The Post Office call SW11 Battersea and it does indeed include Battersea but most people will associate SW11 with Clapham Junction, which is of course not in Clapham – that is SW4. The name comes from the station, so here is another example of the railways defining what a place is called.
The London and South Western Railway (LSWR) opened its initial line from Nine Elms as far as Woking though here in 1838 but it would be another 25 years before a station was built at what we now know as Clapham Junction. A second line, initially from Nine Elms to Richmond, opened in 1846. Nine Elms was replaced in 1848 by a new terminus initially called Waterloo Bridge, now Waterloo. The London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LBSCR) opened a line from Victoria to Croydon in 1860.
Then the station was finally built at Clapham Junction in March 1863 – a joint venture of the LSWR, the LBSCR and the West London Extension Railway (which ran to Willesden Junction) as an interchange station for their lines. They had an issue over what to call the station as it was between the villages of Battersea and Clapham, although nearer to Battersea. They chose Clapham as it was rather more upmarket than Battersea and the rest as they say is history.
Up the Junction is a phrase which has no doubt been used since the place first got the station. But perhaps the term “Up the Junction” really came to prominence in the 1960s with Nell Dunn’s 1963 eponymous book which became a TV play in 1965 and a film in 1968. This was no holds barred depiction of life in the slums of Battersea/Clapham Junction. Then of course there is the 1979 song by Squeeze which has nothing to do with the Nell Dunn story but is kind set in the same world albeit a bit later. (I’m really up the Junction is the last line of this song, in case you were wondering)
We shall start our walk at the main Battersea Post Office which is on Lavender Hill just up from the station. Turn left out of the Post Office. But do take a look at the Library across the road. We shall come back to this later as stop 3 later but you get a better view of the facade from here. Keep walking up Lavender Hill crossing over Latchmere Road and stopping at the next corner (Theatre Street)
Stop 1: Shakespeare House (site of Shakespeare Theatre)
On the western corner of Lavender Hill and Theatre Street is Shakespeare House which is on the site of the Shakespeare Theatre. It is currently Foxton’s Estate Agents and if you look in you will find a load of young people sitting like battery hens at banks of desks just as if they are in a call centre.
The theatre was built in 1896 to the designs of the prolific theatre architect W. G. Sprague and had a capacity of around 1200. It was mainly used for drama and plays and Ellen Terry, Lily Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt are all said to have performed here. It became a cinema in 1923 but was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War. Battersea Council bought the site with the idea of possibly expanding the Town Hall next door, but that never happened. The remains were finally demolished in 1957 and somewhat later replaced by this dull looking block.
Stop 2: Battersea Arts Centre (Formerly Battersea Town Hall)
On the other corner of Theatre Street is the old Battersea Town Hall built in 1893 and converted to become the Battersea Arts Centre in the 1970s.
The Borough of Battersea was merged with the Borough of Wandsworth in the local government reorganisation of 1965. Unlike in Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea, the name of Battersea was then completely lost and the new bigger borough was simply called Wandsworth – even though all of Battersea went into the new borough but quite a chunk of the old Wandsworth borough was chopped off and given to the new borough of Lambeth.
In due course Wandsworth chose to concentrate its offices in the much bigger and grander Town Hall in Wandsworth. But at least the old Town Hall has found a useful purpose. And of course the name of the side street (Theatre Street) derives not from the current use of the old Battersea Town Hall but from the fact there was an actual theatre on the other corner.
Now cross the road and return back down Lavender Hill
Stop 3: Battersea Library
The main library building on Lavender Hill dates from 1890 and has an extension dated 1924 at the side for the reference library which you can see in Altenburg Gardens.
The main building looks like it has been stripped of its original features but the reference library has survived. Go in, turn left once you are in the main library area and go down a little corridor and through these wonderful doors. You are then in this top lit panelled room, with a gallery. It is not all old fashioned though – there are quite a few pcs available for public use.
Return to the street and turn left. Keep walking down Lavender Hill, passing the 1950s Pavilion Chambers, a reminder that hereabouts was the Electric Pavilion (later the Pavilion Palace) Cinema, another wartime bombing casualty. It was built in 1916 and was actually across the road where the ASDA car park is now.
After the junction with Ilminster Gardens, you will reach what is now Debenhams.
Stop 4: Debenhams (Former Arding and Hobbs) Department store
Arding and Hobbs started in 1876 but their store on this site was destroyed by fire in 1909 and had to be rebuilt. And what a rebuild. It is perhaps the best example of an Edwardian department store in suburban London. But despite this major anchor store, Clapham Junction never really developed in to a proper sub-regional shopping centre like Croydon or Kingston. Perhaps it was just too difficult to find sites for more large shops, so apart from Woolworths, Marks and Spencer and Perrings Furniture store, Clapham Junction did not have big shops.
