Balham and Clapham may get all the press, but their close neighbour Streatham is fast becoming an attraction in its own right. From great restaurants and delis to notable historic figures like Sir Henry Tate and super-famous residents like Naomi Campbell, The Resident picks out the best bits of Streatham…
Words: Vicky Smith
I’m standing in a deli surrounded by freshly-baked bread, perfectly-rolled canoli, giant pastel-coloured meringues and a cheese selection to pique the interest of even the most discerning of shoppers. A lady pushing a pram walks through the door and enquires loudly if the store sells ‘super-fine Italian flour for making pasta’. It’s a scene that isn’t uncommon in London, but up until fairly recently, it wasn’t one you might have expected to encounter in Streatham.
For those in the know, Streatham’s always had plenty to appeal, and the area’s never been short of fans – Sir Henry Tate called Streatham home for many years (he even part-funded the library on the high road, as well as his slightly higher-profile eponymous art gallery), while 45 years ago, a girl called Naomi was born and grew up there, before strutting her way onto pretty much every catwalk in the world. But this large swathe of South West London is often overlooked in favour of neighbouring trendy Brixton, or the more affluent Balham and Clapham, and the seemingly never-ending high road has been the butt of many a joke. However, things are changing, so much so that SW16 is now very much the place to be.
Let’s start with that high road, which is apparently the longest shopping street in the UK (it also used to be home to the UK’s biggest dancefloor. RIP, Caesar’s nightclub). While the lengthy stretch doesn’t have the aesthetically pleasing credentials of Bellevue Parade, or villagey-feel of Northcote Road, what it does have is character, and tons of it. It’s flanked by some of the finest Art Deco architecture you’ll find in south-west London, and the wide pavements mean that plenty of the cafes can provide places for people to sit outside. It’s also pretty handy: as well as three overground stations on or just off it, there are several excellent independent food shops – from Polish delicatessens to Halal butchers – alongside a new crop of trendy restaurants and bars that are popping up to serve the area’s new generation of residents.
One resident who’s really noticed the shift in Streatham is Wendy Rogers, who bought a home in SW16 nine years ago, and has watched the area changing to adapt to the influx of ‘newbies’: ‘It has always been lovely,’ says Rogers, ‘but it has really changed, mainly in the last five years. The biggest difference I’ve seen is in the amount of new flats and building conversions.’
And this faced-paced development really is impossible to ignore – the former site of the ice rink is now an enormous Tesco, surrounded by an incredibly smart collection of flats and apartments you’re usually more used to seeing on the banks of the river. More developments are in the pipeline, with the former Caesar’s and Megabowl site soon to be transformed into ‘London Square’, a collection of high-spec flats that will change this part of the high street immeasurably.
Add to this the rather impressive array of places to eat – The Hamlet, Hood and Perfect Blend are just a few of the places turning the heads of passing locals, and drawing diners from further away, too – and you’re looking at a neighbourhood that’s got a huge amount going for it.
But living in Streatham is about more than just going out for brunches or to bars – its natural green spaces are a huge lure for those with families, and Streatham Common is a hive of dog-walking and jogging activity every weekend. There’s also The Rookery, a secret garden-esque plot in the middle of the common where you can head for a secluded afternoon surrounded by manicured flower beds, while over on Tooting Common, there’s the Lido (England’s largest fresh-water swimming pool) and an athletics track that’s open to the public. Back on the high road, the ice rink has been reincarnated, and there’s a smart new leisure centre, a large cinema and The Hideaway jazz bar, an intimate venue with an eclectic line-up.
It’s unsurprising to learn that with so much going on, property prices in Streatham have been on the rise constantly year-on-year since 2005, with a hike of 12.1% in the average price from 2014-2015. And it doesn’t look like the draw of Streatham shows any sign of abating – the new developments are snapped up before completion, while the Victorian terraces and larger, detached properties are sought-after by families drawn by the strong selection of local schools (Dunraven, Streatham and Clapham High, and Bishop Thomas Grant are all popular choices).
If you’ve always bypassed Streatham in favour of its high-profile neighbours, now’s the time to take a fresh new look.