The History of Wandsworth Common


of Wandsworth Common

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"  . . . Bloody January again!"

Flanders and Swann,
A Song of the Weather


January 2023's stories

— Jumbo lost on Wandsworth Common  . . .  [link]

— "Ostend Rabbits"  . . . 

— Revd John Erskine-Clarke, "Chatterbox"  . . . 

— Prisoner 4100, George Davey, aged 10, gaoled for stealing two rabbits  . . . 

— When the Circus came to the Common  . . . 

— Nurseryman Robert Neal appeals to "Noblemen and Gentlemen" to buy his plants, to make way for the Toast Rack  . . . 

— Back gates onto the Common  . . . 

— A new road bridge over the railway  . . . 

"Robert Inwood of Tooting, Surrey — Winner of Upwards of Fifty Races" . . . 

— Wandsworth Common woman discovers Grape-Nuts  . . . 

— An iron church on the edge of the Common  . . . 

— Resurrection-men dig up four bodies  . . . 

— Treasure-hunters dig up the turf on the Common  . . . 

— Quadricycle Tandem for Sale, Blenkarne Road  . . . 

— Death of Thomas Crapper . . . 

and more . . . 

Last January's Chronicles — 2022

Lots of new stories for the new year, including a macabre tale of body-snatching from 1823: "For the last ten days the town of Wandsworth has been in utter confusion, in consequence of four dead bodies have been disinterred from the burial-ground . . .  "

My longest meander over the Common this month takes in Jumbo the elephant, lost cats, rabbits, "rabbits" that may in fact be cats, and some (very) juvenile gaolbirds. Plus Robert Inwood, the early Victorian "pedestrian" whose athletic triumphs started on the Common.

And many more tales. I hope you enjoy them, and of course all of 2023 . . . 

Jumbo lost on Wandsworth Common — 6 January 1883

The original "Jumbo" was never (so far as I know) lost on Wandsworth Common. He was an elephant, said to be "the biggest in the world". He was so universally famous in the 1880s that his name was soon attached to anything huge, and this has stuck.

Our lost Jumbo was a "large black tom-cat . . .  with two white whiskers".

"P.T. Barnum's Greatest Show on Earth — The Removal of the Biggest Elephant in the World was remonstrated against by the whole British nation."

In spite of intense public outrage, the giant African elephant Jumbo was removed from the London Zoological Garden. He was chained, forced into a box, and transported by steamer to New York. On arrival he was pulled and pushed by a team of twelve or so elephants down Broadway.
The scenes — vividly drawn around the edge of the poster — are worth examining more closely. Reminiscent of Disney's 1941 animation Dumbo, eh?
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[See also Wikipedia: Jumbo. A fascinating, and very informative, article.]

But let's get back to our missing Jumbo-the-Wandsworth-Common-cat . . . 

"Once a cat, sirs, / Loved the moon, sirs. / Thought he'd die, sirs, / Very soon." — from John Erskine-Clarke's Chatterbox annual, 1883.

John Erskine Clarke, the supremely energetic former vicar of St Mary's Battersea, had by this time built a new church for himself — St Luke's on the corner of Ramsden Road and Thurleigh Road. His children's magazine Chatterbox — a weekly paper later repackaged as annuals — ran for more than eighty years (including in the USA) (1866—1948). Images and stories of animals (and the natural world more generally) abound, almost always with a moral.
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Portrait of Revd John Erskine-Clarke, 1912.

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South London Press — Saturday 6 January 1883

"Disconsolate One," writing from Wandsworth Common, wishes me to make the fact known the South London world that on the evening of Saturday, 30th December last, a large black tom-cat, answering to the name of "Jumbo," disappeared from his home, and has not since been heard of.

"Jumbo" was not the only household god which went astray last year; and as some time has elapsed since the sad event took place, I am really afraid he has gone the way of all cats. An inquiry down Bermondsey way might possibly not be altogether profitless, for they have a habit there of describing feline pets as Ostend rabbits!

Or, perchance, the interesting animal may yet be found in one of the many mews round Wandsworth Common.

"Jumbo" will easily be recognized, according to the owner, by the fact that he has "two white whiskers." Now, this should bring about his identification forthwith; for whoever yet saw a cat with "two white whiskers?" Truly a marvellous whiskerus naturae!

"Ostend Rabbits"?

I was curious about the phrase.

From the 1840s onwards, it turned out, skinned rabbits were imported in immense numbers from Ostend to the London docks (hence the Bermondsey reference). Above all, they were cheap, so they became a mainstay of poor London's diet.

The fact that Ostend rabbits could be shipped across the Channel in such numbers and still make a profit seemed a mystery. They were ready-skinned, so might have looked like just about any small mammal. Surely many must have been cats? Well, that was the widely told joke.

The reality is that rabbit-production was extraordinarily well-organised in Belgium. In the main, it was the children in families that reared a small number of rabbits to contribute to family income. The rabbits were bought by travelling middle-men and then processed on a massive scale.

The fur was a major element of the economics — it could be spun into wool, or the skins used to make warm coats, hats or clothing trims, or dyed and treated to simulate more expensive furs.

