On The Trail of George Shearing
Whilst researching the life of George Shearing for my 'Shades of Shearing' project I realised that there are still a number of sites in South London connected with George, and that they are all within walking distance of each other. So, I decided to put together a George Shearing South London Trail!
The walk begins at Lambeth North tube station and goes through Lambeth, down the Albert Embankment through Battersea and Clapham and ends just by Wandsworth Common, where it's just a short walk to Clapham South tube. The walk lasts about 2hrs 30mins at a moderate pace, although with some stops it may be nearer 3 hrs. Probably the best place to stop for refreshments is Northcote Road where there are loads of cafés and restaurants.
The George Shearing South London Trail
The trail starts at Lambeth North tube station which is on the Bakerloo Line. Come out of the tube, head across the big junction and continue down Kennington Road. In a few hundred yards there is an intersection with Lambeth Road, turn right into Lambeth Road and continue.
After a few hundred yards on the left you will see a building which looks like a pub and which has the sign The Lambeth Walk on it.
This used to be a pub called The Mason Arms where George had his first paying gig. According to George's autobiography when he finished school at sixteen his dad said to him "If you don't want to go to college or anything there's a job here waiting for you in this pub". George says that although he could possibly have gone to college with some Government support, he decided to take the job. He earned one pound and five shillings a week, and would play in the saloon bar. He would play popular songs and also take requests, there was a tip box on top of the piano and in his book George remembers hearing it 'jingle' when someone dropped some money in.
Continue down Lambeth Road. On the right a bit further on you pass an old school building which used to be St Mary's Primary school, but which is now Fairley School for Children with Special Needs. You will also pass the Bell Building on your left which has a plaque saying that there has been a pub called the Bell on this site since 1560, however in 1958 it was redeveloped into offices and flats. Continue down Lambeth Road, past the Garden Museum and St Mary's Church on your right and onto Albert Embankmet.
Turn left at the big junction in front of Lambeth Bridge and continue down Albert Embankment with the Thames on your right. In the distance you can see the white chimneys of Battersea Power station. As you continue down the Embankment you pass the offices of the International Maritime Organisation on your left which is an agency of the UN responsible for measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping. After a few hundred yards the path veers away from the river, on the other bank you can just see the Tate Britain building on Millbank.
The road here runs adjacent to the railway line running into Vauxhall Station and on the right you can see the shops and cafés which have been built underneath the railway arches. When you come to the junction with Vauxhall Bridge Road, cross over and turn right onto Bridge Road. Just before you begin to cross the bridge turn left through a gap in the fence and take the River Walk. This part of the walk follows the Thames Path past the big housing and retail developments on the left and views over the Thames on the right.
After a few hundred yards bear left away from the river and join Nine Elms Lane just in front of a brightly painted shelter. This section of the walk runs through the huge Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea "opportunity area" which has been trumpeted as the biggest regeneration project in Europe. Just after New Covent Garden Market on your left the road becomes Battersea Park Road and continues past the newly refurbished Battersea Power Station complex which you will pass on your right and the famous Battersea Dog and Cats Home.
Continue down Battersea Park Road. You will go under a railway bridge and pass Battersea Park tube station on your right. Further down on your left is a pub called The Magic Garden, turn left just after the pub into Alfreda Street and then first left into Rawson Street.
This was the street where George Shearing was born on August 13th 1919 at At the time it was called Arthur Street and the once terraced street has since been redeveloped into flats. The Shearing family lived at no 67 and George writes about the street in his autobiography: "The houses were very close together and there was really no garden at all, just a little backyard." About the house he writes: "Upstairs was Mum and Dad's bedroom and two other bedrooms, downstairs was the kitchen the dining room and the living-room or parlor...the toilet was in the back garden...so in the winter it wasn't the most pleasant thing to go out there in the middle of the night...the house had no bathroom, we would put a round tin tub in front of a coal fire to take our weekly bath." George was the youngest of nine children so living conditions must have been pretty cramped and uncomfortable for the family.
