The History of Wandsworth Common


Of Wandsworth Common

September 2022

"Sleep-walker found on Wandsworth Common..."

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"Bleak September's mist and mud,

Is enough to chill the blood."

Flanders and Swann,
A Song of the Weather

Yes, my first story dates from the end of August, not September, but I just couldn't resist putting it right up front:

Illustrated Police News — Saturday 31 August 1907

"Sleep-walker found on Wandsworth Common..."

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A POLICEMAN found a young woman, clad only in a night-gown, asleep on one of the seats on Wandsworth Common early in the morning. He awakened her only after considerable trouble. It was then learned that she had been walking in her sleep. She knew nothing of how she got the common. She is employed as a housemaid in a house [on Nightingale Lane] three-quarters of a mile away.

[BNA: Link]

Now for this month's challenge.

Other than the fact that they're all connected to Wandsworth Common (naturally), most of these September stories are intimately inter-twined. But how?

Price's Battersea Sperm Candles

The Marylebone Cricket Club

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Bernard Holloway (1888—1915) of Burntwood Grange  . . . 

Skye Terriers

The Rood Screen at St Mary Magdalene Church

The Navvies and Bricklayers' Labourers' Union

The Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Boys

Major Rohde-Hawkins

Europa and Zeus (in the guise of a bull)

Braxton-Hicks and the Lambeth Poisoning Mystery

Madame Poitevin, The Parisian Aeronaut, comes to ground on Wandsworth Common

Whale hunting in the Southern Ocean  . . . 

And more...

In August my daughter Catherine, son-in-law William, and their three children (Theo, Marlowe, Wren) visited the grave of Thomas Davidson Jee, my wife's great-uncle, who died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1 July 1916).

Having assumed that Thomas's body was never found, they went first to the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, south of Amiens, but could find no reference to him there. However a very helpful volunteer guide discovered that he is buried not far away at Gommecourt British Cemetery, which they visited and took this photograph.

Thomas is named on the headstone, buried along with another — an "unknown soldier known unto God".

Two soldiers of the Great War
2187 Rifleman
T.D. Jee
12th Bn. Lond. Regt. Rangers
1st July 1916 Age 23

Unknown soldier
Known unto God

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This led me to return once again to young men from Wandsworth and Battersea who died in the First World War, including Bernard Holloway, killed in action during the Battle of Loos on 27 September 1915. Like Thomas Jee's companion, his body was never identified.

"Lieutenant Bernard Henry Holloway". Photo: Imperial War Museum.

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Bernard Henry Holloway (1888—1915) was commissioned on the 23rd September 1914 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Sussex Regt, promoted to Lieutenant in October 1914, and Captain in 9th Batt. in December 1914. He served in France and was killed in action during the Battle of Loos, Pas de Calais, France, on 27 September, aged 27.

Bernard Holloway, born at Wandsworth Common on 13 January 1888, grew up in Burntwood Grange, a substantial house with magnificent gardens and conservatories close to what is now called "Trinity Fields" — then as now an important sports ground. The house was demolished c.1940 and Burntwood Grange Road built on the site.

Burntwood Grange and nearby houses (Burntwood Lodge and Collamore) off Burntwood Lane as surveyed in 1894 when Bernard Bernard Holloway was a small boy. The "Cricket Ground" opposite is now called Trinity Fields.

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Bernard (affectionately known as "Babe" because of "a complexion which would have created the reputation of any face cream on the market") was a sporting prodigy — a Rugby and Lacrosse Blue at Cambridge, he went on to play cricket for Sussex and tour the West Indies with the MCC. According to CricketArchive, he appeared in 19 first-class matches as a righthanded batsman who scored 701 runs with a highest score of 100 (against British Guiana at Georgetown).

Bernard's family were prominent builders and landlords (often in association with Magdalen College Oxford, who owned most of the land round here). The Holloway family (later styled "Holloway Brothers") were responsible for building my home (on Loxley Road), and most of the other houses between Lyford Road and Ellerton Road, and the south side of Magdalen Road. (Their joinery works towards the bottom of Magdalen is now "Victoria Mews".)