The giant Brabancon rabbits specially bred for meat are now said to be extinct. But a smaller descendant, the Dutch Rabbit, is still a popular pet.

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[All is explained here — When Flemish rabbits fed the poor of London and Wikipedia: Cuniculture.]

There were risks — in October 1871, Dr Kempster reported to the Wandsworth Board of Works that in the previous month in Battersea East, "2 cwt of ostend rabbits were condemned by the medical officer on October 17." Two hundredweight is more than a hundred kilos.

But partly thanks to Kepmster and other attentive public health officers, rabbit moved into middle class menus. Here is our local hero John Buckmaster's recipe for Brown Fricasse Rabbit:

Recipe for Brown Fricassee Rabbit, from Buckmaster's Cookery, 1887. A similar recipe had appeared in earlier editions of this pioneering work, along with other rabbit dishes (Curried Rabbit, Stewed Rabbit).

If any reader of these Chronicles is interested in the history of cooking and diet, do please get in touch. It would be very interesting to look at John Buckmaster's work more closely — and to try some of his recipes!
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Prisoner 4100, George Davey, aged 10, gaoled for stealing two rabbits.

And while we're on the subject of bunnies and the London poor, here is a photograph of Prisoner 4100 taken at almost this exact day 150 years ago in Wandsworth Prison. His name is George Davey, and he was sentenced to one month's hard labour for stealing two rabbits. He was ten years old.

Prisoner 4100, George Davey, aged 10, gaoled for stealing two rabbits.

(Photographed in Wandsworth prison, prob Dec. 1872—Jan. 1873. National Archives: PCOM 2/290.)
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I took a quick virtual trip to the British Newspaper Archive and found George Davey in the Surrey Comet, Saturday 21 December 1872, with a reference to an older accomplice, 12-year-old William Towner:

Prisoner 4099, William Towner, aged 12. Convicted at the same time as George Davey for "stealing two live rabbits". Both lived in Richmond.

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And this in turn led me to a very interesting presentation, Prisoner 4099, created for the National Archive:

The Home Page for Prisoner 4099, an educational resource created for the National Archive. The story focuses on the life and times of William Towner, and demonstrates how NA sources can be used to build a detailed and vivid picture of life in the nineteenth-century.

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In case you missed the stories in last March's Chronicles, here are some images relating to rabbit (and hare) coursing on the Common:

Septimus E. Scott, "Fox terriers chasing a rabbit". (Photo: Bonhams)

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Advert for "Wandsworth Common Fox Terrier Rabbit Coursing Meeting", to be held 4 March 1886.

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Septimus E. Scott, "The red spotted handkerchief." (Photo: Bonhams)

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You can read more stories about Wandsworth Common and terrier coursing in the Chronicles for March 2022. And the birth of Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit in August 2022.

Yes, but what happened to our missing Jumbo (the cat)?

Unusually for my missing-pets stories, in this case there is a happy ending.

There was jubilation when Jumbo (the cat) was found, as is recorded in the South London Press a week or two later. (But notice also the grizzly witticisms about cats as food in Bermondsey.)

South London Press — Saturday 13 January 1883

I am pleased to inform you that Jumbo has returned — not the late elephantine favourite of the Zoological Gardens, but the lost feline pet of the "disconsolate one" of Wandsworth Common.

After many roving days, Jumbo is home again, looking much "leaner" after his ramble, his two remarkable white whiskers establishing beyond a doubt his identity. His owner breathes with relief now that he knows he will not have to contemplate the dreadful possibility of Jumbo appearing on the table of a Bermondseyite, in company with a piece of his porcine relation the pig, and to know that the dish will not be wrongly called "Pork and Ostend rabbit."

But not just food for a "Bermondseyite". Rabbit soon took its place on middle-class menus too.

Battersea's Edward Morrell, "Cheeseman, Butterman, Porkman", also sold rabbits. South Western Star, 14 September 1889.

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When the Circus came to the Common . . . 

I was asked recently whether I recall any circuses on the Common in the 1950s. I certainly remember going to the circus several times, and "wild" animals were always a big part of the show, but was that on the Common? I just don't know.

But it's very likely. Here's an advert from 1954 (when I was 5):

Advert in the South Western Star for Chipperfield's Circus, 6 August 1954

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Local historian and archivist Cathie Rowntree says a friend of hers remembers a visit to a circus sited in the Frying Pan, but all Cathy herself can recall is a row of elephants linked trunk-to-tail processing along East Hill. How wonderful!

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27 December 2022: My old school friend Hugh Betterton replied with a recollection of his own. As a child he lived on West Side:

"I have a memory of Chipperfield's Circus being on the Spencer Park side of Wandsworth Common, as well as in the Frying Pan, for at least three years in the mid/later 1950s.

The elephant walk came, I thought, from a special train into Clapham Junction but not sure; whatever, it was a thrill for a little lad! The circus itself had all sorts of wonder, including lions and tigers, being forced to roar and look angry. Liked the clown's exploding car, a fire breathing person (man/woman?) and the trapeze artists! Innocent days, maybe?