From Rawson Street retrace your steps to Battersea Park Road and continue walking down the road in the same direction. Eventually you come to a junction with Latchmere Road. On the right is a row of almshouses established in 1841 by Mrs Ann Maria Lightfoot and her daughter Mary which are now used for social housing. On the other side of the junction is The Latchmere Pub which George remembers walking home from. In his autobiography he says: "it was over a mile, but I used no cane, no dog no anything. I had many bruises and scars to show how daring I was".
Cross at the junction and turn left down Latchmere Road in front of the pub. A little way down take Latchmere passage on your right. This leads you under a railway bridge into Falcon Park. Take the left path by the playground and at the junction with another path turn left and continue. When you come to some five-a-side football pitches take the path on the right which leads under a railway bridge into Shillington Park. Continue straight across the park where you will join another path next to a sports area. Turn right at the end of this path into Este Road.
This building used to be The Shillington Street School which George attended from the age of four and it was here that George received his first general music lessons. The majority of the children at the school were either totally blind or myopic and George stayed here until he moved to the Linden Lodge School for the blind aged 12yrs.
The building now consists of private flats, but opposite it in Este Road is the George Shearing Centre. This is a community centre for children and adults with special needs. At the time of writing (summer 2023) the centre runs Unique Youth a specialist after school club for 'young people aged 13-25 years with learning disabilities and complex needs.
Walk round the back of the community centre and pick up the path which leads past a playground on your right and out of the park. Cross over Batten Street and pick up an unnamed path which goes through a housing estate behind some flats. Eventually you come to an opening on the left which leads into Falcon Glade park. Follow the path through the small park and turn left onto Falcon Road. Continue under the railway tracks going to and from Clapham Junction, and continue to the big junction by The Falcon pub. At the junction head straight over into St John's Road and continue straight on. At the next major junction cross over the South Circular road and continue straight on into Northcote Road. There are many cafe's and bars here if you want to stop for some refreshment!
Just after The Bolingbrooke Pub, turn right at the next junction into Broomwood Road. Continue to the crossroads and turn left into Bollingbroke Grove, with Wandsworth Common on your right. Contine down Bolingbroke Road until you come to Bromwood Prep School on your left.
This was the former site of the Linden Lodge School For the Blind which George attended from age 12 to 16yrs.
On the wall just to the left of the main lodge is a blue plaque which was put up in 2017 by The Battersea Society. You can actually see the blue plaque slightly better from Dents Road which runs beside the school.
In his autobiography George says: "The greatest boon to me, as far as learning to be blind, and to live with blindness, was the four years I spent at the Linden Lodge residential school between the ages of twelve to sixteen." It was here that George also started taking serious piano lessons. His teacher was a man named Mr Newell and George also used to try and spend at least an hour's practice in a day often in the sitting room in the evening.
George left Linden Lodge aged sixteen and went to work in the Mason's Arms after which he played in a number of professional bands including with Stephane Grapelli in 1942 and won six consecutive Melody Maker 'Top Pianist' polls. In 1947 he left London for the United States and began the next chapter of his career.
Continue down Bollingbroke Grove a little way and turn left into Blenkarne Road. This dog-legs round to the right until you come to a junction with Thurleigh Road, turn left here. Continue down Thurleigh Road up the hill and past the imposing front of St Luke's Church on your right. Just after the church take a right into Thurleigh Avenue. If you look up at the houses on your left you will see a blue plaque commemorating Gus Elen the music hall comedian who lived in Thurleigh Avenue until his death in 1940. He was famous for singing comic songs about the East End of London such as "Arf a Pint of Ale" and "If It Wasn't for the 'Ouses in Between", like George he also spent some time performing in the United States.
At the end of Thurleigh Avenue turn left into Nightingale Lane and continue down past Clapham Common on your left until you come to Clapham South tube station, which is where the walk ends.