The History of Wandsworth Common

of Wandsworth Common


Snow, Three-Island-Pond, c.1900.

January brings the snow,
Makes your feet and fingers glow!

— Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, A Song of the Weather.

(Click on image to enlarge)

5 January 2022

My very first Magical History Tour (18 January 2022).

Extract from Friends of Wandsworth Common Newsletter, 31 December 2021.
(Click on image to visit Friends website.)

I've been itching to tell this tale for a long time.

The Tour will start with some intriguing puzzles set some years ago in the Wandsworth Society Bedside Edition for 2018.

On 20 December 1877, a young man signing himself "Edwin Wilson" wrote to his friend Martin from "The Beeches", evidently a house on Wandsworth Common. He was inviting Martin to a Christmas theatrical event at an unnamed local school. Edwin illustrated his witty letter with caricatures of the dramatis personae.

A letter sent 20 December 1877 from "The Beeches" by Edwin Wilson to his friend Martin (surname unknown). This is the start of our Magical History Tour (Thursday 18 January 2022, starts 7 pm).
With many thanks to the Wandsworth Society and to Edward Potter, who supplied the letter.
(Click on image to enlarge)

In short, where was the Beeches? What was the school? The operetta? Above all, what happened to Edwin (and the rest of his family) in later life? I think I know, and I'll tell you about them

But why it's a Tour is that, having set off to crack these specific and very local puzzles, I found myself travelling step by step farther and farther away from "The Beeches" and Wandsworth Common — indeed across oceans to continents, over many decades, meeting some astonishing people on the way.

So I'd like to take you on this journey too. (But have no fear, I will get you back to Wandsworth Common within the hour.)

In case you missed it, here's a link to a recent post about the connection between Alice Through the Looking Glass, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Arthur Hughes, and Wandsworth Common.

(Click on image to view article)

But now, at last, some January Chronicles...

As ever, some entries are a little ragged in places so I'll keep tweaking texts and images for a few days. (Hence if you're returning to this page, it may be worth refreshing your browser.)

Email me if you want to comment on anything you've seen or read on the site, or would like to know more about something, or just want to be kept in touch.

Philip Boys


London Evening Standard — Monday 12 January 1874

Gunshots over Wandsworth Common salute the New Year.

(Click on image to enlarge)



Mr. George Stanford, Broomfield Villa, Chatham-road, Wandsworth common, was summoned by the police for discharging a rifle within 50 yards of a highway.

Police constable Barnett said at twelve o'clock on the night of the 31st ult. he heard a rifle discharged three times. On the way to the defendant's house he met a lady, who complained of the annoyance at the unusual hour. He saw the defendant reload the gun in his parlour.

He came to the door and said he had been in the habit of discharging his gun for ten years, also that he hoped to do it again, and it was no more an annoyance tban the peal of bells which could be be heard ringing. He discharged the gun in his garden.

The Defendant, in reply to the magistrate, said it was an indiscreet act, but he had no intention of annoying anybody. It was merely a salutation to the New Year.

Mr. Ingham said the defendant, while saluting the New Year, was frightening persons in the neighbourhood. However, he fined him 2s 6d, and 2s costs.

[BNA: Link]

Thomas Hardy, "A January Night (1879)"

"The poem 'A January Night, 1879'... relates to an incident of this new year which occurred here at Tooting, where they seemed to begin to feel 'there had passed away a glory from the the earth'. And it was in this house that their troubles began."


The rain smites more and more,

The east wind snarls and sneezes;

Through the joints of the quivering door

The tip of each ivy-shoot

Writhes on its neighbour's face;

There is some hid dread afoot

Is it the spirit astray

Of the man at the house below

Whose coffin they took in to-day?

The quotation at the top of this entry ("The poem 'A January Night, 1879'...") is from Thomas and Florence Hardy's The Life of Thomas Hardy (Wordsworth, 2007). "Their troubles" obviously refers to the breakdown in the relationship betwen Thomas and his first wife, Emma.

"The Larches", 1 Arundel Terrace (now 172 Trinity Road), with its entrance doorway in Brodrick Road — photographed in (a rather dreary) 1938.
Thomas and Emma Hardy had moved here in March 1878, so this was their first winter. Januaries were particularly severe in this house. The couple moved away in 1881. [Source: Collage (recently renamed the London Picture Archive).]
(Click on image to enlarge)

Let's stick with January weather stories for a while. Snow and ice must have been more common in the nineteenth century. (I wonder how much more? It would be interesting to know. Any ideas how?)

