The History of Wandsworth Common


of Wandsworth Common

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OK, so it's not the Festive Season quite yet. But by the look of this rather odd, seasonally-inappropriate Christmas card, sent c.1904, the photo must have been taken at this time of the year.

I include it because of course Wimbledon is now on and I know a lot of you Common People are avid tennis players and followers. (BTW I discussed this image in an earlier post, in July last year — Everyone for Tennis?).

What the fashionable lady tennis player was wearing on Wandsworth Common on 22 July 1922. This was the first time the game could be played on a Sunday.

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In case you're coming to this page afresh, you might like to know that July's Chronicles have been divided into two parts. A week or so ago I sent out a link to Part One, which reported in some detail on research inspired by the inscription on this bench:

This bench can be found between the railway line and the lake here.

The inscription reads:

"All love for Benni and Bella Spanier who were killed in Auschwitz in 1944 and Ruth, their daughter, who escaped Nazi Germany on kindertransport, arriving in England, aged 11, in 1939 and for those who have lost their lives or been impacted by war."

'Rage, rage against the dying of the light.'

Click on the image or here to read more.

July 2023 Contents

— Elsie Duval comes to court again, for throwing stones, 1912   . . . 

— De-wilding Wandsworth Common, 1919   . . . 

— The history of Wandsworth Fair   . . . 

— Trouble at the Fair, 1822   . . . 

—  Wandsworth's earliest known women runners — Bet Beasley and Sal Humphries, 1822  . . . 

— Lightning brings tree down on prefabs — dog killed, iron leaves man's hand, 1955    . . . 

— Kalulu at Halbrake School's Sports Day, 1874   . . . 

— Samuel Sullings and the renovation of St Mark' Infant School   . . . 

— Queen Victoria lays the foundation stone of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Girls, 1857   . . . 

— Fifty years later, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra return to the RVPA   . . . 

— Intrepid balloonist Madame Garneron effects a safe descent on the Common, 1851   . . . 

— A wearying wait for prefabs to be built, 1946   . . . 

— Mick goes missing — is a gang of dog-stealers at work?, 1939   . . . 

— A permanent hospital to be built on the Common?, 1920   . . . 

— Lads shooting airguns on the Common, 1939   . . . 

— Widening the Bellevue railway bridge, 1892   . . . 

— "All's well that ends well", 1870    . . . 

— The Wandsworth Common Act is finally passed, 1871   . . . 

In our first story, Emily Duval is back in court (of law, not tennis).

"Silly Girls and Their Conduct . . . "

Last month I included a cutting from The Globe (28 June 1912) in which the suffragist Emily Duval's daughter Elsie came to court for throwing stones through Post Office windows at Clapham Common. Asked by the magistrate if she could explain Emily's actions, a friend replies "Every little helps".

The Duval family, all of whom were active in the suffrage movement, lived at this time at 37 Park Road (now called Elsynge Road). A number of Duvals, including Emily and Elsie's brother Victor, organised and spoke at open-air meetings on the Common, possibly nearby on the grassy areas between West Side and North Side.

The Duvals moved from Lavender Sweep to 37 Park (now Elsynge) Road. I have marked the house on an OS map of 1913. [Google: 37 Elsynge Road.]

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The magistrate had "remarked that she seemed to be only a child, and remanded her for the state of her mind to be enquired into."

Elsie's court case was postponed until mid-July.

Elsie (age unknown)

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It is well worth reading the account of the trial, which has any number of resonances today.

The magistrate, Mr Francis, says: "I should think the more windows were broken the less likely you were to attain your object. Besides, the defendant is only a girl."

Back comes the response: "Yes, but every little helps."

Illustrated Police News — Saturday 13 July 1912

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A Magistrate on Silly Girls and Their Conduct.

At the South-West London Police Court. Elsie Duval, aged twenty, residing at Park-road, Wandsworth, was charged, on remand, before Mr. Francis, with breaking windows in the Clapham Common Post Office.

The accused was seen to throw stones the windows, breaking two. A hostile crowd gathered, and she was escorted into the building. The magistrate had remanded her for the state of her mind to be inquired into, remarking when she was last before the Court that she seemed be only a child.

Mr Francis, reading the certificate of the prison doctor, said the defendant was considered quite sane, though probably easily led by unscrupulous and hysterical persons.

The defendant said she broke the window as a protest against the action of the Government, and for the forcible feeding of her mother in prison.

Mr Francis: Do you imagine you could, by such conduct, you, a silly girl, influence the Government, or any other Government?

Defendant: I don't know what you mean by silly girl.

Mr Francis: You are a girl, and obviously silly.

A young lady who was in court was invited into the witness-box, and asked by the magistrate if she would be responsible for the defendant's good conduct.

"No," came the quick reply.

Mr Francis: Then she will have to put up with the consequences.

The Lady: She won't mind that. We are anxious to get votes for women.

Mr Francis: I should think the more windows were broken the less likely you were to attain your object. Besides, the defendant is only a girl.

The Lady: Yes, but every little helps.

Mr. Francis fined the defendant 40s, and ordered her in addition to pay the costs, 12s 6d., or one month's imprisonment in default.

[BNA: Link.]

