10 Clapham facts you didn’t know

Clapham Common picnic

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

Clapham High Street Sainsbury's video screens

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

Clapham Junction used to be Battersea Junction

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

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

Clapham Holy Trinity Church

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

Clapham London bomb sites World War Two

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

Vivienne Westwood Clapham Common

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 Common bush

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

Clapham Common bandstand

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 Picture House cinema

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

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.


110 thoughts on “10 Clapham facts you didn’t know

  1. Hi everyone, my name is Greg Tunesi, I lived at 95 Stonhouse Street, went to Clapham Manor County Primary School. Many happy memories of playing in Grafton Square and on the common.

  2. Hi mike Cobb, my name is Mike smith, I was at Aristotle between 64 & 69, your memory is excellent and I remember Mr Southerns leaving assembly well poor bloke, my pals were Steve Massey, Michael Johnson, Steve Grubb etc, probably a year below you, cannot place you but must have rubbed shoulders at some point, I remember all the teachers names and that Coyne used to throw chalk at anyone talking in his class, Lush was my house master, I do recall the story of Burt’s car, thanks for jogging my memories, other names from my year were Steve Helens, Steve Mathias and Ron Harwood, unfortunately I lost contact with all over the years so it is good to have shared some memories of those years, thanks, Mike.

  3. An Ode To Clapham Days.

    When I was just a little boy,
    Clapham was my home.
    A top floor flat and that was that,
    No garden, pond or gnome.

    Playing on the common, on the grass,
    Or in the street.
    With brothers, sisters, special friends,
    It really was a treat.

    Saturday morning pictures,
    Down at the ‘Hole in the Wall’.
    With cartoons, cowboys, indians,
    We really loved it all.

    Sitting in the sandpit,
    Nowhere near the sea.
    Playing with our Dinky toys,
    Kevin, Chris and me.

    Picked out for the school play,
    About a man called Robin Hood.
    Playing one of the sheriffs men,
    With a sword made out of wood.

    Travelling on a trolley bus,
    or riding on a tram.
    To places that seemed far away,
    From Battersea to Balham.

    Special friends you left behind,
    So many years ago.
    I wonder where they are now ?,
    It would be nice to know.

    Clapham was a special place,
    For me, it’s where I grew.
    But memories fade and it takes away,
    The faces I once knew.

    I really do Love Clapham,
    But the way it used to be.
    Everything has changed so much,
    Now there’s nothing there for me.

    Old friends have now departed,
    Gone there separate ways.
    But I’ll still remember Clapham,
    In those happy, bygone days.

  4. Hi mike Smith I was in your class, I used to go to chelsea with Steve Massey.
    When we went to work we used to go out together socially.
    Unfortunately i lost contact with him.
    Do you remember when you last heard from him.
    Steve Helens Dave Mathias were with me at Hazelrigge Primary school.
    I think your other friend was called dog end johnson.

    knew was

  5. Hi Mike Smith
    I guess my memory of Aristotle is pretty good, tend to remember things long ago but not to hot with the present. As you say I was in the year above you but some of those sirnames you mention definately ring a distant bell especially Massey, Matthias and I knew Steve Helens, he was friends with one of my mates from class Rick Malangone, they lived in Clapham Park Road opp the big church near St Alphonsus Road. I lived off Landor Road and every day walked over the footbridge from Hubert Grove to Ferndale Road. My form teacher was Hickman and we had an ancient old boy called Ben Thompson who took us for math. He was 76 when I started in 63, that would make him 130 years old if hes still around now ha ha…I guess many of the teachers I have already mentioned are gone now many were getting on even back then, they seemed quite old to me, When I started the headmaster was Bullen, he retired then we had Mr Stuart Jarvis as headmaster with Joe Cottage as second in command. Round about year 3 we had as our form teacher a certain Mr Christou, he took our class on a day trip to Hampstead Heath, then at the end of the day he told us all to make our own way home on the tube and buggered off to see his mates in some Cypriot coffee shop. Immagine that happening today.
    One thing that does spring to mind though that used to happen in the playground during break.. Some of the weaker boys used to get picked on quite a lot, there was a fair amount of bullying went on there to be honest. Anyway about 7 or 8 of us would grab hold of a boy and carry him aloft, several by each leg and about 4 of us holding him up at the back, his lgs would be prized apart and he would be run towards one of the iron posts supporting the playground shelter, we called it Poleaxing, how any boy who had that done went on to have any children is beyond me but I guess they did, what little angelic brats we were… All the best Mike Smith, if I think of anything else I will just write it all down, people seem to enjoy reading it…….Mike Comb

