I’m always raving about how much I love living in Tooting. The last 15 years have seen it really blossom and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in London. And Tootopia is yet another reason to love this place even more!
This is the 4th year that Tootopia has run – it’s an annual multi-venue 3-day festival created for the whole family. It started out more pub-centric but has moved on to include pop-up cinemas, kids events like glass painting, bands, comedians and DJs – loads of the local restaurants and bars get involved and it has such a great atmosphere. It’s a shame Das is in Berlin for the marathon as he would love it this year! And I’ve not long got back from an historical walking tour.
So the walking tour started at Tooting Broadway and went to various places up to St Nicholas Church. The gentleman who took the tour is a Labour Councillor – Rex Osborn. He was outstanding and really painted a picture and clearly has a passion for history, especially our local history. The highlight has to have been going in to The Granada – built as a cinema and opening in 1931, the interior was designed in Gothic style by famed Russian stage set designer Theodore Komisarjevsky and could hold up to 3000 people. It was mainly used for movies, but many stars played one day concerts at the Granada including Danny Kaye, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Guy Mitchell, Eddie Fisher, The Andrews Sisters, Betty Hutton and Carmen Miranda from America and David Whitfield, Max Bygraves, and Dickie Valentine from the UK. In the late-1950’s/early-1960’s pop singers such as Johnny Ray, Frankie Laine, Pat Boone, Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Lee Lewis, and on 1st June 1963, The Beatles were supported by Roy Orbison, and played to two packed houses. The last live show on stage was The Bee Gees on 28th April 1968. The Granada was equipped to screen closed circuit television and in August 1966, a live relay of the Mohammed Ali v Brian London fight from Earls Court, west London was screened. Occasionally live wrestling was staged.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of patronage, in 1973 it closed it’s doors and in 1976 re-opened as a Bingo Hall and that is still what it is to this day. The good thing is that it is in use – without Gala Bingo taking it over, it most probably would have sat derelict for many years. It now has Grade 1 listing so will never be demolished – that means it’s on the same scale as Buckingham Palace, Tower of London etc! Go the Granada!
The tales we heard painted a picture of farmland and wealthy Londoners buying up land to build large country homes – sadly none of these majestic buildings exist. But it is hard to imagine that Tooting was once in the sticks – it is now classed as greater London with a London postcode so how times have changed. We heard about work houses being set up and one woeful tale even attracted the attention of Charles Dickens – he wrote articles in the newspaper about a work house in Tooting, owned and run by a particularly nasty fellow called Bartholomew Peter Drouet – who was charged with manslaughter during a cholera outbreak but never prosecuted. The articles can be found here and are so interesting. During the outbreak, sadly 118 children died and they are buried in the cemetery at St Nicholas Church.
The land that the Granada sits on was passed to the De Gravenal family back in 1068 – hence the name that still stands today, Tooting Graveney. The manor (or part of it) was at one point purchased by Joseph Salvador (the name Salvador appears over a small lane that runs off the high street) – he was a British-Jewish businessman who descended from Portuguese Sephardic Jews who had escaped persecution during the Portuguese Inquisition and migrated to the Netherlands. From there they immigrated to London, England in the eighteenth century. He played an important part for Jews in the UK as he lobbied for the 1753 Jew Bill to extend full citizenship and civil rights to Jews. Joseph’s nephew Francis (who strangely married his cousin, Joseph’s daughter!) was sent to South Carolina in 1773 to extend and build up their plantation that the family owned. Sadly he was killed by cherokees (who were fighting the Americans, who Francis had sided with) – he was the first Jew killed in the American war of Independence.
And then there was a lady named Frances Clarke, who when widowed from her husband Major General John Clarke, found in his belongings a book called Akbarnama (Book of Akbar). It is the official chronicle of the reign of Akbar, the third Mughal Emperor (r. 1556–1605), commissioned by Akbar himself by his court historian and biographer, Abul Fazl. It was written in Persian, the literary language of the Mughals, and includes vivid and detailed descriptions of his life and times. Frances spent 30 years translating and finding out more information about the book (apparently it is still a little hazy how John Clarke got his hands on this book in the first place) and in 1896 she gifted it to the Victoria and Albert Museum – where it can be seen today on permanent display. And she is buried, in the Clarke family plot alongside her husband in St Nicholas cemetery, Tooting.
I could go on but this is just to show how much I thoroughly enjoyed the walk and the amazing history that is around us all the time without us realising. I will leave you with some pictures.