The History of Wandsworth Common


1 September 1860 — "To be disposed of... two fine Brahmin cows".

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TO BE DISPOSED OF, the owner not having accommodation for them, TWO fine BRAHMIN COWS. Have already calved down in this country; one of them again in calf by a thoroughbred Alderney, the second has her calf still with her. Price of the two cows, £20. Apply to Mr A.J. Ashman, opposite Neal's nursery ground. Wandsworth-common.

[The Times, 1 September 1860]

2 September 1904 — "A perfectly white sparrow has taken up its quarters on Wandsworth Common"

[Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette — 2 September 1904].

2 September 1860 [CHECK DATE] — 200 ratepayers sign a memorial to Earl Spencer opposing enclosure of the Common.

This is decribed by one writer to the press [John Buckmaster?] as like "a petition from sheep to a wolf".

3 September 1860 — what appears to be John Buckmaster's first letter about the enclosure of the Common is published in the Times.

Later in the month, he successfully appeals to local cricketers at the County Arms pub to join the fight to save the Common (and therefore their pitch, "Heathfield", near today's Heathfield Road and West Side).

8 September 1854 — at the height of the Cholera epidemic, Wandsworth prison is declared free of this and many other diseases.

This said to be a testament to the healthfulness of Wandsworth Common, vindicating its choice as the site of the new prison (opened 1851).

Pall Mall Gazette — Friday, 10 September 1869

"On Wandsworth Common a tree was literally shattered in two, and on the south side of the common, at the back of the residence of Mr. Allen, a valuable horse was killed by the lightning."

Although the summer of 1869, from its beginning with unprecedented heat in April to the present time, has been nearly as warm (with occasional intervals of cold) as that of last year, we had nearly passed it without a thunderstorm. For some days past, however, the extreme sultriness indicated that a tempest was approaching, and this morning the metropolis and suburbs have been visited with one of considerable severity.

It began last night, and in some districts thunder was heard from ten o'clock till after midnight. Then came a lull, till about four o'clock this morning, when the storm began again. The lightning grew more frequent, flash succeeding flash in rapid succession, and shortly before five, with a heavy peal of thunder, the rain descended in torrents.

The thoroughfares a few minutes afterwards resembled streams, and where the drains got stopped up by the rush of water bringing down the deposit of rubbish with it, the roadways were soon half a foot under water. At daylight the storm was at its height.

While it lasted the tempest was very severe — in some parts of the metropolis more especially, and considerable damage is reported.

On Wandsworth Common a tree was literally shattered in two, and on the south side of the common, at the back of the residence of Mr. Allen, a valuable horse was killed by the lightning.

At Battersea three sheep were killed. The electric fluid broke all the ironwork in the front of a house, twisting it in a remarkable manner.

[Pall Mall Gazette — Friday, 10 September 1869]

Clerkenwell News — Monday 18 September 1871

In August and September John Buckmaster gave a series of lectures at the Albert Hall on displays of art and craft in the International Exhibition.

(Are there no limits to JCB's knowledge and interests?)

In lecture III of the series, he discussed British art — including Pre-Raphaelite and other art movements of recent times. He described and analysed several paintings, and showed a great appreciation of the importance of skill and creativity in manual work, now (he says) almost entirely lost — his views clearly chiming with those of his exact contemporary John Ruskin, and William Morris (younger by about 15 years).

[John Ruskin was born in 1819, probably the same year as JCB. William Morris was born 1834.]

Although never says as much, the paintings he chooses to discuss is greatest detail are clearly those that reflect his own experience — of poverty and loss, of emigration (for example people from his Buckinghamshire village, including his uncle and brother, who had gone to Ohio), and of his troubling dealings with the law.

[For more on this subject, see my forthcoming article on Buckmaster on Art and Beauty.]

18 September 1865 — "The Bride and Her Groom" — a humorous poem in the Cockney vernacular, featuring the Common and other Wandsworth locations.

Quite hard work to read (until you get the hang of it), but worth it.

Miss Alice, the daughter of a vicar falls for the family's groom, one George Smith. Her father is not pleased and forbids their meeting ("he gave Miss A. a scolding sharp / And Mr George the sack"). The couple elope but can't get a licence to marry. But the daughter is more than equal to the challenge.

Here's a short extract. Notice Wandsworth locations such as "Love Lane" (today's Putney Bridge Road), "St Hans" (St Anne's) and of course our windmill.

Their true love's course untimely checked!

By hobstacles like these,

Towards Wandsworth Common off they set,

And sat beneath the trees,

And sor the windmill turnin round,

And herd the cacklin geese.

Vich rooral sounds inspirin hope,

They joins each other's hands,

And off they goes, and tells the Clerk

To publish of their bans,

And takes a lodgin in Love-lane

In a terras called St. Hans.

After some shenanigans that you'll have to read for yourself, Alice is successful in her plot and her father's opposition comes to nothing:

So Friday last, in Wandsworth Church,

There was a wedding gay,

And George and Alice one were made

By Mr. Gower that day.

