Streatham Common

There are three railway stations in Streatham, Streatham Common being the first part of my trilogy of visits to this part of South East London. It first opened on 1 December 1862, and was then called Greyhound Lane, a far more interesting name but was quickly given its current title. A year after opening, it was the the site of an early rail crash when a train derailed just outside the station, killing four passengers.

Architecturally, Streatham Common features an attractive, red-brick Edwardian station building. In one of those strange quirks which can make transport in London so confusing, it isn’t actually the closest station to Streatham Common. It’s a 10 minute walk from here, whereas the journey from Streatham station only takes five minutes. It’s now probably too late in the day to rename them too as this would only cause yet more confusion.

The Bull, 498 Streatham High Road, SW16 3QB

The pub is a 10 minute walk from the station, located on Streatham High Road, right near the Common itself. Painted in a vivid shade of blue, you won’t miss The Bull!  Its a spacious pub with two rooms either side of the bar and a dining room at the back of the venue.While it had the stripped back brickwork and other aspects of a modern gastropub, some traditional features have been preserved too including some cut-glass by the bar. There is also some nice stained glass on the roof directly above the bar.

It’s a Youngs pub so had two of their regular ales available, the bitter and the special. Also on tap was Hummingbird, a seasonal offering and Coaster Light Ale from Sharps. I had a special which lived up to its name as it was free! Youngs have recently launched their ‘on tap’ app, and after downloading it, you get a free drink at one of their pubs of your choice. Just call me Moneysavingexpert… The food is the usual selection you’d expect at Youngs pub, with mains around the £12 mark, which as have said before is a bit pricey for me. They also have their ‘burger shack’ in the back garden offering a ‘year round BBQ experience’, according to their website.

The Bull has a very expansive garden, covered with astroturf and with several sheltered booths also offering protection from the elements. The area at the back also is partially covered by a canopy, decorated with fibre-optic lighting. As it was such a sunny day on our visit, we based ourselves in the garden and made the most of the pleasant weather.

The Bull is a good, bustling pub. With such a large outdoor space, it is also a really good option for these warmer months. If you’re after a decent beer garden in these parts, then the Bull will be right up your street.

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A rail station at Balham first opened on 1 December 1856, at the time called Balham Hill. It was renamed to its present name and moved slightly in 1863 as part of works taking place to upgrade the line. It briefly changed its name again in 1927, becoming Balham and Upper Tooting, but this name lasted barely over two years before it reverted to simply ‘Balham’ in October 1929.

As one of the few rail stations offering interchange with tube south of the river, Balham is very busy with over 10million passengers using it in 2015/16. Architecturally, it’s nothing special. The main entrance building is pleasant enough but the platform shelters are fairly basic. Overall, its easily overshadowed by the classic Charles Holden tube station.

The Bedford, 77 Bedford Hill, SW12 9HD

Last time around in Balham, I headed West from the station to The Regent. This time around, I headed East, a quick three minute walk down Balham Station Road and then across to The Bedford, on the junction of Bedford Hill and Fernlea Road.

Inside, on first impressions, The Bedford seems a spacious pub but its far more than that. The Bedford is a thriving live venue, hosting all manner of events under their roof. London and beyond. Downstairs they have their ‘Globe Theatre’, home to their ‘Banana Caberet’ comedy events. The pub has hosted plenty of comedians before they were famous, including Omid Djalil, The Mighty Boosh and Michael McIntyre. They also have plenty of other events here too including everything from salsa dancing to live music and plays from ‘Theatre N16.’ The pub also has a strong live music heritage too, The Clash played here in the ’70s. Ed Sheeran recorded a live album here back in 2011 too…

Its pub credentials are pretty solid too. There were three ales available on tap on our visit, Dizzy Blonde and two offerings from the nearby Wimbledon brewery, the Common Pale Ale and their Copper Leaf Ale. Food wise, I’d summarise it as pub classics with a few risottos thrown in too. I went for a ‘Bedford Burger’, the price is towards the higher end of the spectrum at £12.50 and I can testify it was a hearty portion size. Good chips too!

The downstairs area feels pretty roomy, something amplified on our visit as it was such as sunny day. They also have sofas and comfy chairs. As you’ll see from my photos, the interior looks very sun-kissed. It was quite quiet as we were here on a Saturday afternoon, but speaking from experience it gets very busy here during the evening.

