SM is the postcode for Sutton, specifically Sutton and Morden. I don't know why they didn't go with the more obvious SU but I do know ST, SO and SN were already taken. Six of its seven postcode districts are entirely (or almost entirely) in London but the seventh is virtually all in Surrey. My task was to visit the non-Surrey bits as part of my quest to visit every postcode district in Greater London this year. There are two distinct chunks so I did both for good measure, aided and abetted this time by London Loop section 6. I've blogged about these outlying spots severaltimesbefore, sorry, so my task today is to try and say something different.[map]
Woodmansterne is a commuter village sprawled across chalk downland on the northern edge of Surrey. It has some seriously hilly avenues, a church that would have been medieval if only the Victorians hadn't rebuilt it, a couple of shops and a village sign carved into a fallen tree trunk. But if you walk up Carshalton Road past the village hall, the scout hut and the primary school, then just a tad past the sports ground, Woodmansterne's last two cottages are accidentally in London. They have pointy gabled roofs, carriage lamps and trees bursting with pink blossom, plus the locally-unusual opportunity to vote in next year's Mayoral election. Just opposite is a stile into a hayfield alive with wildflowers where a couple of horses have an unexpectedly good view of the Shard above the treeline. And crossing two more stiles in quick succession brings you to somewhere that might just be familiar...
This is Mayfield Lavender Farm, the purple people pleaser, which is about to be lauded across excitable media as the best selfie-backdrop in the capital. Right now we're still slightly too early in the season for any colour to be apparent, peak season being July and August, indeed the farm doesn't open to the public until Saturday 10th June. But it's still possible to get up close and see row upon row of low spiky bushes thanks to a longstanding public footpath which cuts across the middle of the site. Mayfield Lavender must hate that it exists, given they charge for entry at the main gate, hence the sign by the stile which they urge ramblers to read. They could have been passive aggressive but in fact they've been more than polite - don't stray off the path, no picnics, no drones, no commercial photography and absolutely no picking the purple stuff.
My stroll was alas visually premature with only a few stalks poking up from the resolutely green rows of bushes. But I still got to savour the unmistakeable smell of lavender throughout, a low sweet note like opening up your nan's wardrobe and taking a sniff. A man on mini-tractor zigzagged up and down the field keeping the edges of the rows in check, slowing down briefly as he passed through the pergola. Over in the newer-planted sections two staff stooped over the smaller bushes doing proper horticulture by hand. In the lower field the lone red telephone box awaited its purple cloak and the hordes with their cameras that'll surely follow. Down by the gate the temporary tents that'll house the shop and cafe have yet to be erected. And if you want to explore further that'll be £5, up from £4.50 last summer and £2 five years ago because the cost of living crisis also affects blooming lovely fields. [SM7 3JA]
Across the road is one of Sutton's nicest parks, which is a shame because hardly anyone in Sutton lives anywhere near it. Oaks Park is on the site of The Oaks, a large 18th century country house once owned by the 12th Earl of Derby. It was while he was living here that the two most famous races at nearby Epsom got their name, 'The Oaks' in honour of his villa and 'The Derby' allegedly on the toss of a coin. Carshalton Council bought the estate in 1933 and fully intended to turn most of it into a golf course and housing but WW2 intervened, after which the Green Belt won out and the once grand house was in such a poor state it had to be demolished. Standing in Oaks Park today you can still see that its trees are a bit too good for a municipal project (and if you pick up a copy of the Oaks Park Tree Trail in the cafe you can discover what many of them are).
The formal garden is recognisably lordly too, focused on a grotto that was once the centrepiece of an ornamental glasshouse. At present the wisteria is wonderful, but even after that fades the palm trees still exude an air of exclusivity. Much of the lower end of the park is chalk grassland and is almost entirely frequented by dog walkers, as far as I could tell, delighted to have somewhere this large to exercise their rumbustious charges. The free car parks are extremely important in this respect because otherwise I suspect the place'd be nigh empty. The other key attraction is the aforementioned cafe, which must be doing well because a single storey extension and a veranda are currently being added. Amongst its customers this week were a lot of retired couples, several very patient hounds and a group of four police officers on a break enjoying an al fresco beverage. [SM7 3BA]
The other slice of SM7 within Sutton is a good 45 minute walk away... 'good' in that you can walk to it by following London Loop section 6. This perhaps-familiar route takes you into the Earl of Derby's woods, round the back of some livery stables, up an ancient rutted lane, along the side of a closed category women's prison, across the chalky delights of Banstead Common, over a single track railway line and through the middle of a golf course. Crossing the subsequent dual carriageway is the low point and is followed closely by Banstead station, a gloomy bunker unhelpfully located on the outskirts of town. But it's brilliantly located if you live in Cuddington, an isolated anomaly of 300 homes adrift within a golf course and connected to the rest of Greater London only via a private road.
I wrote about Cuddington in 2020 so I won't rake over the details again. But it's got the right postcode so here we are, plus I think one of its three roads meets the criterion we explored lastNovember - it could be London's longest unbroken street. Let's check it out.
This is Higher Drive, a sweeping crescent of prime detached houses that's three quarters of a mile in length. It bears off by the clubhouse, curves along the Surrey border and joins back onto Banstead Road by the five-bar gates. Normally you'd expect a connecting road in the middle, or even a footpath, but here that's impossible because three of the holes at Cuddington Golf Course get in the way. This means that if you want to walk round the block - and I saw a resident dogwalker doing exactly that - you face a circuit that's a minimum of a mile and a half. Recognising this the Post Office have kindly installed a pillar box halfway down, but otherwise London suburbia doesn't get any more cut-off than SM7 1PW.
Every house is different because the estate's architects recognised the appeal of individuality. Every house is detached because next-door neighbours are for losers. Every plot is broad, indeed there are only just over 100 houses along the entire street. And yet it's not snobby, despite the million-pound price-tags, thanks to the cosy interwar design and the openness of the front gardens. Nobody down Higher Drive has installed security gates and an entryphone, for example, whereas plenty of cheaper streets elsewhere include a paranoid empire builder or two. But plenty of homeowners here have the builders in at present, judging by the amount of vans and scaffolding in evidence, collectively occupied in extending upwards and outwards as planning permission permits.
All that stops Higher Drive (1200m) definitely being the longest unbroken street in London is a short cul-de-sac at the western end. It doesn't have a separate name because the half dozen houses round the loop are still part of Higher Drive, but a perfectionist might deem this T-junction to be unacceptable. If that's the case then the unbroken crown perhaps still rests with Wickham Chase in West Wickham (1100m) or, if intermediate footpaths also disqualify, with Elgin Road in Seven Kings (710m). Whatever, if you lived in the middle of Higher Drive you'd certainly know it was a long way out, indeed anywhere in London feels a long way away from this disjoint patch of SM7.