measure. Each day about 2,000 trains pass through the station, more than through any other station in Europe. It is not the busiest station by number of passengers actually using the platforms, because most pass through and do not get off. But it is a key interchange station.

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The Brighton yard entrance does look very modest for such a busy station but of course it is not the main way in which is further back down St John’s Hill.

But the thing I love about going in this way is how when you go over the bridge the whole vista opens out and you get to see a long way to the east and north. You can see the Shard and the St George’s Tower at Vauxhall very clearly from around the Brighton lines area (pictures taken between platforms 13 and 14). You can actually pick out some of the other city buildings like the Gerkin, Walkie Talkie and Tower 42. I guess you could always have done this but it is only now with the Shard that you know roughly where to look! You also get a peek of the London Eye although I could not capture this on camera!

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Then further over the bridge (about Platform 6), you get to see Canary Wharf. It is odd that you do not see this at first and it only comes into vision as you go over the bridge and the angle changes.

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Whilst we are over the low numbered platforms, I have to mention Oscar Wilde. On 20 November 1895 , Oscar Wilde passed through this station on his way from Wandsworth Prison to Reading Gaol to serve a two year sentence of hard labour for gross indecency. He had to stand for half an hour on the platform, shackled. Crowds gathered and a complete stranger spat in his face.

All the references I can find say he was standing on “the centre platform” which for a station which probably had 17 platforms even then is not too helpful. If you were going to Reading today from Clapham Junction you would go from platforms 5 or 6. But who knows which platform was there and being used for Reading trains in 1895! (and does it matter?)

Now go down on to Platforms 1 & 2 and then go into the subway turn left and go out through the Grant Road exit. Turn right and go past the bus turnround and then turn left into Falcon Road. Cross Falcon Road at the zebra crossing (Chicken Spot is on the corner across the road)

Stop 7: The “Afghan” roads

The road which joins Falcon Road here is Afghan Road and it is one of a little knot of streets which from the period of the houses I would guess have names connected with the second Anglo Afghan War (1878 – 1880).

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The local estate agents call this area “Little India” which does show a complete lack of historical or geographical knowledge and total cultural insensitivity given none of these places are actually in India. But that’s estate agents for you. Note the somewhat unusual spellings of what we today know as Nepal, Kandahar and Kabul.

There is one interloper in this group which does not bear the name of a place in Asia. It is Patience Road. Probably named after a girl or woman but nevertheless perhaps a reminder that we should not rush into wars especially in or around Afghanistan.

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If you have ventured into this group of roads, then return to Falcon Road and keep walking up to the junction with Battersea Park Road, cross over and go down Battersea High Street – one of those high streets that never really made it as a shopping area. Keep walking down the High Street, going past the fire access gate and under the railway bridge. Ahead on the left is our next stop.

Stop 8: Katherine Low Settlement, 108 Battersea High Street

This is a curious pair of buildings – early 19th century on the left and on the right a turn of the 20th century extension, with green glazed tiles at the lower level. This is the Katherine Low Settlement. It is a multi-purpose community and social action centre and its stated purpose is to fight the effects of poverty and isolation.

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Katherine Mackay Low was born in the United States in 1855. Her parents were British. After her mother died in 1863, her father brought the family back to England and settled in Leamington. When he died, the family came to London, and Katherine devoted herself to the care of the less fortunate. She died on 2 January 1923. Her friends raised the funds to create the Katherine Low Settlement which was opened on 17 May 1924 by the then Duchess of York (later Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother)

Although this charity dates back to 1924, it is on the premises of an early charitable organisation (the Cedars Club) which apparently foundered after the First World War when  ill-health forced the retirement of its principal, Nesta Lloyd (presumably the Miss Lloyd who laid the foundation stone of the extension).

Continue walking along Battersea High Street and you cannot fail to see our next stop

Stop 9: Le QuecumBar (Gypsy Jazz)

Well this is a surprising find in a Battersea back street.

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Le QuecumBar is apparently a unique 1930′s Parisien style live music venue, specialising in promoting the Gypsy guitarist, Django Reinhardt, Gypsy Swing and those who perform it.  It was a style born in 1930s Paris, drawing on nearly 2000 years of Gypsy culture. This place claims to be the world’s premier Django Reinhardt gypsy swing venue, but I guess there’s not too much competition for that accolade.

However this is definitely on the list of places to go (I can’t recommend it yet as I haven’t been inside so don’t blame me if it’s awful. But I am happy to take the credit for pointing you in its direction if it’s wonderful!)

Keep walking along Battersea High Street, and on the left you will come to what is now called Thomas’s Battersea school

Stop 10: Thomas’s Battersea school (former Sir Walter St John School)

Thomas’s is a group of private schools in inner London. Although a family run establishment they have come to be seen as a feeder for major British Public Schools.

