All around the edge of Greater London are suburbs that might, or might not, be part of London but for some geographical quirk. One of the oddest is a lump sticking out of the edge of Sutton which contains 300 homes and a golf course but is only tenuously attached to the rest of the borough. If London ever declared independence, residents of Cuddington would only be connected to the rest of the capital via a single private road. [map]
Cuddington's a particularly strange beast because technically it no longer exists. Henry VIII had the village demolished so that he could build Nonsuch Palace, a glittering rival to Hampton Court... which he never completed, and was later entirely torn down. But its parish lingered on, a long thin finger sandwiched between Ewell and Cheam, which is why there's still a Cuddington Recreation Ground three miles away in Worcester Park. These parish boundaries mattered little when everything round here was Surrey, but when Cheam sided with Sutton and ended up in Greater London an anomaly was born.
The heart of this severed settlement is Cuddington Golf Course, opened in 1929 across a swathe of Banstead Downs. It has a splendid Arts and Crafts clubhouse, architecturally very much of its time, and a Terrace Bar from which members can survey the fairways whilst sharing drinks. The course may not be busy on a damp weekday in January, but the car park suggests the social side is buzzing. The golf club is the only community facility hereabouts, there being no shops, school, church, village hall or anything, so unless you're a member you're very much on your own.
Nestled within the golf course, strung out along the Banstead Road, are some particularly desirable houses. They have a very Metro-land feel, despite being on the wrong side of town, all homely and cottagey with tiled gables and leaded bays. There isn't a semi-detached in sight. Each house is differently designed to its neighbours, which I can imagine being a selling point when the first stockbrokers moved in, with generous front gardens that only hint at the extent of the rear. A couple of broad sweeping crescents extend to either side, completing a generous whorl of perfect Surrey real estate. Only the 'Sutton' logo on the bins reveals the ghastly truth.
These are five-bedroom four-car kind of homes, augmented here and there with tasteful modern infill. Houses have names like Egremont, Leigh Lodge, Spinola and Perryville. Some have ornamental fountains outside, some lampstands, some minor tropical shrubberies and others just significant hardstanding. The true indicator of luxury living is that houses have both a driveway in and a driveway out, because reversing is for losers. It could all be unbearably snooty but instead feels warm and friendly, aided by an absolute minimum of divisive leylandii and keylocked security gates. Only the gaudy flatpack Tudor monstrosity on the corner of Gilham Avenue lets the side down, its astroturfed garage walls a particular lowpoint.
The one road you can't enter is Cuddington Park Close, a gated estate built on the site of a late Victorian isolation hospital for patients with scarlet fever and diphtheria. One of its residents gave me quite the look as I walked by, perhaps because any pedestrian round here looks suspicious. A footpath runs along the side - part of one of the dullest sections of the London Loop - linking to a small nature reserve carved out of the northern end of the hospital footprint. Cuddington Meadows can only be accessed via Surrey but is peripherally in Sutton, so I made the effort to follow the muddy track and visit. In summer this is one of the few habitats in the capital where the small blue butterfly thrives, but the chalk grassland's not at its best at this time of year and the dog mess bins seemed the most prominent feature.
Both ends of Banstead Road have signs welcoming drivers to Surrey, with Sutton council more reticent to declare that the intervening three quarters of a mile is their responsibility. Just beyond the border at the eastern end is Banstead station, providing an easy but slow commute up to Victoria. There is no through bus service. Instead the only other direct connection to the rest of London, as previously hinted, is a single private road along the edge of the golf course. Traffic keeps well away, perhaps deterred by prominent signs at the entrance saying 'Beware humps', or perhaps by past experience of the potholes. But I chose to walk Cuddington Way back to Cheam, my first task to negotiate round a giant puddle the full width of the road which I wouldn't have risked in trainers.
The secluded lane passed what purported to be a garden centre but looked more like a row of empty greenhouses and a tree surgeon's lair. Further along was a shabby paddock with the offer of manure for sale if you rang Andy on his mobile. What sustained my interest were the ancient lampposts, some smashed, some cannibalised, some still with spindly iron tops, because when the council isn't paying for lighting you make do with whatever you've got. And eventually another row of detached houses kicked in, more security conscious this time, but directly connected to the edge of London's built up area because I wasn't in Cuddington any more. Sometimes the outskirts are truly weird.