SPOTLIGHT ON BALHAM
Go south for family houses, green space and lively café culture, says Anthea Masey
BALHAM rose to fame in the Fifties as the joke location “Bal-ham: Gateway to the South” in a mock-American travelogue by Peter Sellers. The sketch, originally commissioned for a radio comedy show, went on to become the 1958 top-selling record The Best of Sellers.
Today, Balham is regarded as a popular south London neighbourhood full of young families, cafés and restaurants, with a good supply of fine Victorian and Edwardian family houses against a backdrop of the open green spaces of Tooting Common.
In the 2007 movie Atonement, based on Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name, Keira Knightley’s character dies in the Balham Tube station disaster. In the real-life tragedy, 68 of 500 people sheltering in the station were killed on October 14, 1940, at the height of the Blitz, when a bomb burst a nearby water main.
Du Cane Court, the huge Art Deco block of 676 flats in Balham High Road, is a local landmark. When built in the Thirties it was billed as Europe’s largest block of flats and there is a local legend that it escaped wartime bombing only because Hitler planned to occupy it after invasion. Designed by George Kay Green, it was named after the Du Cane family, the original landowners. Stars who have called Du Cane Court home include comic Arthur Smith — the selfstyled “Bard of Balham” — and Balhamborn character actress Margaret Rutherford (1892-1972). Furniture makers Made.com recently produced a history of the block — visit made.com/ under-the-same-roof/ to see it.
Five miles south of central London, Balham has Clapham to the north, Streatham to the east, Tooting to the south and Earlsfield to west. Local Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward estate agent Leigh Munday says it’s popular with young first-time buyers, often with hefty deposits from their families, and has some of south London’s best and busiest cafés, bars and restaurants.
Before the big time: The Bedford pub hosted Ed Sheeran and Michael McIntyre
“Youth club for adults”: bar chief Max Strojev at The Exhibit
Great location: Ramsden Road, a stroll from local amenities
Shop, eat, visit the beauty salon: bustling Balham High Rd
Brunch central: grab a table in pedestrianised Hildreth St