"Welcome, March, with wint'ry wind,
Would thou weren't not so unkind."
— Flanders and Swann, A Song of the Weather.
In 2013 the Battersea Society erected a plaque to Donald Swann on his former home on Albert Bridge Road.
Now I know that Spring will come again,
Perhaps to-morrow: however late I've patience
After this night following on such a day.
While still my temples ached from the cold burning
Of hail and wind, and still the primroses
Torn by the hail were covered up in it,
The sun filled earth and heaven with a great light
And a tenderness, almost warmth, where the hail dripped,
As if the mighty sun wept tears of joy...
— Edward Thomas, 1914
The 3rd of March is Edward Thomas's birthday. He was born in 1878 and died during the Battle of Arras in northern France on 9 April 1917 at the age of 39. The complete poem can be read here.
This month's stories
— Stags and hounds on Wandsworth Common
— Sporting Wandsworth Common: A Talk of Two Halves
— Celebrating the poet Edward Thomas
— Black Sea — cricket on ice
— The origins of Neal's Nursery
— The Magdalen estate: "artistic, convenient and well-planned houses... to which Small Motor Houses could be erected"
— Thomas and Emma Hardy move in
— An iron fence to protect a little-known strip of Wandsworth Common
— Funeral of Andrew Cameron, local politician and last Chair of the Wandsworth Common Board of Conservators
— Crossrail II opposed
This report of stags and hounds among the "quiet suburban villas between Wandsworth-common and Tooting", as late as 1878, rather surprised me:
Stag and Hounds among Suburban Villas
About five o'clock the other evening the quiet suburban villas between Wandsworth-common and Tooting were startled by the arrival among them, at full speed, of hunted stag and its attendant pack, all seeming to have had a good burst from Ewell. The stag cleared a garden wall, and took refuge there till he had recovered somewhat, when again went away. The hounds waited in the street quietly until about 5.30, when the huntsman called them away towards Tooting, and one of the quietest suburbs of London settled down to its usual stillness.
But perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. Looking back to earlier in the nineteenth century, there are a number of reports of deer hunts over Wandsworth Common — reminding us how the 1871 Act came in the nick of time, just as the leading edge of the tide of houses development arrived. Beyond, to the south and west, the landscape was still largely rural until 1900 or even later — fields, commons, immense parks around grand houses. And of course it was from these parks that the stags and hunters arrived.
The deer covered prodigious distances, such was their desperation to escape the dogs. This story is of a stag that ran from the Earl of Derby's estate near Banstead in Surrey, to Wimbledon Park, across the River Wandle to Wandsworth Common, then along the high road to London (St John's Hill, Wandsworth Road), and on to Vauxhall, where he was finally caught:
On Tuesday last, the Earl of Derby's Stag Hounds met at the Hundred Acres, near the Oaks. A very fine stag was turned out at half-past ten, in the presence the Earl of Derby, and a numerous field of Sportsmen. The stag went away in a gallant style on the right of Cheam, through the enclosures to Morden.
The noble Earl of Derby was up when a short check was allowed, to give the stag law; a fine burst followed at speed; the stag went away to the right of Lord Spencer's Park [i.e. Wimbledon Park], over the river Wandle, up the bank of Wandsworth, across Wandsworth Common, along part of the turnpike-road, into the Meadows between Battersea Open-fields and the Wandsworth-road, and was taken unhurt and safely housed, within a few yards of the Thames, at the back of Cumberland Gardens, Vauxhall.
The chace lasted two hours and quarter. Few were in at the taking.
Here's a similar story, from 1844, though this time the hunt is for a hind, not a stag. The pursuit is from Malden, through Cheam and Worcester Park, to Merton. Having crossed the Wandle (where one of the followers fell in and was nearly drowned), the hind reached Wandsworth Common and Clapham Common, after which she "headed back to Wandsworth town, then away to Battersea, turned to the right, crossed the Clapham-road, and was taken near Kennington church, after a run of two hours and a half".
...On Tuesday met at Malden, where Mr. Harman kindly entertained all the gentlemen of the hunt. After the good things had been disposed of, the country being very wet, the hounds were trotted on to Banstead where the Harrow hind was uncarted.
She immediately turned round and faced the low country, from which much trouble had been taken to keep her, and she went away to Cheam, then to Nonsuch-park, Worster-park, and Malden, crossing the Malden-road to the brook, where many a horse and rider parted company; the deer then took one of the most severe parts of the country, to Cannon-hill and Merton, crossed the Kingston-road, then took to the right over the Wimbledon-road, taking the river Wandle, just below the mills.
At this point one of the field was very near being drowned, by getting under his horse in the river.