Birds on the Common were trusted weather forecasters, as here with the arrival of snipes:

Bell's New Weekly Messenger — Sunday 4 January 1846

Snipes near London...

During the last fortnight large number of snipes have visited the outskirts of the metropolis, which circumstance indicates approaching frost. Several of these birds have been shot in Battersea fields and Wandsworth common.

[BNA: Link]

The snipe were reported in many papers, including in the Bath Chronicle, the Liverpool Mail, and Dublin's Weekly Register. But why did anyone (outside of south London) care? Why was it so remarkable that snipes had appeared on Wandsworth Common?

[BNA: Link]

Henry Meyer, Snipe, from his Coloured illustrations of British Birds (1848), volume 5.
Meyer, who died in 1865, is buried in Battersea Old Cemetery.

Henry Meyer writes:

The favourite haunts of the Snipe are swampy meadows, interspersed with patches of black mud or peat bogs. Where the Snipe does not meet with such a spot, it alights in the evening in wet meadows or moist heath heath-ground on commons, on the grassy banks of ditches, rivers and ponds, or in osier-beds; and during windy weather particularly, among willow-stumps, felled copse-wood, and even turnip fields.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Here's another example of Wandsworth Common bird-auguries, this time from the 1920s:

Norwood News — Friday 27 January 1928

Despite the mild weather, a large number of seagulls still remain on Wandsworth Common. and some people think this is a sign of another return of cold weather.

[BNA: Link.]

A snowy Hope Tavern and Belle Vue Road, early 1900s.
Notice, for example, the crossing sweepers.
(Click on image to enlarge)

An extended period of cold weather meant snow and ice. Although many people welcomed the opportunities for outdoor fun (and perhaps some paid work shovelling snow), not everybody did.

Bucks Herald — Saturday 02 January 1909

"London the last days of the dying year have been rendered most unpleasant by a blizzard which produced all sorts of dire results. 'Snow, beautiful snow' may be very nice in the country, but in London, to the vast majority of people it is an unmitigated nuisance..."

This morning it was difficult to get to the City, for 'buses were few and far between, and the much-lauded electric tram service had broken down as it always does when a little extra pressure is put upon it. In the main thoroughfares the surfaces were covered with churned coating of melting snow and mud, and when at last the City was reached it was found wrapped in sepulchral gloom.

Anything more depressing could hardly be imagined, and the few business men who had ventured up from their suburban homes soon returned to them, leaving their clerks to put in few hours under the glare the electric lights.

The work of street-clearing is proceeding apace, and the "unemployed" are in luck! The cost promises to reach huge total. The authorities at Westminster this morning placed the figure for the whole of London at from £130,000 to £150,000.

On the other hand:

(Click on image to enlarge)

The irrepressible British youth has made something out of our visitation. With plenty of snow to favour the sport, toboggan carnivals commenced at early hour on Hampstead Heath, Wandsworth Common, Hilly Fields, Lewisham, and one or two other favoured spots around the Metropolis.

Hundreds of people flocked to these resorts with every kind of article, from the solid bob-sleigh the improvised orange box. and the scene was one of great merriment.

[BNA: Link]

Snow on Wandsworth Common with railway signals (near footbridge) in the distance, Dorrett and Martin, c.1900.
(Click on image to enlarge)

Iced-over ponds and lakes were a great source of pleasure but also of grave danger. Deaths were not uncommon in protracted periods of cold weather. Some people froze, a number drowned.

This is among the most poignant and detailed accounts of a death on the ice I've come across. It dates from 1833, when an eighteen-year-old boy died in the Black Sea.

Morning Post — Thursday 17 January 1833


CORONERS Inquest. — On Tuesday evening an Inquest was held at the Ram Inn, Wandsworth, before Richard Carter, Esq., Coroner, on view of the body of a fine youth eighteen years of age, named William Townsend, the son of Mr. Townsend, the shoemaker of Wandsworth, who met his death under the following melancholy circumstances:

It was stated in evidence that the deceased, on Sunday morning last, was desirous of going skating, and prepared his skates for the occasion. His father, however, knowing the ice was not sufficiently strong to bear, cautioned him and did all in his power to dissuade him from going, and contrived to secrete his skates.

