Northern Tube line walk 12: Oval walk to Clapham Common

Walk 12

OVAL walk to CLAPHAM COMMON

2 hours

An Underground line opened in 1890 linking Stockwell with central London via Oval. It was the first railway to use electrical locomotives over a significant distance. The line was extended towards Clapham Common in 1900.

Routing note: This walk connects in Oval with Northern line walk 11 and in Clapham Common with Northern line walk 13. A short section of the present route around Stockwell station is identical with Victoria Underground line walk 1 so that I chose to comment on different buildings in each of the route descriptions. As the route passes pleasant green spaces but no cultural highlights, you might be forgiven for thinking that a combination with an other walking route will probably make sense.

OVAL

Oval Underground station

The station opened together with the original Underground line in 1890.

The station building was similar to that at Kennington with a conspicuous dome hiding the lift machinery. The station was rebuilt in the 1920s when the whole line was renovated and the present building indeed reflects the style of that period with clean, geometric shapes. The stepped gable is the kind of modest geometric decoration architects liked in the 1920s. The awning looks much newer and is an addition from 2008. It is well integrated into the design as it is just unobtrusive glass and a few thin steel beams.

Column in Oval

Exit the station and cross both main roads in order to enter Kennington Park

On the triangle between the two main roads, there is a tall column topped with a golden globe. Large black letters spell “Kennington” on the shaft. I have been unable to find out details about the origin of this column and I could imagine it was set up when Kennington Road was opened in the 1750s.

Kennington Park is originally a common and was used in the 18th century for many purposes requiring a lot of space such as cricket matches, religious rallies and amusement fairs. This culminated in 1848 in a political rally that shocked British elite to its core when more than 100,000 people gathered and petitioned Parliament for a more generous voting system. Parliament cracked down heavily on the organisers, banning many to the penal colony in Australia, and the first tentative opening of the restrictive voting right legislation did not happen before 1867. As part of the crackdown, the common was enclosed in 1852 in order to prevent crowds from gathering in dangerous distance of Parliament.

Plane trees in Kennington Park

Because it is such an old park, it has impressive rows of venerable plane trees along many alleys. It has also a very nice pavilion in the Arts & Crafts style, built around 1895.

 

Pavilion in Kennington Park

There is also a nice formal flower garden with circular beds in the style of the Royal Parks, but there is also a circular pergola used to support roses, an element that was quite popular in the 1930s. As you can see on the pictures, the effect of the formal garden varies a lot depending on the season.

Flower garden in Kennington Park

Wisteria in Kennington Park

Pergola in Kennington Park

Cross the park passing the flower garden and cross a minor road into Kennington Common.

Kennington Park East

The name is slightly confusing, it is actually an extension of the park provided in the 1960s on land that had been cleared after slums were demolished. You can see from here where the residents were relocated, namely in the many council estate towers around you. In terms of comfort, this was definitely an improvement: indoor toilets and running water into the kitchens were lacking in many slums. The towers got a bad reputation later when many residents lost their jobs due to the decline of British industry and councils were starved of funds to ensure policing and maintenance. The “common” is now the part of Kennington Park used for informal sports.

Mostyn Gardens

Turn slowly to the right until you reach the footpath that crosses in a straight line across the common. Turn R onto this footpath

The footpath merges into a minor road, Bolton Crescent

Cross the main road into Foxley Road

Ahead Elliott Road

After the churchyard R Cancell Road

At the end of the road, walk L into Eythorne Park. This is an open space along Cowley Road, exit the park at the other end and follow Cowley Road further south

Mostyn Gardens

Eythorne Park is the new name of a green space that grew over the decades and changed names regularly. The oldest part of it opened in 1925 and was a small neighbourhood park with flowering shrubs. It was extended in 1958 and renamed Melbourne Fields, when it was converted into an open space for informal sports. It was renamed Mostyn Gardens in 1971 when the local council started to manage it together with the surrounding estates. The new name changes nothing to the park. It does not have flower beds or monuments but it is surprisingly hilly, probably because there is demolition rubbish underneath the grass.

Entering Slade Gardens

At the end R Mostyn Road

Ahead Lorn Road

L on the footpath giving acces to Slade Gardens, exit the gardens near the adventure playground

The park opened in 1962 on cleared land a little like Mostyn Gardens you saw before. It is rather small and most of it is just a neighbourhood green space with bushes and a few benches. What sets it apart is that is has one of the most elaborate and most popular adventure playgrounds in London. The highlight for onlookers is a climbing castle in the shape of a yellow submarine. The playground has been in existence for more than 50 years but the submarine must be more recent as the famous song by The Beatles was released in 1966.

Slade Gardens

R past a church on Stockwell Park Road

Slade Gardens playground with Church spire

You can see the church spire in the background of the picture. St Michael’s Stockwell was built in 1839 on land set aside by the developer of the surrounding area as having a church in the middle was seen as raising the attractiveness. The architecture is of interest primarily for the spire, an example of early neo-gothic. The small pinnacles around the spire are fanciful in terms of gothic tradition but they are indeed frequent in some areas of Western France and therefore quite acceptable.