The belles ring out! the people shout!

True love has got its way!

[PB: I used to think this was an entirely invented story, but it seems not. I've since come across detailed accounts in the BNA which I hope to write up sometime.]

London Evening Standard — Monday 21 September 1863

Two more railway lines proposed to cross Wandsworth Common — branching off the Southampton line towards Kew to allow easier access to the beauties of Wimbledon Common (and beyond) without impinging on Richmond Park.

The project, it is said, is earnestly supported by the National Rifle Association and other volunteers. It would afford the public the facility of a more easy access to the beauties of Wimbledon Common, Richmond Park, and the pleasant neighbourhoods of Norbiton, Petersham, Richmond, and Kew.

To the frequenters of the future Star and Garter it would be a great boon to have the accommodation of a railway station close at hand, and this to be effected without the slightest interference with Richmond Park.

Speculators were told they could expect 8% annual interest on their investment. Any loss to Wandsworth Common was not mentioned.

Morning Post — Tuesday 21 September 1802

"Quitting the Manor farm... numerous articles for sale", including "250 loads of dung"...

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Valuable FARMING STOCK, Wandsworth common By Mr. WINSTANLEY, On the Premises, the West-side of Wandsworth Common between Upper Tooting and Wandsworth,THIS DAY, the 28th instant, and following day, at Eleven o'clock ALL tbe Valuable LIVE and DEAD FARMING STOCK, implements of husbandry, and other effects, of RICHARD FLEMING, Esq. quitting the Manor farm:

consisting of six ricks of wheat, containing about 200 quarters; two large ditto of oats, one ditto of barley, one ditto of beans, two ditto of well-got meadow, and three ricks of clover hay, containing about 140 loads; ten cart-horses, a famous saddle and chaise mare, a new chaise-cart, two milch cows, 160 sheep and lambs, two waggons, eight carts, ploughs, harrows, Cooke's drill machine, and numerous other articles; also about 250 loads of dung.

To be viewed three days preceding the Sale, Sunday excepted, when Catalogues may be had on the Premises; the Wheatsheaf, Tooting; the Greyhound, Croydon; the Castle, Kingston; the Spread Eagle, Wandsworth, and of Mr. Winstanley, Paternoster-row.

[BNA: Link]

["Manor Farm" — presumably Allfarthing manor. Clearly the farm covered all, or nearly all, of the land between St Anne's Church and what is now West Side (part of which was then the future Trinity Road. Notice the connection with the sale of the land on 30 August 1802.]

Cooke's Patent Drill Machine

LOC: 1789

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[Source: Link.]

Clerkenwell News — Friday 24 September 1869

Wandsworth District Board of Works orders an avenue of Black Poplars to be planted on the Common...

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Each side of the road on Wandsworth Common to be planted with black Italian poplars, and protected by suitable fences."

Presumably this is what we now call Trinity Road (though not named as such until a decade or so later). If not, I can't think of another substantial road on which potentially very large trees could be planted on both sides of a road.

By the way, this is before the 1871 Act, and the Wandsworth District Board of Works is concerned with the verges of the road not the Common as a whole. It is not clear to me what the WDBW could have done for the Common, but residents were scathing. In April 1871, James Anderson Rose, in arguing for a specially created body of Conservators (rather than control either by the Metropolitan Board of Works or the District Board) told the Select Committee on the Wandsworth Common Bill:

"The Metropolitan Board of Works never took any steps to protect the common. The District Board of Works would be one of the worst bodies to have the control of the common. They have tolerated all sorts of nuisances, although frequently appealed to against them. Refuse of every description and the of buildings were deposited the common, under the sanction of District Board, which I account for by the fact that the builders are largely represented on the Board, and their interest paramount. (Laughter.)"

Black Poplars — the massive main branches are regularly cut, or they would be shed (with potentially catastrophic results). New twigs appear quickly from the cut ends, giving rise to its characteristic fan or brush-like appearance.

Photo: Friends of Wandsworth Common

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But why Black Poplar, Populus nigra? Not an obvious choice. It was already a rare native tree in Britain, though there were many hybrids. I imagine the WDBW intended to plant the tidier, tighter fastigiate form, the Italian or Lombardy Poplar.

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There are some of both types of Black Poplar on the Common today, but they're now reaching the end of their lives and falling over. It seems we lose one or more every year now — including one close to the Cat's Back Bridge. In the Great Storm of 1987 half or more of the Lombardy Poplars fell in the clump between the lake and the Hope.

I vaguely recall reading of another order — made possibly by the Conservators after 1871 — was to plant Black Poplars at every major entry to the Common. It would be interesting to map them all. I expect Enable, who look after the trees and much else on the Common, already have.

Perhaps the Board of Works wanted to create a European-style avenue — evoking, say, Hobbema's marvellous Avenue at Middleharnis of 1689? This painting, which so inspired Pissarro and Van Gogh, first went on display at the National Gallery in 1871.

