The History of Wandsworth Common


PB, July 2022

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CHRONICLES
of Wandsworth Common

JULY 2022 CHRONICLES





Flanders and Swann,
A Song of the Weather (c.1956).


Everyone for Tennis?

Wimbledon Fortnight may be over but to keep you entertained I've written an article on the early history of tennis on Wandsworth Common. This isn't because I'm particularly interested in tennis, but because I've come to realise how important the provision of sporting facilities was for the evolution of the Common after 1871 (and particularly after the London County Council took over management of the Common in 1889).

In short, the Common is the size and shape it is largely because of tennis, cricket, football and other sports.



Young women playing tennis on Wandsworth Common c.1910 (?).
(Detail of a postcard from the marvellous Loobey Collection at Wandsworth's Heritage Service at Battersea Library.)
(Click on image to enlarge)

Here's a challenge for you.

Can you work out exactly where this photograph (from 1921) was taken?



"The Spread of Tennis", The Sphere, 20 August 1921
(Click on image to enlarge)

Read more about the history of tennis and its effect on the Common.


This month's stories

and more...


First, I must mention something I saw this week at the Walter Sickert exhibition at Tate Britain (on until 18 September 2022).



Walter Richard Sickert (1860—1942), "The Bust of Tom Sayers: A Self-portrait"
The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford/ArtUK.
(Click on image to enlarge)

Walter Sickert was James McNeill Whistler's student/assistant (I've written about Whistler a couple of times before, in May and June's Chronicles). Sickert used this bust several times in paintings, but who is Tom Sayers?

ArtUK describes him simply as a "boxer":



"Sickert included the marble bust of the boxer Tom Sayers (1826—1865) in several works executed during the First World War. This is the earliest of Sickert's self portraits to show him wearing a beard and was probably painted c.1913—1915."

.

The caption to the painting in the Tate exhibition is a little more informative.



(Click on image to enlarge)

Tom Sayers is the last great bare-knuckle fighter, not just the English Champion in the years immediately before the introduction of the Queensbury Rules but he's also regarded as the first World Champion, having gone to the USA in 1859 and beaten the US champion John Camel Heenan.



(Click on image to enlarge)

Yes, but what is Tom Sayers's connection with Wandsworth Common?

Ah, for that you'll have to wait until I manage to finish at least the first half the "Sporting Wandsworth Common" talk/video. Sorry it's taking so long, but I keep finding new material that I can't bear not to follow up.

I had no idea when I started that the Sporting Wandsworth Common theme would be quite so rich. For example, it's led me to look in some detail at the evolution of the Sports Field (where today's cricket pitches, bowling green, tennis courts and Skylark Cafe are located).



The Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Girls c.1860, alone in largely undifferentiated 50+ acres.
Its kite-like shape is defined by two sharply converging/diverging railway lines, the future Trinity Road, and a straight boundary at right angles ending at the railway line en route to Crystal Palace.
In the south, access to the Common is via a narrow passage between the Asylum grounds and what will eventually be Dorlcote Road and the "Toast Rack", but was at this time known as "College Park" (the land was owned by Magdalen College, Oxford).
(Click on image to enlarge)

I cover some of this history in the "everyone for tennis?" article here.


Whitby Gazette — 5 July 1918

"POISONED FINGER. — Mrs. Purrant, writing from 22, Bennerley Road. Wandsworth Common, London, S.W., says:"


"Some time ago my husband contracted a poisoned finger. We tried number of well-known remedies, but his hand grew no better, and so he stayed from his work treated by the "Panel" Doctor. Still there was no improvement, so, having heard of Zam-Buk decided to give it a trial. Zam-Buk soon made the finger look better, and within a few days my husband was completely cured."



(Click on image to enlarge)


DON'T RUN ANY RISKS WITH

ALLOTMENT CUTS & BRUISES

ALWAYS CARRY ZAM-BUK, THE ANTISEPTIC HEALER.

