London’s best districts – Clapham (part 2)

Part 2: Monuments, places of worship, Clapham at war – and essential pubs and cafes!

Monuments, statues and markers

Boundary markers, dotted throughout Clapham, are parish boundary markers delineating Clapham from Wandsworth and Battersea. The history of Clapham’s local government is beyond the scope of this short book, but here are the basics from the first mention of Clapham in AD 800. At that time, Clapham belonged to Surrey and was believed to be governed by Aelfrid – appointed by the king (of either the Sussex or Kent Saxons). (The Vikings then conquered and governed England between 1016 and 1042). Upon the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Conqueror installed his own man (Geoffrey de Mandeville) – and so began 500 years of medieval feudalism in Clapham – headed by the hereditary Lord of the Manor of Clapham.

The Tudors created comprehensive and formal Church of England parishes – led by vestries, a system of early local government. The ‘local’ Surrey parishes were Battersea, Clapham, Putney, Tooting, Streatham and Wandsworth. Vestry-led government continued through to the mid-nineteenth century when the need for standardisation and efficiency led to the creation of The Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) in 1855, then the London County Council in 1889 and the GLC in 1965. In 1986, autonomy was handed to the boroughs, supported (from 2000) on London-wide strategic matters by the Greater London Authority, led by The Mayor of London.

The Victorian, iron post, boundary markers still fulfil a purpose today – Clapham straddles the London Boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth.

Avoiding the window tax (repealed in 1851), Elms Road

Day-light robbery, so went the saying at the government’s tax on windows in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. So new homes were built with many windows bricked-up, should the tax ever be repealed – which it was in 1851. There are some fine examples in Clapham!

Temperance Statue, the drinking fountain near The Pavement was originally erected in 1884 by the Temperance Society, located in offices near London Bridge. It had to be removed fifteen years later when its weight threatened the structural integrity of the bridge. It shows a woman offering water to a man – a sentiment no doubt lost on the evening revellers in any of the pubs along the Pavement and Old Town!

Clock Tower was unveiled with great civic pride at the top of the High Street in 1906. It is made from materials that last, Portland Stone and Aberdeen granite. Sadly, the mechanism itself has not proved as long lasting, having given up the ghost in 1964. Thickening of the walls left no room to get at the mechanism. So there it stands, in a prominent position outside Clapham Common tube station, reading the correct time twice a day!

Holy Trinity, Clapham Common

Four places of worship

Holy Trinity, on the northeast of the common is a church renowned throughout the world as the nucleus for the debates and sermons (led by its evangelical rector, John Venn) which were the impetus for the abolition of slavery in British Dominions in 1833. It was an initiative of local evangelical Christians led by: William Wilberforce (Broomwood Road), Granville Sharp (Clapham Common North Side), Zachary Macaulay (The Pavement), John Thornton (Clapham Common South Side) and others recorded on a plaque on the south exterior wall. The church opened in June 1776 – one month before the United States Declaration of Independence. Built on land donated by the last member of the Atkins family to be the Lord of the Manor of Clapham, it is designed in the classical style; popular before Gothic Revival became the standard church-building template from 1850 – and to differentiate Britain from the US Federal style of classical architecture!

St Paul’s Church, Old Town

St Paul’s Church, situated at the end of Rectory Grove, opened for worship in September 1815 – being only three months after the Battle of Waterloo, this victory would surely have featured in the opening sermon. Such was the popularity of church-going, the church was built to provide overflow capacity for Holy Trinity, built forty years earlier. Inside, the most important monument is that to Sir Richard Atkins, Lord of the Manor, and his family dating from 1689. The site of St Paul’s is that of the original old Clapham parish church. Old St Paul’s was demolished in around 1776, mainly due to its small size and condition – but its remote location from the faithful around the Common would have contributed to its demise.

St Mary’s Church, completed in 1851, Clapham’s Our Lady of Victories church on Clapham Park Road is one of the best Victorian churches in south London (according to Pevsner). It was designed by William Wardell, pupil to Augustus Pugin – gifted assistant to Charles Barry’s designs for the new Houses of Parliament, that opened in 1852.