There's a lot more to be said about Elsie Duval and her family, but alas not now.

[I wrote something about Elsie's mother Emily and brother Victor in October 2021's Chronicles.

Elsie's mother, Emily, and brother Victor.

There is a superb webpage on the Duvals by Battersea historian Jeanne Rathbone, "The Diederichs Duval suffrage family of Lavender Sweep".

BTW Jeanne generally emphasises the Duval family's first home (the one on Lavender Sweep), whereas I tend to focus on their subsequent home, close to Wandsworth Common, in Park/Elsynge Road — perhaps because that's where she was living in the first reports I read about her.

I've just discovered that Elsie now has her own Wikipedia page: Elsie Duval.]

The de-wilding of Wandsworth Common . . . 

One of my pet projects is to chart the "taming" of Wandsworth Common, which took place partly to further the interests of ball sports.

This was a complex, protracted process involving, for example, stripping the Common of most of its historic vegetation (especially furze), flattening and draining the land, replanting with lawn-forming grasses and tidier bushes and trees, and laying out a formal tracery of surfaced paths.

There was always opposition, from people wanting a more "natural" or "countryside" feel. But generally the benevolent dictators in the LCC (London Country Council) prevailed.

It can partly be summarised as the struggle between whether we would prefer a Common or a Park?

This came to the fore again when the "FGarm" or "Extension" (today's Cricket Field) was acquired in 1913. It came ready-enclosed, which many local people approved of.

[Thinking out loud:

There always seem to have been two warring views about the Common, one side emphasising Freedom and openness, the other Order and control. I've been musing about attempting a Structuralist account of the transformations of the Common. I've jotted down some contrasting terms here just to see what they look like (and to invite your comments):

Here's a small example of the playing out of these dichotomies in the early twentieth century (which we still see today).

When the LCC took over responsibility of the Common in 1889 they increasingly reconfigured or engineered the landscape. In place of trees, furze, shrubs growing willy-nilly, they were deliberately planted in rows, on the edges of paths or aggregated at nodal points such as the confluence of paths:

OS 1916: the LCC's symmetrical pattern of straight paths crossing the Cat's Back Bridge.

Trees have been planted in tidy clumps where the paths meet either side of the bridge.

Some (but not all) paths are surfaced. (In many cases, the paths and specific areas were made even more distinct by iron railings, often with aggressive spikes.)

Notice the grassy areas are still shown as partly furzy and uneven. Odd trees remain in the middle of what will soon be football pitches. The path to the south-west has since disappeared. Clearly it got in the way of the football.)

An (enclosed) "Bandstand" is shown, more or less where the children's playground is today. (Incidentally, "playgrounds" and specialist playground equipment — swings, slides, roundabouts, sandpits etc) — did not appear until the early 1920s.)

I am

It hasn't all been one-way, of course. At the moment, we're in a relatively "back-to-nature" phase (not that this doesn't require LOTS of management).

A century ago, under the London Country Council, it was quite the other way round. There are countless examples, but here's just one:

South Western Star — Friday 4 July 1919

"The Council's liking is for a bare and open ƒ, and its policy for years past has been to destroy every semblance of rurality that it can set its workmen on."

Evening papers have recently informed the world that great expanses of furze and undergrowth have been destroyed on Wandsworth Common and elsewhere.

With regard to elsewhere, the information may be accurate enough, but for a long time Wandsworth Common has not possessed may great expanses of furze. The County Council sees to that.

The Council's liking is for a bare and open plain, and its policy for years past has been to destroy every semblance of rurality that it can set its workmen on. Wandsworth Common has not suffered to the extent that Clapham has.

[BNA: Link]

This is part of a bigger study I'm engaged in, with the working title The Anatomy and Evolution of Wandsworth Common. Catchy, eh?

Wandsworth Fair

Slightly less ambitiously, I'm also putting together an outline history of Wandsworth Fair. At least since the middle of the 18th century, this annual event brought many thousands of people to the area — on foot and horseback, in carriages, and later on steamboats and eventually (from 1846) the railway. It was sometimes (though not always) wild and unruly.

The Fair, one of the largest in London, was generally held at Whitsun (the seventh Sunday after Easter, so generally late May or June), often for several days, in an open area called "Fair Field" between the Common and the Thames (hence of course Fairfield street near Wandsworth Town Station).

Fair Field located on maps from the 1860s and today

The raised railway line (to Richmond and Windsor) appears to have sliced through Fair Field before crossing the wide, complex Wandle delta — a major engineering feat. [See e.g. Wikipedia: Windsor lines of the London and South Western Railway.]

It's hard to say exactly when Wandsworth Fair started, or when it ended. Dorian Gerhold, in his Wandsworth Past (1998) — an indispensable resource for everything to do with our local history — writes:

"By the late 1760s Wandsworth had an annual fair, held in a field east of Fairfield Street and south of where the railway now runs. It lacked any legal authority, but survived an attempt to suppress it in 1771, when it was claimed that 'players of interludes and other evil disposed persons had  . . . built booths and sheds' used for plays and gaming, 'which had manifestly tended to the encouragement of vice and immorality'. That year people departed early instead of 'staying drinking and committing outrages and disorders til two or three in the morning'.

