Clapham isn’t just a great place to live, when you’re sitting on Clapham Common you sit on ground steeped in history. We’ve listed ten of the most interesting facts about Clapham that we’ve come across. If you live in Clapham you may have heard of some of these facts, but hopefully it’s still an interesting look into the area’s past. Help Love Clapham take this list up to a mighty fifteen by adding them at the foot of the page.
1. Sainsbury’s on Clapham High Street is a time capsule
Not only is Sainsbury’s one of Clapham’s biggest supermarkets, it has a fascinating history. In fact, even since its launch in 1996 you can see how it has changed from its original multi-coloured look with a tree in the entrance and a twenty panel picture display. Now of course the colours have gone, the tree removed and the screens have become a huge window. Before the site became a Sainsbury’s it saw many different uses. It began life in 1885 as a horse tram depot before being converted for electric trams in 1904. In 1910 Clapham’s first cinema, called the Globe with 130 seats, was opened on the site but that closed just five years later. In the Second World War the site was largely destroyed but rebuilt for busses in 1950, then used by the Museum of British Transport. In 1979 it was yet again used for busses before closing in 1987 to be used as an indoor go-kart track. While Love Clapham would have loved to play around on go-karts, Sainsbury’s does seem to be its most successful use yet.
2. Clapham Junction isn’t Clapham
Shock horror! Our precious claim to fame “Britain’s busiest railway station” isn’t actually part of Clapham, it’s Battersea. There had been a Battersea station on the site for many years, but in 1863 a junction was added to cope with the growing number of lines and it was named after the perceived more popular village of Clapham a mile away. There’s a petition to change the name back to Battersea, but here at Love Clapham we disagree. If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, has been a duck for over a hundred years and is called a duck, it’s a duck. More seriously, Clapham Junction is situated around Clapham Common and there’s a definite connect between communities around this park.
3. Clapham air raid shelters
You will no doubt have spotted the above buildings on your travels around Clapham. They are the entrances to deep level air raid shelters, a lasting reminder of the Second World War’s impact on Clapham and London. There are actually eight of these shelters across London with three of them found at Clapham North, Clapham Common and Clapham South. Neighbouring Stockwell has one too. Each shelter is vast and as deep as the tube network. They came equipped with huge tunnels for sleeping bunks and then side tunnels for toilets, medical posts and tubes for pumping air in and out. Sadly, these sites are now all used for private storage or development plans so there is absolutely no way of accessing them. At least they are being used. Visit the Underground History site at the foot of this page to see a photo tour of the Clapham North shelter before it was taken over by a private company.
4. Slave trade abolished thanks to Clapham Sect
A group of Evangelical Christians who worshipped at Clapham Common’s Holy Trinity Church were instrumental in the abolition of the slave trade. They led a campaign that resulted in the Slave Trade Act 1807 and the abolition of slavery itself in 1833.
5. Clapham was devastated by bombs
During World War Two Clapham, like many places, was hit by numerous bombs (some locations of which can be seen in the portion of map above). Clapham Junction and Battersea was particularly hard hit resulting in a lot of reshaping of the area after the war.
6. Celebrity residents
Clapham has been home to many celebrities in its time, with some of the best known residents including Vivienne Westwood, Ainsley Harriott, Piers Morgan, Heather Mills, JK Rowling, Dennis Waterman, Vanessa Redgrave and Sarah Fergussen (formerly HRH The Duchess of York). Not to mention Love Clapham of course! It is also home to Brian Dowling of ex-Big Brother 15 minutes of fame (miaow!)
7. Clapham = Clopp Ham / Clopeham?
Clapham was once a much wilder place than it is now. Indeed the first Clapham settlement in the 9th or 10th century housed as few as 100 people surrounded by farmland. According to the Domesday book, Clapham began its existence as a Saxon village called Clopeham. Named as such after Cloppham which meant the village ‘ham’ by the hill ‘clopp’. Clapham really became popular after the plague and the great fire of London drove people out of the city and into Clapham’s waiting arms. The Holy Trinity Church became the parish church when it was built in 1776. By the end of the 18th Century, Clapham had not only grown to a substantial village, it began to attract wealthy Londonites who built the magnificent homes around Clapham Common that we see today.
8. Clapham Common Bandstand is a community symbol
It’s a nice structure but you could be mistaken for thinking the Clapham Common Bandstand receives more attention than it really deserves. It was first built in 1889 after local residents petitioned the London County Council for a replica of the bandstands found in South Kensington. At the time it proved popular for weekly concerts up until the Second World War when it fell out of use. It fell into total disrepair, only used by pigeons and as a dangerous climbing frame for children. In recent years it faced removal, but local residents and groups petitioned Lambeth Council for its renovation. Thanks to local resident funding and a substantial National Lottery grant, Clapham Common Bandstand had a near £2million refurbishment. It seems like an astronomical cost considering the stand is still so rarely used, but actually it is the focal point of Clapham society and a welcome landmark in the heart of this busy town.
9. Clapham loves cinemas
Clapham High Street has been home to not one, not two, not three but four different cinemas. Competition and changes in popularity caused them all to close down but Clapham Picture House remains one of the most popular entertainment venues in the area today. Interestingly this cinema was going to be at least three times the size with the entrance being the corner shop at the end of the street. Other previous cinema locations include Infernos, the night club, and part of the Sainsbury’s site.
10. There really was a windmill on Clapham Common
OK, so that isn’t 100% accurate. There genuinely were windmills in Clapham back in the days when the area was used for farming, but their exact location is unknown so they may not have sat exactly on the common that exists today. They would have been in the same area however and the Windmill on the Common pub was named after one of the two windmills of the day. The Windmill pub was built in 1665.
- J Sainsbury annual review 1997
- Clapham High Street
- Underground History
- Clapham Holy Trinity Church
- A brief history of Clapham
- London Garden’s Trust