5. Oval Station
Clapham Road runs from Oval Underground station to Clapham High Street and was originally an ancient Roman military road called Stane Street. It became known as the Merton Road as it led all the way though Clapham, Balham and Tooting to Merton. The road existed for many hundreds of years as a wide rural lane on which coaches from southern parts of the country travelled to the City. In Georgian times City merchants began to build grand houses alongside Clapham Road and smart thinking businessmen built coach houses for those travelling by horse and cart on their long journey into London.
Regarding the very north part of Clapham Road, British History Online tells us that “Nothing is known about the early history of the land between Prima Road, South Island Place, Clapham Road and Brixton Road. The area formed a no-man’s land bounded by the Manor of Kennington and Vauxhall Creek on the north, by Vauxhall Manor on the west and by Lambeth Wick Manor on the east and south.” Clapham Road has seen many buildings come and go, wartime damage being the main cause for this, however it has remained a mixture of houses and businesses into modern times and although it has a rather disorganised frontage there are many buildings of interest and a few of grandure still remaining.
The Effra ran along the east side of Brixton Road, it was said to have been 12 feet wide and 6 feet deep. Bridges gave access to the houses that run parallel to Brixton Road, it must have been a very quaint and rural place to live. As well as Queen Elizabeth, Canute is said to have sailed up the river as far as Brixton – and King James I gave permission for the river to be opened up for navigation in this area.
At the top of Brixton Road was once Hazard’s Bridge, this bridge crossed Vauxhall Creek at the north end of Brixton Road. The land must have been very marshy at all times until the sewer was closed in, for the area around Kennington Common, the Oval and Claylands Road formed a shallow depression through which the river flowed, and indeed often overflowed. The Effra divided the manors of Kennington and Vauxhall. At the north end of Clapham Road the Effra was crossed by a small bridge called Merton Bridge. This was so named after the monks of Merton Abbey who were responsible for the maintenance of it and all other bridges that crossed the Merton Road.
In 1880 when the river was built over the soil that was excavated was used to build banks for the spectators at The Oval to sit on. The Effra is now resigned to run it’s course as a sewer, it is still there however rushing under our feet, the same stream that Roman soldiers marched by and Anglo-Saxon kings sailed on.
The map above is “Laurie and Whittle New Map of London with its Environs, including the Recent Improvements from 1809″ Clapham Road is clearly labelled. Note the distinct lack of buildings alongside it, in 1809 Clapham Road was most definitely considered to be the countryside.
The rather basic “Pigot & Co.’s Metropolitan Guide & Miniature Plan Of London from 1820″ shows Clapham Road and the surrounding area eleven years later.
The above image is from a map produced in 1837 and is called ‘Cary’s New Plan Of London And Its Vicinity’. You can see that more buildings have popped up alongside Clapham Road, most of them built in blocks with their name ending in ‘Place’ some of which still stand today.
The above image is from a map produced in 1844 and is called ‘Laurie’s Map of London’
Cross’s New Plan Of London 1850
Cross’s New Plan Of London 1861
The map was produced to show the various Lambeth Wards in 1876
Charles Booth’s Map of London Poverty research took him to Clapham Road in 1895. The Map above is from 1898 and shows how Booth graded Clapham Road. For more information on Charles Booth and the classification of poverty see here. Booth graded Clapham Road in red which was ‘Middle Class, Well-to-do’.
The above image is from another map produced to show the various Lambeth Wards, this time in 1918.
Clapham Road in 1914. A fine line of Georgian houses stands to the right. Note the tram tracks in the middle of the road.
Roughly the same view as in 1914. Note the tram tracks have gone, as have several of the fine Georgian houses thanks to WW2. In their place stands St Monica House, a nunnery and guest house as well as a petrol station which looks particularly incongruous with it’s surroundings.
Another view of Clapham Road in 1914, it follows on from the 1914 image above, showing the long gone Georgian houses that once stood between the turn in to South Island Place and Caldwell Street.
Roughly the same view as the 1914 image above. The original row of houses is long gone. Replaced in 1969 by the low rise Whitebeam Close seen above.
