The Victorians were very keen on social events and, having laid out many parks in London, they often provided a bandstand – particularly for musical entertainment on Sunday afternoons. In the case of Clapham, the bandstand was not erected inside a park but on Clapham Common itself. Due to a petition by the locals in 1889 to the London County Council (LCC) this splendid bandstand was built a year later at a cost of £600. Although it sounds like a small amount of money by today’s values, it was a substantial figure at the time. The Bandstand was a copy of the two erected in 1861 in the Royal Horticultural Society’s gardens in South Kensington.
The bandstand at Clapham is known to have been in regular use until well after the Second World War. By the 1960s the structure was in need of considerable renovation and by 2001 it was thought to be in danger of collapse and had to be shored up with scaffolding for five years. The structure was covered in graffiti, the columns were rusting, pigeons were nesting in the rotting cupola. The surrounding area, where deck-chairs had once been laid out for the audience, was also in a ruinous state.
The Friends of Clapham Common, along with the Clapham Society persuaded Lambeth Council – who were the owners – to come up with a restoration plan. Architects Dannatt Johnson led a team to prepare a plan for a Heritage Lottery Fund bid which eventually provided £895,000. Lambeth Council contributed £300,000, along with over £100,000 raised by the local community.
During 2005-06 work was carried out to replace the wooden frame for the cupola, clear the blocked drainage columns and replace the land drains. Care was also taken to determine the paint colours for the original patterns and colours for the cast iron work. The zinc of the cupola came from France and an Indian factory supplied the cast iron balustrade. A new base was installed with wooden decking. Newly designed ramps – to allow wheelchair and equipment access – were incorporated into the updated design. The nearby café was refurbished, including new toilet facilities. The bandstand reopened in June 2006 with the Merton Brass Band being invited as the first to play for the event.
It is the largest bandstand in London and is Grade II listed. It is now home to many musical events from July through to September each year. It is good to know that the gentler pleasures from a Victorian era are still being enjoyed today. Long may they continue!