14 Loxley Road: a lease dated 25 December 1904 by which Magdalen College (the land and property owners) passed the management of the house to members of the Holloway family. Early the following year, the Holloways let the house to the first family to live here, the Tworts.

Wen we bought the house in 2004 the sale was handled by "Skelly and Corsellis". I didn't think anything of it at the time, but it turned out that this "Corsellis" was a descendant [son?] of the lawyer, A.A.Corsellis, with whom John Buckmaster had many a bitter battle.

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The Holloway Brothers were involved in many local, national and indeed international projects, including Wandsworth and Chelsea Bridges, Lavender Hill Library and Baths, Battersea Polytechnic, the Morgan Crucible chimney, the neo-Byzantine Streatham Pumping House, fountains in Trafalgar Square, the Bank of England (behind the old facade), and Baghdad's Railway Station. During WWII they were key to the creation of the Mulberry Harbours vital for D-Day.

The house the Holloways built in just 6 days inside the 1910 Ideal Home Exhibition.

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In 2011, after more than a hundred years, the descendant company (by now called Holloway White Allom) were placed in administration and closed.

Bernard Holloway is commemorated on the Loos Memorial, the Leys School Cambridge Roll of Honour, Jesus College Cambridge Roll of Honour, at Lords Cricket Ground (the Holloway Brothers later built the Members' Stand), on the legal profession Roll of Honour, and the Upper Tooting Methodist Church Memorial (where his name is recorded as "H Holloway").

He can also be found, along with many other local men who died in the war, on the fine Rood Screen at St Mary Magdalene Church, Trinity Road (very close to his home). I strongly encourage you to read their biographies on the SMM website.

The altar and rood screen at St Mary Magdalene Church, Trinity Road.

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Now for a train of thought about the local memorialisation of a different war, sparked off by some stories about dogs...

London Evening Standard — Saturday 9 September 1893

A paralyzed nightwatchman "on a lonely part of Wandsworth Common" in court because he cannot afford to buy a license for his dog:

A watchman asked Mr. Denman if he could assist him in providing a licence for his dog. He was paralysed and poorly off, and could not afford to obtain the necessary licence.

— Mr. Denman: Do you employ the animal as a watch dog?

— Yes.

— Mr. Denman: Not to take hold of a man by his leg? (laughter). Can you refer me to anybody who is acquainted with you?

— Applicant: Every policeman in Battersea knows me.

— Mr. Denman: That might not be a good recommendation (laughter).

— The Magistrate granted the Applicant the money with which to obtain a licence.

[BNA: Link]

South London Press — Saturday 9 September 1893

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[Note: Dog licences were made mandatory in 1867, with the fee fixed at 7s 6d in 1878. That's 37½p in decimal money, but the equivalent of more than £30 today — so a lot of money in 1878. The requirement was widely ignored. This fee stayed more or less the same (it reduced by ½p when the halfpenny was abolished in 1984), so its value declined steadily. The license was abolished in 1988. [Wikipedia: Dog Licences]

Morning Advertiser — Monday 13 September 1869

A Skye Terrier, though almost certainly not Dan.


LOST, on Wandsworth common, on Wednesday, 8th of September, a SKYE TERRlER — answers the name of Dan — had on a leather collar, with the words, "Champion, Wandsworth-common," on it.

Whoever will bring the little dog the address will receive TWO POUNDS REWARD.


[Note: according to the National Archives currency calculator, £2 was worth about £125 in today's money.]

Hmm, "Champion, Wandsworth-common". Who he/she?

In the early 19th century, there was a Champion family living in one of the grand "Five Houses" along what came to be called Bolingbroke Grove.

The pater familias was Alexander Champion, the "Father of British Whaling", no less. He acquired his great wealth mainly from whale-hunting in the Southern Ocean — seeking the waxy substance, "spermaceti" (literally "whale sperm", because of its semen-like appearance), in the head cavities of, er, the Sperm Whale.

