Crescent Grove was a private estate laid out by Francis Child in 1824 on what was previously fields adjacent to Clapham Common. It is a good example of early C19th suburban development and provided housing of different types and sizes. Child built a large detached house with an extensive garden at the end of the estate for his own use. This was called Grove Lodge but was demolished in 1936. The central garden is an open lozenge between the fine houses, but there is evidence that it was once railed above the low stone edging. Landscaping now consists of lawn with three flowerbeds, numerous trees and ornamental shrubs, and three benches, one installed in memory of Robert and Betty Bates, residents here from the late 1940s-2003, both committed to the conservation and improvement of Crescent Grove.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/03/2009
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
Crescent Grove was a private estate laid out by Francis Child in 1824 on what was previously fields adjacent to Clapham Common. It is a good example of early C19th suburban development and provided housing of different types and sizes. Entered from Clapham Common South Side between two identical stuccoed houses acting as gateways, to the left are pairs of semi-detached houses linked by lower wings with coach houses, facing the continuous terraced crescent to the right. Originally there was a large house at the end, since demolished; the Notre Dame Estate (LCC post 1945) now intrudes on the south side. This handsome estate formerly completely enclosed the private communal garden, which was owned by the freeholders of the adjoining houses and for the use of residents on the estate. The garden today is an open lozenge between the fine houses, but there is evidence that it was once railed above the low stone edging to the garden. Landscaping consists of lawn with three flowerbeds, numerous trees and ornamental shrubs. Many trees have TPOs, and species include hawthorn, variegated holly, maple, Acer, sycamore, tree of heaven, cedar, red oak, purple beech, purple maple, honey locust, horse chestnut, yew and yellow acacia.
The land on which Crescent Grove was built was once part of the Manor of Clapham, recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as being held by Geoffrey de Mandeville. The Manor changed hands several times in the next 5 centuries, and in 1616 was sold to Dr Henry Atkins, physician to James I and Charles I. Parts were sold in the mid-C17th to Sir Denis Gauden, who built a large house, Clapham Place; following his bankruptcy this was bought by William Hewer, friend of Samuel Pepys. The estate, which comprised a large part of the present Clapham, remained intact until the early C18th. A map of c.1725 shows the beginnings of the break-up of the estate.
The part of the manorial land on which Crescent Grove was later built was sold to Robert Thornton, the first member of the Thornton family of merchants from Hull to come to London. Within a few years three members of the family owned a large area of land to the north-east of Clapham Common. The location of this area in relation to the Common is shown on Roque’s map of 1746. Robert Thornton built a house on the South Side of the Common in c.1740. His son John succeeded him there, and John’s son, another Robert, lived in the next house, where he took great pride in his extensive garden. A guide book published in the 1790s refers to 'Mr Thornton’s ornamental park' with its trees, lawns, shrubberies, venerable oaks, gothic bench in front of the house and the small river running through the pleasure gardens 'gently bounded by rising hillocks and smooth slopes'. 'The rock-work grotto is extremely well executed, but in a style too wild for a gentle stream, and [there is] a smooth shaven lawn spotted with shrubs'. But the outstanding feature was the 'green-house' or Orangery, which was designed by Thornton’s friend, Dr Burgh of York and built in 1792-3. The façade is a simple classical design with columns of Portland stone and Ionic capitals in Coade stone. The pediment is decorated with swags of roses, fir cones and leaves and in the entablature is carved a quotation from Virgil, which translates roughly as 'Here is perpetual spring and summer even in other months'. There were glazed sashes between the columns, and the inside was plainly plastered. Two doors in the rear wall led into an extension behind, which comprised three rooms. The orangery, besides being used for plants, was also a place for entertaining, and amongst the guests welcomed here were Queen Charlotte and the Princesses Augusta and Elizabeth, whom Robert Thornton entertained in 1808.
The façade of the orangery still survives within the incongruous surroundings of a public housing estate. It is now in poor condition again despite several refurbishments over the years, and a recent scheme to refurbish it as part of a community centre has been abandoned.
Robert Thornton lived seriously beyond his means and in 1814 he fled to America leaving his debts behind him, never to return. It is not at all clear when the entire property was sold, but he must have sold off parts at different times. A plan of 1800 naming the residents and describing their houses already shows four names between the houses of Robert and Samuel Thornton. From the sale document quoted below some of these appear to have been tenants, but there is no mention of the house that concerns us, that of Mr Yerbury, which is described thus: 'A good brick house which stands further from the road than the preceding one. It is in the possession of John Yerbury Esq. and has a large and pleasant garden which overlooks Mr Thornton’s paddock.' As early as 1792 Yerbury was allowed by the parish to enclose a small piece of land in front of his house [Burgess p.41].
It is not at all clear when this house was built, or when Thornton sold this and other adjoining parcels of land. A sale catalogue of 25 July 1810 survives, which shows several parcels of land offered for building and it has been suggested that one was sold to Mr Yerbury but this seems unlikely since he was already resident in the 1790s. The plan that accompanies another sale document, undated but possibly c.1815 with a plan of the grounds (and incidentally the only one we have of the gardens) clearly excludes the area where Mr Yerbury’s house was built. It is also interesting to note from this plan that the only frontage on the Common that remains is that of the actual house, which suggests that desirable plots facing onto the Common had already been disposed of in the earlier sale.
John Yerbury moved in 1809 and the estate passed to Edward Polhill. A plan dated 1820 shows the location of Mr Polhill’s house in relation to the Common and the road beside the property, which is marked as leading to Mr Thornton’s Park. The adjoining house owned by Mr William Hibbert is shown in an attractive watercolour of 1812 by J C Nattes.