["A special train into Clapham Junction"? That sounds interesting.]

Here are some images of a lovely model that evokes the Circus in the 1950s/1960s.

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Images from a glorious golden-age Ladybird book, The Circus Comes to Town, 1957. Text by Denis Constanduros, illustrations by John Kenney. (Author's collection.)

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Morning Herald (London) — Tuesday 2 January 1866

Robert Neal, local nurseryman and contractor, appeals to "NOBLEMEN and GENTLEMEN" to buy his stock of plants, "in consequence of some of my nursery grounds being required for building purposes".

He has to vacate his gardens to make way for a speculative building development by Magdalen College. This area was promoted as "College Park", but we now know it as the "Toast Rack".

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PLANTING. — In consequence of some of my nursery grounds being required for building purposes, I am induced to offer a large quantity of the following cheap Standard and Dwarf ROSES, and dwarf roses in pots, standard and dwarf fruit trees, standard ornamental trees and shrubs, large specimen cedrus deodora varying from lift, to 15ft., and a general collection of evergreens, American plants, &c., including some of the newest and best kinds of rhododendrons and some very large trees suitable for making an immediate blind.

Catalogues to be had on application to Robert Neal, the Nurseries, Wandsworth-common, Surrey.

[The phrase "an immediate blind" may hint at the building of smaller houses, close to others, whose new owners fear exposure to neighbours and passers-by.]

In 1871, nurseries and market gardens covered much of the area now called the "Toast Rack", and nearby. Curiously an exception is the land in front of the prison, which is now the home of "Neals Nurseries Garden Centre". (Much smaller in area from when I was a child in the 1950s, when it really was a nursery that grew plants and not a garden supermarket.)

This area of Common between the prison and Trinity Road had been acquired by the Justices of the Peace for Surrey as a cordon sanitaire, with (I believe) covenants that continue to forbid the building of any permanent structures on the land. In the 1960s, some of this ground was restored to the Common as "Prison Banks" — to compensate for the widening of Trinity Road.
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House-building started shortly after Robert Neal vacated the nursery ground (for example on Baskerville and Routh Roads, backing onto the Common), but proceeded very slowly. Demand for houses in College Park was weak, and building plots were still available 30 years later.

Edward I'Anson and Son, Magdalen College's architects and surveyors, drew this plan of the area in July 1891. There are still substantial gaps yet to find purchasers, mainly on Henderson Road and the adjacent parts of Baskerville and Trinity Roads. [But why here?]

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9 April 1892: "Eligible Building Land, being the uncovered residue of the College Park Estate . . .  nearly five acres . . .  Held from Magdalen College."

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Backs to the Common . . . 

While we're on the subject of houses whose rear gardens butt onto the Common (along Baskerville and Routh Roads, but interestingly there are no others around the Common), I've often wondered whether residents have to pay for their direct access?

South London Press — Saturday 14 January 1888


It was resolved that the board do adopt the licenses issued by the late Conservators of Wandsworth Common, to the persons named in the report, for the use of foot-gates doorways opening on to such Common from their premises, and do instruct the accountant to collect the rents mentioned such licenses.

I knew that the Metropolitan Board of Works and then the London County Council, who had taken over responsibility for the Common around 1890, were very unhappy about the privileged access, and the sense that the Common was somehow being "enclosed" by these houses. I vaguely recollect reading that they had stipulated that no more houses could be built without a road between the house and the Common. But the Conservators had always asked such householders to pay an annual fee, and the LCC resolved to continue the arrangement.

So I asked Lewis More O'Ferrall, a fellow-Friend of Wandsworth Common.

Lewis on the back gates . . . 

"Does your house back on to the Common? And if so, do you have a gate to the Common? And if so, do you pay anything for having the access?"

I can satisfy your curiosity . . .  Yes, my house backs on to The Scope (The Wilderness in your book) and, yes, when we arrived in 1985, there was an annual license fee for enjoying access to The Common via our back gate.

The charge of £7.50 would come by way of an invoice from WBC and the process continued for a few years. Then, and I can't remember the actual year (circa 1990), the invoices stopped coming without any explanation.

It was only then that we decided that security was an issue and replaced the 3ft 6in gate with one 2m high!


Thanks, Lewis!

Until fairly recently, I'd assumed that Bolingbroke Grove had always extended through to St John's Hill and Clapham Junction, and that when the railways came, a proper bridge had been constructed. But no.

A footbridge was built, which became rather rickety, but no road — in spite of countless local protests. It wasn't until 1888 that a bridge and substantial surfaced road was made up.

Tithe map of Battersea surveyed c.1839 shows a footbridge crossing the brand-new railway line. Notice the Plough pub on the corner nearby. The future Bolingbroke Grove ends at a T-junction with what is now Battersea Rise (bottom right).

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Twenty or so years later, as this Stanford map of 1862 shows, there is still pedestrian-only access to the "Royal Freemasons Female School" (RMS) over a narrow footbridge across the railway line.

Bolingbroke Grove (still called "Road to the Five Houses" or similar) had recently been extended across the northernmost triangle of Common but ends abruptly at the RMS gates — vehicles cannot continue down Plough Lane to Battersea or westward towards central London.

