The Capital Ring – Streatham Common to Balham Part One

The peppermint-green mosque close to Streatham Common Station

Dear Readers, it was a short walk this week – I am road-testing a new combination of walking boots, socks and strategically-placed plasters, plus my Open University assignment is due on 30th November and I have to write up my Sciencing! experiment, so it’s all a bit full-on. Plus, I need to write my Christmas cards for my friends outside the UK, and with the post workers going on strike, I need to allow a bit of extra time.

And so off we went on Saturday morning to Streatham Common station. For the first 200 metres we walk alongside the railway line, with the pale-green local mosque on the other side of the road. The council (London Borough of Lambeth ) seems to have planted some London Plane trees here, and I can’t help wondering if they’re storing up trouble for themselves at some point in the future, as we’ve seen how large these trees can grow. At the very least there will be some ambitious pollarding.

On the other side of the fence is the main line to Brighton and Gatwick Airport – the line itself dates back to 1846. In 1953, a short film called ‘London to Brighton in 4 Minutes’ was filmed in the driver’s cab of a train whistling along this route, and great fun it is too. If you have four minutes to spare, buckle up! I must confess to finding it rather exciting. Plus, Victoria Station didn’t look too different to this when I was a child in the 1960s, and there were slam-door trains until the 1980s.

If you want to do a ‘compare and contrast’, they remade the film in 1983, complete with electronic music which sounds like sub-par Kraftwerk to me. It’s very interesting to see how much additional building has taken place in 30 years, and also that the quality of the film has actually gotten worse.

And Gawd help us if in 2013 they didn’t do it again, but this time running all three films alongside one another, with slightly better music.

I can’t help thinking about how exciting the first film must have seemed – fast motion photography wasn’t so common then, and I imagine some viewers must have been on the edge of their seats. There’s a real sense of doing something new in the first film that I find rather enchanting.

Anyhoo, today we passed under the railway line via the underpass, which has just about the lowest head room of any such structure that I’ve used recently. The second part has an attractive arch, but the first part is very low indeed.

There are lots of plants still in flower at the moment, among them Green Alkanet, a spikey member of the borage family with the most delicious bright blue flowers.

But what is this on the other side of the road? Is it a temple? Is it some kind of council palace?

No, it’s Streatham Pumping Station, built in 1888 for the Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company.

What a very fine building it is! You might remember that we passed another impressive pumping station many miles ago when we were in East London. Those Victorians loved to make functional buildings such as railway stations and waterworks look like cathedrals, and this one is no exception. Take note, too, of the coloured panes of glass in the left-hand side of the photo above, which are something of a theme on this walk.

When originally built, the pumping station accessed groundwater via a borehole. As with all many water sources, this had started to dry up by the 1940s, and so the pumping station now acts as a booster station, moving water from Norwood Reservoir. Apparently there is still sufficient water in the old borehole to be used in an emergency – the water is stored in an enormous tank under the lawn at the front of the building.

Onwards! We interrupt a large-ish flock of pigeons who are taking advantage of a householder’s generosity.

We pass this magnificent oak tree. There are a number of splendid trees on this walk.

We pass Streatham Methodist Church, which has a little patch of wildflowers at the front. Last time we did this walk (about twenty years ago), we remember the churchgoers setting up for a jumble sale, with someone carrying in trays of cupcakes, and someone else arriving on a bicycle with a hugely precarious bag of clothes tied to the back. Today, all was quiet, and we noted that part of the building now seemed to be being used as a Montessori nursery.

The wildflowers outside Streatham Methodist Church

There are some very, very impressive houses around here, and they haven’t gone unnoticed. Some are looking a little ramshackle and have been subdivided into flats, but still have their original features, like these panes of coloured glass (see, I told you there was a theme).

Some buildings have real terracotta shingles.

There are decorative plaques on some buildings.

But amidst all this splendour, there are some buildings where a whole ecosystem is growing in the gutter, and the damp is spilling down the walls and along the drive.

But wait. Look at this excellent photo of a cat in someone’s front window.

And then the cat blinked, and we realised that s/he was a real cat, and very pretty too. There is something soft-focussed about this photo, as if there was vaseline on the lens, but I fear that it might just be condensation inside the flat.

And then we’re on the corner of Tooting Bec Common, waiting to cross the road, when I see this. Does anybody know what this thing is? I’m inclined to think that it’s the modern day equivalent of a stink pipe, but I could be completely wrong. Let me know if you know! It has a number of big metal boxes at the base that could contain all kinds of measurement equipment.

Finally (for this part of the walk) we pass Tooting Bec Lido, opened in 1906 and named for the famous Venetian bathing beach. It is the largest freshwater swimming pool in the United Kingdom, at 100 metres long and 33 metres wide. It was nearly closed in the 1990s but was saved by the campaigning work of the South London Swimming Club, who have exclusive access to the Lido during the winter months (though anyone can join for an annual fee of £28 plus £110 for year-round access). It looks like a splendid way to spend a couple of hours (or possibly a couple of very invigorating minutes at this time of year).

Tooting Bec Lido (Photo by Nick Cooper)

And so, we head off across Tooting Bec Common, in the general direction of lunch. See how we got on tomorrow!

7 thoughts on “The Capital Ring – Streatham Common to Balham Part One

  1. Anne

    WHAT an impressive looking pumping station! I love the details you have shown us from coloured panes to terracotta tiles – the cat too, of course!

  2. Liz Norbury

    I’ve loved lidos ever since my childhood visits to Durnsford Road Swimming Pool at Bounds Green – now, of course, the Sunshine Garden Centre! Some years ago, I was part of the campaign to save Penzance’s 1930s seafront Jubilee Pool (fortunately, it is thriving now), and when I’m in London I like to visit Park Road Lido in Crouch End. I’d never heard of Tooting Bec Lido, and was amazed to read that it’s 100m long – twice the size of Park Road, which is Olympic-sized! I’ve just had a look at the Tooting Bec Lido website and I see that it’s closed for nine months from today, to allow for Wandsworth Council to carry out extensive refurbishment. I’m sure it’ll seem like a long time for the regular swimmers there, but it’s good news that councils from London to Cornwall (and I hope elsewhere) now see the value of preserving historic lidos.

  3. Ann Bronkhorst

    Re the mysterious thing photographed near the end of your walk: there is at least one in EF. And I too am puzzled

  4. Claire

    beautiful photos, this swimming pool is amazing, 100m. And the pumping station is truly beautiful, looks like a palace.


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