The ill-fated youth, however, persisted in his determination, and in the afternoon he, in the company or a lad a companion, proceeded to a large piece of water about twelve feet deep on Wandsworth Common, called the Black Sea.

The surface of the water was covered with ice, but, not of sufficient substance to allow of the weight of any person upon it. This, however, did not intimidate the unfortunate youth, and both he and his companion ventured upon it and began to slide. They had not been many minutes there before the ice gave way, and young Townsend was immersed in the water.

He called in vain for help, as no person was near him but his companion, who could afford him no assistance, and the unhappy youth sunk under the icy surface. In about a quarter of an hour after, assistance having been procured, the body was got out, and carried to the house of Mr. Wilson the Magistrate, where surgical aid was called in, and the means usually adopted to restore animation were resorted to, but all to no effect, as the vital spark was extinct — The Jury returned a verdict of "Accidental Death."

[BNA: Link]

The Era — Sunday 18 January 1846

The Black Sea (a large lake that once stood where Spencer Park is today) was also notorious for suicides, particularly of young women. This attempt was stopped by a passer-by, as were a number of others. But not all were.


On Thursday morning, about half-past seven o'clock, William Marsh, a basket-maker, living in Garrat-lane, Wandsworth, was crossing the common near to a large and deep piece of water called the Black Sea, when he heard several distinct groans, and on looking towards the pond he saw a woman floating on the water.

He called to some laborers who were at work on the South-Western Railway line, which is contiguous to the spot, and one of them, named William Spencer, at the risk of his life, jumped into the water, and with the assistance of his comrades got her out.

Life was, to all appearance, extinct, but the men, aided by police constable Dempsey, hurried her to the Wandsworth union, and in less than two minutes the unfortunate creature was placed between hot blankets, but it was not until more than an hour had expired that circulation was in part restored, and nearly another hour before she became conscious.

After the poor woman had become sensible, police constable Daley questioned her, and ascertained that her name is Amelia M'Dougal Pringle; that she is the wife of a plasterer, who is working at Kensington; was in her twenty-ninth year, and that she had only been married four months. She said she was very wretched and did not wish to live.

It was afterwards ascertained that she had called upon an old fellow-servant, who is married to a man named Cartwright, living in Love-lane, Wandsworth, and that she remained there until half past ten o'clock on Wednesday night, when Cartwright accompanied her to the foot of Battersea-bridge, and there left her, understanding she was going to her sister's at Islington.

There was no money or property of any a description found upon her, and it is probable that not having any means to pay the toll, she wandered back to Wandsworth common, where she had formerly been in service, and at last driven to madness she threw herself into the water.

She is still in a very weak state, but when sufficiently recovered will be brought before the sitting magistrate at Wandsworth Police court.

[BNA: Link]

There is rarely very much detail about the woman's circumstances in these reports, but generally sufficient to suggest a whole novel — by Hardy?

Around 1900, one of the duties of "Parkies" — uniformed staff — was to monitor the depth and quality of ice on ponds. Several London newspapers faithfully reported its depth, how smooth it was for skating, and the best train and tube stations for access.

Snow on Wandsworth Common, near the "rustic bridge" over the lake, Dorrett and Martin, c.1900.
(Click on image to enlarge)

They also reported grave dangers, even on relatively shallow ponds. In several cases, their warnings were futile.

Globe — Saturday 12 January 1895




A series of alarming ice accidents occurred on Clapham Common last night, causing the utmost excitement. Each of the four large pieces water, which have been so greatly improved by the London County Council, were invaded before the ice was sufficiently strung to bear, with the usual melancholy results...

The ice there was in such dangerous condition that the park officials watched it during the whole day to prevent the public from venturing upon it. They were successful in their efforts till about half-past nine, when, in spite their cautions, a number of people — men, women, and boys began to walk upon the ice. When about a third of the way across, the ice suddenly collapsed, and all who were near the spot were immersed.

Two young man drowned ("their bodies are now lying in between four and five feet of water").

On Wandsworth Common, things were better:

Skating was commenced on the large piece water Wandsworth Common to-day, where the ice was at least three inches thick. Hundreds people availed themselves of the opportunity, and are now reaping the reward of not venturing upon it yesterday.

[BNA: Link.]