There were two transport portals that were responsible for the radical development of the area within my project boundaries, the first was Vauxhall Bridge, the second The City and South London railway. The line opened to passengers between Stockwell and King William Street on 18 December 1890, and was both the first standard gauge tube and the first railway to employ electric traction in London. To avoid disturbance of surface buildings the tube was shield-driven at deep level, and much of the work was done via shafts at station sites which later contained the passenger lifts. The Oval station, opened as Kennington Oval, was designed by Thomas Phillips Figgis with elements of early Arts and Crafts and neo-classical detailing. The structure was made distinctive by a lead-covered dome with cupola lantern and weathervane which housed some of the lift equipment; the main part of the building was of red brick.
The station building was rebuilt in the early 1920s when the line was modernised and was refurbished during late 2007/early 2008 at street level with a modern tiling scheme inside and out, giving the station a more modern look. Reflecting its proximity to the cricket ground, the internal decorative tiling features large images of cricketers in various stances. There is a popular urban myth which states that during World War 2 the government attempted to build a deep level shelter under Oval station however plans were thwarted when the long buried river Effra made an appearance and flooded every attempt to find a safe spot to dig. In reality this is not at all the case, the government did indeed begin work on a deep level shelter below the station however the work was abandoned as there were not enough people to undertake the work at the Camden Town shelter and so the workforce was sent there. This was due to many of the eligible workers being called up to fight and nothing to do with the Effra. The work on the shelter officially ended in December 1941 and the shafts that they had started were filled with concrete in 1944.
Oval tube station was the intended site of one of the attempted London bombings on 21 July 2005.
Oval Station in 1912 with the traditional domed roof, the kind that can still be seen on Kennington station one stop up the Northern Line. All of the buildings to the right of the station are long gone and replaced by a huge housing estate.
Oval Station after a total rebuild of the surface building in 1936.
The following excerpt is from the St Mark’s Website, all copyright belongs to them…
“St Mark’s Church is on the site of the old Roman Road Stane Street, which ran all the way from the Roman London Bridge to Chichester, via the gap in the North Downs at Box Hill.
Engraving by WH Prior: ‘Kennington Common and Church in 1830′
From the 1600s, the area where St Mark’s is now situated was Kennington Common. The Common was notorious as a place for public executions, including the execution of Jacobite rebels in 1745. It was also the site of large public fairs and boxing matches and the Common gained a riotous, dissolute reputation.
Because of the huge numbers of people who congregated on the Common, it attracted large numbers of public speakers. In 1739 these included the radical Anglican clergyman (and Methodist pioneer) George Whitefield, who preached nightly to crowds of up to 30,000 in the open air. In fact, in Whitefield’s diary entry for Sunday 5 May 1739, he estimates the crowd at no less than 50,000. The 25-year-old preacher had quickly gained a reputation as the greatest orator of his day and some people clearly travelled a great distance to hear him. Dozens of horse-drawn coaches could be seen parked along the edge of the Common. Later that year, fellow Methodists John and Charles Wesley also became regulars on Kennington Common, attracting crowds of comparable size.
In 1824 St Mark’s Church was built on the old gallows corner of Kennington Common, one of four ‘Waterloo’ churches built in south London following the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Each was named after one of the four gospel writers: St Mark’s, Kennington; St John’s, Waterloo; St Luke’s, Norwood and St Matthew’s, Brixton. The church cost £16,093 4s 3d, and was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 30 June. The first vicar of St Mark’s was the Rev William Otter, later Bishop of Chichester.
On the right of the engraving by WH Prior is the road to Lambeth with the Horns Tavern on the corner (far right of picture). The Tavern was a popular 18th and 19th century meeting place. In the distance is the new St Mark’s Church, on the site of the old Kennington Gallows. In front of St Mark’s is the Kennington Toll Gate.
In the 1850s, Kennington Common was enclosed and Kennington Park created. In the late 19th century the vicar of St Mark’s was the Rev Henry Montgomery, later to become Bishop of Tasmania. The fourth of the Montgomerys’ nine children (born in 1887) gained international fame during World War II as ‘Monty’, Field Marshal Montgomery. St Mark’s Mongtomery Hall is named in his memory. Another local resident in the early 20th century was the young Charlie Chaplin, who lived with his mother in a number of homes in and around Kennington Road.