House in St Michael’s Road

The church has two peculiarities. One is that the altar is not at the eastern end where it is normally. It was indeed the case until the 1880s, putting the altar under the spire. This was perfectly in line with some strands of gothic tradition but late Victorians wanted to have more room around the altar and moved it to the western end of the church. The other peculiarity is that the church had separate entrances for the central nave and the side ones. The reason was that pews in the central nave cost a significant donation while the side naves were free. To use cheeky wording, this enabled arrogant bourgeois plutocrats to show off their money while relegating their own domestic servants to the less glamorous part of the church. You will notice in the next road that the houses were indeed appropriate for the affluent middle class at that time.

L Stockwell Park Crescent

R St Michaels Road

At the end R Stockwell Road

STOCKWELL

Stockwell station

The station was originally the southern terminus of the Northern line when it opened in 1890. It became a through station when the line was extended towards Clapham in 1900. New platforms opened in 1971 for the Victoria line.

The original station building was similar to the one in Kennington but was replaced by a new building in 1926. This was replaced in turn by the present building after the construction of the Victoria line in 1971. The architecture is a little surprising for the 1970s, using very traditional dark bricks and geometrical shapes that remind of the 1930s.

The station was the location of a tragic police mistake when plainclothes policemen shot an electrician down, thinking he looked like the perpetrator of a terrorist attack that had taken place the day before. Very interestingly, the victim was from Brazil while the terrorists who were caught later were from the Middle East. Apparently, skin colour made the electrician sufficiently suspicious that the police would shoot at him before checking more closely. You wonder whether more modern technology like face profiling used nowadays in China would be better at avoiding such a tragic mistake.

The affair led to quite a number of controversial enquiries about how police deals with uncertain situations when under heavy pressure. In the end, the family got an unknown amount of money for letting the affair go. Police was heavily criticised for procedures making it extremely difficult to achieve redress but was not held criminally responsible.

Walk past the station on Binfield Road

The road turns R along the rear walls of a bus depot

At the end L Lansdowne Way

L Priory Court, a narrow lane giving access to Larkhall Park

Turn slowly L within the park and exit at the very end after the fenced sports ground

Larkhall Park

This is a sizeable park although it reaches only half the size of what was planned originally. The park is a rare testimony to an important plan discussed in the 1940s in order to create more green spaces in areas of London deemed too densely built. Planners were encouraged to identify sensible locations for new parks disregarding the usual issues of accessibility and ground ownership. After World War II, the plan was dropped because some areas had become available due to war damages, making planning easier.

In the case of Larkhall Park, war damages were limited and the housing was low quality but not as bad as slums. Nonetheless, the park was dearly needed in this part of London and the authorities started purchasing the properties. This took nearly 30 years and the park opened in 1974. Because so much money had been spent on purchasing and clearing the land, not much was invested in amenities and the park is just an open green space.

R Larkhall Lane

Ahead Larkhall Rise

L Gauden Road

The road turns twice and ends along a train embankment. When you reach the main road, you can detour L to the Underground station. The route continues otherwise passing under the train tracks.

CLAPHAM NORTH

Clapham North Underground station

The station opened on the new extension of the Underground line in 1900 and was called initially Clapham Road. The name was changed in 1926.

The station building is a rather modest box from 1924 although it was designed by an otherwise creative architect; Charles Holden. The tiling at ground level was redone in 1996 but is about as dreary as the first floor tiles from the 1920s, just a bit less prone to get dirty because of traffic exhaust fumes.

Cross under the train tracks

Ahead Clapham High Street

Former billiard room of the Clapham Temperance Society

For the main part, this is just a normal high street with lots of traffic, lots of chain shops and quite a few fast food outlets. I did notice one peculiar building at number 47. It is now an office building used by architects but it obviously had a very different function originally. The cute little dome is not a giveaway but the long vault is. It was a billiard hall and was built by a Temperance Society in 1908. Trying to lure decent workers away from the pitfalls of drinking alcohol was seen as a very worthy cause at that time and the building was designed to impress. The daring mix of baroque decoration elements while eschewing typically baroque ideas of symmetry is very Edwardian.

Clashing styles on Clapham High Street

I was not overly impressed by most other buildings in High Street except for a strikingly contemporary supermarket front further towards the Common. The supermarket clashes in a most egregious way with the neighbouring neoclassical bank branch. If you are interested in more information about the many celebrities who lived over the centuries in the close vicinity, I am pleased to point you to https://www.thisisclapham.co.uk/visit/history. The main purpose of the website is to make you shop in the area but the history section is really well made.

CLAPHAM COMMON

Clapham Common Underground station

The station opened as the new terminus of the Northern line when this was extended in 1900. It was converted into a through station when the line was extended further in 1926.

The station building is a rather delightful pavilion from 1900. It reminds a little of a pavilion in a park, which is not inappropriate as it is located directly on the edge of a very large open space, Clapham Common. The part away from the Common is a low cylinder with a dome, the style chosen by the company to house the lift from the platforms. All stations in South London had a dome originally although this is only the case now in Kennington and in Clapham Common.

The station is a listed building but I am not sure it is because of the dome. It may rather be due to the fact that it is one of only two Underground stations with a central platform. This arrangement remained rare for two reasons: accidents with people falling on the track were more likely to happen on a narrow central platform, and the station tunnel needed to be made much larger than the normal tunnel sections, which is much more expensive. Central platforms are much more frequent on suburban railways, where the problem does not apply.

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