Oddfellows Hall was opened in Belmont Close for the Ebenezer Strict Baptists in 1852, it moved around the corner within a few years, to a new chapel; the Ebenezer Strict Baptist Chapel (still serving the community). Oddfellows was a ‘friendly society’ – an association of like minds that provided financial or social services in the days before the NHS and modern insurance.

Deep-level shelter, Clapham High Street

Clapham at war

Anti-aircraft battery, the two areas of tarmacked-over ground on the north-west side of the common are the raised surrounds for the World War II 3.7in gun batteries, that searched the skies for enemy bombers. Above the batteries, silver barrage balloons prevented enemy fighters from getting too close. Bombing intensified after the Battle of Britain (July – Oct 1940), Hitler having given up the prospect of a land invasion – and continued to May 1941 in an attempt to break the morale of the British. There was a lull in bombing until 1944, when the V1 (Luftwaffe) ‘doodlebug’ and V2 (German army) rocket terrified the population – the former, noisy upon approach and frightening once their engine cut-out, the latter deadly silent up to the last second. According to, 53 High Explosive Bombs were dropped on Clapham – targeted on the most populated areas.

Deep-level air raid shelters, Clapham is home to three sites (of five across south London) owing to the course of the Northern Line and its three stations – all entrances are visible by their concrete circular ventilation shafts opposite the stations. At first, the tube lines themselves were used for shelter, but by Oct 1940 construction was underway at three sites; Clapham North, Clapham Common and Clapham South and completed by Sep 1942. Each shelter was around 400 metres in length and could accommodate 6,000 people in bunks. However, in effect, the shelters arrived too late, since enemy bombing had ceased by May 1941 – so the shelters were re-purposed as troop ‘hotels’ until the start the V1/V2 campaigns in 1944. In 1948, Clapham South shelter provided the first accommodation for around 240 immigrants arriving from Jamaica on the Empire Windrush – and later as overflow accommodation for various occasions, including the Festival of Britain in 1951. Today, you can visit the Clapham South shelter, visit

Omnibus Theatre, Old Town

Living like a local

Omnibus Theatre, 1 Clapham Common North Side, London SW4 0QW. Tel: 020 7498 4699 /
Occupying the old library in Old Town, the Omnibus has rapidly become an institution in the short time since opening in 2013. Its affordable programme of re-imagined classics, contemporary storytelling, new writing and interdisciplinary work has led to multiple awards. Its café is airy, well provisioned and a unique alternative to the chains.

London Russian Ballet School, 42 Clapham Manor St, Clapham, London SW4 6DZ. Tel: 020 7498 0498 /
The ballet school is based in another of Thomas Cubitt’s Clapham designs – this one completed in 1854. For talented and aspiring pupils, it offers vocational (age 14-19) and pre-vocational (age 9-15) training in the Russian Classical Ballet syllabus.

Clapham Picture House

Clapham Picture House, 76 Venn St, Clapham Town, London SW4 0AT. Tel: 0871 902 5747 / Clapham’s newest picture house rubs shoulders with the building that housed one of Clapham’s first cinemas; the Electric Palace Cinema, that opened in 1910 on the corner of the High Street and Venn Street. The Clapham Picture House is an independent arthouse cinema with a café, bar and restaurant – serving up salads, burgers and classic pies. The cinema shows mainstream, classic and cult films – as well as independents, documentaries and foreign language releases.

Italia Conti, 72 Landor Rd, Larkhall, London SW9 9PH. Tel: 020 7733 3210 /
With alumina ranging from Sir Noel Coward to Russell Brand, Italia Conti is the world’s oldest theatre arts training school, founded in 1911. Today, it is the leading Performing Arts institution in the country, specialising in musical theatre, acting and dance.

Clapham Leisure Centre, 141 Clapham Manor Street, Clapham, Lambeth. London SW4 6DB. Tel: 020 7627 7900 / A jewel in Clapham’s crown is the modern leisure centre opened in 2012, comprising two pools, a fitness centre, sports hall and badminton courts – with a variety of fitness classes and courses.