The track along the edge of the Common will not become Boutflower Road until the late 1880s. Notice also that St Mark's (originally "St Mary's") School and Church have yet to appear (c.1868 and 1872-74 respectively). [See Stanford 1891, below.]
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Here's the original footbridge in a fine early watercolour painting of the Royal Masonic School for Girls:

Royal Masonic School for Girls, opened 1853 — not to be confused with the nearby Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum (1858-9), also for orphaned girls. The Peabody Trust's St John's Hill Estate has occupied the RMS site since c.1926, when the girls moved to Hertfordshire.

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South London Press — Saturday 7 January 1888


The Battersea Local Committee recommended that a vehicular bridge be constructed over the railways on the site the present footbridge connecting Wandsworth Common with Strath Terrace, and that application be made to the Metropolitan Board of Works to contribute half the cost thereof . . . 

Here's a map of a few years later, showing the new bridge and associated roads. Notice also the infilling of previously open areas by terraced houses.

OS map, 1893-94. The Royal Masonic School for Girls is circled top right.

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A View from the Bridge, 2022.

To the left, the line to Wandsworth Common Station and Brighton. To the right, the line to Earlsfield and all stations west. In the distance Battersea Rise Bridge, with just a hint of the Fitzhugh Estate beyond (above the trees).
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And a propos of very little, here's a plaque to commemorate the renovation of the bridge in 1964:

[Photo: PB]
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27 December 2022: Rosemary Spencer asked about the curious conjoined buildings top right of the Tithe map:

Tithe map of Battersea surveyed c.1839 — before the creation of Clapham Junction station (opened 2 March 1863).

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Happily, these two houses can still be seen today.

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This is what the Survey of London: Battersea (vol. 50 ch. 16) has to say about the two houses:

54 & 56 St John's Hill

The sole survivor today of the St John's Place development and its outliers is a lone pair of semi-detached houses, now 54 & 56 St John's Hill. They stand in isolation, set back from the road between the former Granada Cinema and the sidings of Clapham Junction Station.

Formerly named Chesterfield and Westwood houses, the two plots were leased in 1828 to Edward Parsons, builder, and Charles Andrews, plumber, both of Wandsworth. Building may not have been completed until 1832–3 when Andrews sublet his house to John Adam, a fruit broker. Two years later the houses were described as capital newly erected residences, with stabling and gardens.

Though the forecourt is used today as a turning point for buses, they still have a faded elegance, presenting straightforward brick and stucco facades, of three storeys over a basement, with the windows to the ground floor set in blind arches.

By the 1970s they had been united as the Clapham Junction station-master's house; today they are in use as railway offices.

So these two houses are among the very oldest in our area, but pretty new when the Tithe map was surveyed. They had such amazingly long thin gardens — now largely railway lines, of course.

"Robert Inwood of Tooting, Surrey . . .  Winner of Upwards of Fifty Races . . .  "

Many of local athlete Robert Inwood's triumphs in the 1840s took place on Wandsworth Common. His races would have started at the Plough, only yards away from the bridge we've just been looking at.

"Robert Inwood of Tooting, Surrey . . .  The Winner of Upwards of Fifty Races", engraving of unknown date [1850s?].

"Inwood, with large blue eyes, and quite of the greyhound symmetry, has beaten a vaste number of men at all distances."
The image reminds us that Tooting, Battersea and Wandsworth were still overwhelmingly rural at this time. Could that be an allusion to his birthplace in the background?
[Image courtesy Sue Horwood.]
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In a recent talk for the Friends of Wandsworth Common (which you can view here, if you have a mind), I spoke about my remarkable good fortune in finding an engraving of the illustrious mid-19th century "pedestrian" Robert Inwood, of Tooting. It had been posted by Sue Horwood, a keen genealogist, whose husband is descended from Robert. She responded immediately when I asked her for a copy, for which I am extremely grateful.

Another piece of good fortune is the meticulous care with which the newspaper Bell's Life recorded not only individual races, but also collected and published detailed information about the previous year's contests. This of course was intended as a guide to future "form". (Which reminds us that races at this time were not generally run for glory, or cups and medals, but because they were a potentially rich source of income, and gave the public (rich and poor) an opportunity to gamble immense amounts of money.

Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle — Sunday 11 January 1846


INWOOD ROBERT of Tooting beat James Rosier of Mitcham, 120 yards, £5 side, on the Mitcham-road, Jan 3 — beat Fred. Dixon of Paddington, one mile, a side, on Wandsworth Common, Feb 4 — beaten by Rodwell of London, Feb 10 — beat Rodwell one mile, £5 side, at Child's Hill, Hampstead, Feb 24 — beat Isaac Williams of Shepherd's Bush, one mile, £10 a side, Acton Bottom, March [see James Byrom of Lancashire, April 14] — beat A. Twilly of Wandsworth, one mile, on Wandsworth Common, £10 a side, May 5 — beaten by a waiter of the West-end, May 12 — beat Williams of Shepherd's Bush, one mile, £10 a side (the latter had 15 yards start), at Acton Bottom, Dec 3 — beat R. Makepeace of London, 150 yards, £5 a side, on Wandsworth Common, Dec 15 — beat W. Berry of Lambeth 440 yards, £10 a side, on Wandsworth Common, time 57 sec, Dec 23.