During the Second World War the area was heavily bombed and St Mark’s suffered serious damage. The only parts to survive were the Grecian facade and pillars, topped by the small cupola and cross. The vicar of the day was the Rev John Darlington, who had been in post for 50 years (and still used to wear a top hat and tailcoat to church). Darlington died in 1947 while the church was still a ruin. Southwark Diocese had earmarked the remains of St Mark’s for demolition. But after seven years of dereliction, the Rev Wallace Bird obtained permission from the Archbishop of Canterbury, patron of the parish and close neighbour of St Mark’s at nearby Lambeth Palace, to rebuild both the buildings and the congregation.
St Mark’s in ruins
In 1960 the restored St Mark’s was opened. By the 1980s St Mark’s Kennington had become one of the best known and most influential churches in Britain, under the inspirational leadership of the Rev Nicholas Rivett-Carnac.
A busy south London crossroads formerly notorious for death and vice has become a place of life and renewal”
The Belgrave Hospital for Children at 1 Clapham Road, is a big imposing building with a high gable and mullioned windows. It is made of red brick with mosaics around the entrance. Even if you didn’t know the names Charles Holden or Percy Adams, you’d soon realise that the architects were influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and it’s no surprise to find the building is Grade ll listed.
“This hospital was founded in 1866 in Pimlico. (ref. 4) At the end of the 19th century the Governors decided that the need for hospital accommodation in south London warranted its removal from Gloucester Street, Pimlico, and in 1899 they took a lease of its present site from P. E. Sewell. (ref. 5) The buildings which then occupied the site were pulled down and the foundation stone was laid by Princess Henry of Battenberg on June 27, 1900. (ref. 6) The east wing, centre block, out patients’ department and the ground floor of the south wing were finished in 1903 (ref. 4) and opened on July 20 of that year. (ref. 7) The south wing was completed in 1924 and the west wing two years later. (ref. 4) The plan of the hospital was the work of H. Percy Adams, but the elevations, which show the influence of Philip Webb, were prepared by Charles Holden, who had joined Adams in October 1899. (ref. 8) The builders were Messrs. Gough and Co. of Hendon. (ref. 9)
The hospital has a simple cruciform plan and is symmetrically arranged about the Clapham Road front. The building, which is mostly of four storeys, is faced with red brick and has mullioned and transomed windows of Portland stone. Its entrance wing at the centre is surmounted by a steep gable flanked by low square battlemented towers, and the wards in the north and south wings are galleried, with plain towers at each corner containing necessary services.”
In a 1994 article for the Independent entitled ‘The price of poshness’ David Clement Davies writes…
“The huge Edwardian Grade II listed building looms on the Oval skyline like an Addams Family film set. At the beginning of the Eighties, cutbacks at the hospital sparked local protests and demonstrations outside Downing Street. But the graffiti was already on the wall. It was closed in 1985 and became a political hot potato with various abortive schemes for its use, including a hall of residence and an Aids hospice.
The increasingly grimy building gained a new celebrity in 1989 when it was occupied by the Belgrave Homeless Project. It aspired to be more than a squat. The area was leafleted and banners went up in an attempt to highlight the plight of the homeless. For a time the occupation won considerable local and media support.
More than 150 people were housed there and Lambeth Council and the Brixton Council of Churches paid for electricity and running water. But just as the building around it began to decay, this attempt at self-help in the community gradually collapsed amid a growing number of horror stories. After a fire, the numbers dwindled to 40. The project for the homeless became a centre for drugs and the police began to give the place a wide berth. It was finally emptied after the murder of a former school teacher there in 1991″
You can read more of the article here.
The Belgrave in 1903 just before it opened, note the right hand side is yet to be built.
The Belgrave in 1928, note the Georgian houses to the right which are now demolished and the site occupied by the Belgrave hotel.
Children undergoing pioneering ‘light therapy’ in the light room (date unknown).
Brixton and Clapham were connected to the tram system for over 75 years. At first the trams were horse drawn, starting in the 1870s, followed by cable cars in 1892 and finally electric trams from 1904. They ran the entire length of Clapham Road, see the image below for an idea of the tram network in 1914. They were eventually phased out in 1951 and replaced by buses.
For many years St Mark’s church was nicknamed ‘The Tramwaymen’s Church’ and you can see them gathering for a commemoration ceremony in this short clip from 1927.