Clapham Library, Mary Seacole Centre, 91 Clapham High Street, London SW4 7DB. Tel: 020 7926 0717 / Remembering the brave service of the Jamaican-born, mixed-race nurse who cared for the sick and wounded soldiers of the Crimean War, (but whose service was overlooked by the War Office at the time) the library, in the centre bearing her name, opened in 2012. It was Lambeth’s first self-service library and offers the usual services plus access to computers, free Wi-Fi and a stunning performance space for hire.

Studio Voltaire, 1A Nelsons Row, Clapham Town, London SW4 7JR. Tel; 020 7622 1294 /
Studio Voltaire is a non-profit gallery and artist studios based in Clapham, South London. The organisation focuses on contemporary arts, staging a celebrated public programme of exhibitions, performances, and live events.

The Alexandra

Essential pubs and cafes

The Alexandra, 14 Clapham Common South Side, Clapham Common, London SW4 7AA. Tel: 020 7627 5102 /
The Alexandra Hotel, with its famous first-floor restaurant, was built in 1866. It was a vast hotel that originally included the buildings that flank it on either side. Today, it’s original Victorian wrap-round bar and features make it a popular night out, particularly good for fans of sport.

The Bread and Roses, 68 Clapham Manor St, Clapham Town, London SW4 6DZ. Tel: 020 7498 1779 /
Designed and built by Thomas Cubitt, it is the only building in the street of his own design. Originally named The Bowyer Arms, after the Lord of the Manor, it was renamed The Bread & Roses in remembrance of the women textile workers who campaigned for better conditions in Massachusetts, USA in 1912 – they carried banners calling for ‘bread and roses’. It’s a large airy pub, with a platform to host the regular shows and performances. Photographs of pop stars, concert venues and political memorabilia adorn the walls – giving it the feel of a student bar. It’s an award-winning free house, which prides itself as a pub with a social consciousness.

The Bobbin, 1-3 Lillieshall Rd, Clapham Town, London SW4 0LN / Tel: 020 7738 8953 /
Situated in a terrace of early nineteenth century houses, The Bobbin is, arguably, one of the best neighbourhood pub’s in Clapham. It offers a modern Italian-influenced menu and has a tranquil beer garden.

The Clapham North, 409 Clapham Rd, Larkhall, London SW9 9BT. Tel: 020 7274 2472 /
A contemporary feel inside a late Georgian building with exposed brickwork, booth seating and an outside area. Serving fine food, making a speciality of brunch at the weekend. There is a very popular quiz on Sunday nights.

Clapham Tap

The Clapham Tap, 128 Clapham Manor St, Clapham Town, London SW4 6ED. Tel: 020 7498 9633 /
A snug pre-1830’s building, offering a wide range of hand-pumped beers, having a fine, long, garden hosting table-tennis and Boules.


Common, 17 The Pavement, Clapham Town, London SW4 0HY.
Occupying the Grade II listed building of the former, long-established, Chemist Henry Deane, the original cabinets and boxes ensure it retains the feel of a Victorian chemists. A gift shop and bulk pantry staples fill out one side of this trendy café serving coffee and light bites.

The Falcon, 33 Bedford Rd, Larkhall, London SW4 7SQ. Tel: 020 7274 2428 /
The Falcon’s quirky charm, located next to Clapham North tube station, is the setting for a memorable drinking and dining experience with a welcoming atmosphere.

Landor Pub and Theatre, 70 Landor Rd, Larkhall, London SW9 9PH. Tel: 020 7737 3419 /
A haven for locals, the Landor has a laid back and welcoming atmosphere. The historic Landor Pub and Theatre is at the forefront of fringe productions – hosting events like the Edinburgh warm-up comedy festival.

No. 32 The Old Town

No. 32 The Old Town, 32 The Pavement, Clapham Town, London SW4 0JE. Tel: 020 3535 0910 /
With a prime location and balcony overlooking the Common, No. 32 The Old Town is a lively hang-out for Clapham fashionistas, with cool DJ soundtracks on Friday and Saturday evenings. Particularly popular for long weekend lunches.