Robert Inwood was 18 in 1845 — he is at the start of a long career, and in effect announcing himself.

The earliest reference I've found to him was in November of the previous year, when Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle for Sunday 3 November 1844 announces a forthcoming race between "Wm. Berry. of Lambeth, and Robert Inwood, of Tooting — 125 yards, £5 a side, near the Plough, Battersea Rise."

1845 was a busy year for Robert Inwood. He is competing all over London at this time, but notice how many of his races take place on Wandsworth Common. (He won all 4 of the 10 listed races he ran there, and another 4 elsewhere.) His successes led to a long career, competing at the highest level all over the country.

Later, many of his races took place in the North. The premier location for "Pedestrianism" (running, walking, leaping) at this time was "Belle Vue" or "Bellevue" in Manchester. I've begun to wonder whether this lies behind the choice of the name for the street on the edge of our Common.

Incidentally, you will notice a reference to another local athlete, "A [Arthur] Twilly" [also spelt "Twilley"]. Ring any bells? I'll expand on this fine fellow another time.

Nearly all pedestrian races on Wandsworth Common started (and presumably ended) with a gathering at "The Plough, Battersea Rise" — we would call it St John's Hill now. At that time, the Plough (which is still there, though in very different incarnation — at least the fourth pub on the site) was on the very edge of the Common. When most of the nearby area was enclosed and covered in houses, a new pub — the Freemason's Arms (now called the Roundhouse) took over as the major (though not the only) gathering point for runners on the Common.

The Plough photographed c.1860, but probably still very much like the pub Robert Inwood knew. It looked much the same in an engraving from 1701.

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A race between William Berry of Lambeth and Robert Inwood of Tooting on Wandsworth Common. Notice (clear even in this tiny sample) how races are being held all over the country, but particularly in the north.

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I've collected quite a number of detailed reports of Robert Inwood's races. Most are triumphs, but they also include some where he was clearly rigging the race by feigning exhaustion. (Presumably he and his "friends" bet against himself, or it improved the odds in future races.) There are also examples of how, in parts of the country where he was less well known, he would change his name, again to improve the odds. Naughty.

(He was involved in some other naughty stuff later, but that's a story that will have to wait to be told.)

A few of Robert Inwood's races:

"Wandsworth Common woman discovers Grape-Nuts . . . 

"I left off taking drugs from that day, and kept taking Grape-Nuts"

As you may have noticed, I collect adverts with references to Wandsworth Common, particularly where a local resident is endorsing the product. There must have been something about our former inhabitants (whose trials and tribulations are unfailingly solved when they discover whatever it is that's being sold) that manufacturers believed would inspire universal confidence.

Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal — Friday 12 January 1912'

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Wandsworth Common woman discovers Grape-Nuts . . . 


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 a Wandsworth Common, London, woman:

"For many years," she says, I have been terrible sufferer. Have had leave off my house-hold 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 depression — feeling, 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 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 to 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 am grateful to Grape Nuts."

"There's a reason."

A curious item, this, because the article is placed within the flow of ordinary news — it is not marked out in any way as an advert. Neither does the brand name "Grape-Nuts" appear in a big display typeface. Subtle, eh?

Incidentally, the name "Grape-Nuts" is a triumph of misdirection — neither grapes nor nuts but a concoction of flour, salt, sugar, and dried yeast that is crunchy (like nuts), and sugary (like grapes). Geddit?

The cereal was developed in the USA in 1897 (as a direct challenge to Kellogg's Corn Flakes). Thanks no doubt to the sincere testimony of "a Wandsworth Common, London, woman", given before the First World War, the brand-name is still around more than a hundred years later.

South London Press — Saturday 15 January 1881

A prefabricated "iron church" is erected on the edge of the Common. St Mark's, St Luke's and St Mary Magdalene had started in a similar way.


On the recommendation of the building act committee, it was resolved that the application of the Rev. J.E. [John Erskine] Clarke for the approval by the board of a plan for the construction of a temporary iron church in Darley-road, Bolingbroke Grove, Wandsworth Common, be granted.

[Source: Link.]

[PB: This is the future St Michael's. John Erskine-Clarke, Vicar of St Mary's Battersea, is responsible for many local buildings, including several churches (including St Luke's) and Bolingbroke Hospital (also on Bolingbroke Grove — now the Ark Academy).]

St Michael's Bolingbroke Grove, viewed across the Three-Island-Pond before environmental enhancement.

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27 December 2022 — Graham Jackson commented:

Rev John Erskine Clarke was also a School Governor on the Sir Walter St John's Schools Trust from 1873–1919. He lived to a great age — I think he was ninety when he died. He was also President of the Sir Walter St John's Old Boys Association (Old Sinjuns) from 1898 until 1920 (which date I think marks his death). I was President in 2003-2004!

