Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published April 11th 2014
A Green Oasis
Clapham Common is one of the largest open spaces in London, and has a history dating back to 1086, when its presence was first recorded in the Doomsday Book. The land used to be owned by the parishes of Battersea and Clapham, as evidenced by the presence of Holy Trinity Church, which opened in 1776. In 1878, however, it was bought by the Metropolitan, and turned into a park.
Clapham Common has been host to many events over the years, which includes the annual The South West Four Music Festival and George Irvin's annual Easter Funfair. After attending the latter, I decided to have a wander round.
The park is divided into two halves, separated by a road. If you are walking from Clapham South Tube Station, as I was, then the first section you will come across is on The Ave, where you will find a large air-raid shelter. It is one of a network of deep shelters that were built in the 1940s to protect Londoners from the Blitz. The shelters connect via a sixteen hundred foot tunnel that travels under the tube stations between Clapham South to Stockwell. With sleeping, eating, and medical facilities, it was designed to accommodate over nine and a half thousand people.
The common is used by different sports clubs, and individuals, with tennis courts, basket ball courts, cricket nets, and open grassland to play football.
Cross the road, and you will reach Mount Pond, one of the common's three historic ponds. With several fishing points, any licensed angler can fish during season. There a variety of species, including carp, roach, tench and bream.
I don't have the patience for fishing, and would much rather spend my time watching the birds swim. I caught sight of a goose in the middle of an afternoon bathe. Out spread its wings, down went its head, up it popped, and gave a shake.
Further along is the Victorian bandstand. Built in 1890, it is a Grade II listed building, and the largest bandstand in London. Unfortunately, it suffered from years of neglect by Lambeth council, and in 2001 was on the verge of collapse. For five years it was held up by scaffolding, until receiving a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and able to be restored. Next door to the bandstand is La Baita, an Italian cafe where you can grab a bit to eat.
Alternatively, you may wish to take advantage of the wide open space, and have a picnic outside. Numerous families were sitting on the grass enjoying a sandwich. And if the kids weren't eating, they were playing in playground, which host all your usual equipment, including swings, slides, monkey bars, climbing frames, and a blue train, which they could 'drive'.
While the kids expel their energy in the playground, you can always get some exercise by going for a run, and following the path of Victorian gas lamps. I think these are my favourite feature of the park.
If you're not into running, get your best friend to do the hard work; just throw a ball and say 'fetch'. Clapham Common is doggy central, not just for owners, but professional dog walkers too. I saw one guy with five on a lead.
The next historic pond, is Eagle Pond, which underwent extensive refurbishment in 2002. It was drained, landscaped, and replanted to provide a better habitat for the fish. While you can fish here, you are asked not to feed the ducks. There is a rather amusing sign that says 'bread contains calcium and other nutrients needed by babies, children, and adults. Not ducks.'
While Mount and Eagle Pond are serene bodies of glistening water, the Long Pond further ahead is more foreboding. Although sculpted and surrounded by paving stones, it actually acts like a sea in a storm, with turmoil waves that even the ducks were fighting against. Perhaps this is intentional because the pond is used for model boat racing.
One stop over is Clapham Common's skate park. This site was open land until the Second World War, when a large set of changing rooms were built. These were demolished in 2002, and a skate park built in its place. Thanks to the London Marathon Charitable Trust, the skate park was expanded in 2012 to make it more exciting.
Continue down the path and you will see a large statue mounted on a fountain. Dated 1884, the inscription gives states it is a 'gift of the United Kingdom Temperance & General Provident Institution'. UK Total Abstinence Life was an insurance company aimed at teetotallers founded in 1940. In 1949, they changed their name to the United Kingdom Temperance & General Provident Institution. It is hard to tell, but I think the statue is of two people drinking some kind of beverage, and the fountain probably represents the purity of water.
Clapham Common definitely has a lot of water, and there is even more opposite. Well not at the moment, but I am guessing there will be shortly. The paddling pool next to Holy Trinity Church is empty at the moment, but once summer rears its head, I expect the area will be opened up to the public. Until then, you can paddle in a flooded patch of grass.