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Hidden Treasures Surround Me

One of the absolute joys of this job is that it continues to introduce me to new places I never knew existed - even though I have lived here for 30-odd years.

For example, despite walking down St Luke’s Avenue many times over the years, I had absolutely no idea that there was an old chapel hidden behind Revolution off Clapham High Street.

It’s an indication of Clapham’s rich history that a building as striking as this chapel could be hidden away. And it might well have remained a mystery to me, had it not been recently redeveloped into the new Cactus TV studio, home to the Saturday Kitchen TV show and a new cooking school. I recently went to the studio to interview Amanda Ross, the driving force behind this new studio (an interview that will feature in next month’s issue), but for the present she plays only a bit part in the story of this remarkable building.

Built in 1834, the chapel was part of Clapham Grammar School set up by a clergyman, educational reformer, scientist and astronomer by the name of Charles Pritchard. It seems Pritchard had been convinced by some powerful friends that the education being offered elsewhere in south west London needed modernising. One of these men was none other than Charles Darwin who felt that the religious education being offered to his sons was not in keeping with his, and others, modern scientific beliefs. So it was that Pritchard was poached from his position as headmaster of an exclusive private school in Stockwell and persuaded to open a grammar school at 95-97 High Street, Clapham – which the young Darwin boys duly attended. Many of the other Victorian buildings of this school have been lost, but the magnificent chapel still remains. So next time you’re watching Saturday Kitchen, try looking over Gregg Wallace’s shoulder and see if you can’t make out some of George Darwin’s schoolboy graffiti on the back wall!

Have a wonderful July!

Jon Watt is editor-at-large of the Clapham & Battersea and Fulham editions of Time & Leisure Magazine.