All the fun of the fair

Walking over Clapham Common to a meeting in the Old Town yesterday I got my first look at ‘Winterville 2017‘. Billing itself as ‘London’s Alternative Winter Experience’ this mixture of old-fashioned fair ground show and modern outdoor activities has prompted much heated debate among Clapham locals.

My first reaction was that it was not as garish as its web-site suggests, with its huge scaffold frontispiece. My second was that it was much too big and, although it did not block any of the paths across the Common, was much too intrusive, taking up such a lot of space.

This is the latest example of the Common being rented out by a cash-strapped Lambeth LA. And why not, events have always taken place there? The Common is the venue in Summer for one-off concerts or celebrations like Pride, it hosts music and other festivals which take place over a weekend and Bank Holiday. The circus visits regularly ( see Clapham Elephants a poem referenced in Common Books ). The cash raised goes to keeping public services open.

Supporters include lots of local businesses, believing that it will bring people to the area and people, especially with young families, who look forward to having such an amenity on their doorstep rather than having to go into the centre of town. Objectors, who are in the majority, object on grounds of noise, litter, damage to the Common and restriction of access for residents who regularly use the open space. This is land for use in common, but access to Winterville on Friday and Saturday nights is charged for, a very modern form of ‘enclosure’.

I, personally, don’t object to using the Common for events, as long as those events are occasional, regulated and the money raised is used locally, especially to maintain the Common (and restore it, for restoration is often needed). There is already a hard standing area specifically for this sort of event, it’s where the visiting Circus and fun fairs are sited. There’s the rub, Winterville isn’t standing on that specially designated space near Clapham South tube station, it’s on the grass nearer to Clapham Common station.  Why?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but wonder if it may have to do with the designated space being in the borough of Wandsworth?

Clapham Common sits between two boroughs – my daily walk to the tube was, for a short time, along the road which lies where the two boroughs meet – camera crews and photographers would appear with tedious regularity when snow fell, to show how efficient Wandsworth (Tory) cleared its roads, while inefficient Lambeth (Labour) did not.  Cue pictures of a completely unusable road with deep snow reaching to the white line which runs down its middle.  A wonderful example of how the desire for immediate political advantage drives out common sense. Lambeth oversees the running of the Common, but Wandsworth also has a claim on it. I do hope that local political rivalry isn’t the cause of the siting of Winterville.

Historically there has always been rivalry over the Common. Back in 1716 the residents of Battersea (the north side) dug a ditch and rampart to keep out the livestock belonging to the Clapham residents (the south side). The Clapham residents promptly filled it in again. By 1768 a Committee was formed to oversee the whole of the Common and keep it in common usage (the committee was formed after a resident tried to dig a trench across it).

Winterville will be in place for over five weeks, until New Year’s Day. Attractions include an out-door ice rink, cinema, roller disco, market, fun fair, DJs, Christmas shows & music, eateries and bars (and you can take part in the somewhat intriguing Yoga on Ice, see web-site).

If you enjoyed this article you can read more about the Common at                 A Walk on the Wild Side           Common People                   Common Books                      Place & the Writer                 Common Summer

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