Unigate Woods

Unigate is the name of a defunct dairy firm only recognisable to those over a certain age but it is preserved, oddly, in the name of a patch of dense Streatham woodland on a hill off Valley Road. This is part of the greenery that remains on the side of the ridge that rises between Streatham and West Norwood, left over on land too steep for development. The land was part of the dairy company’s depot, eventually sold for housing during the 2000s. It had begun life as the Curtis Brothers Dairy Farm before becoming, in the 1930s, a United Dairies plant advertised as the most up-to-date in the UK, with a model dairy and windows for the public to view the bottling line. However, the dairy was also the site of Streatham Wells, the successor to Streatham original spa springs on the hill above the Common. The waters of the well were sold on site, eventually as part of the dairy business which delivered mineral water with the milk until the Second World War.  

Unigate was formed in a merger between United Dairies and Cow and Gate. It merged again with Dairy Crest in the 1990s – rebranded, forgettably, as Uniq – before vanishing with the decline in doorstep deliveries. The woods it left behind is a dense thicket, with springs and seasonal streams that still carry Streatham water. A wood is a separate realm that shields those that venture in from the sounds and sights of the city. Unigate Woods is a place of undefined possibilities where anything that happens does so beyond London among beech, ash, sycamore, wild roses and deep, varied undergrowth. During lockdown it was cautiously shared by all sorts of people, stepping around one another as they left the surrounding terraces and small estates and entered a space cluttered only with the imagination.