WORK on the allotment produces a big crop of Cuts, Scratches, and Blistered Hands, with the risk of dirt and dangerous disease germs infecting the broken skin and setting up blood-poisoning.

This applies especially to the tens of thousands of people who have been unaccustomed to the use of garden tools.

The best way to get over this trouble is to always carry a box of Zam-Buk. This unique healing balm is of herbal origin, and has Soothing and Antiseptic qualities of rare power not present in ordinary first-aid dressings.

Not only is it a good plan to rub the hands over with Zam-Buk before starting work, but by immediately dressing wounds vith Zam-Buk dangerous complications are prevented, and the sore places healed quickly and painlessly.

The fact that injuries, at first no more serious than slight scratches, may lead to amputation of a limb, and even death, shows how neoessary Is to always have handy a box of Zam-Buk.

POISONED FINGER. — Mrs. Purrant, writing from 22, Bennerley Road. Wandsworth Common, London, S.W., says:

"Some time ago my husband contracted a poisoned finger. We tried number of well-known remedies, but his hand grew no better, and so he stayed from his work treated the "Panel" Doctor. Still there was no improvement, so, having heard of Zam-Buk decided to give it a trial. Zam-Buk soon made the finger look better, and within a few days my husband was completely cured."

Zam-Buk has a World-Wide reputation as the Standard household remedy for Eczema, Bad Legs, Ringworm, Piles, Poisoned Sores, Pimples, Itching Spots, Sunburn, Heat Rash, Insect Bites and Stings, Boils etc. 1/3d [? unreadable] a box, at all Chemists and Drug Stores. Sold in large quantities to Soldiers, Sailors and the W.A.A.Cs through the Army and Navy Canteen Committees.

Zam-Buk

[BNA: Link]



A tin of Zam-Buk herbal balm "for sore, tired, aching feet" — and just about every other ailment visited on humanity.
Presumably the same stuff as the "antiseptic healer" above?
(Click on image to enlarge)

See also Wikipedia: Zam-Buk


South Western Star — Friday 04 July 1924

Police win game of quoits

Quoits was a popular game on the Common in the nineteenth century — John Buckmaster writes about it along with cricket and bowls. But by the twentieth century it had largely died out, except (for some reason) among the Wandsworth Common police. It was still being played locally in the 1920s.



POLICE WIN A GAME OF QUOITS

Bolingbroke Quoit Club at Wandsworth Common yesterday played a return match at quoits with representatives of L Division of Police. The last named's score was 124. That of the Quoit Club was 51.

Teams — Bolingbroke: Messrs. Briggs, Bert, Moore, Stroungler, and Reynolds. L Division: Sergeant James (captain). P.C. Ludgate (vice-captain). P.C.'s Nye, Ward, Waldron, and Anglestein.

[BNA: Link]


British Press — Thursday 07 July 1803

There is said to be an early phrase-book or English-language primer for the traveller in Portugal that included the immortal sentence: "My postillion has been struck by lightning." (For variants, see here)

This may perhaps be not quite as useful a phrase now as it was in the early ninethenth century, and I must admit I didn't know what (or who) a "postillion" was.



"Oh dear, my postillion has been struck by lightning."
A postillion (or postilion) is a person who guides a horse-drawn coach or post chaise while mounted on the horse or on one of a pair of horses. By contrast, a coachman controls the horses from the vehicle itself.
(Click on image to enlarge)

Here's a story of a postillion struck not by lightning, but by a Captain Brathwaite (Braithwaite, Braythwaite etc ) — clearly an absolute bounder, a prototype for Flashman:


When they came to Wandsworth Common, the Defendant [Captain Brathwaite], who wished to get to Epsom time enough for the Derby plates, thought the postillion did not drive with sufficient speed.

He ordered him to dismount, and upon his refusal pulled him off, inhumanly kicked him on the face, and left him laying in the road, in a state of insensibility. He then took the reins himself, and drove with such rapidity, that when the animals reached Epsom, they appeared in a state of the utmost distress.

