Streatham is a district in South London, England, located mostly in the London Borough of Lambeth but with some parts in the London Borough of Wandsworth. It is situated 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 coast near Portslade. It is likely that the destination was a Roman port now lost to coastal erosion, which has been tentatively identified with the 'Novus Portus' mentioned in Ptolemy's Geographia. The road is confusingly referred to as Stane Street in some sources, although it 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, dates back to Saxon times, although only the mediaeval tower remains in the present church. The mediaeval parish covered an extensive area, including Balham and Tooting Bec. The location of Streatham Cemetery on Garratt Lane 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 and 1 virgates; 6½ ploughs, of meadow, and herbage. It rendered £4 5s 0d.
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.
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 - a department store, which had grown from a Victorian draper's shop, and had been 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 old, smaller Sainbury's store opposite Streatham Hill railway station.
More recently Sainsbury's opened smaller 'Local' branches on High Road and on Streatham Hill, near the site of the Streatham's first Sainsbury's store (opened in 1895). 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.