The hounds then went away between Tooting and the Wandsworth-road to Wandsworth Common, and from thence to Clapham Common, where she took a ring and headed back to Wandsworth town, then away to Battersea, turned to the right, crossed the Clapham-road, and was taken near Kennington church, after a run of two hours and a half.
I must admit that when I started his particular "Chronicle" I knew very little about stag-hunting, and was initially puzzled by several of the expressions, for example "turned out" and "uncarted", and why they seem to have hunted hinds (female deer) more often than stags. But now I think I know. I'll follow this up in a talk I'm preparing for the Heritage Fortnight. On which subject...
Graham Jackson, 5 March 2022:
The original course of the Derby ( so I understand) was run between Oaks Park in Sutton and approximately where the racecourse on Epsom Downs is today.
This is an advert.
Philip Boys (Friends of Wandsworth Common) reviews 250 years of sport on Wandsworth Common, from stag-hunting, cock-fighting, bare-knuckle fighting, fishing, "pedestrianism", and penny-farthing racing, to cricket, cross-country running, and relative new-comers such as rugby, tennis and football — including sport's profound impact on the landscape we see today.
29 May 2020
Further information from Emma Anthony, Wandsworth Heritage Service.
Here's another blood-sport involving dogs, but at the other end of the social scale from stag-hunting. Captive rabbits were released in front of two terriers, the winning dog being the first to catch (and kill) the rabbit. In this case, the meeting was held on what is now Trinity Fields. Until recently part of Wandsworth Common, by the 1880s it was fenced off — which meant an entrance fee (one shilling) could be charged (and presumably no rabbit could ever escape).
This report of the meeting gives an insight into the event, which was watched by "goodly numbers" of spectators. Notice the local placenames attached to the prizes — "Upper Tooting Stakes, "Burntwood Stakes":
THE WANDSWORTH COMMON FOX-TERRIER MEETING.
The second meeting was held in very successful style hard by Wandsworth Common yesterday. Although decidedly cold the weather was bright and tolerably pleasant, and the spectators, who mustered in goodly numbers, had plenty of sport provided for them, details of which are appended:
MATCH for £10 best of three courses — Mr W. B. Rowland's Jim beat Mr A. Coe's Snider, winning the first two courses easily.
The SURREY CHALLENGE STAKES, for dogs of 20lb and under — Mr Talbot's Rags beat Mr King's Bit of Fashion, Mr Huxley's Tatters beat Mr Robinson's Willoughby, Mr Talbot's Rip beat Mr Sibley's Rough Rider, Mr Puttick's Vixen (a bye), Mr Evans's Greg disqualified, being over weight, Huxley's Lady Golightly (a bye). First ties: Rags beat Tatters, Rip beat Lady Golightly, Vixen (a bye. Second ties: Rags beat Vixei, Rip (a bye). Deciding course: Rags beat Rip.
The UPPER TOOTING STAKES, for dogs of 18lb and under. — Mr Puttick's Vixen beat Mr Hammond's Dick Dunn, Mr Mullay's Brandy (a bye), Mr Joel's Beatrice being overweight, Mr Hammond's Bosco (a bye). First ties: Bosco beat Vixen, Brandy (a bye). Deciding course: Bosco beat Brandy.
The BURNTWOOD STAKES, for dogs of 15lb and under. Mr Folley's Tatters beat Mr Puttick's Secret, Mr Howell's Jenniee beat Mr Kitchen's Trueful (after an undcided), Mr Bashford's Beatrice beat Mr Pawley's Spot, Mr Mulley's Quick beat Mr Talbot's Match Girl, Mr Puttick's Sunbeam beat Mr Sibley's King Scot, Mr Kimber's Jumbo and Mr Grove's Soho disqualified, both being overweight.
First Ties: Jennie beat Tatters, Beatrice beat Quick, Sunbeam (a bye). Second Ties: Sunbeam beat Jennie (after an undecided course), and Beatrice had a bye. Deciding Course: Sunbeam beat Beatrice.
In the made-up a stake for 18lb dags, Mr Mulley'a Brandy beat Mr Joel's Beatrice in the final course.
For the 15lb Dog Stake (made up), five dogs were entered, and in the decider Mr Howell's Jennie beat Mr Grove's Soho.
The following matches for small stakes were also decided: Mr Evans's's Greg beat Mr Rowland's Jim after several undecided courses, Mr Talbot's Bags beat Mr Evans's Greg, and Sibley's Rough Rider beat Mr Huxley's Tatters.
A few days later, the enclosure was used for an "All-England" competition:
THE CHAMPION ALL-ENGLAND FOX TERRIER RABBIT COURSING MEETING
The third meeting of the season will be held on Wednesday, March 17, 1880, in a large meadow near the Surrey Tavern [now Brinkley's], Wandsworth Common.
