What’s it all about?
Once an area of grand houses and notable as the base in the late 18th century for the Clapham Sect – a group of social reformers who campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade – Clapham was opened up to the masses by the arrival of the railways. By the time the 20th century took hold it had become a typical commuter suburb. So typical, in fact, that its very ordinariness gave rise to the phrase ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’. It has long since shaken off any dowdy associations, however, and its appealing mix of good transport links, urban character and plenty of attractive period homes makes it one of the most flourishing and sought after parts of south London. Such amenities have reeled in a diverse mix of residents. Families are drawn to the vast common, choice of schools and the atmosphere of villagey areas such as Abbeville and Clapham Old Town, while young professionals love the shopping, transport connections and social scene – in recent years, Clapham’s nightlife has flourished. Whether moving to London for the first time or relocating to start a family, Clapham residents from all walks of life are united by the eponymous Common. Despite being surrounded by busy arterial roads, it is a broad and tranquil green space beloved by all locals. A focal point for the community, all manner of sporting events and activities take place, as well as annual events including the popular SW4 festival.
- Clapham was particularly badly bombed during World War II. Three of London’s eight deep level air raid shelters are located beneath Clapham North, Clapham Common and Clapham South stations.
- Clapham has been home to several well known Londoners, including actor Vanessa Redgrave, abolitionist William Wilberforce and diarist Samuel Pepys, who retired here.
Architecture and property
While today Londoners flock to Clapham for its period properties and neighbourhood buzz, in the 17th century people had more perilous reasons for relocating. Outbreaks of the plague, followed by the 1666 Great Fire of London, drew residents away from densely populated central London and many settled in Clapham. With the advent of horse drawn buses and the later arrival of the railway, Clapham became a major transport hub and the architecture reflects this history. There are grand Georgian terraces on Grafton Square and in the Old Town, Victorian charm aplenty in Abbeville Village, and an abundance of more modest Victorian and Edwardian terraced houses built to house the booming population during this time. There’s ample choice for young professionals in the lively Clapham North area, with larger houses and flats found closer to Clapham South. Around the Common there are grand period conversions and purpose built mansion blocks.
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Eating: Those in the know make for the discreet door at four o nine restaurant where the intimate dining room is perfect for special occasions. The Rookery serves tasty pub food with a variety of craft beers, while The Dairy’s commitment to reliably sourced seasonal ingredients is second to none. Their sister restaurant The Manor is a modern bistro that offers a bespoke tasting menu, a la carte menus and an open experimental dessert bar. Overlooking the park you can find French inspired fruit tarts and ice cream at Madeleine. There are a cluster of lovely places to eat around Abbeville Road, including family run French bistro La Bonne Heure, whose sister restaurant is in Paris.
Drinking: The busy High Street is the place to start any evening out and people travel from all over London to make the most of Clapham’s bars and pubs. Head to one of its many trendy bars like WC - Wine & Charcuterie, located in a 100 year old listed former water closet, enjoy some live music at The Bread & Roses or Venn Street Records, and finish the evening at the infamous Infernos nightclub. Windmill on the Common claims to have London's biggest beer garden and the bonus of a crackling fire and cosy sofas for the winter months. No. 32 The Old Town has a roof terrace, late weekend opening hours and a DJ, so is always buzzing, and the food is excellent too.
Entertainment: Clapham Picturehouse is an arthouse cinema showing the best of independent and mainstream films. Keep an eye out for special screenings and jazz evenings at this quirky ex snooker hall. The Landor Theatre’s location on the first floor of The Landor Pub might be modest but its productions are anything but, and it is widely regarded as one of the best fringe theatres in London.
- Clapham locals can take their pick of the area’s many large supermarkets, but the Venn Street Market next to Clapham Common Tube station is the only place to go for quality foods and produce. Stalls include the Portland Scallop Co, an independent fishmongers selling line caught seafood from Chesil Beach in Dorset, and The Borough Cheese Company.
- Cafe junkies should find time to visit artisan bakery Breads Etcetera, specialist coffee house The Black Lab, and sample the mouth watering pastries at Esca deli.
- There are two outstanding butchers in Clapham, M. Moen & Sons on The Pavement and The Ginger Pig in Abbeville Village.
- The Library Building on Clapham High Street is a new addition to the area and has a fantastic library and health centre on the ground floor.
- Clapham Leisure Centre has a swimming pool and runs over 50 group exercise classes a week. There is also a well equipped Soho Gym on the High Street.
Sitting proudly in the centre of the area, the 89 hectare Clapham Common is great for sun worshippers, dog walkers and frisbee flingers alike, with a packed calendar of events to enjoy in the summer months. One of the largest open spaces in London, the common boasts a number of different playing fields, a playgroup for children, paddling pool and a Grade II listed bandstand. The community group Friends of Clapham Common plays an important role in maintaining the common’s recreational facilities and biodiversity.
In recent years Clapham has seen an unprecedented swathe of new property developments to cater for the area’s influx of new residents. The Yard offers a variety of apartments available under a shared ownership scheme, and Clapham One provided residents with a new leisure centre, library and health care centre, as well as numerous contemporary apartments.
Tube: Clapham has three Tube stations (Clapham North, Clapham Common and Clapham South) all in Zone 2 on the Northern Line. Journeys to the West End take about 15 minutes.
Overground: With a stop at Clapham High Street the Overground offers a link to Canada Water, Shoreditch High Street, Highbury & Islington and Clapham Junction.
Rail: Clapham Junction, although in neighbouring Battersea, is a major rail interchange, with regular trains to Victoria and Waterloo taking between six and ten minutes.
Bus: Local bus routes include numbers 35 (to Shoreditch), 39 (to Putney Bridge), 87 (to Aldwych), 219 (to Wimbledon) and 337 (to Richmond). A number of Clapham’s buses run 24 hour services and there are also several night bus routes, such as the N31 (to Camden) and the N35 (to Tottenham Court Road).
Cycle: Cyclists can take advantage of the Cycle Superhighway 7 running alongside Clapham Common.
Clapham has a wide selection of education options. Clapham Manor Primary School and St Mary’s RC Primary School are both just a ten minute walk from the High Street. For secondary schooling, the Lambeth Academy on Elms Road opened in 2004. The area surrounding Clapham Common is also home to private schools like Eaton House and the Clapham primary age outpost of Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle, Ecole Wix.
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