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An increasingly popular south London suburb situated between Tooting and Clapham. Baelgenham, which probably means ‘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. Continued growth led to the establishment of shops, with more than 20 businesses in place by the 1820s. More villas followed, often with fine gardens, but these began to be overrun by suburban housebuilding following the arrival of the railway in 1856. A year earlier, Balham had become a parish in its own right, gaining independence from Streatham. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the Hyde Farm and Heaver estates completed the build-up. Twentieth century construction mainly replaced existing properties, in some cases with blocks of flats. 57 per cent of 16 to 74-year-olds in Balham are qualified to degree level or higher. Balham was famously dubbed ‘Gateway to the South’ in Peter Sellers’ rendition of a sketch by Frank Muir and Denis Norden, and “the ugliest and most abominable of London’s unpleasing suburbs,” by Swallows and Amazons author Arthur Ransome who stayed here briefly.

click for area map (opens in a new window)
Balhamites get to work by bike and train, as these railings opposite the station demonstrate

Postal district: SW12
Population: 12,840
Station: Northern Line and Southern (Zone 3)
Further reading: Patrick Loobey, Balham and Tooting, Tempus, 2001


Brewer's London Phrase & Fable

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