Streatham is a district in south London, England, mostly in the London Borough of Lambeth. It is centred south of Charing Cross. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.
Streatham means "the hamlet on the street". The street in question, the London to Brighton Way, was the Roman road from the capital Londinium to the south coast near Portslade, today within Brighton and Hove. It is likely that the destination was a Roman port now lost to coastal erosion, which has been tentatively identified with 'Novus Portus' mentioned in Ptolemy's Geographia. The road is as with many confusingly referred to as Stane Street (Stone Street) in some sources and diverges from the main London-Chichester road at Kennington.
After the departure of the Romans, the main road through Streatham remained an important trackway. From the 17th century it was adopted as the main coach road to Croydon and East Grinstead, and then on to Newhaven and Lewes. In 1780 it then became the route of the turnpike road from London to Brighton, and subsequently became the basis for the modern A23. This road (and its traffic) have shaped Streatham's development.
Streatham's first parish church, St Leonard's was founded in Saxon times but an early Tudor tower remains is the only structure pre-1831 which the church has as it was rebuilt. The mediaeval parish covered a wider area by including Balham and Tooting Bec. Streatham Cemetery on Garratt Lane on the borders of Wimbledon is one of the few remaining indications of how far west Streatham once extended.
Streatham appears in Domesday Book of 1086 as Estreham. It was held by Bec-Hellouin Abbey (in Normandy) from Richard de Tonbrige. Its domesday assets were: 2 hides, 1 virgate and 6½ ploughlands of cultivated land and of meadow and herbage (mixed grass and bracken). Annually it was assessed to render £4 5s 0d to its overlords.
Streatham Village and Streatham Wells
The village remained largely unchanged until the 18th century, when the village's natural springs, known as Streatham Wells, were first celebrated for their health-giving properties. The reputation of the spa, and improved turnpike roads, attracted wealthy City of London merchants and others to build their country residences in Streatham.
In spite of London's expansion around the village, a limited number of developments took place in the village in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, most notably on Wellfield Road and Sunnyhill Road. These roads are today considered an important part of what remains of the historic Streatham Village as they found little or no influence from the growth of metropolitan London.
Wellfield Road, which had previously been known as Leigham Lane, was renamed to reflect its role as the main route from the village centre to one of the well locations. Another mineral well was located on the south side of Streatham Common, in an area that now forms part of The Rookery.
Streatham Park or Streatham Place
In the 1730s, Streatham Park, a Georgian country mansion, was built by the brewer Ralph Thrale on land he bought from the Lord of the Manor - the fourth Duke of Bedford. Streatham Park later passed to Ralph's son Henry Thrale, who with his wife Hester Thrale entertained many of the leading literary and artistic characters of the day, most notably the lexicographer Samuel Johnson. The dining room contained 12 portraits of Henry's guests painted by his friend Joshua Reynolds. These pictures were wittily labelled by Fanny Burney as the Streatham Worthies.
One large house that survives is Park Hill, on the north side of Streatham Common, rebuilt in the early 19th century for the Leaf family. It was latterly the home of Sir Henry Tate, sugar refiner, benefactor of local libraries across south London, including Streatham Library, and founder of the Tate Gallery at Millbank.
Development accelerated after the opening of Streatham Hill railway station on the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway in 1856. The other two railway stations followed within fifteen years. Some estates, such as Telford Park to the west of Streatham Hill, were spaciously planned with facilities like tennis clubs. Despite the local connections to the Dukes of Bedford, there is no link to the contemporary Bedford Park in west London. Another generously sized development was Roupell Park, the area near Christchurch Road promoted by the Roupell family. Other streets adopted more conventional suburban layouts. Three more parish churches were built to serve the growing area, including Immanuel and St Andrew's (1854), St Peter's (1870) and St Margaret the Queen's (1889). There is now a mixture of buildings from all architectural eras of the past 200 years.
The inter-war period
After the First World War Streatham developed as a location for entertainment, with Streatham Hill Theatre (now a bingo hall), three cinemas, the Locarno ballroom (latterly Caesar's nightclub, which closed in 2010) and Streatham Ice Rink all adding to its reputation as "the West End of South London". With the advent of electric tram services it also grew as a shopping centre serving a wide area to the south. In the 1930s large numbers of blocks of flats were constructed along High Road. These speculative developments were not initially successful. They were only filled when émigré communities began to arrive in London after leaving countries under the domination of Hitler's Germany. In 1932 the parish church of the Holy Redeemer was built in Streatham Vale to commemorate the work of William Wilberforce.
Retail decline and recovery
In the 1950s Streatham had the longest and busiest shopping street in south London. Streatham became the site of the UK's first supermarket, when Express Dairies Premier Supermarkets opened its first store in 1951; Waitrose subsequently opened its first supermarket in Streatham in 1955, but it closed down in 1963.
However, a combination of factors led to a gradual decline through the 1970s and a more rapid decline in the 1980s. These included long term population movements out to Croydon, Kingston and Sutton; the growth of heavy traffic on the A23 (main road from central London to Gatwick Airport and Brighton); and a lack of redevelopment sites in the town centre. This culminated in 1990 when the closure of Pratt's, which had grown from a Victorian draper's shop to a department store operated since the 1940s by the John Lewis Partnership, coincided with the opening of a large Sainsbury's supermarket 1 km south of the town centre, replacing an existing, smaller Sainbury's store opposite Streatham Hill railway station.
Several recent additions, such as Argos, Lidl and Peacocks, are located in new retail spaces on the site of Pratt's but, in common with other high streets, retail recovery has been slow, and a substantial proportion of vacant space has been taken by a growing number of restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
In August 2011, Streatham was selected as one of the areas to benefit from Round 1 of the Mayor of London's Outer London Fund, gaining £300,000. Later, Streatham was awarded a further £1.6 million, matched by another £1 million by Lambeth. The money from this fund has and is being spent on improving streets and public spaces in Streatham. This includes the smartening up of shop fronts through painting and cleaning, replacing shutters and signage as well as helping to reveal facilities behind the high street such as The Stables Community Centre. Streatham Library has also undergone a £1.2 million refurbishment. This will provide both members of the local community and businesses with valuable work space, computer and internet facilities. When it reopens in March 2014, the Tudor Hall behind the library will provide a new performance space. The central reservation along the A23 is being removed, which involves some repaving and resurfacing, planting of new trees, and the creation of an enlarged bus and cycle lane. Streatham Skyline is introducing new lighting to highlight some of Streatham's more attractive buildings and monuments with the aim of improving safety and the overall attractiveness of the area. The Streatham Festival has benefited from The Outer London Fund.