If you want a change of pace from the live events here, The Bedford also has a selection of books and plenty of boardgames if you’d prefer that as entertainment. Games available include Scrabble, Pictionary and a selection of TV tie ins – I can see how a ‘Play Your Cards Right’ board game would work, but admit to be totally lost on how ‘Gogglebox’ would go.

The Bedford is an excellent pub, there is so much going on here. At a time where some pubs are finding their live music being stripped back in favour of packing more people in for food, like the Half Moon in Herne Hill, it’s great to see somewhere with live events still going strong. Well worth a visit!

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Wandsworth Common

Wandsworth Common first opened on 1 November 1869. It replaced a nearby station called New Wandsworth which closed at the same time and was located slightly to the north of the present station.

It has very pleasant Victorian station buildings on all platforms. The station is served by 10 trains an hour in both directions and plenty more speed through non stop on the fast lines.

Those following the blog chronologically will have noticed that I have gone straight from Battersea Park to Wandsworth Common. This was because I visited Clapham Junction on the SWT portion of the blog, as that mammoth station is served by both companies.

The Hope, 1 Bellevue Road, SW17 7EG

The station is appropriately named, as it’s located right by the southern tip of Wandsworth Common. The pub is opposite the Common, a few minutes walk from the station – just follow the signs to the common. It’s located on a parade of cafes and restaurants, reflecting the well-heeled nature of the local area.

Inside, it’s an open plan gastropub. The bar is located at the back of the room, in a small raised section of the pub. It’s decorated in a pretty minimalist way, there isn’t much on the walls – to me this deprived it of a bit of character. It also has some outside seating with a nice view of the common – this is where we based ourselves.

They had three ales on tap on our visit, Doombar, Landlord and Mad Goose from UBU, all solid ales. It has a decent food menu too. It’s clear you’re in upper gastropub territory with dishes like guinea fowl. To their credit, the food isn’t as expensive as I’ve seen in pubs recently, with a burger for just under £12. Their chalkboard also advertised ‘chips,cheese and gravy’ for £4.75 for a less high end snack.

We visited on a Saturday afternoon and The Hope was really busy. It’s location right by the Common meant it had a fair few people who had come straight from their morning activities there, whether they were dog walkers, footballers or parents with their children. In terms of regular activities here, they hold a quiz every Monday night.

The Hope is an alright pub in a decent location. That said, there wasn’t anything about the place that left a lasting impression, so I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way for this one.

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Battersea Park

Battersea Park station opened on 1 May 1867 under the name York Road(Battersea), was subsequently renamed Battersea Park and York Road at the start of 1877 and gained its present name on 1 June 1885.

The station has a grade II listed Victorian ticket office building with a particularly impressive interior. There are five platforms here but only platforms 3 and 4 are in regular use. Platform 1, a rare example of an entirely wooden platform, has been closed since December 2012. It was used by services between Victoria and London Bridge on the inner South London line which ended with the introduction of the London Overground service to Clapham Junction from Surrey Quays. The tracks by this platform have also been removed.

Talking of the Overground, Battersea Park is served by two London Overground trains a day, which terminate here. They are the only services that use platform 2 which was previously in regular use for the South London Line service.

The station sits in the shadow of Battersea Power Station and the hoards of new luxury flats which are surrounding that fine building. The new tube stop at Battersea will also be very close by, and it will be interesting to see the impact it has in terms of usage of the rail station.

The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, SW11 4LG

The pub is only a few minutes from the station, heading west along Battersea Park Road. The colourful signage on the outside of The Magic Garden serves as a good preview of what you’ll encounter when you get inside. I know the place fairly well as I don’t live too far from it.

It’s a spacious pub, albeit one that has alcoves and cosy little side sections which make it feel a bit more intimate. At the back of the main room there is a stage. The Magic Garden has music on most evenings across a variety of genres. On previous visits I’ve seen a 50’s style rock and roll band(complete with double bass!), a jazz/funk outfit and even some celtic folk music. It’s free during the week but gigs on Fridays and Saturdays are usually ticked. On these evenings it also has a late licence and the fun can go on till 2am.