In the 1820s the fair was on Whit Monday for cattle and the following Tuesday and Wednesday for 'toys and pleasure'.

It was finally suppressed in the early 1830s. (p.26).

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However, I'm not so sure about when it was "finally suppressed". I've been finding newspaper reports of Fairs being held (illegally) in the 1860s, though in its final years not on "Fair Field" itself, but on nearby sites that shifted faster than the local magistrates could sign an injunction. (This rather put me in mind of "raves" held in the 1980s.)

[What was Fair Field used for during the rest of the year? Bridge Field, a short distance away, was intensively cultivated in strips. But Fair Field? It makes me think of Worthy Farm and the Glastonbury Festival.]

You may recall a couple of references to the Fair in these Chronicles, including in May 2023, and this lovely one, from 1846:

Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette — Thursday, 11 June 1846

Leopard hunt on Wandsworth Common . . . 

Leopard Hunt on Wandsworth Common, 10 June 1846. (See also Chronicles: June 2022

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A leopard-hunt took place Wandsworth on Wednesday. The leopard escaped from a show at Wandsworth fair and ran to the common; where a man noticed it, and thinking it was a dog he approached it, only to take to his heels when he perceived his mistake. A mob assembled, and scoured the common: the stranger was eventually captured at Battersea by his keeper.

Perhaps unsurprisingly (since good news is no news), the majority of references in early-C19 newspapers are to crimes committed or accidents suffered — at the Fair, or on the way there, or (more usually, because of the lateness of the hour and the amounts of alcohol that had been consumed) on the journey home.

Here are just a few examples:

Morning Advertiser — Tuesday 07 July 1818

Wandsworth Fair was numerously attended yesterday. Every rickety cart almost in the purlieus of the Metropolis was engaged in conveying live lumber to the place.

Never was such a motley group. Shows, swings, and amusements of the lowest description, attracted multitudes of idlers.

The pickpockets mustered in great numbers, and acted in the most audacious manner.

[BNA: Link]

Weekly Dispatch (London) — Sunday 12 July 1818

On Monday morning, a party of men, women, and children, proceeding to Wandsworth Fair in a cart, which was completely filled with them, the weight broke it down, and a boy who fell out was killed on the apt. in consequence of the wheel's passing over his head: many others receired injuries.

[BNA: Link]

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser — Wednesday 07 July 1819

Offences — Monday night, Mr. Holmer, of Lock's Fields, was returning from Wandsworth Fair, he was attacked by a gang of pickpockets, who knocked him down and robbed him his watch.

[BNA: Link]

The biter bit  . . . 

However, not all visitors to the Fair were easy prey:

Statesman — Monday 25 May 1812

Thursday morning, about one o'clock, as a young man, named Simpson, in company with a young woman, coming from Wandsworth Fair, where they had been spending the preceding evening, in crossing the fields, were accosted by two men armed with bludgeons, which they carried under their frocks, demanding his (Simpson's) money, which he refused to deliver; being very powerful and active, he seized one of their bludgeons, wrested it from him, had immediately knocked him down with his own weapon, attacked the other in a most desperate manner, and entirely beat him off.

Some persons coming within sight, the villains made a precipitate retreat, escaping without their booty.

[BNA: Link]

["crossing the fields" — Battersea Fields?]

Isn't that a wonderful opening sentence!

Here's an interesting article about Wandsworth Fair, from 1822, that I would like to unpick a little because it contains a number of curious references, including the earliest example (that I know of) of women as athletes in the Wandsworth area.

Morning Advertiser — Friday 5 July 1822

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The amusements of this interesting little fair ended at a late hour on Wednesday night, after having been supported with the greatest spirit for three successive days, during which period the town was a scene of the most lively bustle.

Richardson's Grand Theatre was very conspicuous in its Bartlemy fair decorations, and the stage outside the show had to boast of every description of character that Life in London could produce, that being the piece hit upon this season to entertain the regular fair-goers of the town.

The notorious Billy Waters seemed to excite much attention here as in London, and was pulled and hacked about by watchmen and Toms and Jerrys, whose dresses were certainly very good, but the fatigued actors seemed to be tired of "fretting and strutting their hour," and their countenances seemed to express with Macbeth, that they "murdered sleep," which, by the bye, was not the only murder committed during the fair.

Cook and Brydges, equestrians, had their company in a large and commodious booth; and Frazier, with several other Itinerants, exhibited with all the splendour that they possibly could, and received a plentiful supply of mopu ses [?] for their labours during the fair.

The Crown and Anchor, City of London, and Freemasons' Taverns, &c. were erected, and dancing without affectation was kept up till all was blue; and in various parts of the town some back-slum arrangements were made in order to inveigle the Joskins.

We had the pleasure of noticing some of the gentry from White Hart-yard and St. Giles's, very busily employed in their occupations, and no doubt they made a plentiful harvest from the pockets of their country friends. [Continues below . . . ]

[BNA: Link.]

[A few notes:

"Richardson's Grand Theatre" — See e.g. Title: Link.

"Bartlemy Fair" — traditional fair held on St Bartholomew's Day (August 24). [See e.g. BHO: Bartholomew Fair, and Bodleian Library, Broadside Ballads Online: Bartholomew Fair.]