In 1824 Edward Polhill sold the house and garden to Francis Child, who built on the site an estate of '39 capital messuages' as a family investment. Several present owners of the houses still have deeds naming various members of the Child family to whom the houses were transferred. The first plan on which this development is shown is one by Thomas Cubitt, who in the 1830s was developing the nearby area of Clapham Park.
The long narrow, lozenge shape of the development was dictated by the route of Brixton Lane (now Crescent Lane) and the estate of Samuel Thornton to the east. The north side, originally called The Grove, is a straight run of 'St John’s Wood villas', nine pairs of similar semi-detached houses linked by two-storey coach houses. The coach houses had a room over for a manservant reached by an internal staircase, and a stable behind. The porches have Ionic columns, which were originally painted to simulate marble, and acroteria finials to the balustrading.
Facing these is a crescent of terraced houses originally called The Crescent, similar to many being built in Bloomsbury squares at that time. These comprise four storeys with basement. The basement areas on both sides of the road are surrounded by railings with a distinctive crescent shaped motif. The houses are built of London stock brick, with stucco to the basement and ground floors, balustrading to the attic storey and stucco cornices and mouldings. The central block of the crescent has a shallow stucco pediment and pilasters, and the east end of the terrace has a coach house addition.
The entrance to Crescent Grove is marked by two large blocks facing on to the Common. These are fully stuccoed to give a more imposing appearance. There is a drawing by George Scharf c.1840 of an elaborate entrance gate to Crescent Grove. The gate posts with lamps in the overhangs are shown in an early C20th postcard but Trustee Minutes suggest that there was never a gate across the entrance, such as existed in many London squares. From the mid C19th there are references to putting a rope across the entrance once a year, a practice which is still used today in order to maintain the status of a private road.
Francis Child built a large detached house with an extensive garden at the end of the estate for his own use. This was called Grove Lodge but was demolished in 1936 when headquarters buildings for both the Builders' Union and the Post Office Workers' Union were built on the land.
The central garden was for communal use, and there was originally a pump and well, mill house, stabling as well as pleasure grounds and shrubberies, but no records survive of the planting. Nor is there any indication of the exact location of the pump and well, but various entries in the Trustee Minutes suggest that they must have been about where the 1960s houses (Nos. 34 and 36) now stand. The earliest map to give any indication of the planting is the OS map of 1874.
The central garden was surrounded by railings, but these were removed during the WWII and have not been replaced. In addition to the unusual crescent shaped railings surrounding the basement areas, there are some hooped gates to basements, door scrapers and one surviving dog-gate. The original gas lamps, which had been converted to electricity, were replaced by ugly concrete lamp standards by the local authority in 1962-3, but 20 years later residents raised the money to install replica Victorian lamp posts. In 1963 a lease was sold on a small portion of adjoining Crescent Lane in order to raise money to tarmac the road; two new houses were then built, Nos. 34 and 36.
The gardens had been neglected and were in bad condition after WWII. Residents then took an interest and looked after them on an ad hoc basis. A gardening committee was formed in the 1970s and some replanting and tree surgery took place. At this time, following the removal of a row of elm trees along the so-called Long Garden, the strip of land that borders Crescent Lane, was replanted with trees and shrubs and underplanted with bulbs. Part of this area was gravelled to provide extra car parking space. In 2005/6 old shrubs were removed and the central flower beds were redesigned and replanted.
In the 1990s the Post Officer Workers' Union, which had occupied the large house at the end and the last house on the straight side, moved out. This last house was taken into private ownership and the railings (which had been moved to include the house within the Union’s grounds) were moved back to their original position, restoring the unity of Crescent Grove. There are three benches, one built around a tree trunk c.2004 in memory of Mr and Mrs Robert Bates, former residents of Crescent Grove. The Bates moved to No.26 Crescent Grove after WWII and both were involved in improving and restoring Crescent Grove, Bob a member of the Management Committee from the late 1950s and becoming Secretary to the Trustees from 1966-75, and Betty a keen gardener who maintained the central gardens. The author Hermione Hobhouse lived in Crescent Grove in the 1960s and wrote the booklet 'A Regency Survival in Clapham', published in 1967 to assist fund-raising efforts for restoration works. It was later updated and reprinted through a legacy to the Estate left by Bob and Betty Bates, who both died in 2003.
Andrew Saint (introduction), 'London Suburbs', Merrell Holberton Publishers 1999; Report of the Royal Commission on London Squares, 1928; Michael Burgess, 'The Chronicles of Clapham', 1929 (The Ramsden Press); Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999; Clapham Antiquarian Society Occasional Sheets (1947-1992) republished on CD by The Clapham Society, 2005; Clapham Society, 'The Story of Clapham Common' (1995); Michael Green, 'Historic Clapham', 2008 (Tempus); John Harris, 'The Grandest Garden in Clapham?’ in The London Gardener, Vol. 11 (2005-2006); Hermione Hobhouse 'A Regency Survival in Clapham', Country Life, 16 December 1965, expanded and reprinted as a booklet by Crescent Grove Trust 1967 (1st edition), 1970 (2nd edition) 2007 (3rd revised edition); Peter Jefferson Smith & Alyson Wilson, 'Discovering Clapham', 2007 (The Clapham Society); Eric E F Smith, 'Clapham', 1976 (London Borough of Lambeth); Alyson Wilson, (Ed) 'The Buildings of Clapham', 2000 (The Clapham Society); Trustee Minutes from 1879 to 2006.
LPGT Volunteer Research by Alyson Wilson, 2009