Culture, Leisure

Surprise discovery shines light on Streatham’s past

Builders working on a multi-million pound leisure development in Streatham have unearthed a piece of history in the form of time capsule that had lain untouched for 86 years.

They made the unexpected discovery under the foundation stone of the old Streatham Leisure Centre, which is currently being taken down to make way for the brand new Streatham Hub development which will include a brand new ice rink, leisure centre and swimming pool.

The capsule was buried when the old ‘Streatham Baths’ were being built, probably on 29 April 1926 by Alderman AW Mathias, the then Mayor of Wandsworth, and before boundary changes brought Streatham into the London Borough of Lambeth in 1964.

The builders who made the discovery handed it over to Lambeth Council and it was taken to Lambeth Archives, the borough’s record office and local history library, where it was opened for the first time by Cllr Florence Nosegbe, Cllr Nigel Haselden and Local Studies Librarian Fiona Price on Thursday 9th February.

Among the artefacts found inside were copies of contemporary local newspapers, the Streatham Times and Wandsworth Borough News. The Streatham Times front page article from April 23rd 1926 reported the success of shop window dressing competition organised by the council to encourage people to shop at local businesses, something that continues to this day with the council’s ‘Streatham best dressed shop window’ competition running every Christmas.

Other stories included the conviction of a man from Balham for the theft of a metal engine case, suggesting that scrap metal theft is not just a modern problem. The latest silent film of Lambeth born Charlie Chaplin, The Gold Rush, was the show not to miss at the Broadway Palace in Tooting the newspapers reveal, and an advert reveals that a new semi-detached house in Telford Avenue, Streatham, was on sale for what today seems an unbelievable bargain, at £995.

The capsule also contained detailed council papers documenting the minutes of meetings to decide upon the building of the Streatham Baths – later renamed Streatham Leisure Centre – which opened in 1927. The contents will now be stored at the Lambeth Archives, Knatchbull Road, as a permanent and important historical record of Streatham’s past.

Cllr Nigel Haselden, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, said: “Nobody knew the time capsule was there until the workmen stumbled upon it so it’s a fascinating piece of history and a real surprise. It was quite a strange feeling opening it for the first time and touching something that had lain undisturbed for almost a century. Reading the newspapers it was interesting to see how much had changed, but also how familiar some of the stories and issues were.

“I’m hoping we are able to rebury a new time capsule at Streatham Hub – it would be fascinating to think of people in another 100 years time following in our footsteps and learning about life in 2012 through artefacts we had buried.”

Fiona Price, Local Studies librarian, Lambeth Archives said: “Our mission at Lambeth Archives is to provide a full record of Lambeth and its people which includes preserving records of the activities of the council. This is a record of previous activities in the borough, albeit that this record was laid down by the councillors of the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth, prior to the boundary changes and we are very happy to receive it for preservation for future generations, at Lambeth Archives.”

The capsule was unearthed by construction workers working for VINCI Construction UK, the contractors on the Streatham Hub Scheme. The Streatham Hub development is a partnership between Lambeth Council and Tesco which will breathe new life into Streatham and provide world class facilities for the whole community. The fantastic new facilities are expected to be completed in 2013 and will include:

  • a full-size ice rink with around 1,000 spectator seats
  • a modern leisure centre, including a swimming pool
  • 250 new homes, including affordable homes a Tesco store on Streatham High Road near to Streatham Station.
  • 600 new jobs

A new history book “Lambeth Architecture 1914-1939” by Edmund Bird, is currently being produced jointly between Lambeth Archives and the Lambeth Local History Forum. It is a follow up to the book “Lambeth’s Edwardian Splendours” published in 2010, and it should be published in April this year.




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