"Life in London" — Peirce Egan's comical monthly publication, a popular sensation of its day. Its central characters — Tom, Jerry and Logic — were well-heeled young men about town, keen to see ‘a bit of life’ in the poorer districts of London." See e.g. the BL's feature. I have plundered this and Pierce Egan's Book of Sports And Mirror of Life: Embracing the turf, the chase, the ring, and the stage (1832) in my researches on sport on Wandsworth Common.

The "notorious Billy Waters".

Portrait of Billy Waters by David Wilkie, c.1815. (Image: ArtUK/National Maritime-Museum, Greenwich, London.)

"Billy Waters (c. 1778–1823) was a black man who busked in London in the nineteenth century by singing, playing the violin and entertaining theatre goers with his "peculiar antics". He became famous when he appeared as a character in William Thomas Moncrieff's Tom and Jerry, or Life in London in 1821." (Wikipedia: Billy Waters (busker).)
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"Cook and Brydges, equestrians" — ?

"mopu ses" — ?

"Toms and Jerrys" — see notes about "Life in London, above. See also e.g. Link.

"The gentry from White Hart-yard and St. Giles's, very busily employed in their occupations" — thieves and pickpockets from notoriously villainous parts of Southwark and central London.

"in various parts of the town some back-slum arrangements were made in order to inveigle the 'Joskins'" — "Joskin": a countryman, therefore an innocent ripe for cheating. "Back-slums": wretched dwellings made in effect invisible because they lay behind apparently more salubrious houses on public streets. (See local resident Francis Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811)

Perhaps readers would like to comment?

And now, at last, we come to the two women runners, Bet Beasley and Sal Humphries — yay!

I'm particularly excited about this because it is the earliest reference to women athletes in Battersea and Wandsworth that I have come across.

Francis Stephanoff, coloured engraving. From Popular Pastimes, Being a Selection of Picturesque Representations of the Customs & Amusements of Great Britain, in Ancient and Modern Times, by Edward Wedlake Brayley and Francis Philip Stephanoff, 1816.

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In the adjacent fields all kinds of sports were kept up, such as racing, boxing and sparrow-shooting, single-stick, jumping and wrestling.

The only race of importance was between two interesting fair ones for a chemise, or, in their own language, a smock.

Bet Beasly and Sal Humphries were the competitors, and the spot pitched on for the race was round Wandsworth Church. On the signal being given, off they went like shots; Bet Beasly kept the lead all the way, and after running round three limes, and the perspiration trickling down the lovely countenances of Bel and Sai, the former came in several yards before the latter, and won the smock with flying colours.

The result was disputed, but only briefly:

Humphries wanted to bring the thing to a wrangle, but Bet wouldn't have it, and swore "'twas all fair, and that, rather than give up her right, they should fight for it".

However they finished all differences over some Max and Heavy, and were quite satisfied with their sport. The booths were then removed to Fairlop, which commences this day.

[BNA: Link.]


Max and Heavy — very (very) strong drink.

I have some notes somewhere, but I've misplaced them. I'll add as soon as I find them.

I must take the opportunity of mentioning an important new book by Peter Radford, They Run With Surprising Swiftness: The Women Athletes of Early Modern Britain, due to be published by University of Virgina Press soon.

See also Peter Radford, "Picturing early modern women athletes", (Folger Shakespeare Library, 18 Feb. 2022).]

[Perhaps more on "Smock Races" another time.]

South Western Star — Friday 15 July 1955

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Dog killed, iron leaves man's hand

LIGHTNING which struck and brought crashing the upper half of a 60 ft. tree in front of the gardens of a row of prefabs in Bellevue Road, Wandsworth Common, on Monday evening, also struck the metal name-plate on a dog's collar and killed the animal.

Mr. T. Netherway was walking from the common when he saw what looked like a "ball of fire" strike the tree in front. of his bungalow, No. 62. The top of the tree split in two — one part crashing on to the road, the other on to the pavement.

"When I got indoors," he told the "S.W. Star", my wife was under the table. She was so shocked, she could hardly speak. Later she went to hospital for treatment.

The only casualty, "Tubby" the retriever, pet of Mrs. Mary Prince of No.39. was standing at the open doorway of the shed in the back garden, when the lightning struck.

When Mrs. Prince went to pick him up he slipped through her arms. A neighbour confirmed that "Tubby" was dead. The metal name tag on the collar was melted right away.

Several telephones on the estate of prefabs were put out of order and in one bungalow where a man was ironing, the iron flew out of his hand as the lightning struck.

[BNA: Link]

Sports Day at Halbrake School, July 1874

"One interesting feature of the day's proceedings was the fact of Mr. H.M. Stanley's boy Kalulu (who is being educated at the school) entering for several events, who, although not fortunate enough to win, displayed considerable aptitude in the various events in which he was engaged, and evinced much improvement upon his last year's attempts — his healthy, robust appearance being much admired . . . "


This photograph was almost certainly taken by Henry Morris in his studio at New Wandsworth Station, Battersea Rise.
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Halbrake School was situated on Park Road (now Elsynge Road).

