Stratham Common to Wimbledon Park
This section is different to the last as it has suburban roads as well as parks and some beautiful and interesting building along the route. We leave Streatham Common at the Northwest corner and walk down residential streets until we get to the railway line near Streatham Common station. We pass under the tracks, through a couple of colorful alleyways, probably less intimidating during the day than at night to be fair.
Soon we come to Conyer Road, a street of smart late Victorian detached houses and the surprisingly attractive Streatham Pumping Station.
This was built in 1894. It is on the site of an earlier well that was covered by tin shed, which was apparently and eyesore, so it was a planning condition that the new building have an ornamental aspect in its design. This resulted in the Grade II* listed building with a Moorish design. Originally it was accompanied by a tall tower to the side, but this was taken down during WWII, because of the fear of aerial bombing. In 1903 it contained two steam driven engines that could each deliver 1,500,000 gallons of water a day to South London. I’m told that it is equally spectacular inside, but it is only open to the public on special occasions like Open House weekend.
More smart residential streets lead us to Tooting Common and we enter the Common by the Tooting Bec Lido. This is another interesting piece of London lore. It is the largest freshwater swimming pool in the UK, it holds a million gallons of water. It was built in 1906 as a project to provide work for local unemployed men. It is open all year round, although only to the general public from late May until late September. You have to be a member (with a strong constitution!) to swim in this open-air, unheated pool during the rest of the year.
Tooting Common is surprisingly large at over 200 acres. It has a couple of pretty lakes with waterfowl, and it is a site of metropolitan importance because it holds some rare areas of “acid grassland”. I don’t think I saw them, although I guess it’s possible that I did and just didn’t recognize them. There is also a pretty cafe, sheltered by old trees. It was busy on the day I went in, with many chatting Mums and pushchairs inside and walkers on the outdoor benches. The coffee was good.
After leaving the common we arrive in Balham and another remarkable building. Du Cane Court was built in 1937. It is a huge Art Deco block of flats that was very modern when it was first built, every apartment came with its own built-in radio. It contains 676 units which makes it, still today, the largest privately owned block of flats in Europe. It survived the bombing of WWII and this was supposedly because Adolph Hitler wanted it as the Nazi Headquarters in London on completion of the British invasion. I can’t find where any evidence for this might have come from, but there are articles in The Times and The Mail, among others about it.
Soon after we arrive in Wandsworth Common, another huge South London Park – 170 acres. This is a posher part of London and the houses on west side are large Victorian and detached, with many notable previous residents including prime ministers and authors. The cafe in this park is smart too, called “The Skylark”. It is in pretty surroundings, near the duck pond with tennis courts to one side. It is also licensed and does more substantial meals as well as coffee and cakes.
Just after leaving the common, we come to Wandsworth Prison. It was built in 1851 and the outside of the building has a kind of austere, stolid attraction. It is one of Britain’s largest prisons and has held many notorious prisoners. It was also the site of 135 executions, right up to the 1960s and its gallows was kept in full working order until 1993 and even tested every six months. It is the prison form which Ronnie Biggs, of Great Train Robbery notoriety, escaped before absconding to Brazil. The exterior was used in “A Clockwork Orange” and the gates are those shown on the titles to the TV series Porridge.
After passing the prison we head downhill on Magdalen Road and the path goes through Wandsworth cemetery which runs alongside it. This is large and well kept, it contains the remains of 592 servicemen and women, who died in WWI and WWII. They are buried in different place through the cemetery, and their names are listed on a screen wall of a military plot. Leaving the ground, we cross Earlsfield High Street and follow the river Wandle, a tributary of the Thames, through residential streets until we reach Wimbledon Park tube station which marks the end of section 5.
Section 5 consists of park and residential streets, and the walk contains a good mixture of nature, architecture and history.