Winter — particularly when temperatures stayed for days below zero — always hit the unemployed hardest. Work in the building and many other trades halted, and there was little casual work to be found. Houses were cold and hard to heat, food was scarce and expensive. There were protests.

The Times — 11 January 1887

"Yesterday several large parties of the unemployed in the neighbourhoods of Battersea, Wandsworth, and Clapham paraded the various thoroughfares asking alms... "

They were divided into parties numbering from 50 to 100, who walked in procession five and six abreast.

The thoroughfares traversed included Battersea Park-road, Falcon-lane, St. John's and East-hill, Bolingbroke-road, Trinity-road, and other localities in the neighbourhood of Wandsworth-common and Tooting.

At Wandsworth-common Railway Station, where one of the divisions made a halt, a white flag with black letters announced that the contributions solicited were for the unemployed of Tooting and Wandsworth, and there were also similar announcements at other points along the several routes taken.

Last night an open air demonstration to ventilate the grievances of the unemployed was ... addressed by Mr. Morris (Social Democratic Federation)

In Battersea some members of the Social Democratic Federation had visited 29 streets up to the present, and had taken the names and addresses of every one out of work. In those 29 streets there were 483 men out of work for three months on the average.

The people of England would not know this were it not for the men who had now taken up the cause of the unemployed, because the rich classes were too busy to attend to such matters.

The artist and social revolutionary William Morris.
(Click on image to enlarge)

William Morris's protegee John Henry Dearle (1859-1932) died on 15 January 1932. John Dearle lived for many years on Lyford Road. There's so much to be said about him, but for the moment you can see more here.

"Summer", detail from a tapestry called The Seasons or Orchard, woven by Morris & Co. in wool, silk, and mohair on a cotton ground at Merton Abbey in 1890, designed by William Morris and John Henry Dearle.
(Click on image to enlarge)

Winters must have been particularly hard in winter for Gypsies and other Travellers. They were widely employed in Wandsworth and Battersea, particularly in market gardens and nurseries, or working with horses (for example, at breweries such as Young's).

Contrary to general belief, very few lived in caravans. Most spent their lives in impermanent tent-like structures made from bendy poles with canvas over the top. Families had pitched such tents on and around Wandsworth Common for many generations.

By clamping down on overnight stays on the Common, the 1871 Act (that saved Wandsworth Common) meant the end of a way of life for such "comers and goers". For a while, some found spaces on small empty plots of land around the Common, or near railway lines. Conditions were typically far inferior to the Common — overcrowded, muddy and noxious — which tended to increase public animosity.

In short, this image is not typical:

John Thomson, London nomades, Battersea, 1877.
Thompson's photograph depicts depicts the relatively affluent William Hampton, his family, and their caravan in yard in Battersea. See e.g. John Thomson (1837—1921).
(Click on image to enlarge)

The following article, about a "camp on Wandsworth Common", is noteworthy for simultaneously condemning the gypsies (particularly for the smell emanating from their encampment) and the freezing conditions they endure, while noting with amazement their general healthiness. It also describes in almost anthropological detail the construction of their tents.

Dublin Evening Telegraph — Tuesday 7 January 1879

"[D]octors... gather about the spot in amazement to behold the strange sight of men, women, and children lying all night upon the bare frozen ground, with no other roof than a thin canvass covering; held down by the snow."

(Click on image to enlarge)


There be troubles of all sorts in this ill-conditioned world of ours — the most important are not always the most keenly felt — there be some which should be no trouble at all, and yet do torment us greatly. We are worse than worried; we are outwitted by our gipsies, who, in spite of the rules which should govern their own health as well as ours, will persist in living in tents, defying the attacks of the atmosphere, rude enough to kill any Christian simply by poisoning it with their own emanations.

The magistrates have born sorely perplexed with Mr. Miles, who owns a plot of ground on which the gipsies have gathered (for it cannot be called spread) their tents, small hoods of canvass, beneath which whole families cluster together, and sleep away the hours of the night when many a denizen of a well-built house lies shivering in bed, unable to obtain a wink of slumber from the cold. What is to be done?