Decor wise, it’s pretty eclectic. There is a large picture of Jimi Hendrix on the wall as well a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. By way of a contrast, they also have a dart board too. The furniture is also a curious mix of styles, with some old chairs and sofas dotted around the place. Another thing in The Magic Garden’s favour was its pet black and white cat. It was sleeping on a chair near the bar. Ahead of a band coming on, the chair was moved towards one of the quieter parts of the pub. The cat continued sleeping, untroubled by this, a bit like it was being transported on its own Sedan Chair!

On the beer front, they had three ales on tap – Doombar, another offering from Sharps ‘Coaster’ and Wandle, brewed down the road from here by Sambrooks. They have a small food menu which seemed pitched more towards the gourmet end of things – you can get a Wagyu Burger for £15 or a Halibut Steak for £17. This was a little bit too pricey for me. There is a back room just before the garden which acts as the dining room, as well as an area towards the front of the pub.

Finally, I couldn’t finish a review of the pub without checking out The Magic Garden’s garden. It’s another quirky space, with sofas and impressive fibre-optic lights adding to the psychedelic vibes you get inside. The weather was fairly miserable on our Monday evening visit here, so it was fairly quiet.

Overall, The Magic Garden is a quirky and fun pub. With its unique interior, regular live music sessions and resident cat, it’s most definitely worth a visit. It’s far more interesting than a bland gastropub.

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London Victoria

London Victoria has always been very familiar to me – it was the start of the journey home to Brighton from trips to London when I was growing up. It marks the start of the second part of my National Rail trail, kicking off my journey to all the Southern rail stops in Greater London.  With over 81million passenger journeys here in 2015/16, Victoria is the second busiest station in the entire country, topped only by Waterloo.

It began life as two separate stations, operated by different companies. The Sussex side, platforms 9 to 19, opened first in 1860, with the Kent side, platforms 1-8, following two years later. There was no way to pass between the two sides internally until the 1920s. The wall between the two sides was only fully removed in the 1980s.

The two sides of the station still feel distinct. The Kent side has retained an impressive Victorian trainshed over its platforms. The end of the roof over the Sussex side was demolished in the ’80s to allow for the construction of the Victoria Place shopping arcade and offices over the platforms. This great photo from 1980 shows how different this part of the station used to look. The area by platforms 15-19, at the very western edge of the station, feels very cramped.  On a lighter note, this is where the International Cheese Centre is located…

The Cask and Glass, 39-41 Palace Street, SW1 5HN

There are only three certainties in life, death, taxes and building works by Victoria Station. Visiting the tube station here in April 2013, I commented it had been a building site for as long as I could remember -four years later, little has changed. The tube station upgrade is due to be completed next year, but I’m sure there will be another project around the corner.

There are lots of mediocre tourist trap pubs on Victoria Street, so we took a side street to visit the Cask and Glass. It’s a few minutes walk from the station, just behind the Cardinal Place complex on the junction of Palace Street and Wilfred Street.Inside, it’s a cosy little one room pub, with a few tables outside at the front too. It was pretty quiet on our Monday evening visit so we were able to get a seat, but I’ve walked past on occasion and its looked rammed.

It’s a Shepherd Neame pub, so commuters back to Kent can enjoy some of their local beers before making the journey home. It had four of their ales on tap – Spitfire, Hog Island, Master Brew and Whitstable Bay. They only do food at lunchtimes between 12-3, offering a selection of toasties for around £4 a pop. With its primary trade coming from office workers, The Cask and Glass is shut on Sundays and closes at 8pm on Saturday.

With its carpet, curtains and leather backed seats, it has the vibe of a village pub a stones throw away from the chaos of Victoria Street. Given its proximity to both Buckingham Palace and Westminster, it’s also no surprise to see pictures of Queen Victoria on the walls as well as the odd political caricature. There is one of Barry Porter, an MP from 1979-1996 and who I’d never heard of before. I have no idea how he gained the accolade of being displayed on the wall here. His Wikipedia entry is pretty sparse and the cartoon in this pub listed in the ‘legacy’ section!

I enjoyed visiting to The Cask and Glass. It’s nice to find a homely spot in an area that is otherwise represented by uninspired tourist fare. If you’re looking for a good spot for a drink near Victoria Station, this is definitely worth checking out.