O’Neill’s Clapham, 196 Clapham High St, Clapham Town, London SW4 7UD. Tel: 020 7498 4931 / Originally The Plough Inn, it is one of Clapham’s oldest pubs having been an eighteenth-century coaching inn. The mock Tudor front was added in 1930. Today, its Irish theme ensures you’ll enjoy the craic, live music, sport or a cosy meal.

Prince of Wales

Prince of Wales, 38 Old Town, Clapham Town, London SW4 0LB. Tel: 020 7622 4964 /
An ever-popular quirky Old Town pub, serving local workers, commuters and residents since opening in 1884. The ceiling shows off an eclectic display of object d’art, nautical themed collectables and curios that make fascinating talking points. Since 1979, all under the stewardship of Clapham’s longest serving landlord.

The Railway

The Railway, 18 Clapham High St, Clapham Town, London SW4 7UR. Tel: Phone: 020 7622 4077 / www.
Pubs were initially built on corner-plots as accommodation for the builders – and then terraces were built in each direction from the corner. The Railway is a good example of this Victorian building technique. Known for vintage character, individuality, an off-beat edge and its convenient location opposite Clapham High Street Overground and Clapham North stations. The large dining room on the first floor is pure Victoriana.

The Rectory, 87 Rectory Grove, Clapham Town, London SW4 0DR. Tel: 020 7622 4019 /
Another of Clapham’s oldest pubs, tucked away in the heart of the Old Town. It’s airy and cavernous interior makes it a pleasure to watch rugby and sports on the big screen. The pub has a reputation for the tastiest freshly prepared food and entertainment – welcoming the entire family and dogs.

The Stonhouse, 165 Stonhouse St, Clapham Town, London SW4 6BJ. Tel: 020 7819 9312 /
Off the beaten track, away from the bustle of Clapham High Street the light ambience of The Stonhouse makes an outstanding setting for its wide-range of cask ales and superb wines alongside a modern European brasserie style menu – with vegan and vegetarian dishes that could convince the staunchest of carnivores.

The Sun, 47 Old Town, Clapham Town, London SW4 0JL. Tel: 020 7622 4980 /
The Sun has occupied this site since the early nineteenth century, this pub was re-built in 1880. The pub closely avoided destruction by Second World War bombing that fated the adjacent church. Today, the Sun offers a stylish drinking and dining experience with fine food, an explorative drinks menu and an authentic, homely atmosphere. Its first-floor dining room is a well-preserved Victorian example – so unique to Britain.

The Windmill

The Windmill, Windmill Dr, Clapham Common, London SW4 9DE. Tel: 020 8673 4578 /
Another of Clapham’s oldest pubs, formerly the site of a windmill and then a coaching inn with extensive horse stabling. There was a pond close-by, which was filled in during the late nineteenth century to make way for the residences adjacent to the pub today. The Windmill is a quintessentially British pub, serving traditional pub classics and vegan dishes. Its proximity to the tube stations makes its boutique country-style hotel rooms very popular.

Credits, references and further reading

Bailey, K. Old Ordnance Survey Maps, Clapham Common, 1870, Sheet 115 (Consett: Alan Godfrey Maps)
Bailey, K. Old Ordnance Survey Maps, Battersea and Clapham, 1870, Sheet 101 (Consett: Alan Godfrey Maps)
Clegg, G. (1998) Clapham past (London: Historical Publications)
Glinert, E. (2012) The London compendium (London: Penguin, first pub.2003)
Green, M. (2008) Historic Clapham (Stroud: History Press)
Nairn, I. (2014) Nairn’s London (London: Penguin, first pub. 1966)
Pevsner, N. and Cherry, B. (2002), The Buildings of England, London 2: South (London: Yale UP)
Weinreb, B. Hibbert, C et al (2008) The London Encyclopaedia (London: Macmillan)
Wilson, A (ed.) (2000) The buildings of Clapham (London: The Clapham Society)
Wilson, A. and Fry, C. (2015) Clapham through time (Stroud: Amberley) – community, conservation and historical society – business and community association
All images © Essential London

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