One of them, a fine free horse, before in perfect health, staggered, and fell down. It rose again, was walked about a mile, then fell down, struggled, and died.

The owner of the horses prosecuted Brathwaite, as we can read here:



(Click on the image to read the entire text.)

Daily Herald — Saturday 22 July 1922

"Park Games Tomorrow? LCC to Decide at Meeting Today. Die-hards last ditch..."

On Saturday, the London County Council held a special meeting today to decide whether "Sunday Games in the Parks" could begin the following day. Everything was ready to go but a caucus opposed to the playing of sports on Sundays, including Earl Haddo, demanded yet another vote. It was touch and go but Haddo and his fellow-Sabbatarians lost.



(Click on image to enlarge)

Daily Mirror — Monday 12 July 1954

When swans go bad.



MEN with ropes will set out today, to try to catch Bill, the "killer" swan of Wandsworth Common, London.

For twenty-five years Bill has reigned over the pond on the Common — but recently he has been terrorising his kingdom by killing ducks, driving off other birds and attacking dogs. Now he even scares children, say Wandsworth park officials...



(Click on image to enlarge)


Swan that turned killer

MEN with ropes will set out today, to try to catch Bill, the "killer" swan of Wandsworth Common, London. For twenty-five years Bill has reigned over the pond on the Common — but recently he has been terrorising his kingdom by killing ducks, driving off other birds and attacking dogs. Now he even scares children, say Wandsworth park officials.

Park Superintendent Henry Davies said last night: "We have tried to coax him near enough to grab him, but he hisses, flaps his wings and makes off. As he packs a knockout blow in each wing, we have to be careful. "

Bill, now under sentence of death, turned "killer" after his mate was stoned to death some years ago, say park attendants.

[BNA: Link]



A swan on Wandsworth Common lake. Definitely not Bill. Another swan entirely.
Postcard by the photographers Dorrett and Martin ("D&M"), Bellevue Road, possibly c.1910.
(Click on image to enlarge)

But Bill wasn't the first swan to cause concern.

South Western Star — Friday 12 June 1931

"It is... to be feared that the slaughter of innocent young ducks will go on."



Something will have to be done about it, say the people who live opposite the swan pond at Wandsworth Common. A few of these good people have already done something — they have written to the County Council, but that body is too busy — considering plans for the reduction of the rates — to suggest any practical measures for the relief of residents of Bolingbroke-grove.

It is, therefore, to be feared that the slaughter of innocent young ducks will go on.

The slaughterer is a singularly ferocious swan, who has it into his head that the pond belongs to him, and to his spouse, and that all other feathered creatures who venture thereon are trespassers asking for extermination.

According to the testimony of eyewitnesses, the swan grips the ducklings by the neck and holds them under water till they are drowned.

The idea of drowning a duck would not occur to the average human being, but swans seem to have an uncanny instinct.

Public opinion in the neighbourhood favours the ducks. Men, armed with sticks, endeavour to protect them from the murderous malice of the swan, and old ladies call out from bedroom windows.

In spite of these heroic measures, the fate of the ducklings will be sealed unless the County Council comes to the rescue..

[BNA: Link]



(Click on image to enlarge)

Morning Post — 11 July 1874

Advert for a lecture by John Buckmaster at the London International Exhibition's School of Cookery, Albert Hall.



(Click on image to enlarge)


(Click on image to enlarge)

Morning Post — Thursday 15 July 1802



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(Click on image to enlarge)


LOST, on Friday Brewing, a BLOOD BAY MARE, thorough bred, her off fore leg white on the fetlock joint to the hoof, the other three legs black, shews that she has cut behind,and is now five years old. She threw her groom on Wandsworth Common and ran off: sho had on a particular bit, with new double reins, a saddle made by Turner, of Epsom, and a white saddle-cloth.

She was stopped in the lane leading to the Wheat Sheaf, at Tooting, and delivered to a man on a grey horse, in brown livery.

