Balham, Wandsworth

An increasingly popular south London suburb situated between Tooting and Clapham

Balham - Hearnville Road - geograph-4421640-by-Des-Blenkinsopp

Bael­gen­ham, which prob­a­bly meant ‘smooth or round­ed enclo­sure’, was estab­lished around the eighth cen­tu­ry, when wood­land still cov­ered much of the area. It remained an insignif­i­cant ham­let until the mid-1770s, when the first large hous­es began to appear on Bal­ham Hill.

St Mary’s church opened for wor­ship in 1808 as a pro­pri­etary chapel. It was enlarged in 1824 and has been mod­i­fied sev­er­al times since then.

Con­tin­ued growth led to the estab­lish­ment of shops, with more than 20 busi­ness­es oper­at­ing by the 1820s. More vil­las fol­lowed, often with fine gar­dens. Of the few that remain from the ear­ly 19th cen­tu­ry, the best and least altered is Mans­bridge House (present­ly called Swan House), at 207 Bal­ham High Road. It is now home to the Eve­line day school. A few more late-Geor­gian sur­vivors are clus­tered along Bal­ham Grove and Old Devon­shire Road.

The vil­las began to be over­run by sub­ur­ban house­build­ing fol­low­ing the arrival of the rail­way in 1856 (a year after St Mary’s was giv­en its own parish). Towards the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry the Hyde Farm and Heaver estates com­plet­ed the build-up.

Bal­ham board school (lat­er Bal­ham sec­ondary school) opened on the south side of Hearnville Road in 1905. The pleas­ing bay-front­ed ter­races on the oth­er side of Hearnville Road are shown in the pho­to­graph above.*

Designed by Charles Hold­en, Bal­ham tube sta­tion opened in 1926 on the Mor­den exten­sion of what became the North­ern line.

Entrance and stairway in Balham station
The ground-lev­el inte­ri­or of Bal­ham sta­tion, reflect­ed in a con­vex mir­ror

20th-cen­tu­ry res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion projects main­ly involved the replace­ment of exist­ing prop­er­ties, in some cas­es with blocks of flats – of which the most mon­u­men­tal is Du Cane Court (1935–8). Inevitably, more apart­ment blocks have fol­lowed in the 21st cen­tu­ry.

The Inner Lon­don Edu­ca­tion Author­i­ty great­ly expand­ed Bal­ham sec­ondary school in 1975, eras­ing Kate Street and Dendy Street (and all their hous­es) in the process. It was renamed Hyde­burn school (after a stream that ran near­by), which has since evolved into Chest­nut Grove Acad­e­my.

Bal­ham was harsh­ly described as “the ugli­est and most abom­inable of London’s unpleas­ing sub­urbs,” by Swal­lows and Ama­zons author Arthur Ran­some who stayed here briefly. Niko­laus Pevs­ner rat­ed the Odeon (lat­er Lib­er­ty) cin­e­ma as the only build­ing of archi­tec­tur­al inter­est on Bal­ham Hill – but a) it’s pret­ty much in Clapham (despite its SW12 address) and b) it’s now a wine ware­house, with flats above and behind. Balham’s half-dozen oth­er for­mer cin­e­mas have all been demol­ished, most­ly to make way for shops.

Balham was famously dubbed the ‘Gateway to the South’ in Peter Sellers’ rendition of a sketch by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, delivered in ‘American travelog style’.

Postal district: SW12
Population: 14,751 (2011 census)
Station: Northern line and Southern (zone 3)
Further reading: Patrick Loobey, Balham and Tooting (Archive Photographs: Images of England), Tempus, 2001
and Gregory K. Vincent, A History of Du Cane Court: Land, Architecture, People and Politics, Woodbine Press, 2008
Website: (updated infrequently)
See also: Bedford Hill
* The picture of Hearnville Road on this page is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Des Blenkinsopp, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.