Clapham Overview

Above: Shops and Georgian buildings above them which line one side of The Pavement which is beside Clapham Common.

The great sprawling mass of densely built-up streets that forms Inner London today derived from a large number of villages, each expanding with more and more streets until they eventually met the boundary of the adjacent village which had grown in the same way. Some places in London, that were once so countrified, no longer look like a village today. Just a few of the old villages of London still retain a village appearance even though their surroundings have become built-up.

Above: Map of the London Borough of Lambeth (formed in 1965). The location of Clapham is shown with Clapham Common (in green) straddling the boundary shared with Wandsworth.

The original settlement (later to become Clapham) started with a community living on a Roman road that the Saxons called ‘Stane Street’. It started at the Roman bridge near the site of today’s London Bridge and ran almost SW to a Roman town we now call Chichester. That road has become the A3 in modern times.

Clapham is one of London’s old villages that still retains an air of gentility today – in parts. The traffic thunders past on the main roads but some of the side roads still retain a village appearance. The name goes back to being first mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) as ‘Clopeha’. The first syllable ‘clop’ is Old English for a hill. The original village developed on the side of a hill which rises on the northern side. The second syllable ‘ha’ is probably an abbreviation of ‘ham’ – another Old English word meaning homestead. The name, therefore, means something like ‘village on the hill’.

The earliest mention of a parish church was in 1232 – it was St Mary, Rectory Grove. By 1774 it was in a dilapidated state and a new church called Holy Trinity was built on a new site beside a street called The Pavement, consecrated in 1776. Back at the original site, a new church was built in 1815 and the two churches both remain to this day.

Above: Streets around Clapham showing the old original village and the nearby Clapham Junction Station.

The village developed beside the vast Clapham Common. The houses have always had a village air about them because of the large open space nearby. The common is essentially flat land, as is the village, but you soon notice the hill – from which the place name derived – if you travel north out of the village. Many of the roads – like The Chase or Victoria Rise – which drop away from the plateau towards the Thames.

The recent history of Clapham is unusual. When Metropolitan London was created in 1900, by the London Government Act of 1899, 28 Metropolitan Boroughs were formed within the metropolitan boundary. Clapham became part of the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth. In 1965, when the Metropolitan Boroughs were combined into larger administrative units, Clapham was transferred from the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth to the London Borough of Lambeth. This also applied to Streatham. They were the only two parishes to be moved from one administration to another within Inner London in 1965.

To the east of Clapham is Brixton, also in the London Borough of Lambeth. To the north is Battersea. To the west is Wandsworth and to the south is Balham. These last three places are all within the London Borough of Wandsworth. The original village area is near Clapham Common underground station – particularly The Pavement, The Polygon, Old Town and Rectory Road. They are shielded to a certain extent from the busy through traffic on the A3, the A24 and the South Circular Road.

The name that everyone thinks of when you mention Clapham is ‘Clapham Junction’ which is one of the busiest railway stations (and also railway junctions) in Britain. When it was laid out it should have been called ‘Battersea Junction’ (because it is situated in Battersea) but the railway company wanted to raise the tone of the station’s name and so they chose ‘Clapham Junction’ instead.

Comment 02 – Clapham

Today’s blog begins a short series of articles about Clapham. Last year we were considering Lambeth which, as well as being the name of an old village, is also the name of a London Borough. The schedule of blogs did not permit any time to mention the attractive village of Clapham – which is now part of the London Borough of Lambeth – and so the subject is being covered today and for the next few articles.

-ENDS-

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