Meindert Hobbema, The Avenue at Middleharnis, 1689. National Gallery, London.

So far as I know, these are Alders that have been "shredded" — their side branches pruned to encourage the trees to grow tall and straight.

[See e.g. National Gallery: Meindert Hobbema, The Avenue at Middleharnis.]

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Trinity Road is so long and dead straight — almost two miles — that it was often used for races. There are numerous mid-century reports of "pedestrianism" (walking and running), trotting, and in this very year — 1869 — — for "velocipede" racing. I hope to write more about this on another occasion.

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So far as I know, these Black Poplars were never planted on the verges of the road. The northern end of Trinity Road has Lime trees, and Horse Chestnut trees were planted inside the RVPA and the nursery ground opposite.

The Scope section has some fine old London Planes. Bolingbroke Grove was well-known at this time for its grand old Elms, probably planted in the 18th century, which were always threatened by the construction of new "villas".

"The Chestnut Avenue, Trinity Road", early C20.

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South London Press — 25 September 1869

Questions are asked about the fenced triangle of land opposite Lake Terrace at the corner of West Side and North Side.

Who owned it and how had it been acquired? At this time it "belonged" to the Bevington family, who lived in Ivy House and Lake Terrace (opposite the fields), and it seems they had fenced it, probably to keep out itinerants at a time when there was no effective policing of the Common.

However, in 1871, as soon as the Wandsworth Common Act was secured, James Bevington JP, who was himself involved in the campaign for the Common, donated the fields for free to the Common's Conservators, and the fences were taken down. (I wonder if he said he had only ever enclosed it to protect it on behalf of all the people of the area — I believe some others did make that claim.)

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The lake that once stood on the corner there had recently been drained — this lake had caused the future Trinity Road to vere westward for its last hundred or so yards.

The swerve (circled on the map) is now the top end of West Side, which once formed part of Trinity Road. It was by-passed when the dual carriageway was constructed in the late 1960s — a bit like an ox-bow lake.

Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 25 September 1804

"Grand sham fight" on Wandsworth Common.

During the Napoleonic wars, local militia frequently engaged in military manouevres ("sham fights") in the area. In this case, militia representing the English and French armies sailed up river from London to meet in mock battle on Wandsworth Common.

After a variety of marches, counter-marches, changing front, &c, both parties suddenly retired from the field of battle; the English army took the road to Clapham, while the invaders retired to a distant part the Common. There a new and severe action commenced upon hams, buttocks of beef, &c. &c. and the carnage did not cease till the whole were destroyed.

After lunch, the armies met again on Clapham Common:

A general engagement now took place, and a heavy firing was kept up parties; the English army determined stand their ground; after a severe conflict, which lasted a considerable time, and during which, victory for some time seemed doubtful; the invading army last, without waiting the tremendous charge their adversaries, surrendered themselves prisoners war.


The account adds:

A great number of pleasure boats with beautiful women accompanied them up the river. On their landing, many more persons of fashion, in coaches, chariots, curricles, &c. joined the cavalcade. It would impossible to convey, by words, an adequate idea of the beauty and variety of the scene...

[Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal, 25 September 1804. I'll describe another account of a sham fight, in October 1808, in next month's Chronicles.]

London Daily News — Tuesday 28 September 1869

Letters from "Three Wandsworth Commoners" published in support of local Mr Clark, a butcher living on St John's Hill, in breaking down the fences made by his neighbour John Costeker.

This is the same fence that Samuel Sullings will be imprisoned for tearing down in April 1870.)

The correspondence in the local press was lively, and included vivid — indeed, lurid — descriptions of the events, as here:

A little after 10 o'clock p.m. on the 14th inst., the policemen on watch by Mr. Costeker's gates (there are always two stationed there, as the annoyance is one of long standing) heard two blows struck on the gates in quick succession, and going to the spot saw a man, muffled up to his eyes, so as completely to disguise his features, hammering at the fence with what afterwards turned out to be a butcher's cleaver, reduced to almost razor sharpness.

The dispute between them will grind on for several years, only halting after the 1871 Act.

The Times, 29 September 1864

Two men and four women (all in their twenties) appeared in court for "wandering abroad and lodging in an outhouse on Wandsworth-common without having any visible means of existence."

The shed, owned by Mr Neal (of Alma Terrace and later of "Neal's Lodge"), was in a gravel pit near the Windmill (probably today's "Frying Pan").

One of the men seems to have deserted from the 13th Brigade, Royal Artillery, Shoeburyness. The other said he was a discharged soldier from the 9th Lancers.

The point is made that "only one of the four [women] wore a bonnet and shawl" — thus clearly signalling their moral turpitude.

The magistrate asked the policeman who had found them: "Do you know anything of the women?"

The Constable replied: "They have been lying about the common for months."

This reminds us of the many "comers and goers" who slept on the Common at this time, possibly to avoid the nearby workhouse on St John's Hill.

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