Kalulu features in innumerable images, including these, which show him as Henry Morton Stanley's gun-carrier. He was present at the famous meeting of Stanley and Dr Livingstone.

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Slides from an online talk I gave in January 2022 (A Magical History Tour. The section in which I introduced Kalulu can be viewed here .

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South London Press — Saturday 11 July 1874

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Halbrake School Athletic Sports.

The above annual sports came off on Saturday last, in a field situated near St. Anne's Church, kindly lent for the occasion by James Du Buisson, Esq.

The varied costumes of the boys, the numerous flags used in marking out the ground; the spectators, who included the fashion and beauty of Wandsworth and neighbourhood; and the excellent music dispensed by the indefatigable band of the 1st Surrey Artillery, under the direction of Mr. W. Bourd — all rendered the scene one of exceptional gaiety; and though the sun at times disdained to shine, and the envious clouds showered forth their displeasure, the effect was but transient — "all went merry as a marriage bell".

The successful athletes were well rewarded for their exertions, as it is a rare case in which prizes so elegant and valuable, and at the same time so numerous, are awarded in school sports.

One interesting feature of the day's proceedings was the fact of Mr. H. M. Stanley's boy Kalulu (who is being educated at the school) entering for several events, who, although not fortunate enough to win, displayed considerable aptitude in the various events in which he was engaged, and evinced much improvement upon his last year's attempts — his healthy, robust appearance being much admired. We are informed that Mr. Stanley would have distributed the prizes, had not his recent all-important engagement prevented . . . 

[BNA: Link]

I am delighted to read that the old St Mark's Infant School, in a desperate state for so long, could soon be repaired and enhanced.

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For more information, see Cyril Richert's recent blog in the Clapham Junction Insider ("Interesting plan for the restoration of the old church school in Battersea Rise", 19 June 2023 ).

This little school is of extra interest to enthusiasts for Wandsworth Common because Samuel Sullings, our very own martyr, was feted there on his release from prison in July 1870:

South London Chronicle — 23 July 1870

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Samuel Sullings, who was imprisoned with hard labour for breaking down fences on Wandsworth-common, and subsequently released on a memorial presented to the Home Secretary by Sir C. W. Dilke M.P., was entertained by a number of his fellow workmen at the Infant School, Battersea, on the 9th inst.

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 placed in the Post-offce Savings Bank.

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 Sailings; and the idea saying to poor men, when their rights and enjoyments were taken away by rich people, that if they feit 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 would not again he necessary for poor working men to suffer imprisonment in defence of what they believed to be their rights; he looked with hope and confidence to the result the forthcoming City meeting.

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

[BNA: Link]

Queen Victoria lays the foundation stone of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Girls, 1857

"Her Majesty laying the foundation stones of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum on Wandsworth Common", Illustrated London News, 25 July 1857.

Notice Wandsworth Prison in the background , and the girls' straw "coal-scuttle" bonnets.

[I discussed this event in some detail in July 2021's Chronicles.]

Fifty years later, on 24 July 1907, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra return to the RVPA.

The Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum had been built for girls whose fathers had died in the Crimean War. At this time, most of the orphans — these "Little Daughters of the Brave" — had lost their fathers in the Boer War (though "there are few of the campaigns that the responsibilities of Empire have thrust upon us which are not recalled in the roll of 300 bright-faced little inmates".

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Daily Telegraph — Thursday 25 July 1907

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  . . . The Queen accepted a lovely bouquet of malmaisons from Wreath Bayley, the girl who has been longest in the school, and Mabel Poole, as a representative of the chief prise-winners, offered another of roses to the Duchess of Connaught.

["Wreath Bailey" — a curious name. Can it be correct? It might be interesting to find out more about her.]

The scene within the huge dining ball that met the eyes of their Majesties was singularly pleasing.

On either side of the broad red-carpeted way the little "Daughters of the Brave" were drawn up in triple line. A very large proportion of those now in the institution lost their fathers daring the South African War, and there are few of the campaigns that the responsibilities of Empire have thrust upon us in recent years which are not recalled in the roll of the 300 bright-faced little inmates.

In the first line were the youngest girls, all wearing new blue serge skirts and red and white strip ed cotton blouses. The older girls in the two lines behind them had similar skirts and blue and white plates blouses, all having a bright new red tie. The costume has been modified to meet present ideas since the foundation, for there were ladies present who could recall the straw "coal-scuttle" bonnets, with green strings and "curtains" of earlier days.

Under the conductorship of Mr. Seymour Dicker, musical director of the London County Council day training colleges, the girls sang two verses of the National Anthem, and at the last note turned with soldierly precision to face the King and Queen, who had now reached the flower-bordered dais.

Her Majesty wore a dress of painted muslin in a very soft shade and bold patterning of mauve, inserted and trimmed with fine lice. A feather boa exactly corresponding in shade accompanied it, and the toque was of heartsease, shaded from pale heliotrofe to deep purple.

A dress of pale blue and white mouaseline was worn by Princess Victoria, with a ruff of blue feathers, and her hat of crin [?] had a blac brim and white crown, and was trimmed with a large cluster of white marabout, tipped with black.