Sperm whale, South Seas.

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It would be good to go into more detail about how Alexander Champion came to be "The Father of British Whaling", and what brought him to live on the edge of the Common. But I think I'll leave that for a while. However, here are a few images, suggesting a close connection with the Battersea-based Price's Candles.

Price's Sperm Candles. The company was owned and managed by the Wilson family, who lived in "Black Sea House" (where Spencer Park is today). Their main factory was on the banks of the Thames, at the bottom of Plough Road.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, "Sperm candles" provided the highest-quality light — bright, clean, slow-burning, sweet-smelling. In 1860 the British Government created a scientific unit of luminous intensity, the "candlepower", defined as the light emitted by a sperm candle of a standard size.

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Alexander Champion died in his house in Battersea Rise/Five Houses in 1809 but his daughter Elizabeth (born here in 1780) did not die until 1870 — the year after the loss of the Skye Terrier:

Here's a report of Miss Elizabeth Champion's will:

Illustrated London News — Saturday 10 September 1870

The late Miss Elizabeth Champion, of Wandsworth-common, whose will has just been proved under £120,000, has left legacies to several charitable institutions; among them are the following The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Society for the Spread of the Gospel, Church Building Society, National Education Society, National Benevolent Institution, Governesses' Benevolent Institution, Metropolitan Convalescent Institution, Bethlem, London, and St. George's Hospitals, each £100; The Church Missionary Society, St. Ann's Schools, Asylum for the Indigent Blind, Asylum for Deaf and Dumb, Battersea National Schools, and Surrey Society for the Employment of Discharged Prisoners, £50 each; and legacies to some other societies — all free of duty.

[BNA: Link.]

Was Dan perhaps Elizabeth Champion's pet? Did anyone find Dan and claim the reward? And if not, did his loss hasten her end?

Major Rohde Hawkins, one of Miss Champion's executors. Here too there's a local connection — he was architect of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Girls (opened 1859). Unknown photographer, albumen print, e.1860s, National Portrait Gallery.

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Moving rapidly onward, I wondered what the Skye Terrier might have looked like, and this little charmer came up in my search:

Gratuitous image of a Skye Terrier.

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But the next image was this, which you will not be surprised to read has a number of links to Wandsworth Common:

The Skye Terrier "Peeps", with Godfrey Morgan, Lord Tredegar. Painting by John Charlton, National Trust, Tredegar House.

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It's hard to believe this is the same man shown leading the 17th Lancers at Balaklava:

"The Charge of the Light Brigade, the Battle of Balaclava, 25th October 1854 with Godfrey Charles Morgan, 1st Viscount Tredegar (1831—1913) astride his horse, 'Sir Briggs', 1905. Painting by John Charlton, National Trust, Tredegar House.

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Among the men of the 17th Lancers that day were 524 Private George Flowers and 916 Richard Dollard, both whom died in the Charge.

As a result, Richard Dollard's three daughters — Ellen (aged c.14), Margaret (12), and Elizabeth (10) — were sent to the Asylum on Wandsworth Common, along with two daughters of George Flowers — Mary Elizabeth (12) and Susan Sophia (8).

The Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylums for girls and boys are the largest memorials to the Crimean War anywhere in Britain. Both were built on Wandsworth Common to educate the children of soldiers, seamen and marines killed in that conflict.

Several Chargers lived in Battersea and Wandsworth, and a number are buried in the Battersea Rise and Magdalen Road Cemeteries — including William Freestone (4th Light Dragoons), William Bird (8th Hussars) and John Breeze, 11th Hussars.

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(I have argued elsewhere that the statue of St George on the front of the RVPA seems to have been modelled on Lord Cardigan, who led the Charge.)

While we're looking at the two Asylums, here's an insight into relations between them. The girls' building was opened in 1859, more than a decade before the boys' (1872).

The Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum for Boys was opened in 1872, but closed down after less than ten years. The building and grounds were bought by a Westminster educational foundation and reopened as Emanuel School in January 1883.

From this angle, it looks much the same today. The major difference is the spire, which fell into disrepair and was removed in 1932.

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Where should the new Boys' Asylum be built? A number of sites were considered and rejected. Then it was suggested that a 12-acre chunk of the Girls' school could be hacked off and made available — though alarm was expressed about how close the boys would then be to the girls:

There had been some discussion concerning the site. In 1868 the Executive and Finance Committee had made enquiries concerning a house called "Fernside" near Balham Station, but they had decided after investigation not to recommend the purchase of the lease for the purpose of adapting the premises. Nor had they proceeded with the project of purchasing a house and land at Sheen.

At the meeting of the Royal Commissioners held at the Palace of Westminster on 23rd July, 1870, General Eyre's proposal that the new school should be built on the land belonging to the Girls' School had been countered by Sir John Pakington, who reminded his audience of "the unfortunate circumstances which attended the Greenwich School for Girls from its proximity to the Boys' School". (This piquant entry in the minutes is not further elaborated.)

In the end it was decided that "provided proper precautions were taken" there was no serious objection to building on the ground adjacent to the Girls' School, and Earl Grey's motion was carried unanimously that the Executive and Finance Committee should be empowered to make arrangements for building a school on the Royal Commissioners' land at Wandsworth.

But in spite of all "proper precautions", it was inevitable that the young people would find ways of meeting. As the "Minute Book of the House Committee" recorded, on Tuesday 19 September 1876, five girls were found on the Boys' School ground:

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...On the evening of Tuesday 19th September 1876 ("between a quarter to seven and ten minutes to eight o'clock") five girls were on the Boys' School ground talking to the boys. They were admitted through the windows by two of the young servants, Janet Bradford and Mary Jane Vickers. "George S. Cray wrote the note to the girls; Michael Delahery and George Ward were the channels of communicatioon".

The servants were sentenced to be dismissed, the girls to be sent home to their mothers. The boys who conveyed the notes were caned before the whole school...

I only know about this because of a terrific study of the RVPA for Boys by B.V. Slater, a master at Emanuel School, a man distinguished by having tried (and failed) to teach me Latin in the 1960s. At that time, perhaps to get over his disappointment, he published his researches in the school magazine, The Portcullis. He was a remarkable scholar (he also revised the Emanuel School official history) and I take my school cap off to him.

It's an odd thing but whenever I look at aerial photographs of Emanuel, whatever the year, there's nearly always a cricket match in progress.

You may remember this image, from July's Chronicles (where I was writing about the tennis courts, bottom left):

(Click on image to enlarge the Emanuel School playing fields, in the centre)

There's a lot more to be said on these orphanage-"asylums", but that's probably quite enough for now. Now back to what remained of the Common, and in particular the playing of cricket. (It won't matter if you're not interested in the game — what follows is not so much about cricket itself as how the game profoundly shaped local people and places.)

I assume some version of cricket has been played on the Common for countless centuries, without leaving much of a written record (though I'm still looking — so if you can point me to anything, please do).

The earliest references I know of to cricket in our general area come from the start of the nineteenth century. The manorial court rolls for Wimbledon and Putney record for 31 July 1800 a "Complaint of Cricketters playing too nigh the High Road; and Order theron:"

Complaint being made unto this Court, that divers persons frequently play at Cricket, on Putney Lower Common, near the gate leading from Windsor Street to Barnes, to the great inconvenience and annoyance of travellers passing and repassing, by the cricket balls being flung in the road, and the players stopping them with their batts, in an improper manner, to the obstruction of horses in carriages.

So what was to be done?

It is ordered that the Bayliff of this Manor do take an account of their names and places of abode, and inform them that they will be prosecuted as trespassers, unless they carry on their games and diversions in future, so as not to be a detriment and nuisance to His Majesty's liege subjects.

