diamond geezer

 Saturday, January 04, 2020

For my next SomethingTwenty postcode, SW20, we're off to Raynes Park. In official postcode district parlance it's West Wimbledon. In particular we're off to a sequence of Edwardian streets nicknamed the Apostles, not because any are named after Last Supper guests but simply because there are twelve of them [map]. If you consider Kingston Road and Bushey Road as the uprights of a ladder, then the Apostles are its twelve rungs. Its streets are flanked with sought-after two-bed terraces of the kind which excite estate agents, and its inhabitants are very much the kind of folk to have a Residents Association. This rather brilliant aerial photo may help you to visualise. And I've walked them all... plus the next seven streets off the top of the ladder making 20 in total. Those estate agents aren't wrong.

20 streets in SW20

Gore Road: This is the closest road to the station and the last of the twelve to be built, with work staring in 1907. It also sets the pattern for my walk. A street with small front gardens, none large enough for parking, so both sides are lined with cars. An unbroken terrace on each side. The southern end of the road sealed off to prevent through traffic. And bins everywhere. Merton's dustcart is just driving off, its crew of four hopping aboard leaving behind a scattering of brown, purple and green canisters.

Clifton Park Avenue: Even though all the houses are technically much the same, a century of ownership has gifted them a distinctive individuality. Somebody's hung a bird feeder stuffed with fat balls from the branches of one of the trees on the pavement. Christmas wreaths are popular - nothing generic, only hand-crafted. One tiny alleyway provides access to the rear of the properties. At the top of the road is Raynes Park Library, busy with people looking at all kinds of things that aren't books.

Aston Road: Throughout the Apostles builders included a trademark flourish on the front of each house between the ground and first floor windows. Here in Aston Road it's a pyramidal grid on the western side and a blank white rectangle on the eastern side. This is also the only Apostle where the odd-numbered houses are on the east side rather than the west. I've awarded myself ten I-Spy points for spotting that. A concerned resident has taped up an unusual notice about a frequently-seen tabby cat, keen to discover whether it's homeless or simply a friendly wanderer. I will discover the answer in three streets time.

Prince George's Avenue: In this street the decorative flourishes are classically based, on one side maybe an urn, on the other possibly a maiden. It's also the chosen street followed by National Cycle Network Route 208, so I finally have to watch out for through traffic. The turreted building is the home of Prince George's Club, formerly the Raynes Park Conservative Club, but its new title is less divisive. At the top end of the road, appropriately for one of the Apostles, is the Kingston Episcopal Area Office for the Diocese of Southwark.

Carlton Park Avenue: Numbers 14-30 look different to the rest of the street, this stretch of less ornate postwar terrace the architectural consequence of bombing during WW2. One resident has painted their classical motif with black paint, probably unwisely. It looks a lot easier to get round the back of these houses. Each Apostle is proving to be slightly longer than the last - the number of houses has risen from 68 in Gore Road to 88 here. The street terminates with a 'public footpath' just twenty paces long.

Vernon Avenue: This street has a short postwar terrace on the western side, providing further bombing evidence. It ends amid a Landrover Service Centre on the site of a former garage. It also has another cat poster. No sooner have I stopped beside it to make notes than a lady wanders over and advises me not to bother. "Yes we found him!" she says. "It's our cat!" She beams, and leans over to unpin the poster and remove it. I'm so busy congratulating her on her good fortune that I fail to twig her cat was never lost, merely the focus of interest of a well-meaning busybody, so forget to ask her any good journalistic follow-up questions. She has a lot of posters in her hand, and I'll discover several more as my walk continues.

Edna Road: This was my favourite of the Apostles, not that it's particularly different, but somehow its ambience felt more cohesive. Even its front doors were wreathier. Or maybe I just preferred the name. Whatever, it's also where the non-missing tabby officially lives, so that's a win.

Dorien Road: The old glass factory at numbers 3-5, almost the only fragment of industry within the Apostles, is being redeveloped into boxy flats. Nextdoor a pair of modern houses has been set back slightly from the road to afford the owners the sheer luxury of a parking space - nobody else has one. A high proportion of residents have forked out for an etched house number in the glass panel above their front door. This is the first street whose numbers nudge into three figures.

