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Tooting is one of the endless districts of Greater London that make up the sprawling mass of the wonderful and wonderfully bizarre capital city. It sits about ten miles south of central London, is a massive commuter stop on the Northern Line (it has not one but two tubes serving it – Tooting Bec and Tooting Broadway), it is as multi cultural and as ever changing as you could want.
Historically, Tooting started as a tiny village right next to a road that was astonishingly built by the Romans, and the A216 still runs on the exact same route toady. Tooting transformed from village to town to the status of district in the Victorian era. And now it is part of the huge sprawling conurbation London, where one suburb segues invisibly into another, the same throughout all south and north London, indeed in any major global megacity we find in today’s world.
If you are thinking of visiting London and wanted to kick off your visit in a world within a world, there is arguably no better place to start than Tooting. Tooting is a complete microcosm of the wider city of London. It is densely populated, every race under the sun is represented there, there are areas of extreme wealth, there are areas of extreme poverty, all within the tiny two mile radius of its footprint.
Asian culture is hugely and wonderfully established in Tooting, much the same way that African culture is hugely established in the brilliant neighbouring Streatham. The best thing is the myriad of restaurants that span Tooting High Street which stretch from Tooting Bec to South Wimbledon. Time and again, the Indian and Asian restaurants on this strip of a road have won innumerable awards in many magazines and papers.
The usual litmus test is that people with Asian background constant frequent these restaurants, they are not the dreaded tourist traps that one can so often encounter. Tooting passes this test.
More recently there have been even better offshoots into difference culture, including tapas and American chicken restaurants, which show that Tooting can become even more multi cultural, if such a thing were possible.
The other thing you must visit is Tooting Broadway Market. This market has been running for decades and it has at the moment 95 stalls under one roof. The majority of stalls sell food and produce but there is also a wide variety of pop up restaurants plus jewellery and bric-a-brac places.
If you were trying to find great way to experience the whole world in one market, Tooting Broadway Market might be the closest bet you could make on finding a winner. Especially as the Eastern European population has been growing ever since the integration of EU communities within London.
Tooting also has a famous place called Amen Corner with excellent architecture. For years Barclays Bank occupied the areas’s main building, but now that has been taken over by a betting shop, indeed Tooting has an excellent rosta of bricks and mortar betting shops, that even the online betting juggernaut seems not to have had such a huge effect on.
One of the most astonishing things about Tooting is that you can walk a few streets and house prices will literally halve from area to area. The north section of Tooting is the high end of the place. Tooting Bec is in the shadow of the luxurious Balham area, which is renowned for its gorgeous shops and restaurants and its excellent high quality building stock.
Balham High Road connects to Tooting High Street and this is one of London’s most important roads and tributaries which serves both the cycling commuters and car driving commuters of London. When Boris Johnson, the then London Mayor, introduced his famous cycle superhighways, the same time that he introduced Boris bikes, the Tooting High Road was one of his key arteries into the city. Yet again, Tooting showed why it is vibrant with life and key to this city.
House prices can seem somewhat of a parochial obsession of Englishmen, but there is no doubt that, perhaps unlike, say, the German economy or the French economy, the British house price is one of the most important barometers of economic well being. The most expensive houses, detached five bedroom double fronted period properties in Upper Tooting, can sell for over three million pounds, but if you look carefully enough you can also find a one bedroom flat for just over £200,000.
With Brexit looming and making the markets very jittery, everything will change very much, but if you walk say, along Pitcairn Road in lower Tooting, and Streatham Road in upper Tooting, you could well be walking on different planets. Again, this shows the wonderful melting pot and meeting of worlds this small district has in the huge, huge city.
Some of the most luxurious restaurants in London are situated in or very near Tooting yet on the other hand the recent surge of drug dealing and gang related knife crime is happening not a million miles from the Tooting area. It is exactly these extremes of life that make Tooting such a fascinating dichotomy, something that is reflected in the wider city of London. Do not let this recent spate of knife crime worry you in visiting London, the chances of getting caught up in anything are still a million to one.
Tooting Bec Lido is a great place to swim…
If anything the recent spate of headlines are actually being generated for other reasons. If anything the story behind the headline is more interesting than the headline itself, although crime agencies are rightly still extremely keen to extinguish the horrid spate of life changing murders. The first factor is the effect of Russian interference in western countries. Russian money and influence plays a large part in the real power behind drugs culture in London, it is therefore not a surprise that Russian meddling is happening on UK streets both in high profile events like street poisonings with toxic agents, but also more subtle ways like increasing gang and territorial warfare between sellers. These tremors have been felt slightly in Tooting.
There are obviously many hotels and many Airbnb options in Tooting, so if you are visiting London, make sure you visit this gem of a district. Because otherwise, as someone nearlyonce said: ‘When you are bored of Tooting, you are bored of life.’