The History of Wandsworth Common


of Wandsworth Common



"Time does not flow . . .  everything happens all at once"

"I personally am very much on the side that says time does not flow . . .  This is kind of an illusion that comes from the way in which we happen to be embedded in the world... on the most fundamental level, everything happens all at once — even if it doesn't appear that way to us."

[Emily Adlam,philosopher of physics at the Rotman Institute of philosophy at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, quoted in The Conversation: Great Mysteries of Physics 1: Is time an illusion?.]

Apologies for the (very) late posting of this month's Chronicles —I got far too involved in the history of furze (or gorse) on the Common, and just couldn't stop.

It all started with the wonderful photograph reproduced above. In the end, I had to make a separate page, In Praise of Furze. I'm still working on it, but with luck should be finished soon.

Before I start this month's Chronicles proper, here is advance notice of "Beating the Bounds: John Buckmaster's perambulation of Battersea Parish, 29 May 1862  . . .  " All being well, I'll transcribe and annotate the original report in the next few weeks.

(Click on the pic to find out more.)

I'm introducing this a couple of months in advance in case anybody wants to organise a walk (all or part of the way round) either on the same date (Monday 29 May), or on this year's Ascension Day (Thursday May 13), or some other day entirely. It will be fascinating to compare then and now. If you do a walk, let me know — I'd love to hear about it.

Chronicles for March 2023

— Firing the furze on Wandsworth Common, 1850 — two boys face transportation to Australia  . . . 

— Tom Taylor (Punch): "The Warning of Wandsworth Common", 1868  . . . 

— Whiteley Exerciser for sale, 1899 — Lewis Carroll  . . . 

— Charles Booth — Maps Descriptive of London Poverty, 1898—1903  . . . 

— George Neal jailed for the manslaughter of Lottie Crump, 1900  . . . 

— The death of a child in a bassinette, 1902  . . . 

— Alias Wilkinson, Smith and Jones — a duel interrupted, 1839  . . . 

— Edwin Ransome, long-time campaigner for the Common, defends the record of the outgoing Conservators, 1888  . . . 

— Appeal for donations to buy the 20 acres of "Neal's Farm" that will become the Cricket Field, 1912  . . . 

— Outrage at the destruction of trees, 1920  . . . 

— Open air dancing, a bandstand, quoits and croquet on the Common, 1925 — the Extension is finally "thrown open to the public"  . . . 

— The moving bandstand  . . . 

— IRA bomb on the track near the Cat's Back Bridge, 1992  . . . 

— The energetic local cyclist Olive Elliott endorses "Constrictor" bicycle tyres, 1913  . . . 

— Beating the Bounds — a perambulation of Battersea parish with John Buckmaster, 1862  . . . 

Last March's Chronicles — 2022

— Rough-and-ready index of all stories in the Chronicles so far.

"A Wandsworth Common Bush Fire", c.1910, postcard by Dorrett & Martin.

You can easily imagine the one or other of the photographers dashing over the Common towards the flames, laden with all their equipment, and ordering the lady in the fetching hat to stand exactly here, and her child precisely there . . . 

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Do you think the houses in the background are on Routh Road? If so, the photographers Dorrett and/or Martin would have spotted the fire from their studio at 16 Bellevue Road. (The fine red-brick building, with the arch.)

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Is it Routh Road? And if so, where? Do you recognise these chimneys? The number of chimneys per stack (3 rather than the more usual 4), and the angles of the roof lines suggest perhaps not. Any ideas?

16 Bellevue Road, also called Atholl House, was Harry Dorrett and Paul Martin's studio 1899—1925.

(Click on image to enlarge)

In March 1850 news reaches Lincolnshire of a great furze fire on Wandsworth Common . . . 

Lincolnshire Chronicle — Friday 1 March 1850

The furze on Wandsworth Common, to the extent of three quarters of a mile, have been destroyed by fire.