The Duchess of Connaught was in black and white striped silk, and in her black hat was a sweeping white ostrich plume, while she had a white feather stole.

[ . . . ]

Colonel Young then stepped forward, and announced that the Queen had most graciously consented to present thirteen of the chief gained by the girls during the year. To five of them had been awarded for good conduct the much-coveted and greatly-prized badge of the school, met as a brooch; three were gained in open cookery competitions with girls from all the schools in London and fits in equally open competition with the schools of the diocese of Rochester, were given for foligious knowledge. The happy nailed forward by sum and tie WOKE 'with the kindest of amass, handed to each her, :, prize.

Then the children sang "Rule Britannia" with a charming effect of a Bolt chorus, and the Royal party left the dais to 'impact the infirmary and the play hall, proceeding thence to the front of the building, I nhere his Majesty unveiled a mural tablet with following inscription: Nano= Krim Pima's VII., accompanied by grim visited the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum, 24th July, 1907, to oommernorate the Jubilee of its foundation and endowment out of the Patriotic hind in 1857, by command of HER MAJESTY QUEEN VICTORIA

[ . . . ]

The King handed the following reply:

On behalf of the Queen and myself I thank you for your loyal and dutiful address. I am glad to take this opportunity of meeting the representatives who have been chosen by my people to regulate the affairs of this important borough. The object of my visit to which we allude with so much sympathy is one which must appeal to all those who have the welfare of this country at heart.

The men of my Navy and Army have ever been distinguished for bravery and devotion, and no public effort is more worthy of support than an institution which endeavours to provide for the orphan girls of those who have died in the service of their country.

I rejoice in the success of an institution which bears the name of my dear and ever-to-be-lamented mother. I wish it every success in the future, and I share with you the gratification which we all must feel in the promotion of this worthy and beneficent object.

[BNA: Link]

[HoWC: Complete text transcriptions.]

The academic ambitions for the girls were not high:

" . . . during the past fifty years no fewer than 2,413 girls have been admitted into the institution, receiving a sound elementary education and a practical training fitting them to earn their own living in domestic employment."

"After rising steadily for a few hundred feet, the balloon took a south-westerly direction, and after a short but pleasant passage across the river, Madame Garneron effected a safe descent on Wandsworth-common . . . "

Banks & Co, A Balloon View of London as seen from Hampstead, 1851.

(Click on image to enlarge)

The Era — Sunday 27 July 1851


On Friday night Madame Palmyre Garneron made a succcessful balloon ascent from this excellent al fresco place of amusement. The evening was very fine, and highly favourable for aerial navigation. After rising steadily for a few hundred feet, the balloon took a south-westerly direction, and after a short but pleasant passage across the river, Madame Garneron effected a safe descent on Wandsworth-common . . . 

[BNA: Link.]

[* Cremorne — popular pleasure gardens by the side of the River Thames in Chelsea, London. They lay between Chelsea Harbour and the end of the King's Road and flourished between 1845 and 1877; today only a vestige survives, on the river at the southern end of Cheyne Walk.]

Just over a year later, on Tuesday 21 September 1852, it was reported that Madame Poitevin had landed on the Common, having ascended from Cremorne Gardens in a parachute.

[Can this be so? I'm not sure how one could ascend in a parachute. Is Madame Poitevin the same as Palmyre Garneron? Can anyone help?



On Thursday evening Madame Poitevin again ascended from Cremorne in a parachute, and effected a successful descent near Wandsworth Common, returning to the gardens within an hour of her aerial departure.

[BNA: Link]

This time, she was not (un)dressed as Europa, nor was she astride a bull, as she had been in an ascent the previous month.

(Click on image to enlarge)

The lack of affordable homes, and the slow pace of building, is not new. More than a year after the end of the war in Europe, little progress had been made in the construction of the Bolingbroke Road pre-fabs.

South Western Star — Friday 26 July 1946

"As the weeks pass by, home-hungry citizens of South-West London continue their weary search for somewhere to live in reasonable comfort and privacy . . . "

Houses — How Long!

As the weeks pass by, home-hungry citizens of South-West London continue their weary search for somewhere to live in reasonable comfort and privacy.

Time and again, the "South Western Star" is asked by readers for definite information concerning the progress of local building schemes and for news of any fresh moves towards the solving of this pressing problem.

But definite official news is still bound up in more than a little red tape and shrouded in a mist by departmental secrecy. Plain replies to plain questions do not appear to be possible, when, perhaps, half a dozen different departments in several different Ministries need to be combed for essential facts.

This newspaper, for instance, has recently been nigiing inquiries about the progress of work on the Arcon type prefabricated bungalows being built on the fringe of Wandsworth Common, along Bolingbroke Grove, as well as about other building estates, in the hope that home-hunting readers could be given a little cheerful news concerning the future.

Arcon-type prefab (not Wandsworth).

(Click on image to enlarge)

Officials in charge of the work on the spot, however, are strictly debarred from disclosing any information to the Press. Civil service officers and contractors, alike, have been warned that any inquiring pressman must be referred to headquarters before the simplest fact is recorded.