The ground belongs to Mr. Miles. No man has power to wrench it from him. Even Frederick the Great was beaten on that name plea of ownership by the millers of Sans Soucie, who defied his Majesty, "while the judges were sitting at Berlin." The only redress to be obtained by the neighbours round the field belonging to Mr. Miles is an indictment for nuisance. Wit.). While the doctors, less squeamish, gather about the spot in amazement to behold the strange sight of men, women, and children lying all night upon the bare frozen ground, with no other roof than a thin canvass covering; held down by the snow.

Some of the learned fraternity fancy that the clue to this endurance of cold is to be found in the manner of constructing their tents. The canvass tenement is divided within by wooden poles in the form of a cross. The feet of the inmates all converge towards the centre, while their bodies lie so closely wedged together in circle that it is impossible for one of them to move in one division of the cross to move without disturbing the others in the same division.

None of the doctors have had the courage to try the experiment of testing the possibility of sleeping on the cold ground in this vitiated atmosphere, all declaring that bottle of brandy and a barrel of eau-de-cologne would not be sufficient to combat the deleterious vapours amid which these children of nature lay down to sleep contented at night and rise rejoicing on the morrow, amid the frost and snow or pelting rain of winter, or in the stifling heat of summer, and yet, as a rule, live to a greater age than the most luxurious dwellers in houses well warmed, well ventilated, and well drained con ever hope to accomplish.

Travellers tell that the scent of Red Indian camp is made manifest for miles before it is reached; the scent of Mr. Miles' camp on Wandsworth Common will certainly reach to Buckingham Palace as soon as the permanent thaw sets in, and the wind blows from the right quarter.

[BNA: Link]

Alas, I have not been able to locate Mr Miles's camp (though I will continue looking). But there were clearly a number of such open spaces in Battersea and Wandsworth, often quite small, in which gypsies and other travellers could find a little space to live, having been turfed off the Common by the 1871 Act. These fields or yards were clearly often enclosed and wretched — far inferior to conditions once enjoyed on the Common.

Many gypies and travellers, moved on from Wandsworth Common, camped further out, for example on Mitcham Common.

Preparing the family meal, Mitcham Common, c.1881
Merton Memories Photographic Archive: Gypsy family in a bender tent on Mitcham Common.]

Preparing the family meal, Mitcham Common, c.1881

In rural areas such as Mitcham, or Wimbledon Common, gypsies could live off the land. Rabbits, hedgehogs, or "cleverly acquired" game found their way into the cooking pot, together with the occasional chicken. Herbs, roots and vegetables could be gleaned from local hedgerows and the edge of fields.

The group picture here, appear dark skinned, probably due to their outdoor lifestyle and exposure to the elements. They camped in areas such as Epsom Downs and Wandsworth Common but were regularly moved on by the police and local landowners.

(Click on image to enlarge)

[I have accumulated some remarkable material on the history of gypsies and travellers on Wandsworth Common which I hope to publish in some form in the nearish future. Let me know if you want to know more.]

Towards the end of the First World War, the preacher Harry Jeffs generated spiritual warmth from a chance observation of couples cuddling together in the snow on Wandsworth Common.

Jeffs made it the central idea of a sermon, and the basis for a critique (and a cure) of just about all social ills — estrangement in married life, heartless religion, food rationing, class conflict, and the challenges of post-war reconstruction:

Croydon Times — Saturday 19 January 1918

"He had seen couples sitting close together under an umbrella on Wandsworth Common amid the snow to keep warm. The way to get warm in religion was to get close together and keep close together."


Cold Storage was the foundation upon which Mr. Harry Jeffs built his address, and cold storage being, so to speak. in everyone's mouth to-day, it was a text full of interest, and, as Mr. Jeffs handled it, full of possibilities.

Cold storage was a very important subject just now, and Mr. Jeffs showed that not only was it important in our national life, but in our spiritual life also, because it was a thing to be avoided. There were churches — and Brotherhoods too — where the atmosphere was that of cold storage; you could not attend without the danger of getting influenza or chilblains.

The Brotherhood movement was started to bring back warmth and fellowship into religion.

The first thing in the religion of Jesus Christ was the heart in a glow, the flame of fellowship communicating itself from heart to heart, and where there was fellowship religion was in cold storage and often as dead as frozen mutton.

He had seen couples sitting close together under an umbrella on Wandsworth Common amid the snow to keep warm. The way to get warm in religion was to get close together and keep close together.

There was cold storage in the home. Old married men forgot the days when they used to sit under an umbrella in the snow storm. The Apostle of Kiss the Missis was what he used to be called.

