Thoroughly mocked by comedian Peter Sellers in his 1958 travel spoof ‘Gateway to the South’, Balham has spent most of its existence being overlooked in favour of more well-known nearby neighbours such as Clapham, Brixton and Tooting. However, following many years of obscurity, it’s suddenly coming into the limelight with London renters realising the myriad of benefits offered by this calm and relaxed suburban area - admittedly helped by the fact it was voted one of 'Britain’s best places to live' for the previous two years running by the Sunday Times!
While Balham has always had a strong community spirit, the last decade has seen the close-knit residents grow even prouder of SW12 as independent coffee shops, cool boutiques, and cult restaurants arrived on their doorstep and the rest of the city began to take notice. It’s a more mature crowd than in Clapham, with fewer opportunities for raucous nightlife, but for the families and professional couples who live here there are seemingly endless distractions for every interest, from outdoor swimming at the nearby Tooting Bec Lido to home brewing classes at We Brought Beer.
Fortunately, despite all the trappings Balham is still a down to earth area and has managed to remain unpretentious amidst these changes. The weekly farmers market is still always packed with families, and while popular local comedy club Banana Cabaret draws big-name performers to the area, it remains largely under the radar for anyone other than Balham residents. Add to this acres of green space in the vicinity courtesy of Clapham Common and Wandsworth Common as well as a variety of properties from detached period houses to modern apartments, and it’s not hard to see why Balham is rapidly becoming the South West London area of choice.
On a map
Situated in the Borough of Wandsworth, Balham is located in South West London with Clapham to the north, Brixton to the east, and Tooting to the south. It sits just inside Zone 3, and has a postcode of SW12.
History of Balham London
Unlike the long and illustrious history of many London areas, which often date back to the Roman period, Balham has very little history to speak of. Until the nineteenth century it was a small, unremarkable hamlet of farms and a few country houses.
It wasn’t until the arrival of the railway in 1856 at Balham Station that the area began to grow, and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century developers and builders such as Alfred Heaver helped create the structure and layout of modern Balham with property, estates and commercial buildings. The Northern Line arrived in the 1920s which spurred further development, including the building of the the famous Du Cane Court, an Art-Deco mansion block named after the last Lords of the Manor of Balham.
However, despite a relatively brief history, Balham has not been without scandal - it sensationally made the news in 1876, when local resident Charles Bravo was poisoned at his Balham home The Priory. It was a huge murder case at the time, and was never solved due to missing evidence despite suspicious motives from his wife Florence, her lover Dr Gully, and the housemaid Jane Cannon Cox. It has since been represented in books, films and television shows over the years, though none have ever come close to figuring out what really happened.
Transport from Balham London
Despite what some might believe with a Zone 3 label, Balham actually offers very reasonably transport links for a South West London area. Balham station is on the Northern Line, taking just 20 minutes direct to Bank and 29 minutes Kings Cross St Pancras. The station also offers National Rail services, with direct trains to London Victoria, London Bridge, and into Surrey. In addition, there are numerous buses operating in the area, including a night bus from Aldwych for long boozy evenings in Central London.
Cost of living in Balham London
Partly due to the Zone 3 category of Balham station (although the neighbouring Clapham South station is in Zone 2), prices in Balham are considerably lower than in the popular nearby areas of Clapham and Brixton, and just slightly higher than Tooting. Balham also benefits from some of the lowest council tax in London by being in the borough of Wandsworth.
All sorts of properties are available here, including small terraced houses, Edwardian and Victorian period homes on leafy streets, mansion blocks (including the famous Art-Deco building Du Cane Court) and ex-authority apartment buildings. New developments are also arriving as the area grows in property, with various modern apartments scheduled to open in the next few years.
As of December 2015, the average cost of a two bed apartment in Balham is £2150 per month, although properties can be found from £1400.
Restaurants in Balham London
The team behind high-end steak restaurants Hawksmoor recently launched a series of cool, laidback bistros under the name Foxlow, and this branch on Bedford Hill has all the best bits of Hawksmoor - great steaks, clever cocktails and bold burgers - with more budget-friendly prices. Throw in some moody, New-York style interiors, and you’ve got the perfect spot for a Saturday night dinner.