139 Clapham Road is now home to The Printworks, a new development which converted this grand old factory into modern flats and office space. However before anything stood on this plot of land it was occupied by, of all things, an 1800 foot roller skating rink and athletics space called The Marble Rink which opened in 1878.
The space took on a multi-purpose entertainment venue role shortly after opening. On 20-25 June 1881 a 6 day non stop roller skating race took place, that must have took quite some stamina.
Handbill for the Marble Rink. Copyright © The British Library Board
The Marble Rink fell out of popularity as tastes changed and the site acquired by Sir Joseph Causton where in 1903 he built a huge printworks which still stands today.
Joseph Causton was a politician, becoming a Councillor for Billingsgate, East London in 1868 and Sheriff for London and Middlesex in 1868. The pinnacle of his career came when Queen Victoria opened Blackfriars Bridge and Holborn Viaduct in 1869 and he was knighted at Windsor Castle to mark the event. The company name then became Sir Joseph Causton and Sons Limited. Sir Joseph died just two years later, but his sons, Joseph, Richard, and James, continued as partners of the firm.
The Printworks in 1914
Causton’s were one of the UK’s biggest printing firms and made labels for household brands including Marmite and Guiness. Then in 1937 they moved away to Hampshire and the building was acquired by Freeman’s Catalogue Ltd. Freemans had started trading in 1905, making it one of the oldest catalogues in the UK. It began in a two room terraced house in Lavender Sweep, London by Arthur and Stanley Rampton, William Jones and Henry Freeman. It was during the mail order boom time in the 1930s that it moved to 139 Clapham Road which they renamed Lavender House. Freeman’s was by then the largest mail order business in Great Britain; larger than all its competitors put together. Some of its 30,000 agents managed to buy cars and houses with their commission money. Freeman’s added a substantial number of new buildings around Causton’s original centre structure, letting out parts of the site to other companies such as a donut factory in a little art-deco building once attached to left hand side of the frontage.
The Doughnut Corporation of America (DCA) established a subsidiary in the UK under the name of the British Doughnut Company. It made American type ring doughnuts and distributed them by tricycle to catering outlets in the area around their premises in Clapham Road. They were known as Downyflake Doughnuts. It also imported doughnut making machines from the US which were sold to bakers and caterers together with doughnut mixes which were blended in the Clapham Road factory. See here and here for images of the doughnut factory before and during demolition.
During World War 2 a tragedy struck and the building took a direct bomb hit killing 23 young women, you can read more about this incident in the Bombing and War section of my website here.
Following the business’s relocation to West Yorkshire, the Freemans building and surrounding site has been redeveloped by Galliard Homes as housing and business units. Two new streets that run either side of the original building have been created: Lett Road and Printer Road.
It appears that number 13 is no longer standing and the site occupied by part of the Belgrave hotel, number 15 is still intact and is the centre three story house in the image above.
British History Online documents the history of these houses:
“Nos. 13 and 15 Clapham Road
Formerly Nos. 4 and 5 Clapham Road Place or Lambeth Place
A plan on the lease of the adjoining property dated 1805 shows these houses on lease to Henry Wood, (ref. 2) who may have erected them about this time. They are paired three-storey houses and have a stock brick front of simple design. A narrow recession defines the party wall between the houses, each of which has two rectangular windows in each storey. Those to the ground floor are set in shallow recesses with arched heads rising from moulded imposts. Each house is flanked by a single storey annexe containing the entrance, the door being set with a radial-patterned fanlight in a segmental-arched opening.”
The building is also listed, British Listed Buildings lists Number 15 as:
“Grade II listed. Early C19 house of 3 storeys and sunk basement, 2 windows with one-storey right entrance bay. Stock brick with stone-coped parapet having some rebuilding.
Gauged flat brick arches to sash windows with glazing bars, those on ground floor in round-arched recesses with stuccoed impost string. Modern 6-panel door with narrow side lights, cornice head and radial fanlight under segmental gauged brick arch with impost string across bay. Stuccoed basement.”
