Streatham in the 30s – “The West End of South London” (PART 2)

While the city grew wealthy as Britain’s holdings expanded, 19th-century London was also a city of poverty, where millions lived in overcrowded and unsanitary slums. Life for the poor was immortalised by Charles Dickens in such novels as Oliver Twist In 1810, after the death of Sir Francis Baring and Abraham Goldsmid, Rothschild emerges as the major banker in London. 19th-century London was transformed by the coming of the railways.

A new network of metropolitan railways allowed for the development of suburbs in neighbouring counties from which middle-class and wealthy people could commute to the centre. While this helped the massive growth of the city,the growth of greater London also increased the class divide, as the wealthier classes emigrated to the suburbs, leaving the poor to inhabit the inner city areas. The first railway to be built in London was a line from London Bridge to Greenwich, which opened in 1836. This was soon followed by the opening of great rail termini which linked London to every corner of Britain.

The urbanised area continued to grow rapidly, spreading into Islington, Paddington, Belgravia, Holborn, Finsbury, Shoreditch, Southwark and Lambeth.

Towards the middle of the century, London’s antiquated local government system, consisting of ancient parishes and vestries, struggled to cope with the rapid growth in population.

As the capital of a massive empire, London became a magnet for immigrants from the colonies and poorer parts of Europe. A large Irish population settled in the city during the Victorian period, with many of the newcomers refugees from the Great Famine (1845–1849). At one point, Catholic Irish made up about 20% of London’s population; they typically lived in overcrowded slums. London also became home to a sizable Jewish community, which was notable for its entrepreneurship in the clothing trade and merchandising.

So we now understand the reasons that made wealthy Londoners move to the suburbs. with their move there was the need to build not only houses but also entrainment venues. in fact After the First World War Streatham developed as a location for entertainment, with Streatham Hill Theatre (now a bingo hall), three cinemas, the Locarno ballroom (latterly Caesar’s nightclub, which closed in 2010) and Streatham Ice Rink all adding to its reputation as “the West End of South London”.

With the advent of electric tram services it also grew as a shopping centre serving a wide area to the south.

In the 1930s large numbers of blocks of flats were constructed along the High Road.

These speculative developments were not initially successful. And the reason was quite simple: people who lived in Streatham found this modern monsters quite insulting. Wealthy people did not live crammed in purpose build blocks; Despited the fact that the new building had all facilities and luxuries, for example, swimming pools, garages and communal spaces, they were horrified by the fact that they had to share. To them it was a way for developers to maximise their profits. So they refused those modern homes. They were only filled when émigré communities began to arrive in London after leaving countries under the domination of Hitler’s Germany.

 

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