Dupont Road: Here the builders' motif is simply nine recessed bricks, which looks somewhat uninspiring in comparison to recent efforts. A tiny number of houses now have additional front doors shoehorned in to create two flats, but generally the Apostles are family homes all the way. Apparently none were built with bathrooms, which was normal in 1901. A turning circle at the southern end - Keep Clear - provides a rare bit of manoeuvring space.

Sydney Road: Post-bombing infill is back again at the northern end of the street. Number 81 is wrapped in scaffolding with a skip outside, at the start of its journey from pensioner's home to Sunday supplement perfection. 'DHL please knock quietly,' says a message pinned to a door across the road. Should the fire brigade ever need to nip through they can unlock the bollards at the traffic lights.

Chestnut Road: It only takes a moment to spot that this is the odd Apostle out, its housing much more mixed than elsewhere. This includes several pairs of semi-detached Victorian villas, a postwar singleton, some familiar terraces in the 60s and beyond those houses that could almost be council. And that's because this is the first of the twelve roads to be built, nudging briefly into the old cricket ground in the 1890s as a portent of things to come. Its bay windows appear nowhere else.

Bronson Road: For the last of the twelve roads we're back to normal. Those nine recessed bricks are back too, but two residents have pebbledashed them and it looks awful. Another resident has chiselled '1898' into the middle of theirs, and that doesn't look entirely believable either. I still haven't spotted any connections between the names of these dozen roads. But that's it for the Apostles, we're done.

Kingston Road: After the ladder of twelve comes the main road, still period residential but broader and better proportioned. Someone's got TOWIE Scaffolding Services in, which apparently stands for The Only Way Is Erect, and the tone of the entire neighbourhood collapses around them. The shop on the corner used to be Chase Post Office, but the shutters are down and someone's taped over the word Post.

Oxford Avenue: I decided to continue beyond Kingston Road into a sequence of seven similar-length cul-de-sacs because it was important to get my total up to 20. The first of these avenues boasts four types of houses, half and half on each side, including one set with first floor French windows leading to a tiny balcony. An extension cable emerges from underneath one front door, trailing across the pavement to a plugged-in Toyota.

Chase Side Avenue: This road's concreted rather than tarmac and terminates at a lollipop turning circle. Most of one side is taken up by Wimbledon Chase station, its platforms looking down over just enough Mock Tudor homes to suggest to new arrivals that everywhere round here looks like that.

Rothesay Avenue: This is the only genuine dead end on my list of twenty, even for bikes and those on foot, terminated by the railway curving round to the east. Its houses are mostly maisonettes, which maintains the variety. Beavering away inside one wing of the station building are employees of Grate Expectations, scraping and polishing a selection of old fireplaces bound for local parlours.

Sandringham Avenue: One side's all bay windows, the other side porches. An Evening Standard distributor bedecked in red is setting out from home.

Chatsworth Avenue: A blue streetsign confirms we've entered the Wimbledon Chase Conservation Area, and yes these are very nice, especially the carved wooden screens above the porches of the better preserved houses. I can't work out if those creatures are dragons, serpents or something equally heraldic.

Richmond Avenue: Blimey, this is Edwardian suburbia at its finest. Ornate keystones, fluted pilasters, timber bargeboarding and fretwork porches, they're all here. Most striking are the half-cylinder oriel windows on the first floor, each filled with leaded multi-coloured glass (except in the houses where former residents thoughtlessly removed them). These piles go for a plural number of millions, even in these less fevered times. We have a winner.

Quintin Avenue: This is almost as good, and still well worthy of conservation area status, but the blobby roundel windows aren't as dazzling as the half-cylinder oriels. It's also rung number 20 on my ladder so I can stop now, which is good because the next street is much longer and it's in SW19 and I can't go there. I don't recommend my hour-long weaving walk, but as an insight into how the Edwardians got housing right it certainly delivered.

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