This is one of the best fields ever used for rabbit coursing, and is very easy of access, being only three minutes walk from Wandsworth Common Station. L.B.S.C. [London Brighton and South Coast Railway] Railway, and fifteen minutes' walk from Clapham Junction.
[Source: Sporting Life — Tuesday 09 March 1886.]
These meetings were popular. As Sporting Life reported later the same month (24 April), "Holiday makers turned out en masse to witness the... meeting held in the cricket field adjoining Wandsworth Common yesterday. The arrangements all round were superb..." But added apologetically, "unfortunately, owing to the lateness of the season, rabbits could not obtained."
I wonder how disappointed the crowd was, and also how fox terriers were persuaded to race without the prospect of catching and killing a rabbit? Perhaps the organisers attached a dead animal to a line, and dragged it over the ground away from the dogs?
This is certainly what happened in 1827, when a "crack pack of Clapham hounds" run out on Wandsworth Common caught a trapped hare too quickly for general satisfaction:
On Wednesday last, at the request of some gentlemen of Clapham who had invited some friends from town, a trapped hare was turned loose before the crack pack of Clapham hounds on Wandsworth Common, but owing to their eagerness for the sport the poor timid hare was barbarously murdered before she had run 50 yards, the hounds being laid on too soon by Old Bill Day, the huntsman, who is likely to lose his place in consequence of it.
Determined to hear the cry of the hounds and see them run, they procured a string and tied it to the hare, when Sir William Doodle-doo, mounted on his celebrated hunter Rosinante, dragged it on round the common: no sooner had the hounds got scent than away they went full cry, followed by Lord Deal, Sir Joseph Pon Top, The Referee, Sir John Hashma Long Stockings, Black Adam, T. Whiteside, Esq. the Scotch Baker, T. Griskin, the Noted Trainer, and the Artful Boy.
[Pierce Egan's Life in London, and Sporting Guide — Sunday 21 October 1827.]
There is much to be puzzled about in this story — for example, why pseudonyms? And to which "Clapham gentlemen" did the pseudonyms refer? Why the reference to "the poor timid hare... barbarously murdered" in a newspaper devoted to all kinds of hunting and other blood sports, including pugilism? But of these questions another time.
Incidentally, while we're sort of on the subject, I suddenly recalled greyhound racing (also motorcycle speedway and stock-car racing) at Wimbledon Stadium on Plough Lane. I used to go there in the early 1960s.
The greyhounds chased a mechanical "hare". As the Encyclopedia Britannica puts it:
Dog racing, also called greyhound racing, the racing of greyhounds around an enclosed track in pursuit of an electrically controlled and propelled mechanical hare (rabbit). Dog racing is a 20th-century outgrowth of the older sport of coursing, in which dogs hunted by sight rather than scent.
The stadium was for many years the home of the English Greyhound Derby, the Oaks (greyhounds) and many other classic races.
Recently a new stadium has been built on the site, home of AFC Wimbledon and the rugby league side London Broncos. This replaces the old Wimbledon Football Stadium that stood for many years (1912—1991) a few hundred metres further along Plough Lane just over the River Wandle.
Now for a very different kind of hunt — shots fired during an attempted highway robbery on Wandsworth Common:
Last Sunday night as Mr. LUKIN, of Long-acre, was returning to town over Wandsworth Common, he was stopped by two highwaymen, and on refusing to deliver his money, one of the highwaymen discharged a pistol at him, but it missed. Mr. L. then discharged a pistol at the robbers, on which they rode off.
[Source: The Times, 1 March 1799, p.3.
"According to tradition," writes Sherwood Ramsey in his Historic Battersea (1913), Dick Turpin (the most celebrated highwayman of his day) regularly put up at the Plough Inn on what was then the edge of Wandsworth Common.
[A] tavern of note was Ye Old Plough Inn on St. John's Hill, which was built AD 1701... In front of the old inn grew an oak tree, beneath its shade travellers used to sit and enjoy their refreshments.
There are some grounds for the belief that the notorious Dick Turpin once stayed at this house for some time, when he was nightly visiting the Garrett Lane district. The lane was then a lonely Surrey high road, leading to Tooting and Merton, where many of the gentry resided whom Turpin used to intercept on their way home, and demand his toll. Tradition says that he was often in hiding at the Plough when he was hard pressed by the men of law.
A rhymester of the time wrote the following lines in memory of the old oak tree which grew in front of The Plough:
"Here stands the remains of the old oak tree,
That flourished when knights of the road roamed free,
When bands of lawless, yet chivalrous wights,
Struck fear to the hearts of purse-proud knights.
This gay old king of the forest wild,
His proud head bowed to the sun's bright smile;
His leaves to the murmuring breeze did fling
In the cool shade of the old Plough Inn.