The Battersea site occupies a Grade II listed building. A large part of the structure dates from the late 1850s and is by William Butterfield, the gothic revivalist architect – one of his best known works is All Saints Margaret Street just off Oxford Street.

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The building housed the former Sir Walter St John Grammar School, founded in 1700. The School was reorganised as a comprehensive in the 1970s but eventually closed in 1986.  Thomas’s London Day School purchased the building in 1990 and so the building continues in educational use.

It seems the Sir Walter St John school had an unusual legal status which meant that when it closed the assets did not revert to the local education authority. Instead the Sir Walter St John’s Educational Charity was formed with these resources in 1992. This continues to support disadvantaged children in the former Boroughs of Battersea and Lambeth.

Continue to the end of Battersea High Street and you get to a little square which is lovely. It is a shame there are not more bits like this around here. Turn left into Vicarage Crescent

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Stop 11: Vicarage Crescent

There are a few more nice bits before industrial and commercial Battersea takes over. In a courtyard is a 19th Century warehouse which now houses the Royal Academy of Dancing and then there are some early 19th century houses, one of which has a blue plaque to Edward Wilson, one of the antarctic explorers who died on Scott’s ill fated expedition to get to the South Pole.

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Fascinating fact time: Wilson was a qualified doctor who trained at St George’s. The students’ cafe at the modern day St George’s Hospital Medical School is apparently named Eddie Wilson’s.

Cross the road and pass through the little garden to the riverside walk.

Stop 12: Riverside Walk and St Mary’s Church

And so we reach the river. Vicarage Crescent is separated from the river here by just a small green area. As you face the river turn right and walk along. It is a bit of a mixture. A few houseboats moored and some of an earlier generation of riverside flats – not the massive blocks you get now. Across the river looms Lots Road power station, built in the early 1900s to provide electricity for the underground. It finally closed in 2002 and awaits regeneration – if that is the right word for a former power station!

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And at the end of this stretch of the riverside walk we get to the lovely St Mary’s Church. A little overshadowed by a newish block of flats, it does have the feel of a New England church as do so many of the churches of this period – this one was built in the late 1770s, although there has been a church here since medieval times. But I can’t help feel a little sad here as to how there are just fragments of the old Battersea left and some of what has been built since the war is ugly or dull or both.

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We are now at the end of our SW11 walk. We did not quite make it to Battersea Park or Battersea Power Station but we did get a feel for the late Victorian/Edwardian splendour that existed around Clapham Junction station and we ventured in old Battersea even if there is are only fragments left to see.

There is a bus stop close to the church to get the 170 down to Clapham Junction. To go the other way walk down to Battersea Square or else you can walk along Battersea Church Road and pick up any number of buses at the southern end of Battersea Bridge.

SW10: From Sex to the World’s End

SW10 is a really small post code tucked in between SWs 5, 6 and 7. It does not really have a heart as such. The Post Office calls it West Brompton but even that is hard to pin down. I am not even sure if West Brompton station is actually in SW10. Some or all of it could be in SW5 and 6. Anyhow we start at the other end of SW10 which has the great name of “World’s End”. Apparently this was named after a 17th century tavern which gave its name to a hamlet on the King’s Road. I guess it might have seemed like the World’s End given how bad the roads were then and how long it would have taken to get here from what was then London! The modern day pub of this name dates only from 1901 and is sadly closed at the moment, so we won’t be going there. We begin at the World’s End Post Office at 351 – 353 King’s Road which is just inside SW3 but only just.

So turn left out of the Post Office and head away from Chelsea and as the King’s Road bends you enter SW10. Take the first turning on the left (Milman’s Street) and almost immediately to the left is our first stop.

Stop 1: Moravian Burial ground

Enter through the gate and you go into a peaceful garden which is actually the Moravian Burial Ground (which may or not be open – hopefully you will strike it lucky). This was first used for burials in the 1750s by a protestant group which originally hailed from what is now the eastern Czech republic. The burial ground is split into four quarters: married men; unmarried men; married women and unmarried women. Everyone gets the same basic headstone flat in the ground regardless of status.

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The Moravian Church had met in Fetter Lane in the City but their chapel was destroyed in the blitz so they settled here, where they had their burial ground already.

It all looks a bit like a bowls club – it’s just those flat gravestones that give the game away.

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Now go down Milman’s Street to the end – which is Cheyne Walk

Stop 2 Cheyne Walk (and some famous SW10 residents)

The buildings on this stretch of Cheyne Walk are hard on the road unlike further east where they mostly set back from the busy traffic flow. And this bit of Cheyne Walk in SW10 is certainly busy as it is part of a sort of ring road. We already saw a few blue plaques on the SW3 part of Cheyne Walk. But here in SW10 section of Cheyne Walk, we have a veritable treasure trove of blue plaques, plus an important non-blue one.