Whoever will give notice where the said mare is, to Mrs Hall, Hamilton-street, Piccadilly; or to Mr. South, at the Leg of Mutton, at Ashted, Surrey, shall be amply rewarded for his trouble and expence; and any person detaining the saidm arewill be prosecuted as the law directs.

[BNA: Link]

The "lane leading to the Wheat Sheaf" is now called Trinity Road — the Wheatsheaf pub is still there (was it rebuilt c.1890?), opposite Tooting Bec tube.


Woolwich Gazette — Saturday 16 July 1870

"Samuel Sullings, who was imprisoned with hard labour for breaking down fences at Wandsworth Common... was entertained by a number of his fellow-workmen at the Infant School, Battersea, on Saturday."



The Infant School, on Battersea Rise, where Samuel Sullings was feted.
The school is in the shadow of the St Mark's Church (which was built later), exactly oposite "Buckmaster Road". It's desperately sad-looking now. Can nothing be done to save it?
(Click on image to enlarge)


WANDSWORTH COMMON

Samuel Sullings, who was imprisoned with hard labour for breaking down fences at Wandsworth Common, and subsequently released on a memorial presented to the House Secretary by Sir C.W. Dilke, M.P., was entertained by a number of his fellow-workmen at the Infant School, Battersea, on Saturday.

Sullings appeared in a new suit of clothes, hat, and boots, which were paid for by a few friends. The workmen have made a subscription, which will be placed in the Post-office Savings Book."

Mr. Churchwarden Buckmaster occupied the chair, and made a speech, in which he endeavoured to show that those who had erected the fences were more guilty than Sullings; and the idea of saying to poor men, when their rights and enjoyments were taken away by rich people, that if they felt aggrieved they could proceed by action at law or indictment, was simply adding insult to injustice. (Cheers).

The chairman then referred to various matters connected with the common, and expressed a hope that it would not be necessary for working men to suffer imprisonment in defence of what they believed to be their rights; he looked with hope and confidence to the result of the forthcoming City meeting.

Three cheers for Mr. Buckmaster, three groans for those who had enclosed the common, and a vote of thanks to the vicar for allowing the use of the schoolroom, concluded the proceedings.

[BNA: Link]

(Click on image to enlarge)

London Evening Standard — Friday 17 July 1885



(Click on image to enlarge)


THE BRIGHTON LINE.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE STANDARD.

Sir, — In your paper to-day you mention the case of a little boy killed on the Brighton line. May I call attention to the fact that a great part of the same line from Clapham Junction, running through Wandsworth Common, is protected only by an open rail, and that nearly every evening a dozen littie children may be seen on the bank inside the fence, and within a few feet, sometimes, of the metal?

Surely some further protection ought to be afforded where a line runs through a suburban common swarming with young children who can scarcely know their danger.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

J WEST

Endlesham-road, Balham, July 16.


Age 1852 — Saturday 17 July 1852

Coroner's inquest at the County Arms: A 75-year-old labourer "died by the Visitation of God."

A doctor "bled him in the temples and adopted other remedies, but he gradually sunk, and died in about two hours."



(Click on image to enlarge)


DEATH FROM COUP DE SOLEIL

On Monday evening, Mr W Carter, coroner for East Surrey, held an inquest at the County Arms Tavern, Wandsworth Common, upon the body of Matthew Kerley, aged 75, a labourer, who died under the following circumstances.

On Friday last deceased, who worked for Mr Robert Male [presumably Robert Neal], a nurseryman on Wandsworth Common, was hoeing some ground, when he suddenly dropped to the ground, and was found by a labourer named John Young, lying on his back, with his eyes wide open and senseless. This man got assistance, and a deceased was conveyed to a shady part of the ground.

Mr Wilkinson, the resident surgeon of the new prison, was apprised of the circumstance, and quickly attended the deceased, whose head he found to be very hot, and the pulse beating fast. He bled him in the temples and adopted other remedies, but he gradually sunk, and died in about two hours.