Women had a tough time to-day, what with the tea shortage, the margarine queues, and the sugar tickets, and perhaps oft unhinged and used the rough side of their tongues. Then was the time to cuddle close and get the loving wife out of the cold storage and into the glow of the old courting days.

They wanted also to get the economic lif of the nation out of the cold storage. Let there be an end of the bitter and destructive hostility of class; that bitter and destructive oondict of capital and labour that was so deadly a menace to our country before the war.

What was the reason of it? Keeping the human side of things in cold storage.

The success of reconstruction after the war would depend on getting economics out of cold storage and getting masters and men to realise that they were not working simply for private profits or private wages, but were working for the good of the country in which we all lived, for which our lads in khaki and blue were shedding their rich red blood in river streams.

[BNA Link]

Not surprisingly, cold Januaries called for off-the-shelf medicinal or dietary interventions.

Shipley Times and Express — Wednesday 1 January 1947

A letter from Wandsworth Common, "following a bad attack of fibrositis..."

(Click on image to enlarge)

Rheumatism dispirited him until...

...a friend got him to take Fynnon Salt

Where should we be without a friendly word to help us out of our difficulties?

Wandsworth Common, S.W.18.

Dear Sirs, I feel I must testify to the great benefit I have derived from taking Fynnon Salt following a bad attack of fibrositis (muscular rheumatism)... I became somewhat dispirited at the slow progress towards recovery and wondered if would ever again able to walk any great distances.



I continued regularly with Fynnon Salt for another two months and to my intense relief and pleasure ALL THE PAINS AND SYMPTOMS OF RHEUMATISM HAVE ENTIRELY DISAPPEARED...

Yours faithfully (Signed) C.M.

Get yourself some Fynnon Salt today!

Fynnon Salt is doing a GREAT DEAL OF GOOD to a GREAT MANY PEOPLE who suffer from RHEUMATISM, Lumbago, Neuritis, Sciatica or Gout

Large Size 1/6 (including Purchase Tax)

Fynnon Ltd., Brentford, Mx.

[BNA: Link]

Here's another example, this time for Grape-Nuts.

Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal — Friday 12 January 1912

Wandsworth Common woman discovers Grape-Nuts (no thanks to scoffing husband).

(Click on image to enlarge)


But Relief Came from Right Food.

Food, when it is the right kind, often accomplishes what remedies fail to do.

An instance of this truth is shown by the experience of Wandsworth Common, London, woman.

"For many years," she says, "I have been a terrible sufferer. Have had leave off my household duties several times in the day and gain strength to get through my work.

"About twelve months ago I began to have dreadful nervous attacks, violent tremblings, and fits of depression — feeling as though the worst was going to happen.

"I have taken I don't know how many bottles of medicine. At last I felt it was useless to take any more drugs, I must look to food to help me.

"One day I read about Grape-Nuts, and told my husband I thought it might do me some good. He only laughed, and wanted to know 'how many more things are you going to try?'

"I began on Grape-Nuts and cream for breakfast. Wonderful to relate, I soon began feel brighter, stronger, happier. I left off taking drugs from that day, and kept taking Grape-Nuts.

"Now I have no more nervous attacks, my head is clear, I can read and sing, and long walks without feeling tired, do my household work for my husband and three children, and grateful to Grape Nuts."

"There's a reason."

[BNA: Link.]

What was it about Wandsworth Common women that made their endorsements so trustworthy?

Atom-hot car found on Wandsworth Common

Daily Mirror — Tuesday 5 January 1960


A car containing a radioactive dangerous-to-handle isotope, stolen during the week-end; was found on Wandsworth Common yesterday with the isotope intact in its container.

[BNA: Link]

I can't resist finishing off with a few more pond- and lake-related stories.

As we've noted before, Wandsworth Common was often used for sermonising and speech-making at mass political and religious gatherings. A number were attacked by hostile locals, which raised the issue of a public right to free speech.

In the following case, from 1912, the police argued that, since they could not guarantee the safety of a speaker who had been threatened with a ducking (or drowning), therefore they must ban the entire gathering.

Truth — Wednesday 24 January 1912

"In November last Mr. Boulter was going to speak on Wandsworth Common on the evidences of the Christian religion. A number of rowdy youths, said to be "students and fish porters," whose religious convictions were deeply outraged by this proposal, declared their intention of preventing the address by force and of throwing Boulter into the pond..."

