Temperance and Billiards ... they don't feel a natural match, do they? Billiards suggests bottles of ale, overflowing ashtrays and an ample measure of the dissolute. I came across this wonderful sign on Battersea Rise in south London, just off Clapham Common, Not a billiard hall any more, of course. Not temperance either. It's a pub.
But it's a splendid building, an unlikely survival. And, I discover, a remnant of what was once a nationwide movement to break the link between billiards and beer.
The Temperance Billiard Hall Company - no, I am not making this up - was set up in Lancashire in 1906. Its aim was to provide a salubrious location for the hugely popular pastime of billiards way from the corrupting influence of alcohol and the licensed trade.
An architect, Norman Evans, designed a dozen or more of these halls in the years before the First World War. There's one in Fulham which is listed; it's also now a pub, cheekily called The Temperance. But as you can see this Battersea Rise billiards hall also has a touch of style about it, with almost an oriental ambience to its tiled frontage complete with cupola. I'm not sure, but I'd guess it's one of Evans's.
As late as 1958, this was one of more than twenty temperance billiard halls in London. P.J. Kavanagh, indeed, wrote a poem entitled 'The Temperance Billiard Hall' - thugh sadly I can't find the text online.
A brave attempt at social improvement - snookered by the popular appetite for something a bit stronger than sasparilla.
The closing of Clapham Library
After 123 years, Clapham Library closes at the end of this week. It's a wonderful building, with a fantastic location - at one corner of the Common, opposite Holy Trinity and alongside the elegance of Clapham Old Town.
The building dates from 1889 - Battersea Public Library, not all that far away on Lavender Hill, is of exactly the same vintage. You do wonder about the back story there - a keen municipal rivalry, perhaps. The libraries still fall either side of a local government fault line - it used to be Clapham / Battersea, now it's Lambeth / Wandsworth.
Of the two libraries, Battersea is bigger, and better refurbished. But Clapham is appealingly compact, and more pleasing on the eye.
In its final days, Clapham Library is hosting an exhibition about the life and writing of a local author, Pamela Hansford Johnson. She was brought up on Battersea Rise, and the area is captured particularly in her first novel, This Bed Thy Centre, which has recently been republished.
As for the fate of the library building, a local group Omnibus is campaigning for it to become a community arts centre. Another option is that it will be turned into top-of-the-market flats.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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