Arding and Hobbs became part of the Allders group and when that went bust in 2005, this store was taken on by Debenhams, so at least it is still a department store.
Walk along the Lavender Hill side of the store and cross over St John’s Road and go up St John’s Hill. At the corner of Severus Road is our next stop.
Stop 5: The Grand
This is the only completely surviving theatre by an architect called Woodrow. The exterior is unusual, if not unique. It is a massive, confident, red brick cliff with pink stone dressings, The exterior has a vaguely Indian flavour. There are classical details, but it is very severe. The interior is sort of Chinese which makes for an odd combination.
Opened in 1900 as a music hall, it became the Essoldo Cinema in 1930 and then in 1972 it was converted again, this time for bingo.
In 1991 the building was partly restored and altered for live music concerts. Wetherspoons made a bid to convert it into a pub but failed. The building carries on as a nightclub with some live music, and still retaining its original name; the Grand.
Apparently the Grand is still in a pretty good state, It has much of its original decoration, most of its structure remains intact and it is said it could be converted back into a theatre if someone had the money and vision.
More info on the Grand (and also the Shakespeare which was covered at Stop 1) on the fabulous Arthur Lloyd site: http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Clapham.htm
Now up a little bit and across the road is the recently reopened Brighton Yard entrance to Clapham Junction station. This was for many decades disused but has just been reinstated. Clapham Junction has 17 platforms linked by a subway at the eastern end and a bridge at the western end. Until this entrance was reopened there was no exit off the bridge.
Now if you have an Oystercard, Travelcard or Freedom Pass, then go through the barriers and we will come out the other side of the station. Otherwise you will have to go back down the hill and turn left at the Falcon pub into Falcon Road. Then you can pick up the walk on the other side of the railway underbridge.
Stop 6: Clapham Junction Station
There are signs on some of the platforms saying it is Britain’s busiest station, without specifying by what measure. Each day about 2,000 trains pass through the station, more than through any other station in Europe. It is not the busiest station by number of passengers actually using the platforms, because most pass through and do not get off. But it is a key interchange station.
The Brighton yard entrance does look very modest for such a busy station but of course it is not the main way in which is further back down St John’s Hill.
But the thing I love about going in this way is how when you go over the bridge the whole vista opens out and you get to see a long way to the east and north. You can see the Shard and the St George’s Tower at Vauxhall very clearly from around the Brighton lines area (pictures taken between platforms 13 and 14). You can actually pick out some of the other city buildings like the Gerkin, Walkie Talkie and Tower 42. I guess you could always have done this but it is only now with the Shard that you know roughly where to look! You also get a peek of the London Eye although I could not capture this on camera!
Then further over the bridge (about Platform 6), you get to see Canary Wharf. It is odd that you do not see this at first and it only comes into vision as you go over the bridge and the angle changes.
Whilst we are over the low numbered platforms, I have to mention Oscar Wilde. On 20 November 1895 , Oscar Wilde passed through this station on his way from Wandsworth Prison to Reading Gaol to serve a two year sentence of hard labour for gross indecency. He had to stand for half an hour on the platform, shackled. Crowds gathered and a complete stranger spat in his face.
All the references I can find say he was standing on “the centre platform” which for a station which probably had 17 platforms even then is not too helpful. If you were going to Reading today from Clapham Junction you would go from platforms 5 or 6. But who knows which platform was there and being used for Reading trains in 1895! (and does it matter?)
Now go down on to Platforms 1 & 2 and then go into the subway turn left and go out through the Grant Road exit. Turn right and go past the bus turnround and then turn left into Falcon Road. Cross Falcon Road at the zebra crossing (Chicken Spot is on the corner across the road)
Stop 7: The “Afghan” roads
The road which joins Falcon Road here is Afghan Road and it is one of a little knot of streets which from the period of the houses I would guess have names connected with the second Anglo Afghan War (1878 – 1880).
The local estate agents call this area “Little India” which does show a complete lack of historical or geographical knowledge and total cultural insensitivity given none of these places are actually in India. But that’s estate agents for you. Note the somewhat unusual spellings of what we today know as Nepal, Kandahar and Kabul.
There is one interloper in this group which does not bear the name of a place in Asia. It is Patience Road. Probably named after a girl or woman but nevertheless perhaps a reminder that we should not rush into wars especially in or around Afghanistan.
If you have ventured into this group of roads, then return to Falcon Road and keep walking up to the junction with Battersea Park Road, cross over and go down Battersea High Street – one of those high streets that never really made it as a shopping area. Keep walking down the High Street, going past the fire access gate and under the railway bridge. Ahead on the left is our next stop.