At the vast London County Council building, County Hall, courteous and urbane departmental heads refer the seeker after knowledge from one office to another, or give vague assurances that "Inquiries will be made," Borough Council officials disclaim knowledge ofresponsibility for any work that is in the charge of the Ministry of Works or the London County Council, and so on.

One helpful Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Works, though, has, after an interval, provided the "South Western Star" with the information that the contract for the 107 Arcon houses along Bolingbroke Grove was placed on January 23 this year, and that it is hoped to hand over 16 completed houses to the County Council on August 6. Also that, provided there are no further delays in the delivery of fittings, it is expected to have completed, ready for occupation, six houses a week.

"R.A.F. buildings, underground shelters, and a balloon barrage site had to be demolished and cleared before work on the fringe of Wandsworth Common could actually commence."

This same officer pointed out that R.A.F. buildings, underground shelters, and a balloon barrage site had to be demolished and cleared before work on the fringe of Wandsworth Common could actually commence. Another point that he stressed was that there had been delay in the delivery of internal fittings, so that houses that appeared complete could not be handed over as ready for occupation.

It is in no spirit of carping criticism that the "South Western Star" asks that closer and more free and easy co-ordination between various authorities should be insisted on in dealing with such a tremendous problem as housing. It is, after all, nearly two years since various authorities did first make an effort to plan ahead together on a large scale. Since then, we have been told again and again that temporary houses could be made ready for habitation in a matter of weeks.

Yet the same story of unforeseen delays comes to light on almost every housing estate in London. Building contractors complain that their men stand around almost idle while waiting for essential fittings and parts. They find themselves, too, confused by a welter of ministerial forms, permits, and contradictory instructions. The result is obvious. A plain, straightforward job takes months instead of weeks to complete, and homeless and overcrowded families wait, and wait, and wait.

Even when such estates as that along Bolingbroke Grove are completed, there appears to be no guarantee that local people who have been putting up with every kind of inconvenience for years will have any priority over others when the houses do come to be let. No assurance on this point can be given by the borough councils. The County Council, ruling authority, vaguely says that consideration will be given to all cases. We feel there is a sad lack of driving force somewhere.

[BNA: Link]

It may have been an agonising wait, but several hundred prefabs were eventually erected on the Common:

Distribution of prefabs on and around Wandsworth Common.

(Click on the link to see some of the prefabs along Bolingbroke Grove in more detail. No.99 is highlighted. [Find and ad the names of the people who lived here.] )


Is a gang of dog-stealers at work on Wandsworth Common? — July 1939

"International crises and the trade depressions are bad enough for Balham." says Mr. Andreas. "without these despicable thefts of valuable dogs."

In case you don't know what a black-and-tan Airedale Terrier looks like . . . 

(Click on image to enlarge)

Norwood News — Friday 28 July 1939

Is "Mick" a Victim of Dog Thieves?

THE police of South London are sparing no effort to track down a gang of dog-stealers who are at work on the Commons and open spaces of the district. They have been particularly active on Wandsworth, Tooting Bec, and Streatham Commons, and a number of residents have complained of the loss of valuable animals.

Among them is the manager of Balham Pavilion, Mr. F. W. Andreas, who lives in Ormeley-road, Balham. His five-year-old pedigree Airedale "Mick" is familiar to many Balham people, who have anxiously inquired of its whereabouts since it "disappeared"'" on Wandsworth Common, on Sunday, July 16.

Mr. and Mrs. Andreas took "Mick" for exercise on the Common about noon, and while they were sitting in deck chairs he was, as they think, decoyed away and stolen.

The dog's sister won a 100-guinea prize at Cruft's show, and "Mick" is worth more than £25.

A black and tan five-year-old dog, he has been recently clipped, and has operation scars beneath both eyes. Mr. Andreas is offering a reward of £5 for the return of the dog, and anyone who has seen him should 'phone Balham Pavilion (Str. 0471) or Mr. Andreas' home, Str. 8305.

"International crises and the trade depressions are bad enough for Balham." says Mr. Andreas. "without these despicable thefts of valuable dogs."

"Although 'Mick' is worth so much money, I should feel just the same if he were a mongrel," said his wife. "It is intolerable that these thefts should continue."

They are both grateful to the local police for the trouble they have taken in trying to trace the thieves, and have spared no effort since complaints have been made by a number of Balham people.

[BNA: Link]

A permanent hospital to be built on Wandsworth Common, 1920?

After World War One, the LCC faced pressure to allow the former Patriotic Asylum grounds — until recently the 3rd London General Hospital for military casualties — to be developed as a permanent civilian hospital. This would have entailed building over the area (the Enclosure or "Cricket Fields" near today's Skylark Cafe) that had been earmarked for cricket, tennis and bowls.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Daily Herald — Tuesday 27 July 1920


Health Ministry and Open Space in S.W. London

Public opinion is is greatly incensed at the action taken by the Ministry of Health with regard to the portion of Wandsworth Common extension at present occupied by the buildings of the Third London General Hospital, erected during the war.

The war being supposedly over, the Ministry has now written to the London County Council expressing the hope that "there will no insuperable obstacle to the appropriation of the buildings and site for the treatment of disease in the civil population."

"The L.C.C. would be the last body in the world to oppose the erection of hospitals for the legitimate treatment of the civil population of London, ' said a representative of the Council to a DAILY HERALD reporter yesterday, "but the proposed step would not be legitimate.