At the corner of Milman’s Street on the right is No 104 with plaques to poet Hilaire Belloc and artist Walter Greaves who lived in the same house at different times.

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Then if you turn right you get to No 108 where Sculptor John Tweed lived and then next door at No 109 where painter Philip Steer lived and died. Not sure I have heard of either of these!

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Keep going and you will see a metal(?)  plaque to show that the artist J M W Turner lived and worked at No 119. And just next door at No 120 (and quite a bit later) lived women’s rights campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst

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Interesting that probably the most famous person out of these six (Turner)  is the one who does not have an actual blue plaque. Such is the hit and miss nature of blue plaquery.

Retrace your steps a little along Cheyne Walk and go down Riley Street (by the Painted Heron building). Follow this road round past the fire access gate and into the Cremorne Estate. The road snakes left and then right. Go past the children’s playground and ahead you will see a passageway through a fifties building which leads you back to King’s Road. Here’s picture in case you think you are lost!

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Go through that passageway and turn right. Across the road from two phone boxes is our next stop.

Stop 3: No 430 King’s Road

The striking thing about No 430 King’s Road is the large clock that goes backwards. But this shop has history! In its current guise, it was designed by Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood in 1980 and is supposed to resemble a cross between the Old Curiosity Shop and a Galleon.

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In the 1970s this shop went through many images but its most famous incarnation between 1974 and 1976 was as SEX – the name was in big pink letters on the front. It was the shop whose clothes defined the punk era. Their slogan was “Rubberwear for the office”.  Amazingly this shop is still part of the Vivienne Westwood “empire” after all these years.

Now cross King’s Road and as the road bends you will see a turning to the left (Park Walk). Go down this and then take the second on the right (Elm Park Road). Go over the cross roads (Beaufort Street) and then take the second on the left which is Elm Park Gardens. The buildings we are going to stop at are on the left but you may find you get a better view if you are across the road.

Stop 4 Elm Park Gardens (and a couple more famous SW10 residents)

Elm Park Gardens occupies the site of a mansion called Chelsea Park. The grounds were planted with mulberry tree in 1721 in the hope of establishing a silk industry here, but to no avail. The buildings we see today date from 1885 and architectural historian, Pevsner, describes them as tall, somewhat grim houses.

Strange then that one of the funniest women of the post war era – Joyce Grenfell – should choose to live in a flat here. She is perhaps now best remembered for her one-woman shows and monologues,one of her most well known roles was a harassed nursery school teacher. In the 1990s, Maureen Lipman did a fantastic one woman show based on Grenfell’s work (Re: Joyce) which she toured extensively.

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Now just next door at Number 32 is the house where Labour Politian Sir Stafford Cripps was born in 1889. Stafford Cripps was a senior minster in the first post war Labour Government. His last post was as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1947 – 1950)

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Walk to the end of Elm Park Gardens and at the end turn left into Fulham Road (do not cross Fulham Road yet). Stop at the traffic lights where Beaufort Street and Drayton Gardens meet Fulham Road. Our next stop is diagonally across the junction

Stop 5: Cineworld (Former Forum/ABC) Cinema

At the corner of Fulham Road and Drayton Gardens is the Cineworld cinema. Originally built as the Forum in 1930 , it was the first of the three big Forum cinemas built for Herbert Yapp the others being in Kentish Town and Ealing. It was acquired by ABC in 1935. Like many large cinemas of this era, it originally had full stage facilities. Although still in use as a cinema, very little remains of the 1930s original apart from the outside walls.

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Random (and unverified) fact: on the Fulham Road elevation there used to be an Oddbins off licence. In one of the 1996 TV special episodes of Absolutely Fabulous (called “The Last Shout” I think), the outrageous Patsy Stone is revealed as living in a store room above this shop.

Now cross Fulham Road and go down Drayton Gardens on the right hand pavement. Stop at Primrose Cottages which are a short way along on the right.

Stop 6: Primrose Cottages (93 – 95 Drayton Gardens)

There are two stones at either end of Primrose Cottages which tell the same story. Basically the original cottages of 1816 were rebuilt by a Thomas Johnson in 1840. Strange that this inscription goes into such detail about the ownership of the freeholds suggesting there may have been some sort of dispute. Who knows?

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Now look across the road where there is a modern block of flats

Stop 7: Site of Paris Pullman Cinema (90? Drayton Gardens)

A cinema first opened on this site in January 1911. It was called Bolton’s Picture Playhouse. It had a brief interlude as a live theatre club after the Second World War but was revamped with a new modern facade as the Paris Pullman Cinema in 1955. It specialised in art house films and had around 250 seats all on a single floor. It closed in May 1983 and was demolished to be replaced by a block of flats.