There was no doubt of the powerful rays of the Sun bring the the primary agent. The jury returned a verdict of quotes "Died by the visitation of God."

[BNA: Link]


The Scotsman — Monday 22 July 1918

During the First World War, as in the Second, much of the Common was given over to allotments. (I'm sorry to say I only know of aerial images of the latter — see next month's Chronicles.) There was much excitement locally when the King and Queen came to visit.



KING AND QUEEN AMONG ALLOTMENT HOLDERS

The King and Queen, who have all along, taken much interest in the question of food production, have learned with much satisfaction of the great extension of allotment holdings, and have set a splendid example by turning all the flower beds in the Buckingham Palace grounds into vegetable gardens.

Last year they intended to visit some of the principal allotment centres in the London area, but the arrangement was spoiled by heavy rain.

No further opportunity arose until Saturday, when they visited Wandsworth Common, Putney Common, Wimbledon Park, Wimbledon, Merton Park and Clapham Common and spent a couple of hours in inspecting allotment gardens and chatting with allotment holdors.

A very cordial reception was given to Their Majesties at all points of the journey and at the various centres visited.

Crowds of people lined the approaches to the allotments, many bouquets were presented to the Queen, and repeatedly flowers (some of them grown on the allotments) wore thrown at or into the Royal motor as it passed...

Their Majesties were informed that in the Borough of Wandsworth there are altogether 7457 allotments, or /a total acreage ol oC 9, as against a pre-war acreage of 50. The crops were almost without exception very fine indeed, and everywhere there were evidences of application and great care...

"As the visitors were leaving, an elderly woman, apparently of the gipsy type, pressed forward and managed to grasp the King's hand..."


As the visitors were leaving, an elderly woman, apparently of the gipsy type, pressed forward and managed to grasp the King's hand, which she shook very heartily.

She did not notice the Queen for a moment, but then apologised in a naive way for her neglect.

She said, "You are not jealous, are you?" And the Queen replied, with a very hearty laugh, "Oh dear, no — not at all." "God bless you both," exclaimed the old lady fervently, and then she asked Her Majesty to accept a pea pod "for luck."

The Royal lady, aware of the legend about the luck of nine peas in a pod, smilingly accepted the gift, and although the giver did not add the familiar "cross my hand with silver," the King directed his equerry to hand to her a sum of money...

Loud cheers were given for the King and Queen as they entered their car for tno drive back to Buckingham Palace.

[BNA: Link]


Uxbridge & W. Drayton Gazette — Saturday 25 July 1908

The death of John Buckmaster.



FRIEND OF COBDEN AND BRIGHT

The death is announced, at the age of 89, of Mr. John Charles Buckmaster, J.P., of Teddington, one of the best-known public men in the district. There were few local movements in which he did not take a practical interest, and at the time of his death he was chairman of three Education Committees.

In his younger days Mr. Buckmaster took an active part in the Anti-Corn Law movement, and enjoyed the friendship of Richard Cobden and John Bright. It was largely through his efforts that Wandsworth Common was secured as a playing ground for London.

Mr. S. O. Buckmaster, K.C., the well-known Chancery barrister, is one of the deceased's sons.

[BNA: Link]



South London Press — Saturday 28 July 1900



TRAMS FOR BOLINGBROKE GROVE

It was reported that the London County Council were considering the desirability of acquiring a strip of Battersea Cemetery if it became necessary to widen Bolingbroke-grove for tram traffic.

[BNA: Link]

[Tram map]

(Click on image to enlarge)
If tramlines had been laid...

(Click on image to enlarge)

However it was eventually decided there wasn't quite enough room. I imagine the narrow strip of Wandsworth Common along Bolingbroke Grove (opposite the cemetery) may have been tempting. But the 1871 Act that protected the Common was absolute.

Bromyard News — Thursday 13 December 1900



The proposal of the London County Council to run a tramway by the side of Wandsworth Common horn Battersea Rise to Balham is evoking a storm of opposition from the residents in and around Bolingbroke Grove, a pleasant, shady road which skirts what is left of the common.

