A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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28 - Through Tarver's Telford Park to Toynbee's, not Cubitt's, Clapham Park

I pass an early flowering cherry tree, cross the railway line over a modern bridge, which saves me going further east to cross the High Road at Streatham Hill Station, and hurry past the busy Sternhold Avenue, a Murco petrol station, and lots of estate agent signs. I cut through Bellasis Avenue, a neat bit of modernistic infilling, enhanced by a grass verge and protected from some floodlit Telford Park Tennis Club courts by a high fence. In Criffel Avenue, I am astonished by the oddest house, an ugly cubic bungalow, which calls itself 'The Coach House', and, in Thornton Avenue, I am delighted by cute balconies, atop one-storey bays, protected by low undulating stone walls with cannonball decorations.

Historically this area, through which Thornton Avenue runs and which is generally referred to as Telford Park, formed part of the St Mary de Bec lands, but was owned, down the centuries, by the Dukes of Bedford. In the early years of the 19th century, the estate was broken up, and this part ended up in the ownership of a Scottish family group (the Stewart and Kymer families). At one point the land was owned by Charles Telford who received it as a dowry, but, when his son failed to produce an heir, the land reverted to the Stewart family. Around 1880, Sutton & Dudley, a large building firm, were contracted to build residences on the estate, and, in return, were granted long leaseholds on the properties. The streets are all named after lands owned by the Stewarts and Kymers in Scotland, except for Thornton Avenue which was named for Henry Thornton, an MP, banker and leading figure in the evangelical group known as the Clapham Sect.

The architect employed on Telford Park, Edward John Tarver, tended to follow the Queen Anne Revivalist movement which had evolved in reaction to the heavy Victorian Gothic style. According to Telford Park Association, the majority of houses still remaining are 'a stunning memorial to Tarver's success' with generous ground floor areas, stained glass and fire surrounds, wide staircases, and in particular, Queen Anne style window layouts. The eminent arts-and-crafts architect Charles Voysey visited the estate and was so impressed he moved to the area helping to make it become fashionable, especially for those in the arts and media. The music-hall star Roland Gallier and the Lupino Lane family, for example, lived in Telford Park. Criffel Avenue in particular became a haven for journalists, notably Violet Addie, one of the first women to take up the profession. David Jacobs moved to Telford Avenue, and his more famous son, also called David, the host of 'Juke Box Jury' and 'Come Dancing', was born there.

Turning right on to the wide New Park Road by an older stone house, painted creamy-grey with decorative bargeboards and battlements, it feels like I'm leaving the Telford Park area. There's been some rebuilding along this road, with properties showing off pretentious door porch columns and one even managing to create a scruffy gateway arch out of leylandii shrubs. Further along, blocks of flats, both pre-war and modern, start to take over on both sides. The horseshoe-shaped Cameford Court is typical of mansion blocks built in the 30s and early 40s. The asking price for a recently refurbished two-bedroomed flat here is close to £150,000. In front of the more modern Fortrose Gardens - two-storey box-like flats - a notice indicates that Lambeth Council is undertaking 'major repairs'. Local newspapers reported in 2000 that leaseholders had reacted strongly to £12,000 worth of bills from the Council to replace windows and roofing which, they said, should have been properly maintained by the Council. Next door is Aspinall House with lime green panelling, and opposite is the New Park Road Baptist Church housed in a building which was originally a Salem Chapel dating from 1842.

At the junction with Atkins Road/Streatham Place, I turn left along what is the A205 and, unfortunately for it, part of London's infamous South Circular Road. I'd like to head right along Tilson Gardens, which is hemmed in by Whitely House and Watson House, to stay on the 300 easting, but it curls too far round to the east, so I cross Atkins Road carefully (where a man was killed by an HGV in February 2003), and turn right at King's Avenue. It is a spacious road, with grass verges and old trees, not least some good-looking yews, set back from the road itself. It is almost possible to imagine how Clapham Park might have been in the 19th century when Thomas Cubitt was building his houses here. Cubitt, along with his brothers William and Lewis, the former as partner and the latter as architect, were responsible for other large-scale building developments in London and elsewhere (such as Kemp Town in Brighton). However, with almost none of Cubitt's Clapham Park still extant, the imagination needs to work very hard. On the east side of King's Avenue is the notorious Clapham Park Estate (a very different area from the similarly named Telford Park Estate).

The largest council estate in Lambeth, built from the 1930s onwards, Clapham Park Estate houses over 7,000 people, nearly a fifth of whom live in one-parent families, and a third of whom are from black and minority communities. Although in the past, it was known for crime, drugs, ill health, unemployment and poverty, the future is looking brighter. In 2001, it won £56m from central government, part of the £2bn New Deal for Communities package. The key elements of the package include: long-term commitment to deliver real change; community involvement and ownership; and joined-up thinking and solutions, with action based on evidence about 'what works' and what doesn't. The money is to be paid over ten years. Possible schemes planned include better lighting and CCTV installation, personal alarms for the most vulnerable people on the estate, homework clubs for schoolchildren and a community library service. Thanks to the grant, the estate was able to launch, in 2003, a Neighbourhood Warden Scheme with eight wardens patrolling in pairs between 7am and 11pm, seven days a week. They wear green polo shirts, sweatshirts and jackets carrying the Clapham Park Project logo. Also in 2003, a well-known Guardian journalist, Polly Toynbee, lived for two months in one of the estate's worst blocks, just ten minutes from her own home 'in the salubrious end of Clapham'. And then she wrote a book about the 'experience'. Good for her.

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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