What’s it all about?
'We enter Balham through the verdant grasslands of Battersea Park, and are immediately aware that here is a land of happy contented people,' joked Peter Sellers in his 1950s comedic travel guide to the area entitled ‘Balham, Gateway to the South’. Nowadays the words ring true, with overflowing pavement cafes buzzing with families and young professionals. The former may be on babychinos and the latter on Bloody Marys, but it's a contented mix. There’s space for everyone in Balham, with the perfect park for picnicking, fun bars and a heap of happening restaurants, as well as all the amenities that parents could hope for. Residents understandably love their neighbourhood and there's a strong community feel, with many clubs and organisations offering the chance to get involved in neighbourhood projects, while living in the borough of Wandsworth adds the bonus of one of the lowest council tax rates in London. A downside for some is that the area has become so attractive to buyers that young professionals currently renting here, and who’d like to join the parent and baby brigade, fear they won't be able to put down permanent roots.
Despite its size, the Art Deco apartment block Du Cane Court survived World War II completely unscathed. Legend has it that the Luftwaffe used it as a navigational aid. On 14 October 1940 a bomb exploded in Balham station, while above ground a number 88 bus, travelling in blackout conditions, plunged into the crater created. The dramatic spectacle of the trapped bus became emblematic of the Blitz and pictures circulated around the world.The comic and writer Arthur Smith is a long time resident of the area and is the self styled 'Mayor of Balham'.
Architecture and property
Until 200 years ago the area was just a small hamlet of farms and country houses, but the arrival of the railway in 1856 changed all that. Development began outwards from the station and much of the original street layout still survives today. The arrival of the Northern Line at both Balham and Clapham South in 1926 spurred another round of house building, and the area has many distinctive and delightful late Victorian, Edwardian and Arts and Crafts homes.
Much of the development in Balham is down to one man. Alfred Heaver bought large tracts of the Bedford estate and began building family homes in the late 1880s and within a few years he had laid out a grid of thoroughfares stretching from Bedford Hill to Tooting Bec. Now a conservation area, the Heaver estate remains popular with families. Victorian builders were also at work in the fields of what had been Balham Farm. Grand detached villas, one of which had a bowling green, ornamental lake and ice house, were built along Nightingale Lane, so called for the birds that sang there. Delightful Nightingale Square, once a private garden for its residents, is now a conservation area and still one of the most desirable places to live in Balham. George Jennings, the pioneer of the public lavatory, added grand terraced townhouses in Endlesham Road.
In the mid 1930s came the construction of Du Cane Court – a glorious Art Deco monument and, at the time, the largest single block of privately owned flats in Europe.
With beautiful Victorian and Edwardian period houses dominating the area, there is also a great selection of attractive conversions in Balham. Additionally, a variety of mansion blocks provide another source of property.
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Eating: There is a wealth of choice for places to eat and drink in Balham, with all tastes catered for. The Exhibit has become a Balham institution, comprising an American themed diner, cinema, gallery and bar. Ciullosteria is a cheap and cheerful trattoria that has been popular for more than 20 years, but now facing competition in the pizza stakes from Franco Manca, which is fast becoming a London institution. If French cuisine is more to your taste, try Gazette Balham.
Drinking: The Balham Bowls Club has a cosy clubhouse feel while offering a good range of ales and an attractive menu. The Devonshire is a Young’s pub that has benefited from a recent refurbishment and now has a huge outdoor garden with barbecue area. It's not all about beer here. Incredibly popular Milk serves home made cakes, excellent coffee and plays good records to ease you into the weekend. Bertie and Boo is another child friendly coffee shop, with a soft play area and magic, on demand.
Entertainment and events: Some of the biggest names in comedy perform at Banana Cabaret in The Bedford pub. The Grove pub is a grand stucco fronted Victorian corner building and screens a movie every Monday evening, followed by a horror feature for the late nighters. Balham Comedy Festival is hosted by The Bedford each year and offers a full week of comedy events.
- Shops in Balham range from chain stores to small independent boutiques. Annie in the Attic is hidden above a hair salon on Balham High Street and has an eccentric selection of vintage clothes. For something for the kids, head to the family run Just Williams, where you’ll find toys for all ages. Balham has its own health food store in As Nature Intended. You can try your hand at home brewing with help from We Brought Beer (or simply pick up some locally sourced ales). Visit The Flower Sanctuary for that special occasion or for something to brighten up your home. Expand your palette at The Wine Tasting Shop at one of their specially designed evenings, or with their wine tasting card.
- Produce including locally grown fruit and veg, homemade cakes and savouries, as well as arts and crafts, are all available at the monthly Balham Country Market, hosted by the Balham Bowls Club. There is also a weekly farmers’ market at Chestnut School, near the Tube station. Hildreth Street Market sells fruit, veg and household goods, alongside some of London's finest street food stalls.
- There is a choice of Waitrose and Sainsbury’s for grocery shopping, both of which have large stores in the town centre, with ample car parking.
- Balham Leisure Centre offers a swimming pool, gym and squash courts, as well as a sauna and steam room, or dip a toe into Tooting Bec Lido, the largest fresh water open air swimming pool in the country.
- Balham Library offers a range of activities and music downloads for library members, together with access to a huge range of online reference materials.
Balham is surrounded by large green spaces, all just a short distance away from the centre of town. Clapham Common to the north is a spacious expanse that includes pitches for many different sports, as well as fishing opportunities, cafes and a mother and baby club. It plays host to major music festivals in the summer months. Wandsworth Common to the west has been designated as a site of importance for nature conservation, while Tooting Bec Common offers a whole host of activities from horse riding to tennis, nature trails and a youth club.
Wandsworth Council has granted planning permission to Ipsus developers to build an eight storey block providing 52 flats on the site of the old Bedford House. The old MoD building off Atkins Close is being transformed into 45 modern apartments by Fairview New Homes.
Tube: The Northern Line serves Balham itself, as well as Clapham South, to the north of the area, and takes 20 minutes to reach Bank.
Rail: Trains take 18 minutes to Victoria, and there are services to Caterham and Epsom. Clapham Junction is only two stops away for access to many other parts of the country.
Bus: Several bus routes serve Balham, including the 155 from Tooting to Elephant & Castle, 249 from Anerley to Clapham Common, 315 to Norwood and 355 from Mitcham to Brixton.
Road: The roads are busy here and most locals tend to stick to public transport, but the South Circular is very close by for access to other parts of London.
Getting away: Balham is equidistant by road from Heathrow and Gatwick airports, with the journey taking under an hour by car.
There are a good number of schools in this area. In the primary age group there is Henry Cavendish Primary, Telferscot Primary, Holy Ghost Catholic Primary. For secondary pupils among others there is the Chestnut Grove school, which has recently become an academy, and for girls there is La Retraite Roman Catholic School. Oak Lodge, a specialist school for children with hearing and communications difficulties, is also in the area.
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