The Grand Houses of Streatham
There is no doubt that Streatham has a wealth of history, with many quirky and interesting stories from its 934 year history.
Some beautiful architecture remains but sadly none of the buildings described below have survived, However, we still have The White House on Norwood Grove to remind us of the grandeur of this one time hamlet.
Once again, we must credit the wonderful history journals of John W Brown for the facts and anecdotes below. They are fascinating reads, see here for a full list of publications.
Many found quiet and contentment walking in the Rookery Gardens during the spring lockdown, so many in fact that Lambeth Council Council closed the gates for a few weeks.
The Rookery itself began life a large house, built on the site of Streatham Manor and likely named after the many rooks that nested in the nearby trees. It was built for a London merchant who acquired the Streatham Mineral Wells and designed by architect Michael Searles. The building had five large windows on each of its three floors, providing panoramic views over the countryside.
The house was purchased by London County Council in 1912 and demolished the following year – we could not find any specific reason for this. The Rookery Gardens we know today were planted in its place and remain a not so hidden gem, more than 100 years later.
The Rectory building dated back to at least 1535 and was enlarged several times over the centuries.
It stood on the site now occupied by the Spires Centre and was surrounded by large gardens, its eastern boundary fronted onto Streatham High Road.
During the residency of Reverend Herbert Hill, the celebrated author Jane Austin visited The Rectory several times to see her friend Catherine Bigg-Wither, who was married to the rector.
Its link to literary talent also extended to poet laureate Robert Southey. Robert was nephew to Reverend Hill and frequently stayed with him. It was here in 1813 that Southey first told the story of the Three Bears.
The Rectory was home to Streatham’s longest-serving Rector, Canon John Nicholl for 61 years. Nicoll died in 1905 aged 96 years and the Rectory was demolished in 1907. A church hall was erected on the site in memory of Canon Nicholl.
What is now Central Parade, a busy row of shops opposite Pratts and Payne, was once a grand Georgian Mansion called The Shrubbery. Reverend James Tattersall had it built in 1768 because he did not find the Streatham Rectory worthy enough for a man of his standing. Tattersall was also Rector of St Paul’s in Covent Garden so was likely used to finer things. He paid for the house himself at a reputed cost of £14,000 – equivalent to £2,378,419 in today’s money*.
The Shrubbery was three stories high with a huge gate at the back, a grand staircase, temples, summer houses and three underground tunnels. The rear of the property had a verandah that ran the length of the building providing stunning views of the countryside.
Tattersall spent a lot of time transforming his garden with decorative statues, ornaments and furniture. He would also travel good distances in the search of trees and reputedly formed unusual looking structures by placing the roots upwards.
The Shrubbery was sold after Tattersall died in 1784 and was occupied by a number of wealthy residents before it became Streatham High School for Girls and later Streatham College for Girls – apparently the pupils during this time earned the building the nickname ‘The Snobbery!’.
It was demolished in 1935 to make way for Central Parade pictured.
On a site now occupied by the likes of Paddy Power, The Launderette and Energy Fitness, once stood a large, red brick mansion called Bedford House. In 1782 it was bought by Daniel Macnamara, agent to the Duke of Bedford, the Lord of the Manor of Streatham and Tooting Bec. The building was subsequently redeveloped to stand five stories high with a semi-basement and top floor attic providing accommodation for eight live-in servants. Two long corridors ran either side of the house to provide a covered passageway from the high road. The house contained a magnificent double staircase which swept up from each end of the house.
The Duke purchased the house and resided there whenever he visited Streatham – which is how it took its name. Macnamara continued to live there and the two men were close friends of the Prince Regent who would occasionally stay at Bedford House.
In 1785, the Duke acquired 22 acres of land on which he created a park, incorporating a large boating lake with two small islands. Streatham residents were permitted to skate on the lake during the icier days of winter. The Duke sold the property and there was a succession of owners before it was purchased by George Pratt, owner of the original department store. Pratt developed the extensive grounds of the house and it became the Bedford Park Estate.
Sir William Grantham, MP for Croydon rented the property from 1874 to 1880 but sadly after he moved on, the building was used as a furniture depository.
In 1889 Pratt built a shop on the High Road frontage of the property as a wedding gift for his son who ran a tailoring business. That particular shop front is now Energie Fitness and a plaque with the initials of George and his wife and the year of the wedding can still be seen on the first floor. See plaque pictured.
The rest of the wonderful mansion was sadly destroyed by a fire in 1936 and despite the best efforts of the firefighters, the length of time it was ablaze was too much for the building to survive.
Credit: Streatham Village by John W Brown
We’ll be updating with snippets from Streatham’s history over the coming months. But our next instalment will look at the grand designs the wonderful people of Streatham are creating to celebrate Streatham this year.
* Source: Office of National Statistics
Written by: KoyahPR