Stop 8: Katherine Low Settlement, 108 Battersea High Street
This is a curious pair of buildings – early 19th century on the left and on the right a turn of the 20th century extension, with green glazed tiles at the lower level. This is the Katherine Low Settlement. It is a multi-purpose community and social action centre and its stated purpose is to fight the effects of poverty and isolation.
Katherine Mackay Low was born in the United States in 1855. Her parents were British. After her mother died in 1863, her father brought the family back to England and settled in Leamington. When he died, the family came to London, and Katherine devoted herself to the care of the less fortunate. She died on 2 January 1923. Her friends raised the funds to create the Katherine Low Settlement which was opened on 17 May 1924 by the then Duchess of York (later Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother)
Although this charity dates back to 1924, it is on the premises of an early charitable organisation (the Cedars Club) which apparently foundered after the First World War when ill-health forced the retirement of its principal, Nesta Lloyd (presumably the Miss Lloyd who laid the foundation stone of the extension).
Continue walking along Battersea High Street and you cannot fail to see our next stop
Stop 9: Le QuecumBar (Gypsy Jazz)
Well this is a surprising find in a Battersea back street.
Le QuecumBar is apparently a unique 1930′s Parisien style live music venue, specialising in promoting the Gypsy guitarist, Django Reinhardt, Gypsy Swing and those who perform it. It was a style born in 1930s Paris, drawing on nearly 2000 years of Gypsy culture. This place claims to be the world’s premier Django Reinhardt gypsy swing venue, but I guess there’s not too much competition for that accolade.
However this is definitely on the list of places to go (I can’t recommend it yet as I haven’t been inside so don’t blame me if it’s awful. But I am happy to take the credit for pointing you in its direction if it’s wonderful!)
Keep walking along Battersea High Street, and on the left you will come to what is now called Thomas’s Battersea school
Stop 10: Thomas’s Battersea school (former Sir Walter St John School)
Thomas’s is a group of private schools in inner London. Although a family run establishment they have come to be seen as a feeder for major British Public Schools.
The Battersea site occupies a Grade II listed building. A large part of the structure dates from the late 1850s and is by William Butterfield, the gothic revivalist architect – one of his best known works is All Saints Margaret Street just off Oxford Street.
The building housed the former Sir Walter St John Grammar School, founded in 1700. The School was reorganised as a comprehensive in the 1970s but eventually closed in 1986. Thomas’s London Day School purchased the building in 1990 and so the building continues in educational use.
It seems the Sir Walter St John school had an unusual legal status which meant that when it closed the assets did not revert to the local education authority. Instead the Sir Walter St John’s Educational Charity was formed with these resources in 1992. This continues to support disadvantaged children in the former Boroughs of Battersea and Lambeth.
Continue to the end of Battersea High Street and you get to a little square which is lovely. It is a shame there are not more bits like this around here. Turn left into Vicarage Crescent
Stop 11: Vicarage Crescent
There are a few more nice bits before industrial and commercial Battersea takes over. In a courtyard is a 19th Century warehouse which now houses the Royal Academy of Dancing and then there are some early 19th century houses, one of which has a blue plaque to Edward Wilson, one of the antarctic explorers who died on Scott’s ill fated expedition to get to the South Pole.
Fascinating fact time: Wilson was a qualified doctor who trained at St George’s. The students’ cafe at the modern day St George’s Hospital Medical School is apparently named Eddie Wilson’s.
Cross the road and pass through the little garden to the riverside walk.
Stop 12: Riverside Walk and St Mary’s Church
And so we reach the river. Vicarage Crescent is separated from the river here by just a small green area. As you face the river turn right and walk along. It is a bit of a mixture. A few houseboats moored and some of an earlier generation of riverside flats – not the massive blocks you get now. Across the river looms Lots Road power station, built in the early 1900s to provide electricity for the underground. It finally closed in 2002 and awaits regeneration – if that is the right word for a former power station!
And at the end of this stretch of the riverside walk we get to the lovely St Mary’s Church. A little overshadowed by a newish block of flats, it does have the feel of a New England church as do so many of the churches of this period – this one was built in the late 1770s, although there has been a church here since medieval times. But I can’t help feel a little sad here as to how there are just fragments of the old Battersea left and some of what has been built since the war is ugly or dull or both.
We are now at the end of our SW11 walk. We did not quite make it to Battersea Park or Battersea Power Station but we did get a feel for the late Victorian/Edwardian splendour that existed around Clapham Junction station and we ventured in old Battersea even if there is are only fragments left to see.
There is a bus stop close to the church to get the 170 down to Clapham Junction. To go the other way walk down to Battersea Square or else you can walk along Battersea Church Road and pick up any number of buses at the southern end of Battersea Bridge.