"Before the war it was our intention to open the land to the public as recreation ground, and it was bought for this purpose from the Royal Patriotic Fund for the enormous sum of £12,000 — half which was paid by the Wandsworth and Battersea Borough Councils.

"It is obvious that in view of this, and the increasingly crying need of open spaces, it would be a breach of trust for us to seek the legislative authority necessary to fall in with Dr. Addison's suggestion."

Patriotic Fund's Action

"I may add that the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation has written to our Council urging that the conditions which the land was sold should be strictly adhered to, and the Council will be asked to insist on this course.

"Hospitals are, unfortunately, an acute necessity — so on the other hand — for the children especially — are as many open spaces possible.

"In this case it may be a question of prevention being better than cure."

[BNA: Link]

South Western Star — Friday 28 July 1939

Growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s it was our dream to own an air rifle or pistol. These guns, which looked very "real", had a very satisfying pump action that created the high pressure needed to fire lead pellets or flighted darts over quite long distances.

And they were dangerous. It was probably strictly illegal for us to own and fire one, and for very good reason.

Diana airgun, 1930s, and a box of lead pellets (or "slugs")

("Diana", Goddess of the Hunt — geddit?)
(Click on image to enlarge)

Today you have to be 18 or over to buy an air-gun (and it's an offence even to let under-18s fire one), but I'm pretty sure the age was rather lower then. Of course, what limited our access to airguns was not fear of the law, but expense and strict parental disapproval.

But I was lucky, because my father was really into rifle shooting (he was not long out of the army). He owned a .22-calibre rifle, and as a special treat would let me fire it on ranges such as the one in the Drill Hall on St John's Hill.

Here's a story from a decade or so earlier:

(Click on image to enlarge)


Two Lads Fined

Jack Goldsmith, aged 19. of 5 Wimbledon-road, Tooting, and Leslie Hawke, 16, of 38a Waldron-road, Earlsfield, were summoned before Mr. Wilson at the South Western Police Court on Saturday for discharging a firearm or other missile to the danger of persons at Lyford footpath, Wandsworth Common. on June 26.

Hawke pleaded guilty.

Golding was not in court. His mother explained that he was at work.

P.C. Willis, 208 W, said that at 8.15 pm. on June 26 he saw both lads running about behind some bushes on the common and on the footpath. Each was firing a Diana air pistol.Witness told them they were committing an offense.

Hawke said, "I didn't fire at anyone. I didn't think I had to have a licence." Goldsmith said he didn't think he had to have a licence for the pistol. No-one was hit by the boys. They had surrendered their pistols and 200 lead shots each.

Mr. Wilson: They are dangerous things. It will be sufficient if the boys pay 2s. 6d. each.

[BNA: Link]

You may remember some time ago I covered a number of stories about guns on the Common — young men shooting a Bittern in 1846, a Bustard in 1865, and members of a local volunteer regiment, the Surrey Rifles, turning their new weapons on a family's pet dog in 1860 . . . 

The Great Bustard, by Henry Meyer. Meyer is buried in Battersea Rise Cemetery.

(Click on image to enlarge)

South London Press — Saturday 30 July 1892


The vestry unanimously resolved to contribute the sum of £200 towards the cost of the widening of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway Company's bridge over Bellevue-road, Wandsworth Common, to 40 feet. Certain roads are also widened to full 40 feet.

[BNA: Link]

I wonder how narrow this bridge was originally? I can remember the havoc caused by the strengthening and doubling in width of the Trinity Road/Windmill Road in the late-1960s when the dual carriageway was constructed from the County Arms down to the river.

South London Press — Saturday 30 July 1870

"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]

This celebration was premature, but a year later (practically to the day), the Wandsworth Common Act did indeed become law. Which is why we're here now — yay!

Monday, 31 July 1871

The Wandsworth Common Act 1871 is passed...

(Click on image to enlarge)

Agreement was reached between the houses on Friday, 28 July and the bill was enacted (after Royal Assent) on the following Monday. From this day forward the Common must be kept "at all times open uninclosed and unbuilt on   . . .  "

Unveiling the memorial plaque on the wall near the Skylark Cafe, 2022.

(Click on image to enlarge)

I hear there are plans to declare July 31st "Buckmaster Day". What a wonderful idea.

SO many more stories to tell. But that's all for now, folks.

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July 2023 - part two

July 2023 - part one

June 2023

May 2023

"Some matters arising from May 2023's Chronicles

April 2023

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December 2022

November 2022

October 2022

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July 2022

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December 2021

November 2021

October 2021

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August 2021

July 2021

June 2021

Incidentally, a couple of years ago I made a short video (my first) from Edwardian postcards and photographs of the lake, set to music by Claude Debussy, which you can view here. Utterly self-indulgent.

HistoryBoys | Magic Lantern Show #1 | The Lake, Wandsworth Common . . . also known as the Dog Pond, the Long Pond, or just 'the Pond'.

And here's one on the Three-Island Pond:

HistoryBoys | Magic Lantern Show #? | The Three-Island Pond

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Philip Boys ("HistoryBoys")