On Wandsworth Common, in the 1820s, a "new cricket pitch" was created — presumably by grubbing up trees and furze bushes, and levelling and perhaps seeding a couple of acres of Common. The ground must have needed continual maintenance too. In the absence of mechanical lawn-mowers until later in the century, were sheep grazed on the ground to keep it in some order? Probably. There were no permanent pavilions (that I know of), but tents may have been erected on match days.

Probable location of the cricket field (which I've marked on a base map from the 1860s), between Heathfield Cottages and what will soon be called Trinity Road. Notice how comparatively smooth it is, with no Ordnance Survey conventional signs or "stamps" to indicate furze (gorse) — the spiky hedgehog marks that you can see e.g. above the word "Wandsworth".

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OS conventional signs showing vegetation.

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Newspapers report a number of matches played by Wandsworth teams in the 1820s and 1830s, home and away, including ones against Kingston and Clapham. And here, with the most famous club of the day, the Marylebone Cricket Club:

Sun (London) — Monday 29 September 1828

Wandsworth v.MCC at Lord's.

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The long-expected Match between eleven of Marylebone and eleven of Wandsworth was played last week at Lord's Ground, and excited considerable interest. It was only one day's play, and terminated as follows: Marylebone 240, Wandsworth 93.

The return match will be played on Wandsworth Common to-morrow.

[BNA: Link]

So far as I can tell, this "return match" did not in fact take place on the following day. But I have found reports of other matches between the sides (to be continued...).

I've always taken it for granted that you need a grass pitch and eleven players (or thereabouts) on each side to have a proper cricket match. But the nineteenth century didn't see it that way. For example, games were played on ice (when the opportunity arose, which it did far more frequently then than now), and often involved very different numbers (as below), or one-on-one matches ("single wicket") — you may recall last month's contest between "Randall, the Barber", with one arm, and "W. Cook of the East-end", with one leg.

Clubs began to proliferate in the second half of the century, and leagues were established. But many games were less formal, often with a novelty feel about them. For example between contrasting occupational groups, such as "Bricklayers v. Carpenters", or "Butchers v. Bakers". Or even marital status —"Single Gentlemen v. Married Gentlemen".

One day I hope to write about some intriguing all-women, or men v. women matches ("Lady Gymnasts v. their kith and kin of the opposite sex"), but not alas today.

Incidentally, the rivals with the longest team names must be the Wandsworth and Battersea Scientific and Literary Institutes, who played each-other in 1855 (the great science educator John Buckmaster did much to encourage these pioneering self-help groups).

Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle — Sunday 30 September 1855


The return match between the Wandsworth Literary and Scientific Institution Club and the Battersea Literary and Scientific Institution Club was played on Wandsworth Common on Thursday, Sept. 13 1855.

There are no images (that I know of) showing cricket games on Wandsworth Cammon in the nineteenth century, but here's one that may be similar, from neighbouring Tooting Common: describes this as "Tooting Common with a Cricket Match, 1887, John Westell, BAC Moving Museum: Wandsworth Collection." (See here)

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But I'm not confident about this attribution. "Westell" (who also painted scenes on Wandsworth Common) appears to be the same artist as the slightly differently named "Westall" and "Westhall". (So if you're ever looking for other paintings by him, try different spellings).

Or the date. Is it really as late as 1887? I'd love to have a closer look at the original, to see if there's anything on or behind the image that might help? But how can I now there's no "BAC Moving Museum"? What has happened to the Wandsworth Collection? I'm really rather alarmed.

Now back to Wandsworth Common, and a very asymmetrical game involving

"Nine Players and two Gentlemen v. twenty-one Gentlemen and one Player...

Illustrated Sporting News and Theatrical and Musical Review — Saturday 9 September 1865

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This match took place on Monday near the County Arms, Wandsworth-common. The Twenty-two took the batting first, and the conspicuous scorers were Messrs. Green 23, Foster 18, Bamford 12, and Mills 8. Total of the innings,

The bowlers were Harwood and Southon, who divided the wickets between them.