When the knights of the road of their deeds did sing,
As the chorus loud made the rafters ring,
They drank to the health of Turpin the bold,
When he brought to the 'Plough' his ill-gotten gold.
So here's to the memory of the old Plough Inn,
And all the past memories of things that have been."
[There is a slightly different version in Henry S. Simmonds, All about Battersea.]
Ah, but was it our Plough? Just about every Plough Inn in the country claims that "honour" — try an online search for "Plough Dick Turpin" and see what comes up.
At first I was sceptical of any particular association of Dick Turpin with our area, and in my first draft I wrote that eighteenth-century Wandsworth Common was in any case much less notorious for highway robbery than Hounslow Heath, say, or the Great North Road (though we had our share).
However, I then came across a number of articles that suggested otherwise. For example, from the Westminster Gazette, 7 August 1896:
"in old days Wandsworth Common was an unbroken expanse, stretching from the village of Wandsworth for two miles to Balham and Streatham. Standing on high ground, with an ascent to it from whichever side it was approached, it had as bad a name for footpads and highwaymen as Hounslow Heath, only it was more carefully avoided..."
The article continued rather curiously:
In the part which has been preserved the London County Council has carried out many useful improvements, but the fear is now entertained that if it attempts any further improvements it wiil undo the good it is admitted to have accomplished.
It has made two artificial lakes, which at certain periods of the year are evil-smelling, but it has done nothing to preserve the group of trees on a sandy knoll near Bolingbroke Grove — the reputed site of many felons' executions.
"A sandy knoll near Bolingbroke Grove... reputed site of many a felons' executions"? I must say I'd never heard that before. But since the rest of the article contains any number of wildly erroneous statements, maybe there's absolutely nothing in it. But worth keeping an eye open for.
A slightly earlier article (from 1873, but summarising one from the early eighteenth century) is even more explicit about Dick Turpin's connection with Wandsworth:
Upon the 17th of November 1736 the The London Spy Revived, by Democritus Secundus, of the Fleet records, "Last Tuesday morning, between six and seven, Turpin, the butcher, one of Gregory's gang, in company with another, both well-mounted on bright bay horses, were seen to ride through Wandsworth, and are supposed to the two highwaymen that have lately infested the roads in that neighbourhood."
Turpin, attired in a brown coat and red waistcoat, was afterwards seen drinking at an inn in Clapham; but no attempt was made to arrest him; and this ruffian of ruffians, elevated into a popular hero on the score of a feat of rapid riding he never performed, did not meet his deserts until three years afterwards.
The "feat of rapid riding he never performed" is a reference to an alleged ride he made on Black Bess from London to York, and of course "his deserts" meant his execution by hanging at Tyburn in 1739.
[Note: This issue of The London Spy Revived is available at the Burney Collection at the BL and elsewhere but access seems to be restricted to subscribers so I have yet to read it.]
Curiously, there are several connections with the stag-hunting story above and indeed the very existence of Wandsworth and other "commons". Turpin, who as the article states was a butcher, is said to have taken to highway robbery and burglary after he and his fellow poachers (known as "Blacks", because they blackened their faces with burnt cork) were prevented by the "Black Act" of 1723 from taking deer — which of course meant a major source of valuable meat was lost.
For large land-owners, the deer were "theirs" because they lived on "their" land. Commoners saw it in exactly the same way, but deer and land were "theirs". Of course it was only the latter, very much larger group that faced legal action: fines, imprisonment, transportation, execution.
This dispute was to have a profound significance in the next century when it came to deciding what should be done with the "commons", including Wandsworth Common. The Earls Spencer thought of it as theirs to dispose of as they willed, local people begged to differ.
See e.g. Wikipedia: Black Act 1723 for an introduction, and the classic study by E.P.Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origins of the Black Act (1975).]
Dick Turpin was huge in nineteenth-century children's literature, his exploits (almost all fabricated, of course) featuring in countless "penny dreadfuls" and their successor comics. Here are a few random images (of many thousands):
And here is a marvellously-romanticised painting of the French highwayman Claude Duval by William Powell Frith (1860), an artist who painted a number of scenes in and around London in the middle of the nineteenth century. No reason, just great fun.
Although after 1871 Wandsworth Common was thought of as a benign (indeed a thoroughly "healthy") place to live, it had an inherited reputation for mischief and dark deeds. This made it a prime location for scenes in any number of crime novels — for example, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter (1893), Sax Rohmer's The Hand of Fu-Manchu (1917), and Sabine Durrant's Under Your Skin (2014).
"Where are we?" I muttered, "where..."
"Unless I am greatly mistaken," replied my bedraggled companion... we are somewhere on the west side of Wandsworth Common!"