Nos. 17 to 25 Clapham Road…
British History Online documents the history of these houses:
“Nos. 17–25 (odd) Clapham Road
Formerly Nos. 6–10 (consec.) Clapham Road Place
These houses were erected in 1805 at the costs of James Medland of St. Mary Newington, surveyor, and were let to him in that year by John Wright’s trustees. (ref. 2) They are a terrace of five houses sharing a stock brick front that presents a balanced composition. All the houses are three windows wide and each end house forms a slightly projecting pavilion, four storeys high, the last being an attic above the mutule cornice. The three intermediate houses are three storeys high, and the cornice is surmounted by an open balustrade. A bandcourse marks the first-floor level. The windows generally are rectangular excepting those to the ground floor, which have flat segmental heads. Each house has a wood doorcase of simple design, except for No. 21 where the stucco surrounds are later.”
Nos. 27 to 33 Clapham Road…
British History Online documents the history of these houses:
“Nos. 27–33 (odd) Clapham Road
Formerly Nos. 11–14 (consec.) Clapham Road Place
No building lease of these houses has survived, but again by comparing the leases of adjoining houses it can be deduced that their site was on lease to Head, (ref. 10) probably William Head, a local builder (see page 76), in 1805. These are paired houses similar to Nos. 13 and 15, but with twoleaved doors and elaborated parapets to the annexes, which are now heightened or altered. The ground floor of No. 27 has been partly cut away to provide access to the rear, and the upper part of No. 29 has been rebuilt.”
Nos. 35 to 41 Clapham Road…
British History Online documents the history of these houses:
“In 1809 the trustees of John Wright, then deceased, let the whole of the frontage of Clapham Road between and including the site of No. 35 and the site of the present South Island Place, on building lease of 80½ years. (ref. 3) The lessees were the trustees of Richard Wooding, surveyor, who probably had an agreement for the building lease before his death in 1808. The trustees included Mary, wife of Richard Wooding, his executor Robert Roberts, who was also a surveyor, and Isaac Bates of Kennington, brickmaker (see page 21). Nos. 35 and 37 are built of stock brick, three storeys high, and form a six-bay block with end bays recessed and containing the doorways. The upper windows are square-headed and on the ground floor round-headed in shallow arched recesses, which, like the arched entrances, have rectangular impost blocks. Nos. 39 and 41 are a pair of three-storeyed stock brick houses with semi-basements. The two ground-floor windows and the entrance to each house are round-headed and recessed beneath shallow arches springing from moulded imposts. Above, the windows are rectangular, two to a storey, and there is a sillband at first-floor level. The doorcases have pilasters with reeded panels, capped by wreathed blocks. The street railings to No. 41 remain in part. They are spear-headed, the principal uprights having elegant urn finials.”
Nos. 61 to 75 Clapham Road…
British History Online documents the history of these houses:
“Nos. 63–73 form a symmetrical group of three linked pairs, the centre pair being considerably larger than the other two. No. 61 is nearly identical with the right-hand house in either of the smaller pairs, but has suffered some alteration. All are built of stock brick, of three storeys raised on a rendered semi-basement. Nos. 67 and 69, the centre pair, have each three windows to a floor, square-headed upstairs and round-headed on the ground floor where they are set in arched recesses with moulded imposts, to match the entrance. Both their doorways have plain fanlights and are flanked by very slender Roman Doric columns. No. 69 retains its original frieze, cornice and blocking course. Nos. 63 and 65 and Nos. 71 and 73 are flanked by one-storey links containing the doorways and each house is two windows wide. Otherwise they are treated in the same way as the centre pair. No. 75 is a two-storey stock brick house with a semi-basement, its front finished with a cornice and blocking course. It is three windows wide and there is a centrally placed porch resting on columns. The basement is faced with stucco.
Number 75 Clapham Road
Number 75 is also a listed building. British Listed Buildings lists Number 75 as:
Grade II Listed. Mid C19 villa of 2 storeys and basement, 3 windows. Stock brick with lighter brick quoins (perhaps once stuccoed?). Stucco basement with incised lines, frieze, cornice and blocking course. Moulded architraves to ground floor sash windows in segment-headed stuccoed recesses, and with projecting bracketed cills. Six steps (rebuilt) with wrought iron rail to door of 2 long panels in panelled reveal with fluted architrave and oblong fanlight, in prostyle Tuscan porch.