The greatest objection is to the consequent removal of the trees, which have for so many years adorned this suburban thoroughfare, and would certainly obstruct the proposed cars. A strong committee has already been formed, and an influentially-signed memorial is in course of preparation.

[BNA: Link]


South London Press — Saturday 30 July 1870

By July 1870, after innumerable public and private meetings, court cases, and letters to the national and local press, it seemed finally that Earl Spencer had agreed his compensation package (£250 p.a. and a free hand to build Spencer Park) and Wandsworth Common would be protected in some kind of public ownership. It took another year, until 31 July 1871, for the Wandsworth Common Act to be passed.



"ALL's well that ends well." The Wandsworth Common difficulty is in a fair way of being settled satisfactorily, and in the interest of the public. If the prospective settlement confirms present anticipations, the efforts recently put forth will not have been "Love's Labour Lost."

[BNA: Link]


John Bull — Sunday 31 July 1836

John Bull protests about the time it is taking for the London to Southmpton railway company to build a bridge across the "horrid chasm which they have made on Wandsworth Common, which henceforward is to be divided eternally, destroying the comfort as well the appearance of the neighbourhood, and depriving the inhabitants of a place of healthful recreation and amusement". (I assume this was the Battersea Rise bridge.) It appears the company has run out of money.



(Click on image to enlarge)


[W]e cannot but notice the outrage committed, we suppose under the powers conferred by Act of Parliament, in placing barricades across the King's highway from Clapham to Wandsworth, with no other qualification than notice painted on board announcing that the said King's highway is stopped and blocked up until the brokers and barterers in shares of the Southampton Railroad can get money and men enough to build a bridge over horrid chasm which they have made on Wandsworth Common, which henceforward is to be divided eternally, except where this to-be-built bridge is to unite it, destroying the comfort as well the appearance of the neighbourhood, and depriving the inhabitants of a place of healthful recreation and amusement; and this rail-road is to run — if ever its patching pieces are brought together — from London to Southampton, to and from which place, including Winchester, Basingstoke, &c., four coaches per diem travel, never full, and which have to convey, as some wag says, nothing but prawns and parsons from Hampshire to London.

[BNA: Link]

See also Wikipedia: London and Southampton Railway.

The bridge was built the following year:



Building bridges over the London-Southampton Railway, 1837.
Water-colour by John Absalon, Science Museum Collection.
(Click on image to enlarge)

Note: There is a caption on a monochrome version that says it is Trinity Road (which implies the one behind is Heathfield Road). Possibly, but I'm not so sure. The caption itself cannot be contemporary with the painting because the road was not thus named until several decades later. If we knew whether we are looking up or downhill, or whether the track veers to the left or right, that would clinch it. But both are uncertain (or are they?). There was also a deep quarry (possibly called "Potter's Hole) to the west of the line, between "Trinity Road" and Heathfield Road. As a result, there was no embankment here. Can this be seen?


Home News for India, China and the Colonies — Friday 31 July 1868

On Wandsworth Common, a pedestrian named Wigley performs a herculean feat.



GREAT PEDESTRIAN FEAT.

On July 27, a pedestrian, named Wigley, undertook for a wager of £20 to run one mile, walk one mile, wheel a barrow one mile, trundle a hoop one mile, and hop on one leg one mile, and complete the five miles in one hour. This herculean feat was performed over a measured mile of road on the Wandsworth Common.

Wheeling a barrow the mile occupied 14 minutes, running 8 minutes, trundling the hoop 10 minutes. walking 10 minutes, and hopping the mile 11 minutes, and the whole distance was accomplished in the several modes stipulated in 58 minutes, and Wigley exhibited no signs of fatigue at the conclusion of his task.

He subsequently ran two miles in 16 minutes for a wager of £5, winning easily.

(Notice the nice pun in the title.)


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Philip Boys ("HistoryBoys")