The words broke in through the curtain of unconsciousness. I strove to arouse myself. I felt cold and wet. I opened my eyes and the world seemed to be swimming dizzily about me. Then a hand grasped my arm, roughly.
"Brace up! Brace up, Petrie, and thank God you are alive! . . ."
I was sitting beside Sir Baldwin Frazer on a wooden bench, under a leafless tree, from the ghostly limbs whereof rain trickled down upon me! In the gray light, which, I thought, must be the light of dawn, I discerned other trees about us and an open expanse, tree-dotted, stretching into the misty grayness.
"Where are we?" I muttered, "where..."
"Unless I am greatly mistaken," replied my bedraggled companion, "and I don't think I am, for I attended a consultation in this neighbourhood less than a week ago, we are somewhere on the west side of Wandsworth Common!"
Anyway, back to highwaymen on Wandsworth Common.
Here is a key scene from Second to None, A Military Romance (1864), by the prolific novelist James Grant. The story is set during the Napoleonic War. His military hero, the rather ludicrously named "Basil Gauntlet", has left Guildford for London but progress has been slow. It is getting dark when he arrives at Wandsworth Common. He hears a woman's scream and — spoiler alert — saves her from a highwayman:
... though the distance between Guildford and the metropolis is only about thirty miles, evening closed in before I saw at a distance the vast and dusky dome of St. Paul's, rising in sombre grandeur from amid the yellow haze, formed by the smoke and by the myriad lights of London.
I had left behind me the little village of Wandsworth, which is finely situated on the declivities of two small hills, and was traversing the common, then a wild and open waste covered with grass, gorse, and tall waving weeds [reeds?] through which the roadway passed.
Clouds had now obscured the stars, and the night was so dark that I had some difficulty in tracing my path, though the accumulated glare of the innumerable street lamps and other lights of the vast city was very distinct but a few miles off, rendering the foreground darker.
When about the middle of the common, I heard the sharp report of a pistol and then the scream of a woman. These alarming sounds, and the flash of the explosion, came from the very path I had to traverse, so I spurred on my jaded hack, and found a carriage stopped on the common by two armed and mounted highwaymen, with crape masks on their faces. Such gentry were at that period still in the zenith of their perilous fame.
They had fired a shot to make the postillion pull up, and were now stationed one at each window of the carriage, demanding the purses and other valuables of the travellers.
My holster pistols were at the demi-pique saddle of my troop horse, which I had left at Guildford; so drawing my sword, I rode boldly up and demanded what was the matter, and who fired the shot I had heard.
"You had better ride on and attend to your own affairs," replied a surly fellow, with a horrible oath, as he coolly reloaded his pistol.
"Surrender your weapon, rascal," I exclaimed, resolutely, "or I shall cut you to the teeth!"
"Fire at him, Bill," cried he to his comrade.
"Zounds! are we both to be cowed by a saucy shoulder-knot?"
On hearing this, his comrade urged his horse furiously round from the other side of the carriage. Then I heard another female shriek as he levelled a bright-barrelled blunderbuss, the bell-muzzle of which was so near my face that the light flashed on it as he drew the trigger, for happily it only burned priming; otherwise my head would have been blown to atoms, as on inspection afterwards I found this formidable firearm was loaded with slugs of lead and iron.
"Hung fire, by all that's infernal!" exclaimed the fellow; but his exclamation of wrath ended in a howl of agony, when by a stroke of my sword I hewed off half of his right hand, and the weapon fell on the road, together with three of his fingers. On this they put spurs to horses and galloped away at a break-neck pace.
With a shout of victory I pursued them for a few hundred yards across the common, and then returned at a canter to the carriage, the occupants of which proved to he two ladies, who, by then manner and difference of years, appeared to be mother and daughter. They had with them a waiting-maid, and it was she whose cries I had twice heard.
Their air was distinguished; the younger was a very beautiful girl with fair hair and a delicate complexion, but this was all I could discern by the light of a carriage lamp, which one of the footmen — a rascal who had hitherto hidden himself among some fern — now held within the window, while the ladies were putting on their rings, gloves, and bracelets which they had drawn off to surrender at the moment I came so luckily to their rescue.
"Mamma, dear mamma, all danger is past. They are gone, and we are safe; be assured, be satisfied," I heard the soft voice of the younger say imploringly to the elder, who was excessively agitated.
"Ladies," said I, touching my cap, "be composed now, I pray you; those fellows have fled, and are not likely to return. Fortunately, I have put a mark upon one that he will not easily efface."
"Sir," replied the elder lady, in a voice still tremulous with alarm, "accept our deepest gratitude. To you we owe our rescue. Our money and jewels would have been a trifling loss, but how know we that these men might not have murdered us here on this lonely heath? and we hear of such dreadful things in these days."
