Tooting, Wandsworth

A densely populated multiracial district situated west of Streatham, recently reinvented as one of London’s coolest neighbourhoods

St Georges Hospital - Tooting - geograph-2829072-by-Peter-Trimming

The name is of uncer­tain Anglo-Sax­on ori­gin and may have referred to ‘the peo­ple of the look­out place’. The manors of Toot­ing (sub­se­quent­ly Toot­ing Graveney) and Toot­ing Bec were in exis­tence by the time of Domes­day Book and each became the cen­tre of a farm­ing vil­lage over the course of the Mid­dle Ages, in the val­leys of the Wan­dle and Graveney rivers.

In the 18th cen­tu­ry coun­try homes began to appear, includ­ing Hill House at Toot­ing Graveney and Furze­down House in the local­i­ty that bears its name. Hous­es also lined the High Street and a few of these ear­ly build­ings have sur­vived.

The area attract­ed some vil­las and insti­tu­tions from the mid-19th cen­tu­ry, when Charles Dick­ens’ essay The Par­adise at Toot­ing exposed the wrong­do­ings at a farm­ing estab­lish­ment for pau­per chil­dren on Toot­ing Broad­way.

Toot­ing Junc­tion sta­tion opened in 1868 on the Toot­ing, Mer­ton and Wim­ble­don Rail­way. This did not imme­di­ate­ly stim­u­late sub­ur­ban growth but lat­er in the 19th cen­tu­ry the area between the sta­tion and Toot­ing Broad­way became the first part of Toot­ing Graveney to be filled with sub­ur­ban hous­ing.

Mean­while, devel­op­ment spread towards Toot­ing Bec from Bal­ham, although Toot­ing Com­mon was pre­served as open space. The main­line sta­tion was relo­cat­ed to its present posi­tion in 1894 and renamed Toot­ing.

The Lon­don Coun­ty Coun­cil built a cot­tage estate at Tot­ter­down Fields in the ear­ly years of the 20th cen­tu­ry, and the huge Toot­ing Bec lido opened in 1906, on the far east­ern edge of the dis­trict.

Toot­ing Broad­way sign­post

The arrival of the Under­ground in 1926 com­plet­ed Tooting’s trans­for­ma­tion from a pair of vil­lages into a Lon­don sub­urb; the medieval parish church was replaced and the fab­u­lous Grana­da cin­e­ma was built on the Broad­way.

Lat­er res­i­den­tial devel­op­ment has most­ly involved the replace­ment of for­mer insti­tu­tion­al build­ings, includ­ing hos­pi­tals – although St George’s remains and is one of the biggest hos­pi­tals in the coun­try. Its Atkin­son Mor­ley wing is shown in the pho­to­graph at the top of the page.*

Toot­ing has been called ‘Lit­tle South India’ for the size of its Asian – par­tic­u­lar­ly Tamil – pop­u­la­tion and for its vari­ety of afford­able South Indi­an restau­rants. The main streets have shops spe­cial­is­ing in Asian sweets and oth­er comestibles, jew­ellery and saris.

In recent years the dis­trict has also acquired a ‘hip­ster’ con­tin­gent and has appar­ent­ly been dubbed ‘the new Shored­itch’ – unlike­ly as that may sound. Equal­ly unex­pect­ed­ly, trav­el guide Lone­ly Plan­et named Toot­ing as one the world’s coolest neigh­bour­hoods in August 2017.

Perhaps because it has a silly sounding name, Tooting has been the setting for several television comedies, including Hugh and I and Citizen Smith, which used the Castle public house for location scenes. That pub is said to have been opened by John Wayne. (Other sources say he was a regular here. Hidden London does not believe this.)

Planetary expert Pete Mouginis-Mark named a Martian meteorite crater after his Tooting birthplace in 2005.

Tooting is (little-used) cockney rhyming slang for a light kiss, from Tooting Bec – a peck.

Postal district: SW17
Population: 46,941 (Wandsworth’s Tooting, Graveney and Furzedown wards, 2011 census)
Station: Thameslink and peak-hour Southern services (zone 3, on the Sutton Loop)
Further reading: Patrick Loobey, Balham and Tooting, Tempus, 2003 (out of print)
Websites: Tooting Life and Tooting History Group
Twitter: Tooting Insider
* The picture of St George’s Hospital at the top of this page is modified from an original photograph, copyright Peter Trimming, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence. The photo of the Tooting Broadway signpost is copyright Hidden London.