On the side of the Eleven Mr. Wix scored 20, Lee 10, Oliver 13, and Parr, of Clapham, 22 (not out). Total 99, thus losing the match by five only.

Bamford, Lee, Howick, and W.B. Shepherd bowled, the latter throughout. He bowls well, and would be a good acquisition to his county (Surrey)...


[Note: The distinction "Gentlemen" and "Players" refers to whether or not they were paid — "Players" were generally manual workers, who did most of the bowling; "Gentlemen" on the other hand preferred to bat. The Surrey player William Shepherd, active 1864—1869, was born in Kennington and died in Tooting. ]

Cricket matches continued to be played on this ground, but by the 1850s and 1860s the sale of great wedges of the Common led to great concern. Cricketers believed (with reason) that their field would soon be lost.

In September 1863, John Buckmaster, the man who I like to say "saved the Common" (though there were many others alongside him, of course), attended a meeting of local cricketers at the County Arms. This is the first public gathering in the 1860s (that I know of) to address the impending loss of the Common. The collective endeavour thus initiated would culminate in the passing of the Wandsworth Common Act in 1871.

Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper — Sunday 20 September 1863

"Threatened enclosure of the cricket ground..."


The annual cricket match of the tradesmen of Wandsworth took place on Tuesday, on the cricket ground, Wandsworth-common, after which dinner, was provided at Mr. Finch's, the County Arms, when there was a large attendance of the inhabitants, it having been announced that on this occasion would be taken into consideration what steps should be adopted to prevent the threatened enclosure of the cricketing-ground. The chair was taken by Mr. Smith, and the vice-chair by Mr. Frost.

Mr. M'Kellar* read a memorial proposed to be presented to Earl Spencer, who is the lord of the manor, deprecating any further encroachment on the common, and particularly on the cricket-ground.

Mr. Frost, after alluding to the interests in the out-door games of the people manifested by her Majesty and the late illustrious Prince Consort, and referring to Lord Russell's observations on the opening of Baxter-park, Dundee; on the advantages of out-door recreation, complained that the ground on Wandsworth Common was being gradually appropriated to the use of proprietary bodies.

Four acres had been attached to the station of the Crystal-palace line, and the Patriotic Fund school had acquired a large portion, and had stopped up a footpath, compelling passengers to go a considerable distance round.

However, the inhabitants would cheerfully put up with this last mentioned encroachment if it stood alone, for they were glad of anything that could promote so laudable an object. But it was now intended to dispose, on building leases, of the portion of the common where, at a considerable expense to the parishioners, a cricket ground had been levelled and maintained. There was no other spot in the neighbourhood available for cricket.

The memorial was adopted, a committee appointed and a vote of thanks accorded to Mr. Buckmaster who had obtained more than 300 signatures to it.


[PB: * This is not Wandsworth Lodge's Henry McKellar, who had died the previous year, so who?]

July 2021: Friends of Wandsworth Common Julia Bott and Stephen Midlane unveil a plaque to John Buckmaster and others who had campaigned so hard to keep our Common forever "open, unenclosed, and unbuilt upon".

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St James's Gazette — Tuesday 5 September 1893

"Mr Braxton Hicks held an inquest yesterday at the Wandsworth Town Hall, concerning the death of James Frederick Lennard, whose body was found on Wandsworth Common on Thursday..."


Mr Braxton Hicks held an inquest yesterday at the Wandsworth Town Hall, concerning the death of James Frederick Lennard, whose body was found on Wandsworth Common on Thursday.

Rosina Lennard, the widow, of 19 Orsepp Street, Vauxhall, Lambeth, said her husband was a blacksmith. He had been out of work a good deal during the last twelve months, owing to failing eyesight. Money was accordingly very short, and the deceased had not had enough to eat, often saying that could not eat himself while his children were hungry. They had got into arrear with the rent too, owing the landlord about £5. The latter gave deceased notice to leave about week ago. This upset him very much.

The witness last saw him alive on Thursday, the 31st ult., when he left home to look for work.

