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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.