I'm always saying we need a biography of John Erskine Clarke. I've recently been told there's one in the offing. I'm delighted.

Resurrection-Men at work in Wandsworth, 1823

"For the last ten days the town of Wandsworth has been in the utmost confusion, in consequence of four dead bodies having been disinterred from the burial-ground in Garratt-lane; and the inhabitants have been so incensed against two brothers named White, who have lived in the town from their infancy, and who were necessaries with the body-snatchers in the removal of the bodies, that had it not been for the interference of the police officers, they certainly would have deprive them of existence. The whole of the windows in the house where the Whites reside have been demolished."

Resurrectionists, by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne) — Phiz illustrated ten of Charles Dickens's novels

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"Resurrection-Men", or "Body-snatchers", earned their living by digging up fresh corpses to sell to medical schools such as Bart's and St Thomas's. Since the only legally available source of cadavers was the gallows, surgeons and anatomists paid handsomely for every body supplied.

But whenever and wherever bodies were clandestinely exhumed, local people became very angry indeed, as here.

There is so much of interest in this newspaper account that I am quoting it verbatim.

Commercial Chronicle (London) — Thursday 16 January 1823

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French Horn Tavern, Wandsworth

For the last ten days the town of Wandsworth has been in the utmost confusion, in consequence of four dead bodies having been disinterred from the burial-ground in Garratt-lane; and the inhabitants have been so incensed against two brothers named White, who have lived in the town from their infancy, and who were necessaries with the body-snatchers in the removal of the bodies, that had it not been for the interference of the peace-officers, they certainly would have deprived them of existence. The whole of the windows in the house where the Whites reside have been demolished.

Yesterday, at two o'clock, a Bench of Magistrates, consisting of George Tritton (Chairman), William Nottidge, Henry James Barchard, and John Faulkner Attlee, Esqrs. assembled at the above Tavern, when Michael George Wood and Henry Goldsmith, two regular body-snatchers, were brought into their presence, in the custody of William Collingbourne, the Officer of Union-Hall, on the charge of stealing the said bodies. Henry White was also in custody, but he was admitted as evidence against Wood and Goldsmith.

Henry White being sworn, stated, that he was a labourer, and lived on Wandsworth plain. On Sunday, the 5th instant, about four o'clock in the afternoon, the prisoner, Michael George Wood, came and drank tea at his house, he (witness) knew him, and when he came into the house he was in bed, much in liquor. Wood said he wanted to speak to him, and he was in consequence awoke; on going down stairs he told him there was another man coming to see him. Witness guessed what he came about, because he knew, he was a body snatcher.

Wood, after a short time, went away, saying he would return presently with his friend. About eight o'clock in the evening the other man came, and he then asked him if he had a mind to take a stiff one up that morning (meaning a dead body). Witness replied he didn't care if he did, and the man went away.

About half-past four o'clock next morning a rap came at the shutter of witness's room, and he got up, went into his yard, and put his horse in the cart; after which he called his brother John, and they proceeded as far as the Two Brewers public house, at the corner of Garratt-lane.

Witness then told his brother what he was going about; he said he should return home and have no hand in it.

He left, and witness drove his cart up All Farthing-lane, where he was met by the prisoners Wood and Goldsmith, and another man; each threw a sack containing a body into the cart, and the strange man got up alongside him in the cart, and they drove to St. Bartholomew's Hospital; and, on their arrival, he (the man) took the sacks one by one of the cart and entered the gates, and afterwards returned with the empty sacks and threw them into the cart.

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[Notice the names of the Magistrates, all of them major local figures: "George Tritton (Chairman), William Nottidge, Henry James Barchard, and John Faulkner Attlee, Esqrs." Attlee is more usually named "John Falconer Atlee". ]

Wandsworth, c.1840: top left, All Saints Church and its ancient tiny burial ground; just below centre, a more recent larger burial ground, off Garratt Lane. The resurrection-men had waited with a cart a short distance away in what was then called "All Farthing Lane" (now St Anne's Hill).

Since this time, the Two Brewers pub mentioned here seems to have relocated eastward from the corner of Garratt Lane (aka "South Street" at this point) and East Hill to the corner of today's St Ann's Hill and East Hill. Sometime after 1971 it was renamed "The Brewers Inn". [See also PubsHistory: Two Brewers, 147 East Hill. Note to self: Samuel Poupart was the Licensee in 1874.]

On getting outside the hospital gates, he gave witness 35s. for his job.

Witness, on his road back to Wandsworth, met his brother in the London road, who told him that the neighbourhood was in an uproar, and that his cart was seen in the burial ground, and was suspected to have conveyed the bodies to London.

Witness on hearing this determined not to return to Wandsworth, and gave his brother his horse and cart, and he drove it to the prisoner Goldsmith's stable, in London-street, London road. Next morning he was taken into custody, and held to bail.

Witness subsequently met the prisoner Wood at the Three Stags public-house, near Bethlem, who said him, "I hear you have come it" (meaning, confessed). Witness replied he should speak the truth. Wood said he might do as he liked about it, and they parted . . . 