William Calder, a Common inspector, in the service of the London County Council, said that last Thursday evening he was on Wandsworth Common, when saw the deceased lying dead on his back within few yards of the footpath.

Dr Arthur Thomas, of 261 Kent Road [another report says Trinity Road, which is more likely], stated that had made a post-mortem examination and found there was no food in the stomach. He attributed death to syncope*, resulting from gradual starvation.

The jury returned verdict in accordance with this evidence.


[* Syncope — passing out, usually caused because the heart cannot pump enough oxygen to the brain.]

The case was reported quite widely, partly perhaps because Wandsworth Common, in a suburb of the Empire's capital city, seemed such an unlikely place for a family man's death by starvation. (That said, I have come across other such cases. For example, in... )

This account, published on the same day, adds some significant details, including the fact that both the Coroner and the Trinity Road doctor gave financial support to the widow and her family.

Eastern Daily Press — Tuesday 5 September 1893

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At the Wandsworth Town Hall yesterday, Mr. Braxton Hicks held an inquiry as to the death of James Frederick Leonard, aged 64 years, a blacksmith, lately residing in Orupp Street, Vauxhall, who was found dead on Wandsworth Common on Thursday last.

Rosina Lennard, the widow, stated that for the last twelve months her husband had been out of work a great deal, in consequence of his sight failing. He had enjoyed good health, but often deprived himself of food for the sake of his seven children.

Witness went out to work herself, and two of the sons earned a little every week, but they were unable to keep the rent paid up, and were £5 in arrears. A notice to quit had been served on the 26th ult., which had worried the deceased very much.

Last Thursday morning witness left home to go to her work, and later on in the day she was informed that her husband had been found dead on Wandsworth Common.

The deceased was a steady man, and "a good husband and a good father to the children."

Frederick James Lennard, a son, stated that his father had eaten scarcely anything for some time past. The deceased left home at 11.45 on Thursday, when there was no food in the house. He seemed "weary" but did not complain.

Dr. Arthur Thomas of Trinity Road, Wandsworth, stated that a post-mortem examination revealed that, with the exception of the heart being somewhat fatty, the internal organs were all healthy, but the stomach and intestines were absolutely devoid of any signs of food. Death, in witness' opinion, were due to syncope from exhaustion caused by starvation.

The Coroner — You cannot say anything more than that it was a case of the men being gradually starved?

Witness — That is so, sir.

The Coroner — It is a very sad case indeed.

The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence. The Coroner intimated his intention of assisting the widow and children with a little money and clothing.

Dr. Thomas handed his fee of £2 2s. [two guineas] to the widow of the deceased.


You may know the name "Braxton Hicks" from the uterine contractions during pregnancy — sometimes called "practice labour" — named after the London obstetrician John Braxton Hicks. This was our man's father.

Here is the son, who rejoiced in the name of Athelstan Braxton Hicks:

Athelstan Braxton Hicks (1854—1902), trained in both Law and Medicine, was the extraordinary campaigning Coroner for South-West London. He died young — at 47 — and is buried in West Norwood Cemetery.

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Often called the "Children's Coroner", ABH was particularly concerned about "baby farming" and infanticide, for example when caused by "overlaying" — "suffocation while in bed with parents".

Some of his more famous cases include the "Battersea Cancer Cure" inquest, the Battersea Mystery", the "Pimlico Poisoning", the "Brixton Baby Farmer", the "Tooting Horror", and here — the "Lambeth Poisoning Mystery":

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I've come across his name several times in connection with deaths associated with Wandsworth Common. I'll include the accounts in appropriate Chronicles later. But in the meanwhile, if you want to know more about Athelstan Braxton Hicks you can start here (well worth a read).

London Evening Standard — Monday 12 September 1892

The Navvies and Bricklayers' Labourers' Union meets on the Common...


A meeting of the Navvies and Bricklayers' Labourers' Union was held yesterday at the corner of Chatham-road, Wandsworth Common, to organise the large number of men engaged in the building trade residing in that locality. A resolution calling upon all unskilled labourers to at once join their Union was carried unanimously.

