48 Hours on Clapham High Street


Clapham High Street

Clapham High Street first appears on a map dated 1745.  In the 19th century Clapham was an affluent and sought-after suburb of South London and as it grew in prosperity so too did its High Street which, by the early 20th century, was notable for its wide range of shops and entertainment opportunities.  Some distinguished local residents will have walked this High Street in bygone days: Samuel Pepys, William Wilberforce, and Noel Coward, amongst many others.  And some of the street’s current older occupants recall with fond memories a High Street very different to that of today's.

Clapham High Street has always been associated with retailing.  Marks and Spencer arrived in 1932 in a modern-new building and, after it closed in 1945, the building was occupied by Tesco (the building is now occupied by McDonalds).  Sainsbury moved into a large new office block on the High Street in 1968 and in 1996 it built what it described as its flagship store; 21 years later it remains one of the High Street's focal points.

Today there are 123 premises on the high street, 42% of these are ‘leisure’ premises, mostly bars, clubs, pubs and restaurants.  Many users I spoke to were disappointed by the lack of shops one might expect to find on a high street, including clothes shops: over the last two years 18 premises have closed including a florist, a bread shop, a pet shop, and a book shop.  In contrast 5 hairdressing/beauty/personal care salons have arrived on the high street.  These changes mirror what is happening on so many high streets across the UK. 

Whilst looking a little jaded, the High Street is arguably a local success story: it employs 1,500 people, has a vacancy rate well below the UK average, and there are leisure operators investing capital in their premises.   In part its health can be attributed to its booming night-time entertainment (it is extraordinary how many people in London have heard of ‘Infernos’!) which fills the streets well into the early hours of the morning at the week-ends.

Alongside this burgeoning night-time economy are a few long-established independent retailing businesses (10 have been on the High Street for over 30 years).  Their world is getting progressively more challenging, given sharply escalating rates and rents as well as  increasing competition; they endeavour to survive alongside the retailing multiples found on so many high streets in the UK such as Sainsbury’s, Smiths, Boots, Superdrug and Oddbins.

In terms of its users, the high street is packed with night-time clubbers at the week-end; in contrast the street is very quiet at night in the early part of the week.  During the day its usage ebbs and flows in line with the rhythms of its varied users: commuters, students and shoppers.

For a photographer it is the rich diversity of the individuals who use and work on 'their high street' (and who have a very diverse set of views about it!) that brings it to life and makes it such a rewarding photographic and personal experience.