diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 02, 2019

There are two places in London where a '20' postcode rubs up against a '19'. Here's the other one.
SW20 is West Wimbledon.
SW19 is Wimbledon.
The SW20/19 borderline is four miles long and runs from South Merton to Wimbledon Common.
And almost all of that four miles, it turned out, I had never visited before. Even in this blog's 18th year, there are still fresh corners of London to be explored.

Welcome to South Merton, London's 9th least used station (thanks to infrequent trains and a tube station just up the road). It'll never have ticket gates, it'll never be step-free, it'll simply carry on being an island platform approached down precipitous steps, where Thameslink trains infrequently stop. Officially it's in SM4, a pitifully lowly postcode, whereas all the houses you can see to the left are in SW20 and all the houses you can see to the right are in SW19. This then is where my 20/19 journey begins.

Mostyn Road is a proper interwar suburban avenue, a phrase which I shall attempt not to repeat despite it describing most of the journey which lies ahead. Its finest feature is John Innes Park, named after exactly the man you think it was named after except not for the reason you might think. John was first and foremost a property developer and created the adjacent Merton Park estate, now recognised as a sought-after conservation area. His house in Watery Lane became a Horticultural Institute, which explains the compost, and when that moved out in the 1950s a grammar school took its place. John Major was its most famous pupil. The park is rustic Edwardian, and features twisty hedged paths, tennis courts and an Arts and Crafts style public convenience block. What's not to love?

Wimbledon Chase has a proper nucleus of old buildings, and a parade of evening eateries, and a terribly modern health centre which used to be a hospital. The boundary continues along Merton Hall Road, which is part of yet another conservation area because West Wimbledon's a bit like that. Its terraced villas are beautifully decorated with variegated brick and floral tiles, no house quite the same as its neighbour but forming a most satisfying whole. The line is eventually broken by Wimbledon College of Arts, formerly singular, whose alumni include Raymond 'Snowman' Briggs and last year's Turner Prize winner (sorry, two years ago, sorry).

Near the top end is a crossroads, one arm of which is Dundonald Road, where the tram stops. It was here that I finally found what I'd been looking for - a street sign labelled SW20 to the immediate left of a street sign labelled SW19. What I wanted was a 20/19 photo, but unfortunately Toynbee Road bends back at an acute angle so lining up the two signs didn't really work. That's a shame, because I think this is the only street corner in London where a 20/19 photo is possible, but at least I tried.

The postcode boundary hops across the South Western Main Line, the diverging railway crossed by an old footbridge that's probably the least impressive structure on the entire walk. An alleyway alongside the tracks then takes us to Albert Grove, which I mention only because I spotted a curiosity embedded in someone's front brickwork I've never seen anywhere else. It's a metal sign labelled S.W.20, positioned at the precise road junction where SW20 melts into SW19, presumably to help postal staff in their deliveries. As an added quirk, the raised lettering underneath reads 'Royal Label Factory', an august public body who once manufactured signposts and street furniture from their base in Stratford-upon-Avon (although this may be from their Chipping Norton period).

The Downs, which is a steep 'up', has another postcode curiosity. The entire road's in SW20 but the street sign was definitely manufactured with a 19 in raised lettering, now with a faded red 20 painted over the top. The sign on the opposite side of the road is of similar vintage but only says SW20, which may be a hint that the eastern side of The Downs used to be in one postcode but has been switched to another, or may have been a simple production error. Whatever, it accidentally provided the perfect '2019' image I didn't know I was looking for when I set out on my safari.

Climbing towards the Ridgway we've entered the realm of big detached houses and chunky courts filled with bespoke flats. West Wimbledon's high-value low-density is the very antithesis of the East End, yet somehow maintains a homely charm courtesy of good old-fashioned Twenties design. Wimbledon Common isn't far off, but has been permanently held at bay by a buffer of residential avenues and a golf course. The common's all in SW19 whereas the avenues are SW20, and I would never have thought to wander down them had I not been following the interface between the two zones. Cherry blossom's out, which seems very wrong at this time of year, and even the first buds of spring are starting to unfurl in Tudorbethan front gardens.

Further detached hideaways line Copse Hill, some more gable than wall, others only visible when the electric gates swing open. The roads closest to the common are private, fronted by warning notices for plebs, but a rustic architectural flavour makes the individual houses hard to hate. It takes confidence to have a Happy Christmas banner on your flagpole and an Edwardian racing car parked in front of your shrubbery. Find the right back lane, past the rugby club, and a track finally leads onto Wimbledon Common (which has proven extraordinarily difficult to reach from the south).

The SW20/19 boundary runs up the Beverley Brook as far as the point where the first tributary rolls in off the common. Here SW15 abuts and I can end my walk. It's been an estate agent's fantasy throughout.

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