A police officer gave information that a riot was to be apprehended, and that 500 policemen would not be sufficient to prevent it. Upon this Boulter was ordered by Mr. Curtis Bennett to desist from his intention and bound over to keep the peace, or alternatively to go to prison for three months.

This is probably the most outrageous perversion of justice where the right of free speech was concerned that has ever taken place in this country. The matter was made worse by the Home Secretary's subsequent declaration in the House of Commons that he was satisfied the police took a wise and prudent course.

That the obvious duty of the police, when a number of persons who can be identified openly purpose to commit a breach of the peace in order to prevent another man exercising a public right, is to proceed against those prospective law breakers, not against the man who is exercising his right, does not seem to have occurred to Mr. McKenna [the Home Secretary*] any more than to the magistrate, or the policemen themselves.

A pretty state of things in a free country under a "Liberal" Government! But there it is.

[* Reginald McKenna, Home Secretary (1911&mdash1915) in the Asquith Liberal Government. John Buckmaster's son Stanley Owen was elected as a Liberal MP in 1911 and knighted in 1913 when he was appointed Solicitor-General.]

Daily Herald: Political cartoon from 1913 depicting Home Secretary Reginald McKenna force feeding a nameless suffragette
(Click on image to enlarge)

Birmingham Daily Post — Thursday 14 January 1869

The weekly meeting of the Birmingham Natural History and Microscopical Society, included a paper read by Mr. E. Simpson on unusually large Wandsworth Common pond-life.

Hydrophilus piceus, the largest of the aquatic British beetles, the singular water scorpion, Ranatra linearis, and other scarce insects from a pond on Wandsworth Common.

[BNA: Link]

Here are some pictures of the two prodigious insects:

Hydrophilus piceus, the largest of the aquatic British beetles
(Click on image to enlarge)

The life cycle of Hydrophilus piceus. Notice the great size of its larva.
(Click on image to enlarge)

Ranatra linearis, the "water scorpion".
(Click on image to enlarge)

This report was part of a long tradition of plant and insect hunting on the Common, which was particularly famous for species that lived in and around water. (Nearly two centuries of draining and flattening the Common have put an end to that.)

Reading Evening Post — Saturday 31 January 1987

"Fears about the presence of exotic animals was boosted on Saturday when a fisherman found a terrapin the size of a dinner plate in Wandsworth Common Pond..."

"A red-eared terrapin — tiny and innocent looking when young...A snapping turtle — could give a very vicious bite
(Click on image to enlarge)


Have you got a tiny terror in your tank?

PET lovers beware! Timid turtles and terrapins could grow into the terrifying tyrants of the Thames.

Those who buy the little pets to keep in indoor tanks are often unaware that some of the creatures grow into massive vicious snappers up to a metre long and capable of inflicting a very nasty bite.


And as the popularity of the unusual pets grows, Thames Water Authority is becoming more and more concerned that worried owners will set their pets free in rivers and ponds, wreaking havoc with native fish and mammals.

Spokeswoman Brigitte Daniels said: "People who buy snapper turtles don't seem to realise the nature of the beast they have bought or what size they will grow to

"Terrapins have already been found in the waterways and we fear it is only a matter of time before someone dumps one of these snapper turtles.

"They are nasty-tempered snappy beasts and as they grow they can inflict a really nasty bite. A fully grown one has a head the size of a small dog with a horny beak — someone could lose a hand or a foot."

Fears about the presence of exotic animals was boosted on Saturday when a fisherman found a terrapin the size of a dinner plate in Wandsworth Common Pond.

And a colony of terrapins is established in a stretch of the Thames in Oxford.


Thames Water would like to warn all prospective owners to be aware just how big turtles and terrapins grow. Miss Daniels added: "The snapper is possibly something that should not be sold."

[BNA: Link]

And to end January with a hearty laugh, here's a joke supplied by "W.D.B." of Wandsworth Common. It's my favourite of the season.

The Referee — Sunday 29 January 1905

Q: What is the difference between Noah's Ark and Joan of Arc?

A: One was made of wood and the other was Maid of Orleans.

W. D. B. (Wandsworth Common).

[BNA: Link]

Previous Chronicles, now archived