"As the night has becomes so dark, madam," said I, "you must allow me to have the honour of escorting you to town. You have still to pass Clapham Common, and its reputation for safety is somewhat indifferent. Even in Lambeth I have heard that robberies have been frequent of late."
"[Y]ou must allow me to have the honour of escorting you to town. You have still to pass Clapham Common, and its reputation for safety is somewhat indifferent. Even in Lambeth I have heard that robberies have been frequent of late..."'
"But how can we trespass so far upon your kindness, sir ?" urged the young lady, whose voice made my heart beat faster.
"Believe me, madam, I deem it a great honour and happiness to have been of service to you, and for to-night, at least, your way shall be mine. I am pretty well mounted, and very well armed."
"Fortunately, you are also proceeding to London, " said her mother; "therefore I accept your polite offer with gratitude."
I bowed nearly to my horse's mane, and then said to the valet "Hand up that blunderbuss, John; it may serve as a trophy, and remind your lady of to-night's engagement on Wandsworth Common."
"And the three fingers — oh — ugh ?" asked John, with chattering teeth.
"Those you may pocket, if you please... "
Edward Thomas, one of the greatest of our "war poets", moved to Wakehurst Road in 1880, when he was 2 years old, and then to nearby Shelgate Road at the age of 9. His first school was Belleville. He lived in this area until he was in his twenties, and even then continued to visit his parents in Rusham Road, off Nightingale Lane — it was from there that he left for France in 1917.
There are at least two Edward Thomas anniversaries to commemorate in March — Wednesday 3rd March will be his birthday, and Sunday 21st March the anniversary of the day he set out on his bicycle for Somerset, out of which emerged his book In Pursuit of Spring, published 1914, the year of his death in northern France.
For years I've wanted to write a study of "Edward and Helen Thomas's Wandsworth Common" (Helen nee Noble, his wife, had lived before their marriage in Patten Road, on the other side of the Common from Edward.) But yet another year has gone by without finishing it. But here's a taster.
Edward Thomas sets off on his bicycle to ride from Wandsworth Common to Coleridge's cottage in Nether Stowey, Somerset.
It was exceedingly wet that day. The journey from his parents' home on the corner of Rusham Road and Sudbrooke Rd across the Common and down Burntwood Lane is described in wonderful detail in his In Pursuit of Spring (published 1914).
Why Nether Stowey? Because Coleridge had lived there in the late 1790s, and there Edward Thomas would see "the native soil of "Kubla Khan," "Christabel," and "The Ancient Mariner," where Coleridge "on honey-dew hath fed and drunk the milk of Paradise."
I had planned to start on March 21, and rather late than early, to give the road time for drying. The light arrived bravely and innocently enough at sunrise; too bravely, for by eight o'clock it was already abashed by a shower. There could be no doubt that either I must wait for a better day, or at the next convenient fine interval I must pretend to be deceived and set out prepared for all things.
So at ten I started, with maps and sufficient clothes to replace what my waterproof could not protect from rain.
The suburban by-streets already looked rideable; but they were false prophets: the main roads were very different. For example, the surface between the west end of Nightingale Lane and the top of Burntwood Lane was fit only for fancy cycling — in and out among a thousand lakes a yard wide and three inches deep. These should either have been stocked with gold-fish and aquatic plants or drained, but some time had been allowed  to pass without either course being adopted.
It may be that all the draining forces of the neighbourhood had been directed to emptying the ornamental pond on Wandsworth Common. Empty it was, and the sodden bed did not improve the look of the common — flat by nature, flatter by recent art.
The gorse was in bloom amidst a patchwork of turf, gravel, and puddle. Terriers raced about or trifled. A flock of starlings bathed together in a puddle until scared by the dogs.
A tall, stern, bald man without a hat strode earnestly in a straight line across the grass and water, as if pleasure had become a duty. He was alone on the common. In all the other residences, that form walls round the common almost on every side, hot-cross buns had proved more alluring than the rain and the south-west wind.
The scene was, in fact, one more likely to be pleasing in a picture than in itself. It was tame: it was at once artificial and artless, and touched with beauty only by the strong wind and by the subdued brightness due to the rain. Its breadth and variety were sufficient for it to respond — something as Exmoor or Mousehold Heath or Cefn Bryn in Gower would have responded — to the cloudily shattered light, the threats and the deceptions, and the great sweep of the wind.
But there was no one painting those cold expanses of not quite lusty grass, the hard, dull gravel, the shining puddles, the dark gold-flecked gorse, the stiff, scanty trees with black bark and sharp green buds, the comparatively venerable elms of Bolingbroke Grove, the backs and fronts of houses of no value save to their owners, and the tall chimney-stacks northwards.
