Nightingale Lane runs from Clapham Common to Wandsworth Common and was originally a rural track that local yokels used to drive their cattle from one common land to the other in search of grazing before this part of the world was swallowed up by the expansion of London in the 19th century.
It continues to connect the two commons but it’s a long time since farm animals have been herded along it. Nowadays you are more likely to spot middle class locals walking to the train or tube stations at either end. The architecture of the lane is mixed with many unusual – and often lovely – buildings
Clapham South tube station marks the eastern beginning of the lane which rolls gently downhill for much of its length before rising more sharply towards Bolingbroke Grove where it reaches the edge of Wandsworth Common and comes to an end.
Coming out of Clapham South you first see the strange surface building he of the abandoned deep air raid shelter the stands on the edge of Clapham Common that kept 8,000 Londoners safe during the blitz. It leads down to underground tunnels and spaces where locals hid from the dropping bombs.
The Lane became populated in the early 19th century by a number of mansions for the very well to do which included grounds and orchards long since built over by the streets of smaller houses that run behind Nightingale Lane on both sides and came about as a consequence of the railway arriving in the second half of the century. Turning sharp left out of the tube station and past a small arcade of shops which includes a florist (very good, very expensive) and fishmonger (very good, very expensive) there are a succession of these mansions, almost all of which have been converted into private prep schools (also very good, very expensive).
Then there are the Clapham Mansions – which are not mansions at all but rather a long row of flats – in front of which Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders once taught Johnny Rotten of the SexPistols how to play guitar. She was also proposed to by Sid Vicious in this part of town (also of The Sex Pistols) as a way of him helping her stay in the country (she is American and was threatened with deportation). She lived in Englewood Road at the time. Unfortunately the registration office was closed on the day they tried and they never did rearrange a new time.
There are some lovely blocks of flats along the lane, the finest of which is Hightrees House, an Art Deco pile built in 1929 and originally called High Trees House. There must be less space there than there used to be….
Just up the Lane is a lovely red-brick Edwardian house where the cartoonist H.M.Bateman lived in his teenage years according to the blue plaque on it and across the road from that there is another (albeit less pretty) Art Deco block called Thurleigh Court. This one dates from the 1930’s. It has yet more punk connections. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McClaren lived here during the crazy years of punk rock and one of her children still has a flat here.
Squeezed between Thurleigh Court and the petrol station is a small gated community of six or so modern houses that are less than ten years old. Less said about the houses and gated communities the better but it does have a lovely name: Clavering Place. To claver is to gossip without giving too much away. The entire plot of land used to belong to a single quite small house.
There is a lovely little collection of what were probably out houses to a mansion across the road. They must go back to the early 19th century and they have a feel of Jane Asten to them. Here is one:
The terrace of shops that lead on from the corner of Endlesham Road match a terrace of houses in that street. They have lovely ornate features made from terracotta.
Perhaps my favourite piece of architecture is an old wall that separates the gorgeous villa with its outstanding Italianate tower from the large semi-detached property next door.
Apparently the rather grand owner of no. 74 objected to the erection of the new semi and built a large wall directly in front of it so that people could not look from the semi into the grounds of the mansion. Sounds like a friendly neighbour. The mansion is of course a private prep school these days.
The Nightingale Pub is across the road and it needs only one tribute. It is the finest pub in London dating back to 1853. It remains a village pub even as it finds itself in the city. Please don’t go there.
There is an imposing looking Italianate villa previously called Ferndale which has been renamed as the Home for Aged Jews for over a century right and sits at the low point of the Lane. It has sadly been ruined by the 1970’s monstrous extension on the side of the original building.
From there on the walk up the hill to Wandsworth Common has little of interest apart from a spectacularly ugly Mormon church which sits on the final corner of the Lane opposite the park land. Still, there are always lots of smart young people in suits hanging around the area on Sundays.