Clapham Common in London

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Clapham Common is an 89 hectare (220 acre) triangular area of grassland situated in south London, England. It was historically common land for the parishes of Battersea and Clapham, but was converted to parkland under the terms of the Metropolitan Commons Act 1878.

43 hectares (108 acres) of the common are within the London Borough of Wandsworth and 46 hectares (112 acres) within the London Borough of Lambeth. Although the Common is wholly managed and maintained by the London Borough of Lambeth, the policing of the open space is divided between the Wandsworth and Lambeth borough "commands" of the Metropolitan Police, which follow the local government boundaries. The roads surrounding the Common fall within the SW4 post code.

Clapham Common is also the name of an electoral ward in the London Borough of Lambeth encompassing most of the area to the southeast of Clapham Common Southside until King's Avenue.

Features of the Common

The Common contains three ponds which are historical features and a more modern paddling pool known as Cock Pond.

Eagle Pond and Mount Pond are predominantly used for angling and contain a variety of species including Carp to 20 lb, Roach, Tench and Bream. Eagle Pond was extensively refurbished in 2002 where it was completely drained, landscaped and replanted to provide a better habitat for the fish it contained. Long Pond has a century old tradition of use for model boating.

The Common is surrounded by many fine houses, built from the 1790s onwards, which became fashionable dwellings for wealthy business people in what was then a village detached from metropolitan London. Some were members of the Clapham Sect of evangelical reformers, including Lord Teignmouth and Henry Thornton, the banker and abolitionist. As London expanded in the 19th century Clapham was absorbed into the capital, with most of the remaining palatial or agricultural estates replaced with terraced housing by the early 1900s.

There are two mounds on the Battersea Rise side of the common, the remnants of World War II storage bunkers built in the common.

Holy Trinity Church (1776) is close to the North Side of the common. An Anglican church, it hosts its fete on the common every summer.

Clapham Common tube station and Clapham South tube station are on the edge of the common at its easternmost and southernmost points respectively. Both stations are served solely by the Northern Line.

A memorial tree to actor Jeremy Brett - who had lived locally for many years prior to his death in 1995 - was planted on 30 March 2007.

The bandstand

In the centre of the common is the Clapham bandstand constructed in 1890. It is the largest bandstand in London and a Grade II Listed Building. For many years it was also erroneously thought to be one of the bandstands first erected in 1861 in the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens in South Kensington, which would have made it the oldest surviving cast iron bandstand in Europe. However, recent research has shown that these bandstands went to Southwark Park and Peckham Rye, and it appears that the Clapham bandstand was fabricated to a very similar design almost thirty years later.

The bandstand's maintenance had been neglected by Lambeth Council for thirty years, and by 2001 it was thought to be in danger of collapse and had to be shored up with scaffolding for five years. In 2005-2006, a full restoration of the bandstand and surrounding landscape took place, partly funded by an £895,000 lottery grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund matched by £300,000 from Lambeth Council and a further £100,000 from local fundraising efforts and the proceeds of the Ben and Jerry's Summer Sundae event held on the Common. The drainage bund around the bandstand is being restored with granite setts during the summer of 2011 at a cost of £12,000 to resolve design faults in the earlier works.

In the news

Former Welsh Secretary in the UK government Ron Davies had a "moment of madness" in 1998 in an incident that revolved around the Common. He was robbed at knife point on the Common and met some strangers to whom he gave a lift; those same people took his car, wallet and phone. Davies resigned, repeatedly denying the incident had anything to do with drugs or sex. Newspapers have since reported that Mr Davies admits being bisexual and has "been successfully treated for a compulsion to seek out gay partners".

Some parts of the common are used by men seeking anonymous sex with other men in public places ("cruising"). However despite past incidents including an attack On 14 October 2005 in the vicinity of the common Clapham Common has been a relatively safe area with better policing from both Lambeth and Wandsworth Police Authorities.

Sport and other events

Events held on the Common include:

  • Since 1977 the Latin American football League has played organised football on the red car pitches located on the south side of the common.
  • British Australian Rules Football League Grand Final, for which it is the traditional venue
  • Colourscape Music Festival (one venue) since 1995.
  • Lesbian & Gay Pride festivals since 1996 and 1997
  • The music festival Get Loaded In The Park
  • Large scale music events, including 'Picnic Rocks' held by Action Against Hunger.
  • Holds the South West Four Music Festival each year.

References in popular culture

It is mentioned in the 1970s television programme Are You Being Served? by the character Mrs Slocombe: "I haven't forgotten being flung flat on me back on Clapham Common by a land mine--and the German Air Force was responsible." to which Mr Lucas ripostes: "All the other times she was flat on her back the American Air Force was responsible."

It is cited in Morrissey's song "Mute Witness":

And her silent words
Describing the sight of last night
4 A.M. Northside, Clapham Common
Oh, god, what was she doing there ?

It is also referred to in Squeeze’s 1979 single “Up the Junction,” which opens:

I never thought it would happen,
With me and the girl from Clapham,
Out on the windy common,
That night I ain’t forgotten.

On the second season of the television comedy Peep Show, the character of Mark Corrigan makes a reference to Ron Davies, stating "This is my moment of madness, my Clapham Common."

It also features in The Adventure of the Clapham Cook

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