Perhaps only a solitary artist, or some coldish sort of gnome or angel, could have thoroughly enjoyed this moment. That it was waiting for such a one I am certain; I am almost equally certain that he could create a vogue in scenes like this one, which are only about a thousandth part as unpleasant as a cold bath, and possess, furthermore, elements of divinity lacking both to the cold bath and to the ensuing bun.
It is easier to like the blackbird's shrubbery, the lawn, the big elm, or oak, and the few dozen fruit trees, of the one or two larger and older houses surviving — for example, at the top of Burntwood Lane. The almond, the mulberry, the apple trees in these gardens have a menaced or actually caged loveliness, as of a creature detained from some world far from ours, if they are not, as in some cases they are, the lost angels of ruined paradises.
I'd love to go on (and on), but perhaps not quite now. Maybe next year?
Black Sea — Cricket on ice
Cricket on the ice
The match was played on the Black Sea, Wandsworth Common, on Friday week, between Eleven Players of Battersea and Eleven of Wandsworth, which, after a hard contest, ended in favour of Battersea by 21 runs.
On Saturday a match was played between Twenty-two Players from Messrs Price's Battersea. Score: J. Allen's side 57 and 27 — total 84 (with seven wickets to go down); G. Steer's side first innings 27.
I still call the plant supermarket on Heathfield Road "Neal's Nursery", because that's what it was when I was a child. But nothing's been grown there for years, and everything is brought in by lorry from out-of-town. (It now describes itself as a "Garden Centre".) This may be the first mention, in an early-nineteenth-century newspaper, of Neal(e)'s nursery:
Nursery Stock — To Noblemen, Gentlemen, Nurserymen, and Others — The Valuable Stock of Mr Robert Neale, late in the occupation of Mr. Harper — By Mr WILMOT, on the Premises, near the French Horn, Wandsworth Common, MONDAY next, March 12, at Eleven precisely, without reservation.
The choice and valuable Stock consists of young trained trees, Portugal laurels sorts, China roses, filberts, lilacs, box trees, rhodadendrons, variegated hollies, privets, evergreens, lancestinus, junipers, honeysuckles, arbarvitas, yellow and white broom, standard pears and plums of sorts, evergreen oaks, sycamore, fruit, and fruit trees, &c. &c...
MAGDALEN-PARK ESTATE, Wandsworth-common, S.W. Splendidly situated, high ground, and bounded the Common, within 10 minutes of L.B. and S.C. [London, Brighton and South Coast] Railway and the L.S.W. [London and South Western] Railway Stations, with quick and easy access to West End and City.
Artistic, convenient, and Well-planned HOUSES to LET or SOLD; electric light and bells: several excellent Houses, to which Small Motor Houses could be erected.
Rents varying from £l6 per annum ; prices from £530 to £1,400 at moderate ground rents.
For full particulars apply HOLLOWAY BROTHERS, Estate office. 1. Herondale-avenue. S.W.. head office. Victoria Wharf. Belvedere-road. S.E. TTT'
WANDSWORTH-COMMON (overlooking). To be LET or SOLD. FREEHOLD FAMILY RESIDENCE, standing in own grounds; bed-rooms, three-stall stable, coach-hoouse; rent £200; price £3,600. &mdash J. Higham. 2. Coleman-street.
I wonder where exactly the advertised houses were situated? Lyford Road? Herondale Avenue?
I love the bit about space for "Small Motor Houses".
The word garage, introduced to English in 1902, originates from the French word garer, meaning shelter. By 1908 the architect Charles Harrison Townsend was commenting in The Builder magazine that "for the home of the car, we very largely use the French word 'garage', alternatively with what I think the more desirable English equivalent of 'motor house'".
When and how did garage came to be so polysemic, to refer effortlessly to a filling station, a car repair workshop, and a "small motor house"? (Let alone to a whole range of urban music styles.)
"Not only at night, but during the day, numbers of the most disreputable characters are allowed to lurk about... Exposures of the most indecent kind are frequent... the inhabitants of Wandsworth are allowing their Common to be the sport of carman and contractor by day, and the haunt of the footpad and vagabond by night."
WANDSWORTH AND CLAPHAM COMMONS
TO THE EDITOR OF THE STANDARD
The savage assault by the cab-driver Wilkes, and its severe punishment, reported in to-day's paper, bring vividly to mind the condition of our Commons in South-West London at night. Not only at night, but during the day, numbers of the most disreputable characters are allowed to lurk about both Clapham and Wandsworth Commons.
Exposures of the most indecent kind are frequent; so that children sent from Wandsworth Common to Clapham Schools are obliged in the day time to take the long route by road instead of crossing the Commons.
