Five historical facts about Streatham for your lockdown walks
As we enter week two of another national lockdown, many of us have more time to reflect on our local surroundings. Thankfully Streatham has plenty to offer when it comes to historical interest. Below is a snapshot of a few places of interest that highlight some of the district’s diverse history.
Many of the facts below have been sourced from Streatham Village and Streatham Streets, two Local History Publications by John W Brown. Two very informative and entertaining journals.
St Leonards an ancient place of worship where lightning did strike twice
St Leonards has stood as a place of worship at the heart of Streatham for more than a thousand years. Some even believe it may have been the site of a Pagan Shrine due to a Roman votive figure found when they were digging the foundations for the English Martyrs Catholic Church.
The first church was a small chapel, built sometime after 675 AD. The church was rebuilt in the middle of the 14th century by Sir John Ward. When Sir John died he was buried beneath the church and his effigy erected at the base of the bell tower, the oldest part of the building. In 1777 lightning hit the tower and the falling masonry rendered the effigy limbless.
The church was rebuilt again in the early 19th century to accommodate a growing parish but leaving the tower remaining. However, in 1841, the tower’s wooden spire was burnt down after another lightning strike and a new brick replacement was erected in its place.
The popularity of Streatham Mineral Wells but it wasn’t always a pleasant experience
It’s widely known that Streatham was made popular due to its mineral-rich waters and one of its original drinking wells still stands in the beautiful Rookery gardens.
The waters were discovered in 1659 when a farmer noticed that his horses were struggling to plough the ground and then spotted a small natural spring. Later that year, thirsty workmen discovered and drank the water and later experienced its ‘purging’ effects. At the time, regular bowel movements were associated with good health and soon people were travelling to benefit from the water’s properties.
However, this wasn’t reported to be a pleasant experience – the water had an unpleasant, sickly taste and apparently smelt like boiled eggs. Smell and taste aside, it was reported to be three times as potent as those to be had at Epsom and there was no shortage of takers. Anyone who has held their nose in order to drink medicinal drinks tonics must surely empathise.
Well House – a hidden landmark
In the late 1780s, the original well became contaminated but thankfully a new spring had already been discovered off Valley Road and the trade was transferred to its new site. A house was erected in the late 18th century to accommodate the pump.
The pump house was acquired by Thomas Curtis who established a dairy farm on the site. Both milk and mineral water were delivered to local residents until the well was damaged by a bomb in 1942.
Thankfully Well House remains standing and is one of the oldest residential buildings in Streatham. It is located in Well Close alongside retirement housing. However, we wonder how many locals are aware of its role in Streatham’s history.
Curtis Brothers Dairies
When their father Thomas died, the three Curtis brothers took over the dairy and with much hard work they built up their business that led to them acquiring a number of neighbouring dairies. They invested in the latest machinery and in 1928, following a merger with United Dairies, Streatham’s dairy was considered to be amongst the finest in the world.
The site was owned by Unigate before it was sold to build new housing – now a popular housing estate known as The Old Dairy. Unigate Woods named after the one-time dairy, contains many fine examples of native mature and semi-mature trees.
Gleneldon Mews – from stables to mechanical horsepower
It’s well worth a visit to Gleneldon Mews, one of the last remaining cobbled streets of Streatham. You can still see the original purpose of the buildings which were used as stables from the late 19th century until the 1920s when most had been converted to garages and workshops. In the 1950s two young entrepreneurs set up a workshop to renovate old cars, transforming them into smart new looking models. Walking down the Mews you will see a good number of mechanics still operating from the same buildings.
Streatham has a wealth of history from Roman times to more recent memories. Next week we’ll be sharing stories from The Shrubbery and other one time landmarks.
Written by: KoyahPR