Address: 15-19 Bedford Hill, London SW12 9RG
Phone: 020 8675 6900
Beloved by local mums who want to keep the kids entertained while catching up with friends, this family-friendly cafe has a built-in playroom complete with weekly interactive playtimes for little ones. The cafe itself serves up delicious sweet treats, teas and coffees, making it ideal for afternoon tea or after-school sessions.
Address: 162 Balham High Rd, London SW12 9BW
Phone: 020 8772 1562
Cult pizza restaurant Franco Manca has taken over London in the last few years with a staggering 21 restaurants now open across the city, but don’t think that means a dip in quality - their slow-rise sourdough pizzas with authentic Italian toppings are as excellent as ever. Newly arrived in Balham, the restaurant is already a hit with locals and has cemented the area as the latest cool spot to live in.
Address: 53 Bedford Hill, London SW12 9EZ
Phone: 020 8772 0489
Artisan cafe Milk is without a doubt the most fashionable place to be seen having brunch in Balham, and fortunately the top-quality menu lives up to it’s much-hyped reputation. Come here for speciality coffees and organic dishes such as baked eggs and confit pork belly while relaxing with the weekend papers.
Address: 20 Bedford Hill, London SW12 9RG
Phone: 20 8772 9085
Shops in Balham London
Hugely popular with those looking for an interesting gift, the Oliver Bonas shop in Balham has everything from quirky homewares and unusual glasses to jewellery and fashionable dresses. The prices are reasonable too, and they have excellent seasonal sales if you're hunting for a real bargain.
Address: 101-, 103 Balham High Rd, London SW12 9AP
Phone:c020 8673 0728
Local carnivores love the family-run Chadwick’s Butchers, which sells a wide range of top-quality organic and free range meats including game, beef, lamb and more atypical options such as haggis and cockerels. The deli section is great for picking up some cheeses, while if you’re keen to improve your kitchen skills they run regular butchery classes too.
Address: 109 Balham High Rd, London SW12 9AP
Phone : 020 8772 1895
On the other end of the spectrum from the meaty butcher's shop, As Nature Intended is a healthy superstore for all the natural and organic products, produce and groceries that you might want. They champion ethical products and smaller brands too, so it’s great for browsing if you’re looking for something new to try.
Address: 186-188 Balham High Rd, London SW12 9BP, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 8675 2923
Things to do in Balham London
This glamorous entertainment hub puts any nearby multiplexes to shame with a state-of-the-art screen, comfy sofas for cosying up during the film, an American-style diner and even a small garden to boot. Come for screenings of retro classics and stay for a decadent dinner too.
Address: 12 Balham Station Rd, London SW12 9SG, United Kingdom
Phone: 020 8772 6556
Just a mile away from central Balham, Tooting Bec Lido is without a doubt one of the finest outdoor swimming pools in London. Colourful and very cold, it dates back to 1906 and can boast the title of the the oldest purpose-built pool in Europe as result. Currently open from May to September, it's a summertime must-do if you're a Balham local.
Address: Tooting Bec Road, London SW16 1R
Phone: 020 8871 7198
Balham's local comedy club night at the Bedford may be relatively compact, but it certainly packs a punch when it comes to performers - everyone from Eddie Izzard to Harry Hill has performed here over the years, but they're also dedicated to giving new comedians a platform to show their talents. You'll never have a dull evening here.
Address: 77 Bedford Hill, London SW12 9HD
Phone: 020 8682 8940
Comedy is so popular in Balham that there's even an entire festival dedicated to it, which is held every year in July at the same venue as Banana Cabaret. Featuring everyone from brand-new acts starting out on the circuit to big names in the comedy world, it's a guaranteed week of laughter and mild mayhem. What's more, they even put on comedy workshops if you fancy trying out your routine and picking up some tricks.
Address: 77 Bedford Hill, London SW12 9HD
Phone: 020 8682 8940
Main image credit: Cosmic Jacuzzi