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South West – in Review

Now I’ve finished off all the South West Trains stations in Greater London, I thought it was a good time for a quick look back at my highs and lows along the way There were 40 stations in total, starting at Waterloo – the busiest rail station in the entire UK – and ending in Worcester Park.  In truth, it was a good route to start off with because the vast bulk of the places I visited were decent and I was really impressed by the caliber of pubs in these parts. I kept expecting to come across more duds but in truth I can count the ones to avoid on one hand.

In terms of particular highlights, I’ll pick out a few here. The Mitre in North Sheen was a great find. It was hidden down a quiet residential street, had twelve ales on tap and a friendly pub dog called Rudi! The Express Tavern by Kew Bridge was also excellent; it had real character and another extensive ale selection. The Sussex Arms in Strawberry Hill stood out for me for similar reasons, it was buzzing on our visit and had a dozen ales on tap. Other top spots along the way included The Vauxhall Griffin(no prizes for guessing where), The Ailsa Tavern in St.Margarets and Woodies Freehouse in Malden Manor.

Perhaps it should have been no surprise I found so many good places – this part of town has a strong pub history behind it. Youngs brewery was based in Wandsworth until 2006 while Fullers Brewery is still going strong in Chiswick today; both were well represented in these opening stages of the blog. Fullers even provided me with a decent pub in Hounslow in The Cross Lances, a big improvement on what I endured for the three tube stops there.

Thankfully there were only a couple of pubs I’d give a ‘steer clear’ warning on. The Broadway Bar in Tolworth was the worst – as I said at the time, it had all the character of an airport lounge. I also didn’t enjoy The Red Lion in Isleworth partly stemming from its Marie Celeste atmosphere and the fact the bar was deserted when we first arrived. Another Red Lion, this time in Feltham was also a bit forlorn, but at least it had a manager trying to pick the place up.

All in all, the lucky folk of South West London have plenty of excellent pubs at their disposal. I thoroughly enjoyed my travels through that neck of the woods – now it’s time to shift eastwards and head on over to Victoria, kicking off my travels on Southern Rail.

Worcester Park

Worcester Park is my final stop on the South West Trains leg of the blog. It first opened on 4 April 1859 and was initially called Old Malden, it gained its present name a mere three years later. The next station heading south on the line is Stoneleigh, which is within the borough of Epsom and Ewell.

The ticket office building here is a simple brick design which looks very ’30s – the station was redeveloped around this time in response to housing growth in the local area. More recent additions at the station include the installation of a new footbridge and lifts in 2014, replacing this metallic structure.

Worcester Park was originally omitted from the proposed route of Crossrail 2 – after people power intervened the plans were modified and services are now planned to stop here, providing the project gets the green light.

North End Tavern, 245 Cheam Common, KT4 7NB

The pub is a brisk ten minute walk south from the station down the main shopping street in Worcester Park. Like the William Bourne a few stops ago, the North End Tavern is a Stonegate pub, complete with its range of discount themed meal deals. It had three ales on tap on our visit, Doombar, Youngs Bitter and Ghost Ship. The beer here was surprisingly cheap, two Doombars came to £5.80, which is cheaper than many ‘Spoons these days!

The North End Tavern is a large pub and was fairly busy when we arrived but we were able to get a table. They have a TV sports licence and had the football on a big projector. By the time of the 4pm kick-off, the pub was rammed which is why I didn’t take any more photos inside as all I would have captured would be a sea of people! They also have a sizeable back garden, this was nearly empty on our visit, although given it was a cold Sunday afternoon, it wasn’t that surprising.

The decor here is fairly generic, however there were a couple of nice local touches I liked here. On one wall there was an old black and white photo of people waiting at a paced Worcester Park station, another had one of the Railway Clearing House – the umbrella body set up to manage the allocation of ticket fares for journeys across multiple companies – diagrams of lines which existed in the pre-nationalisation period of the railways. As well as having a quiz every Sunday, there is also ‘Disco Fridays’, where a DJ plays 80s and 90s music from 8pm till midnight.

The North End Tavern was a solid way to bring a close my run on South West Trains with its cheap ales and friendly atmosphere. If you find yourself in Worcester Park, it’s a sound place for a pint.

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