“A Moment in Time”
The picture shows a busy scene at Clapham, with the shops in the foreground and trees on Clapham Common in the background. The main road is at the point where Clapham High Street changes its name and runs further south as Clapham Common South Side. The smaller road (to the right of the clock tower) is the start of a turning called The Pavement. The Clock Tower beside Clapham High Street, seen in this picture, was unveiled at a ceremony on 19th July 1906. It had been given to the Parish of Clapham by Alexander Glegg, Mayor of Wandsworth (which included Clapham from 1900 until 1965). The tower was dismantled and rebuilt when the new booking hall was built below it for the underground. The tower has the address of 5 The Pavement, Clapham Common.
Knowing about the clock tower helps with dating the picture which obviously has to be post-1906. It would be a brave man who followed in the footsteps of the gentleman in the foreground (towards the left). Crossing that busy road is now a dangerous business and few people attempt to wander across it, as he is doing. It can also be seen that he is walking across tram tracks, set into the road. The tracks contain a third centre rail which means that they were electric by the time of this picture. This means that the picture was taken at an interesting time in public transport.
Notice that, behind the clock tower, there is no entrance building for Clapham Common Underground Station – as there is today. The underground station was opened in 1926. Not only do we see the evidence for electric trams but the number 4 bus facing the camera is motorised. The other two vehicles are horse-buses. One is moving away from the camera and the other one has stopped beside the pavement, in front of the Plough public house.
As was common at such times, the photo was being taken using a large camera mounted on a tripod. Exposures were long – due to very slow photographic film or plates – and therefore the cameraman chose his moment when there was a minimum of movement that might show as a blur on the final photograph. Taking such pictures was always rather a performance and we can see that bystanders on the right are looking at what the cameraman was doing.
A few of the buildings in the picture, with shops at pavement level, are still in existence today. The Plough continued in use until the 1920s when it was rebuilt on the same site in mock-Tudor style, with heavy timbers. The pub – still with the same name – closed around the 1980s. Since 2014 the building has been in use as a privately run pub called ‘The Stane Street Syndicate’. It should be explained that Clapham High Street follows the ancient line of the Roman road which the Saxons called ‘Stane Street’.
The view, which was reproduced as a postcard, is seen to be bursting with life. It also contains three interesting public-service vehicles from a bygone era. In one sense the view has hardly changed at all but, if you go there today, take care when you cross the road. It seldom has as little traffic as it was when the picture was taken.