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Go down Drayton Gardens almost to the end.

Stop 8: No 1 Drayton Gardens

At the very end (or as it is No 1 at the very start) of Drayton Gardens, is the house lived in by Mervyn Peake, author of the Gormenghast trilogy. Somehow a neat white stucco house in SW10 does not look right for someone who created the amazing gothic fantasy that is Gormenghast.

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Now retrace your steps along Drayton Gardens and take the first right (Priory Walk). At the end turn right and go straight ahead where you will soon come to The Boltons.

Stop 9: The Boltons and St Mary’s church

This is an elegant street it consists of two shallow crescents with a garden in the middle.

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Splitting the garden into two sections is the church of St Mary’s. The entrance to the church is on the western  arm of The Boltons (left hand side of gardens as we approach). The church was built in 1850 and were it not for two pieces of 21st century art would be just a well kept but rather dull early Victorian edifice.

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The first thing that strikes you as you come in is a strange red glow on the right. This turns out to be the 2008 Crucifixion window by Craigie Aitchison (1926 – 2009). He was a Scottish painter, best known for his many paintings of the Crucifixion, Italian landscapes, and portraits (mainly black men or dogs). He had a simple childlike style, which is not to everyone’s taste!

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Then to the left of the main altar is a small chapel with an elegantly displayed bronze sculpture by Naomi Blake. The plaque nearby says it was dedicated by a Rabbi and blessed by the Bishop of London on 10 September 2000 during the 150th anniversary celebrations of the church.  Strange to have a Rabbi involved given the subject matter (Pieta = Virgin and dead Jesus) but maybe this is something to do with Naomi Blake being a holocaust survivor.

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Now retrace your steps and turn right into Tregunter Road. Just along on the left is our next stop

Stop 10: No13 Tregunter Road

Here we have one of those so called iceberg houses under construction. There is little left of the original structure apart from the outer walls and they are digging a double level basement which will have a pool (natch!) and will extend under the front and rear gardens. It does seem kind of mad but I guess it does at least keep the style of the original street. Glad I do not live next door while all this work is going on.

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Continue down Tregunter Road and turn left into Hollywood Road. At the end ahead in Fulham Road is the next stop

Stop 11: Chelsea and Westminster Hospital artworks

I believe this hospital has since it opened in 1993 had artworks scattered around.

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There is one particularly large one installed high up on the walls on the right as you come in. This is Assembly/450 by Joy Gerrard dating from 2011. It is an installation designed for the location which consists of 450 steel and polycarbonate spheres and steel rods. All very striking and when you get close you get odd reflections in the spheres which I guess is the idea.

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But there is also a quirky “artwork” right by the door as you come in from the street. I guess you might call it a begging robot!

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Turn left out of the Hospital and walk down Fulham Road, crossing over when convenient. After Ifield Road on the right, you will get to the southern entrance to Brompton Cemetery. Go in the gates.

Stop 12: Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery is one of the so-called Magnificent Seven – seven large cemeteries founded by private companies in the mid-19th century in response to the lack of space for new burials in inner city burial grounds, mostly churchyards and the concern these burial grounds were becoming a health hazard.

Oddly this is the only one managed by the Royal Parks Agency. Why?

There are some relatively famous people we might want to look for- such as suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and Sir Henry Cole (of 1851 Great Exhibition fame) But it is not at all sign posted and there is no guide or map available, so I have no idea where they might be. I guess you have to go on one of the guided walks run by the friends of Brompton Cemetery or else spend a long time looking!

So we shall just have a stroll through the main path which takes you to the Chapel and then down the long avenue to the northern entrance. The first section has been left to become an atmospheric wild meadow but further on things are more kempt.

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Two particular graves drew my attention, both on the long main avenue on the left just after the chapel. First was one for a Russian Orthodox Metropolitan – Antony of Sourozh (1914 – 2003). This was one of the only graves with flowers. But not cut flowers, in effect it was a flower bed.

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The second, close by, was for the rt hon Sir George Dashwood Taubman Goldie, which modestly proclaims he was founder of Nigeria!  His Wikipedia entry says: “In many ways, his role was similar to that of Cecil Rhodes elsewhere in Africa but he lacked Rhodes’ thirst for publicity.” So maybe that is why we have not heard of him!

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Keep walking to the main gates. At the end on the entranceway are a couple of contradictory signs as to opening times. Perhaps the bottom one replaced the top one and they never got round the removing the first one.

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We are now at the end of our SW10 walk.  We managed two burial grounds and a crucifixion, plus a lots of famous people on the way. And we saw how Sex lead on to The World’s End at 430 Kings Road!

We are now close to West Brompton station for onward travel. This is just a few minutes to the left along Old Brompton Road.