All Saints Church Wandsworth c.1800. Notice incidentally the parish stocks in the foreground

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William Smith saw a cart in All Farthing-lane about a quarter before five o'clock on Monday morning, the 6th inst. There were three men standing near it, apparently very busy in placing something in it, after which White drove the cart away.

On getting into the town he heard the Resurrection-men had been at work. The morning was very dark, and he could not see the features of the men; they were similar built men to the prisoners, but he could not say upon oath they were the men.

Henry Cooley stated that between four and five o'clock on the Sunday evening he was sitting in the tap-room of the Bull public-house, when in came the two prisoners, who claimed an acquaintance with witness.

After remaining there some time he left the Bull and went to the brewhouse, at Wandsworth, to see a friend, and in the course of conversation, witness inquired whether there had been any funerals that day: his friend inquired why he asked such a singular question, to which he replied that he had just left two desperate body snatchers at the Bull, and he was sure they intended to rob the graves that night.

Several other witnesses stated that they had seen the prisoners about the town on the Sunday night . . . 

"Two men placing the shrouded corpse which they have just disinterred into a sack while Death, as a nightwatchman holding a lantern, grabs one of the grave-robbers from behind."

Coloured drawing by T. Rowlandson, 1775. [Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark.]
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 . . .  James Gardner, a labouring man, stated that he was going to work up Garratt lane, soon after five o'clock in the morning, and saw a cart and horse standing near the burial ground; near the ground he kicked against something apparently very bulky, the contents of which rattled; as he was about to overhaul the something, two men came up and laying hold of a sack at each end placed it in the cart, and drove off.

Witness gave information to Oakley, the watchman, and said he suspected they were resurrection-men, and advising him to pursue them. He replied he could not be expected to attack two men without fire-arms, and as he was unprovided with any, he should not risk his life.

The Chairman said the conduct of Oakley was most shameful, and he was unfit for his situation.

Witness could not say the prisoners were the men he saw; they were certainly very much like them.

Hugh Callendar, the beadle of Wandsworth*, stated that in consequence of Mr. Collingbourne, the High Constable, telling him that some of the graves in the burial-ground had been robbed, he gave notice to the grave-digger, and several graves were examined, when four were found to have been robbed, the bodies were stolen, and the shrouds, &c. were left in the coffins.

Mr. Collingbourne, the High Constable, said, that the burial-ground from whence the bodies had been stolen was very retired, and any person might gain access to it from some fields unperceived by any individual. The ground was now very full of bodies, and some of them were not more than 19 inches under the earth.

The prisoners protested their innocence, and they were committed to take their trial, and Henry White was remanded to prison to give evidence against them.

It is impossible to describe the indignation of the townspeople against the prisoners. On their being placed in the coach to be conveyed to Horsemonger-lane [the main Surrey gaol at this time], it was nearly filled with snow, that had been thrown by the mob at the execrable wretches; and they may think themselves very fortunate it did snow, by which means stones and other missiles were hidden, otherwise they certainly would have beea dreadfully bruised.

* The Beadle — a parish constable, usually with ceremonial as well as legal duties.

Mr Bumble, Beadle — a character in Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist, illustrated by "Kyd" (Joseph Clayton Clarke), 1889.

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So where had the exhumed bodies come from?

I suppose it must be the (now long-closed) graveyard at the north of Garratt Lane. As maps of the period show, this was largely surrounded by fields, hence "very retired, and any person might gain access to it . . .  unperceived".

According to Mrs Basil [Isabella] Holmes's classic study, The London Burial Grounds (London, 1896), Garratt Lane Cemetery was consecrated in 1808 and was 1 3/4 acres in area.

But if this was only opened in 1808, it must have filled very rapipdly, since the article reports that "The ground was now very full of bodies, and some of them were not more than 19 inches under the earth."

So is it possible they came from the very small (quarter-acre) graveyard at All Saints itself, which most certainly would have been over-full? This is supported by the comment here, which names the "church-yard".

"Conviction of the Resurrection-Men", Commercial Chronicle, 21 January 1823.

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On Saturday George Wood and Henry Goldsmith, two noted "body-snatchers," were indicted for stealing three dead bodies, from the burial ground of Wandsworth, Surrey . . . 

Both prisoners were found Guilty, and sentenced to pay a fine of £20 each; to be imprisoned six months in the County Gaol; and to enter into securities, themselves in £20 each, and two sureties in £10 each; and to be further imprisoned until the said fines were paid and securities entered into.

William Hogarth, The Reward of Cruelty, 1751.

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[PB: There is an enormous literature on this subject, but the classic study is Ruth Richardson, Death, Dissection and the Destitute: The Politics of the Corpse in Pre-Victorian Britain (London: 1987, 2001). Good online sources include Wikipedia: Body snatching and Resurrectionists in the United Kingdom, and Kate Ravilious, "Haunt of the Resurrection Men", Archaeology magazine, May/June 2013).]


27 December 2022 — Graham Jackson commented:

Interesting to look at the map which shows Allfarthing Lane where it is now St Ann's Hill. Of course Allfarthing Lane was eventually rerouted to join Garratt Lane- you will note that the bottom half of the road that now extends from Wandsworth Common to Garratt Lane was not built in those days.

