Since I am now living on the other side of the world to my family and most of my friends this blog is about things I enjoy, things I notice, people I meet, people I miss, history, planning for the future, love and life in general! I guess it's about whatever pops into my head which I want to share with my friends and family... and who knows? I might make some more friends along the way!

24 January, 2010

History on my doorstep...

When I moved to Clapham, about 3 months ago, I was interested in the history from a Victorian perspective. Let's face it, the Victorian era is the most dominant one in this area, as Clapham & the surrounding suburbs of London were mostly built & formed during the reign of Queen Victoria. The rows & rows of terrace houses which fill the streets of this pretty place are all beautifully histocial Victorian dwellings, and the streets of shops & even nearby Clapham Junction Station are all from that era.

Clapham Common at the end of the street in which I live, was the first place that caught my attention, from the WWII perspective. About a 3 minute walk from my front door, there is a large, flat(ish) platform covered in ashphalt. I did some 'googling', and found a reference in that 'ever-reliable resource', Wikipedia! These are, supposedly,"... mounds on the... common that are covered in the earliest forms of tarmac. The mounds were formed with left-over scraps by the local Victorians and covered in tarmac to form roller skating rinks." Yeah... with two close to Battersea Rise, & 3 more between Winsham Grove & Manchuria Road, it seemed an ulikely explaination, and friends & neighbours told me they thought they were 'bunkers' from WWII. I did a bit more digging, but couldn't find anything about 'bunkers' existing on Clapham Common, although there were definitely 'trench-style air-raid shelters' & Anti Aircraft Guns (or 'ack ack's' - using the WWII Phonetic alphabet for 'AA' guns)

I looked further, and found some reference to one local's belif that they were bunkers in which Canadian troops had been housed during the war, but I found a more reliable source which tells that the Canadians were housed in the Deep Level Shelter close to South Clapham Station, and this was further confirmed by other references...

The trench style air-raid shelters definitely did not have entrances in a formation like these... being very simple, and rudimentary forms of shelter. Although photos exist of these on Clapham Common, there is no resemblance to the remaining 'platforms' along either the west side, or the Battersea Rise section in the north west corner of Battersea Common.

My research would suggest that these are almost certainly nothing to do with rollerskating! In fact the reference in Wikipedia is the only mention of such an activity on the common I can find online! The air-raid shelter theory is also more likely to be later generations confusing the deep level shelter with the remnants of some activity they can see close to that shelter today. To my mind the size & shape of the platforms suggests they are the remains of the ack ack positions. They certainly were close to the South Clapham Station, as I have found first hand accounts of young men & boys coming to the common, via that station, to watch the guns in action. I have included both my photos of the platforms & a couple of reference photos I found online - see what you think for yourself...

So to do more research... I hope to visit Battersea Library soon, and see if I can't get to the bottom of this mystery, using the local history resources they hold there. I have this terrible compulsion to stop any truly elderly person I see in the street & ask them if they know anything about them...

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Blogger The Crazy Purple Wombat said...

Success! I went to the local history section of the Battersea Library in Lavender Hill, and they didn't have a diffinitive answer... & they'd been asked before! I have read 2 books from that department & spoken with several locals, and the upshot is that I was on the right track with the photo of the anti-aircraft guns. Two people have confirmed that the platforms in the north east corner of Clapham Common were definitely the remnants of those loud, scary, important pieces of the war efforts on the home front.

I'd like to confirm it in writing, or confirm that the similar platforms along the west side of Clapham Common are from the same machinery, but I am very happy with what I have found out, so far! :)

8:30 PM


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