The Metropolitan Board of Works has now full control. Its inability, however, to check lawlessness is becoming painfully evident. Contractors' carts continue to plough a roadway across Wandsworth Common into the most disgraceful condition, in order to cultivate twenty acres of land which a few years ago were open common: scores of people grope their way at night with no friendly lamp along the footpaths.
Whilst the ratepayers of Lambeth and Brixton are purchasing open spaces at heavy cost, the inhabitants of Wandsworth are allowing their Common to be the sport of carman and contractor by day, and the haunt of the footpad and vagabond by night.
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
"We came from Bolingbroke Grove to Arundel Terrace and slept here for the first time. Our house is the south-east corner one where Brodrick Road crosses Trinity Road down towards Wandsworth Common Station, the side door being in Brodrick Road."
Does anybody have any suggestions where on Bolingbroke Grove they might have been staying — and with whom?
ROBBERIES AND OTHER DEPREDATIONS.
The following are among the most extensive robberies committed since our last publication...
Stolen... a dark-coloured she-ass was missing from Wandsworth Common, the property of Mr. Constable, builder, of High-street, Wandsworth.
The little-known strip of Wandsworth Common — along Bolingbroke Grove opposite the Cemetery — at last protected by an iron fence.
It has been a source of much satisfaction to the Conservators that during the past year the state of the funds at their disposal has admitted of their complying with the terms their Act as regards the erection of an iron fence to prevent encroachment upon the piece of land restored to the common, opposite to the Battersea Cemetery in Bolingbroke Grove. From its peculiar situation this part of the common can never, the Conservators fear, be rendered attractive, but its preservation, even under present conditions, appears to them to be preferable to its entire loss to the public.
I wonder when the fence was removed?
Funeral of Mr. Andrew Cameron.
There's a lot to be said about Andrew Cameron, the last Chairman of the Wandsworth Common Board of Conservators before custody was transferred (briefly) to the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1887, and then to the London County Council (1889). He was the leading campaigner for 'Battersea Home Rule' in the 1880s and of the Progressive group that was to control the Vestry and the Borough for nearly 20 years. He was a Battersea delegate to the MBW, an overseer of the parish charities, chairman of the Battersea Library Commissioners and of the Battersea Water Consumers Defence Association, and active in many other local organisations.
On Saturday afternoon the funeral of Mr. Andrew Cameron took place at Battersea Cemetery, Battersea Rise. The whole neighbourhood gave every token of regret and respect. The shops in the immediate neighbourhood of Battersea Rise were closed, and St. Mark's Church, where the first part of the service took place, was thronged by members of the vestry and others who had known Mr. Andrew Cameron for nearly 20 years as an earnest municipal and parochial reformer, and hard worker for temperance and education...
Mr. Cameron, who was only 51 years age, had filled nearly every office in the parish, was the last chairman of the Board of Conservators for Wandsworth Common, and was at one time representative of the district on the Metropolitan Board of Works. He was advanced Liberal in politics, and, whilst in health, had taken prominent part in the promotion of Progressive works...
I hope to return to Andrew Cameron in later articles.
We the undersigned are opposed to the current planned routing of Crossrail 2 under Wandsworth Common.
The siting of two access shafts next to the Skylark cafe on a children's playground and on the corner of Trinity Fields will have a devastating effect on the our common for many years in addition to creating an enormous safety issue for local children
The petition closed early, on 30 March 2015, because of the imminent General Election. 2,128 signatures had been registered of the 10,000 needed to trigger a debate in the House. So far as I know the plans for Crossrail 2 have been completely abandoned (at least for now).
Graham Jackson, 5 March 2022:
Crossrail 2 is very much on the back burner, but if you refer to the latest information on the internet, because of geological problems at Tooting Broadway an alternative route was proposed via Balham. This meant that the "Areas of Surface Interest" were moved.
For instance where the two proposed routes via Tooting Broadway and Balham crossed there was to be an Area of Surface Interest there. This is approximately somewhere towards the top end of Springfield Park where the top two holes of the golf course were on the northern side of the access road to the original clubhouse.
If the route does go via Tooting Broadway the further "ASI" towards Clapham Junction would be approximately where Neal's Nursery is opposite Wandsworth Prison. If via Balham the ASI would be located approximately on the edge of Wandsworth Common somewhere in the region of Bolingbroke Grove. Either way Trinity Fields and the Skylark Cafe would be safe. Also read my book (A History of Trinity Fields, pp.142-43).
Graham Jackson, 6 March 2022:
If you look at the 2015 interactive map on the internet and zoom in on the details, you will note that the Balham option is now preferred to the Tooting Broadway alternative. Therefore the ASI on Wandsworth Common is likely to be in the vicinity of the pond in Bolingbroke Grove on Wandsworth Common.
PB: Here are some screen grabs of the 2015 maps:
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