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  7. Hi Mike Comb, my memory is not as good as yours, but your post certainly jogged my memories of my time at Aristotle in the 60s. As for myself I now live in Surrey and I have two sons one of which has two daughters.
    Of all the names mentioned I remember that Michael Slaughter went to Australia and Duncan Appleby became a plumber and was living in Thames Ditton about twenty years ago. More recently I found an article on the web about Mr Coyne, I kept the article and when If i find it I will post.
    I do hope that others find this website, it would interesting to know what happened to everyone.

  8. Oh wow just stumb!ed onto this site. I remember the Watermans, Dennis was a year above me in Bonneville. And I remember Jackie Penfold and The Beards, also Sean Bonner and sister Geraldine they lived Grafton or Carfax I think, memory is a bit foggy sometimes now, age I hate it !! I lived 1951/63 Notre Dame and then St Alphonsus Rd, I can remember lots of places, I had a saturday job washing hair in Clapham Park ,great memories don’t know if I would live there now though.

  9. I remember David Pearce’ accident. I thought it happened in Bonneville gardens or Elms Crescent. Wasn’t there another boy with him who was unhurt? I only knew David by sight but think he had an older sister Rita. I was born in 1949 and lived at 9 Valentine Hse, ground floor, (behind Selby Hse which faced Rodenhurst Rd, opposite your flats.) I lived there till 18 and can remember everyone in our flats but not so many in your flats. I do remember playing with a boy named Pip from the ‘other’ flats. Riding bikes and rollerskating. I was a real tomboy! I’d never met anyone called Pip before and thought it was a marvellous name! Alas, he moved away so we weren’t pally for long. Was that you Mr Philip Martin? I also remember Sally Thomas. Again, wasn’t a friend but I believe she went to Rosa Bassett grammar school after the 11plus. I also remember Michael Costello and Teresa Coffey and her family. Think they lived in Blackwell House, which faced Clarence Avenue. So did the Houseman family. Peter Houseman went on to play professionally for Chelsea. There was Mick Ozana who lived in Saville House and also Sheila and Priscilla McKenzie who lived in Parrington House, which faced Rodenhurst Rd. They went to the same school as me, La Retraite RC High School in Atkins Road (Agnes Riley Gardens exited into Atkins Rd). Remember Mr Bradshaw? Wore a hat and never looked or spoke to anyone. We never troubled him because we were told he’d been a Japanese POW and had been ‘damaged.’ I remember the dreaded Caretaker who would walk through the Flats every so often and shout for us to get off the grass! When he went, we got back on. Usually we had a lookout anyway who warned with “Caretakers coming!). I remember playing cannon, British bulldog, tin tan tommy, and many more. I remember taking back empty glass tizer bottles to get pennies to the Bank of Swans pub, which was in the ‘New Shops’, as we always called them – as opposed to ‘Abbeville’ which was Abbeville Rd. I do hope you get to read this post and hope anyone else who remembers the ‘Flats’ posts a few memories. Hope you’re all not on Facebook etc., which I don’t do! (Haha). Regards to all.

  10. Hi to Mary Newman. I could well have been Pip, as I was often called that by my brother and sister and older people, so Hello!. There was another boy with David, he was new to the area and smoked and it was his discarded cigarette that caused the fire. It could well have been in Elms Crescent. I also remember having to get off the grass when the caretaker was around. I can’t remember any of the people you’ve mentioned but it was nice to read your posting and memories. I’m not on Facebook either. Best Regards.

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