Balham is not a parish in itself, and, like
many other suburban neighbourhoods which have grown up since London began to
live out of town, it is difficult to say where it begins and where it ends.
Perhaps its situation is best described in the language of the geographer, as it
is bounded on the north by Clapham Common, on the west by Wandsworth Common, and
on the east and south by Tooting Common. It is thus peculiarly favoured with the
possession of what is known as 'open spaces;' and including also a very fair
share of well-wooded land yet unbuilt upon, it should be, and doubtless is, one
of the healthiest spots in the suburbs of South London.
Balham has very little antiquity, and no history worth speaking about. ... Its modern life dates from the beginning of the present century, when a few houses of class now seen on the borders of Clapham Common - comfortable roomy mansions, though not perhaps remarkable for their elegance - began to be erected in the high-road. Balham Hill Chapel, intended as a chapel of ease to Streatham Church, and about as ugly a specimen of an ecclesiastical structure as can be found, was built in 1807, and still remains a monument of what monstrosities in the way of architectural art our grandfathers were capable of. For a long time the residents of Balham were confined to what are termed 'carriage people,' and a few labourers and gardeners; but when the Brighton Company constructed their West-end route to the Crystal Palace, they opened a station at Balham; and the place soon become revolutionised. A large portion of the land was cut up into building plots, and at the Clapham end a series of fine roads were made.
In the angle formed by the Balham Hill-road and Nightingale-lane are a number of handsome thoroughfares with just that mixture of the practical and picturesque which appeals at once to the taste of the suburban home-seeker. On the other side also of Balham Hill the builder has been at work, and taking these two sections there will be found a capital choice of homes ranging from 40l. to 60l. or 70l. per annum.
Proceeding along the main road from the station towards Upper Tooting, the road is fringed with a succession of very fine houses, all of which have extensive gardens, and not one of which would be of less rental than 100l.per annum, which the majority would be far in excess of that amount. One noteworthy feature common to most of the houses here is the taste with which the gardens in front, in many cases very spacious, have been laid out. In no other part of London do we remember to have seen so much care displayed in this direction, and what with the abundant foliage and the gay colours of the parterres the Balham Hill-road is about as pleasant a place for a promenade as we know.
On the right of the Balham-road a number of new roads have been recently formed leading in the direction of Wandsworth Common. Balham Park-road, Upper Tooting Park, St. Nicholas-road, are all pretty roads, in which at present the houses are but few and far between, and consequently have a charming rural air which has not yet been spoilt by any ugly specimens of the modern gingerbread residence. It is one great recommendation of Balham that is has no back slums. All is of an 'eminently respectable' character, and no wonder is has been chosen as a place of residence by so many of the wealthy. In the neighbourhood of the roads just mentioned are some excellent plots of land to be let for building.
Proceeding still farther down the Balham-road, Streatham-lane is reached, and Upper Tooting begins. From this point Tooting Common is but a few minutes walk, and a very pretty sample of a Surrey common it is. It has during the last two years come under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Board, and will be preserved for ever as an open space. A long avenue of trees runs nearly due north and south, and divides the common into two portions; one called Tooting Graveney, a corruption of Gravenell, the name of a former owner, and Tooting Beck ...
There is a rusticity about Tooting Common, which Clapham Common, charming as it is, hsa not, and the people of Balham are to be envied its close contiguity.
Bordering Streatham-lane, and extending from the Balham-road to Tooting Graveney, is an estate called the Elms, of some thirty acres in extent. This house - a large rambling structure covering a considerable area - and grounds are now to let, and in probability will share the fate which modern demands have created for estates near London. There are scarcely any houses bordering the common, which, to say the truth, has almost at times a deserted appearance, so few are the passengers. Towards the north, however, a large piece of land is to be let, and this no doubt will be the precursor of similar announcements.
The common is in parts rather rough, and abounds in heath and gorse; a portion has been partially smoothed for cricket, but much more remains to be done ere it can compete with Clapham in the estimation of the wielders of the willow. Midway across the Tooting Beck Common is the Bedford Hill-road, a handsome road over a mile in length, leading back to Balham.
The Bedford Hill Estate consists of about 166 acres of land, and was purchased some years ago by Mr. Alderman Cubitt, who built a large house on the estate, and resided there for a considerable time. At the commencement of the road, and overlooking the common, is the Priory, long to be associated with the mysterious death of Mr. Bravo. The house and grounds are very picturesque, the former standing back a considerable distance from the road, and partially surrounded with trees. A portion of the grounds is now being built upon, and three or four large houses have already been erected close to the road. Bedford Hill-road, taken as a whole, is exceedingly pretty. There are at present houses only on one side for nearly a mile, the other side being entirely open meadow-land, with a belt of fine trees fringing the road at intervals.
The houses are of the best class of villas, and would range probably from 70l. to 200l. The situation is certainly delightful, but will be less so as time goes on, the estate on the opposite side being now to let on building leases. Approaching the Balham Hill-road there are signs of activity as regards building operations. A large estate on the right is rapidly taking form, and houses at moderate rents are weekly being completed. This is evidently only the beginning of the building campaign. The neighbourhood is now in a verdant state, but go in what direction we will the same announcement 'This land to be let on building leases,' is to be seen.
Nothing shows the recent formation of a district more than the shops, and in Balham the shops are essentially fresh and new. There are not many of them, but what there are - especially those in Bedford Hill-road and in the Balham-road, near the railway station - are good of their kind, and no doubt, as the residents increase, the business element will increase also. For any one who can afford to wait, and will trade on the principle of selling a good article at a fair price, there is scarcely a better neighbourhood to be found than Balham.
There is, perhaps, a little drawback so far as its suitability as a place of residence for business men is concerned - the communication with the City is not very good. Some of the Clapham omnibuses from London Bridge come as far as Tooting and Balham, but the ride, though pretty, is tedious.
The route to London Bridge via the Crystal Palace occupies half an hour, and via Tulse hill, by a few semi-express trains, twenty-seven minutes. To Victoria the journey is much shorter, the ordinary trains taking nineteen minutes, while a few afternoon express trains from Victoria occupy but ten minutes. This fact must, to some extent, affect the neighbourhood, and make it the suburban residence of the business men of the West-end rather than that of the denizens of the City.
Balham parochially is in the parish of Streatham, and is therefore under the jurisdiction of the Wandsworth Direct Board of Works. Having scarcely any poor, for Streatham is the home of the wealthy, the poor-rates should be low; but coupled as Streatham is with Battersea and Wandsworth, where the poor are in a much larger proportion, the rate does not come much below that of other parishes. Taking the rates all round, it may be estimated that they reach an average of 1s. in the pound per annum.
At present place of worship do not abound. Besides St. Mary's, there is a church built within the last few years, and dedicated to St. Nicholas; and a Congregational church, and these comprise the list. The congregation of the latter at present worship in a temporary place; but an admirable site for a permanent building has been secured in the main road, and building operations will shortly be commenced.
The Suburban Homes of London, 1881