[BNA: Link]

Morning Herald (London) — Friday 17 September 1852

Europa comes to ground on Wandsworth Common

Poster advertising a series of balloon ascents by Madame Poitevin from the Cremorne Gardens, the pleasure grounds on the north side of the Thames (just to the west of Battersea Bridge), in August and September 1852. She used two balloons, the Globe and the Zodiac.

The visual reference to herself as Europa, riding Jupiter/Zeus in the shape of a bull, and the hint that she will be flying naked, is interesting. I might write more about this another time.

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The inflation of the immense balloon Le Globe was prevented in consequence of the state of the weather on Wednesday, and this was expected to have caused some little disappointment, but the simultaneous cheers of the assembled thousands at the ascent of the less gigantic, but not less beautiful, machine, Le Zodiac, set aside all fears on that head.

The selection of an earlier hour for its departure gave considerable satisfaction, and the wisdom of this determination was apparent in the lengthened and clear view every spectator had from the gardens from the moment when the elegant little machine was, as on former occasions, cut away from its hitherto protecting guide to the period when it was hidden by the foliage of the trees intervening, which overhang the outskirts of Wandsworth-common.

Europa sitting on the back of the bull (Zeus). Wall painting, Pompeii.

The princess Europa climbs on the back of a tame bull (normally described as white, not brown as here), not knowing this to be Zeus in disguise. He runs to the sea and swims to Crete, where he makes her the island's first queen. How odd that our continent takes its name, Europe, from a story of abduction.

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There are a number of references to balloons flying over (and landing on) Wandsworth Common. Here is another, from the previous year:

Sun — 26 Jul 1851


Last night Mdlle. Palmyre Garneron made a successful balloon ascent from the excellent al fresco place of amusement. The evening was very fine, and highly favorable 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, Mdlle. Garneron effected a safe descent on Wandsworth-common. The gardens were very full.

[PB: More research is needed. Is Mdlle Garneron the same person as Mdme Poitevin? Is "Mdlle Palmyre Garneron" related to the famous ballooning/parachuting Garnerin family, active earlier in the century? What is the significance of the word "parachute" in the 1852 flight? Did aeronauts parachute down from tethered balloons? What is meant by "cut away from its hitherto protecting guide"? ]

Cremorne Gardens in 1864, in a painting by Phoebus Levin in the Museum of London, and today. Only a vestige of the pleasure ground remains. Whistler, who lived nearby, was a frequent visitor. A pair of the original gates have been restored. Photo: Geograph.

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And finally (because so many of this month's Chronicles have involved cricket)...

Kensington Post — Friday 4 September 1953

Wandsworth Common's washing facilities the worst in London: "footballers need shower baths, not horse troughs..."

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AWAY WITH THE HORSE-TROUGHS and let's have decent washplaces at L.C.C. grounds. That's the plea the Sunday Football Association will shortly be making to the body which controls most of London's playing fields — and a good few horse-troughs, too.

And there'll be a lot of Kensington footballers behind them. For many of our players have had a sample, oh too often, of the the abominable washing facilities that the L.C.C. have to offer at a host of grounds.

I believe it was a Kensal House footballer who last season described the facilities at Wandsworth Common as the nearest thing to a horse-trough in which he had ever had to wash.

And a horse-trough it certainly resembles. A few extra taps make about the only difference.

It's situated in an open courtyard approachable through an entrance that's never closed and which, therefore, lends no privacy to mud-spattered footballers washing their bodies.

And don't think Wandsworth Common an exception among LCC grounds. It might be the worst, but there are several others with washing facilities of the common-or-garden horsetrough style, including Wormwood Scrubs.

Mr. Halfacre, general secretary of the Sunday Football Association, tells me that he will ask the L.C.C. to instal shower baths at their ground. By charging about 3d. for a shower, they would soon recover the cost, he thinks.

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