As I am sure you know, I lived at 110 St Ann's Hill. My father modified the front of the house to incorporate an awful panoramic window with a pebbledashed surround, but it has since been restored more recently (we left the house in 1976) back to its original configuration. Must thank the current owner although it might not be the same person nowadays.

Next door to us was 104 St Ann's Hill as 106 and 108 did not exist when the houses now going down to Allfarthing Lane were built. However, that part of what is now St Ann's Hill was known as The Grove when our house was built which I think was in the 1880's, so that section of road changed names twice from Allfarthing Lane to The Grove to St Ann's Hill. I think the title deeds will bear that out.

Of course, originally St Ann's Hill used to loop around the back of St Ann's Church, until that was renamed as St Ann's Crescent. All very confusing and probably more so to the home owners who could have changed addresses not once but twice without moving home!

Talking about digging things up, in 1904 a mania for treasure-hunting seized the nation and large areas of Wandsworth Common were feverishly excavated.

Reynolds's Newspaper — Sunday 17 January 1904

Serious complaints are made of the destruction of the turf on Wandsworth Common by treasure hunters on Sunday and Monday, and at Swindon the Magistrates instructed the police to take action against persons doing damage in their search of hidden treasure.

How so? More on this extraordinary story next month.

Cycling — Saturday 30 January 1892

Quadricycle Tandem for Sale, Blenkarne Road . . . 

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QUADRICYCLE TANDEM, BY RUDGE CO., good as new, 2 in. pneumatic Clincher tires, bail pedals, extra brake, extra plated front, two spare extra Clincher air tubes, luggage carrier, Sphinx leather touring bag, gold lined, condition of plate and machine perfectly as new, list price £52, will take £30.

Seen by appointment. H.L.C., 19, Nightingale Crescent, Blenkarne Road, Wandsworth Common, SW.

"Clincher" pneumatic tyres were state-of-the-art at this time. These are the open rubber tyres that you pull over the rims of the wheel, held in place by the pressure from the inflated tube they partly encase.

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The Common — and particularly the dead straight Trinity Road (almost 2 miles long) — was regularly used for cycle racing.

It also became the start and end point for club rides, as here:

Chelsea News and General Advertiser — Friday 6 January 1939


Next Sunday all sections will meet Marcilly-road, Wandsworth Common, at 8.45 am and the socials and tandems are booked for "A day out with Gertie," tea being at Mickleham.

The hardriders will have a surprise run led by Len Coldwell, and the Intermediates will embark on 'Phil's chalk chase," tea for them being at Hookwood, near Povey Cross.'

Norwood News — Friday 11 January 1952

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Leading Makes



H.P. Terms arranged to suit you
Telephone: BALHAM 1725

Goodwin's Cycles, 15 Bellevue Road, c.1950. (Notice Waitrose a couple of doors along — it opened at the end of the Second World War.)

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Death of Thomas Crapper — 27 January 1910

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There's an enormous literature on Thomas Crapper, which I won't deal with here.


BUT, he did live for many years in Battersea, very close to the Common, on what was then called "Middleton" Road — renamed Buckmaster Road in the 1930s (to honour either John Buckmaster or his son Stanley, or possibly both).

He was there for example in the 1871 Census — the year the Common passed into public ownership — and still there for the 1881 Census.

Middleton Road on a Stanford map of 1891 (centre right, near St Mark's Church). When Thomas Crapper and his wife Maria [nee Green — they were cousins] lived at 1 St Mark's Villas, Middleton Road, the streets had only recently been created — as you can see if you compare this map with the 1862 Stanford map above. He is 34, and described as a "Plumber and Brass Founder employing 12 men and 12 boys".

[For a modern view, see OpenStreetMap: North-East Wandsworth Common]
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When piped water and mains sewerage became universal, lavatories proliferated. (Whether retro-fitted or built into new houses.) It was a great time to be a plumber. And there were new technical challenges. Flushes needed to be effective but not wasteful of water, and bad smells had to be trapped and voided outside of the house. To these ends, Thomas Crapper's innovations included ball-cock valves, siphons and the U-bend.

Perhaps more important still, he pioneered adverts with illustrations, and showrooms which home-owners could visit to view and choose sanitary ware, thus enormously expanding the market.

Modern repro. Thomas Crapper sanitary ware, including a toilet with throne seat, currently €3,450. Available here.

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I was going to write that his particular genius was to bring lavatories, baths, wash-basins and other bathroom paraphernalia out of the, er, closet. But actually the opposite is true.

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By the time of the 1891 Census, Thomas Crapper had moved away from Battersea to Penge. He died in 1910 at 12 Thornsett Rd, Anerley, and is buried in Beckenham Cemetery.

Curiously, Anerley/Penge was until as late as 1899 a detached part of Battersea parish (albeit 8 miles away). The parish was more properly called "Battersea with Penge", with St Mary's its parish church. John Buckmaster was for a while an overseer of the poor of Penge.


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