The Clapham Society Green Plaques

10. 43 Netherford Road (the Old Court House)

Pictures relating to this history are at the foot of the page

The Old Court House, Netherford Road
The Old Court House.
Photo: Dana Kubik

In 1889, a new County Council for London came into being. The functions it took over from the previous county authorities included coroners’ courts and supervision of weights and measures. It decided to organise on a district basis, and Clapham was in the South Western District. A weights and measures office was rented in St John’s Hill, Clapham Junction, and coroners’ inquests were held in a house belonging to St Paul’s Church in Wandsworth Road. These temporary arrangements were unsatisfactory, not least because the St John’s Hill building had no stables, and the Council decided to look for a permanent site on which to build new premises.

The site it found in Netherford Road was highly suitable. It adjoined the ancient Clapham Churchyard. This had been closed to burials for over 40 years; but in the corner which backed onto the Netherford Road site, there was a small building which was the local mortuary. Another advantage was that the site would allow the building to have two entrances, one from Netherford Road, and the other via a driveway from Wandsworth Road, enabling the two uses of the building to be kept completely separate. So in 1899 the land was purchased from Mr WS Ogilvie for £1,500, and plans were drawn up by the LCC’s Architect’s Department.

No copies of the plans have survived, or at least none have been traced, but in December 1899 the LCC was presented with a detailed written description. The coroner’s court had a big courtroom, 27 x 17ft, and there was a smaller room for witnesses, with a toilet. The coroner had a small private room. The public entered from Wandsworth Road, while the coroner had a private entrance from Netherford Road. There was a doorway in the churchyard wall allowing access to the mortuary.

Much the greater part of the building was the weights and measures testing office. The testing room for glass and for weights was only slightly smaller than the court room; at the rear was a receiving platform and stamping plates. A smaller room was an office for the inspectors with a testing bench and there was also a large space for packing and storage. The Resident Officer had a three-bedroom apartment. The public entrance was from Netherford Road, from which there was also a side approach, leading to a yard and stables at the rear, which included a coach house.

The building work was carried out by the Council’s in-house workforce. It was initially costed at £3,800, but this was seriously inaccurate, and the Superintending Architect had to submit a shamefaced explanation for the eventual cost of £5,290. The building was opened on 6 December 1901 by AM Torrance, the Chairman of the Council, and Sir George D Harris, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Coroners’ Courts and Mortuaries.

A change in the law in 1926 reduced the number of cases in which the coroner had to hold a public inquest, and in consequence the LCC was able to reduce the number of courts from 26 to 14. The Clapham court closed at the end of 1930. At sometime in the early 1920s, the building became the district office for LCC local taxation licences, and this use and the use for weights and measures continued to 1932.

The LCC was at that time responsible for the sewerage and main drainage of London. Needing more space, in 1933 it decided to use the now redundant Netherford Road premises as its southern main drainage depot. The main building would be offices and the stables, by this time garages, would be repair shops. The change of use was challenged by the Netherford Road neighbours, who invoked a restrictive covenant dating from the purchase of the land in 1899; but an arbitrator ruled in favour of the LCC, and the transfer took place in 1936. At a reorganisation of water and drainage authorities in 1974, the building passed to Thames Water. When it closed its depot in the mid-1990s, the building passed into private hands.

The building was listed Grade II on 27 March 1981.

On 4 July 2017 a Clapham society Green Plaque was unveiled on the building by the owners, Allison Clark and Axel Maier, who generously hosted an excellent party in the garden behind their house, on a perfect sunny summer’s evening.

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Click here to read about the meaning of our Green Plaques.