The Gloucestershire Chronicle had run a story a week earlier (Saturday 23 February 1850) — as we shall see, this may have been a different incident — drawing attention to fire as a popular spectacle:

The furze on Wandsworth Common was set on fire on Monday night, and hundreds of people flocked out of London, thinking that a dreadful fire was raging amongst some house property.

Looking around for more information, I came across an article stating that a fire had been set by two young men whose fathers were building the new Wandsworth Prison:

Daily News (London) — Monday 4 March 1850


Thomas Candar, aged 17, and John Baker, aged 15, the sons of foremen on the works at the New Prison, were brought up from Horsemonger-lane Gaol, to which prison they had been committed on Monday last, on a charge of setting fire to the furze on Wandsworth Common.

The case had been brought against them by "Mr. W. Nottidge, a county magistrate, and Mr. Wilson, two of the lessees of the common"."

We have come across these local dignitaries in previous Chronicles: William Nottidge, a substantial landowner, lived at "The Elms" (at the top of Allfarthing Lane), and William Wilson, who owned Price's Candle Works, leased "Black Sea House".

The article continued:

The prisoners' friends had applied to bail them, but were refused, the offence charged against them being a felony and transportable.

What?! The young men are denied bail because setting fire to furze on the Common was a "transportable" offence? That if found guilty (and it seems the lads had confessed) they could be sent as criminals into exile to Australia, or Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), or New Zealand?

At this point I went on a very long journey of discovery, one that delayed the publication of this month's Chronicles by several weeks.

It became evident that there was not one fire around this time, but many. And it increasingly looked as though some at least of the fires may have been part of a deliberate arson campaign with possible links to radical politics and the enclosure of Wandsworth Common.

If you want to know more, I am writing it up as In Praise of Furze [which should be available soonish].

But now back to today, as the blessed Melvin Bragg says in his trails for In Our Time . . . 

Recently planted gorse near North Side, photo by Lewis More O'Ferrall (thanks, Lewis!).

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It is very good indeed to see gorse/furze being planted by volunteers from the Friends of Wandsworth Common.

Punch, 4 March 1865.

Anon (Tom Taylor), "The Warning of Wandsworth Common".

Tom Taylor, long-time contributor to Punch magazine (and for many years its editor), wrote a number of poems in defence of Wandsworth Common (in which Earl Spencer is always cast as a pantomime villain). Taylor lived on Lavender Sweep, a short walk away.

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Here are the first few stanzas. (I have reproduced and transcribed the whole poem here.)


MIDNIGHT lay still on fair West Hill,
Wandsworth snored silent nigh;
But for yell and scream of the whistling steam,
As the darkling trains roared by.

That sound alway, both night and day,
Must Clapham Junction hear,
Now Battersea Plains are a place of trains
That 'sparagus erst did rear.

'Twixt whistle's yell, that rose and fell,
I heard a voice of woe,
Through the Black-sea birches it scarcely stirred,
So faint it was and low . . . 

[HistoryofWandsworthCommon: Link.]

Victorian occasional verse is not to everybody's taste, but I love this poem. I think it repays a close reading (which you're very welcome to discuss with me).

You'll notice references to trains, to Clapham Junction (still new in the 1860s), Battersea Plain, and the Black Sea (where Spencer Park now stands), and many more local sites.

Observe, for example, the resonances with Matthew Arnold's dark masterpiece Dover Beach — both poems start at night, both repeatedly refer to the intrusion of nocturnal sounds, and of course share words such as "fair" and "plain".

Above all, notice the highly unusual word "darkling".

Dover Beach was not published until 1867, so did Matthew Arnold steal his famous phrase "we are here as on a darkling plain" from Tom Taylor?

I believe I may be the first person to draw attention to these parallels. And if it is true, the discovery will be my most significant contribution yet to literary criticism.

But I doubt it. True, Dover Beach was not published until three years after Taylor's appeared in Punch, but the poem had been years in the making. I am pretty certain Arnold would have read drafts to his friend Taylor on his visits to Lavender Sweep. (If so, did Arnold feel that his fine poem had been somehow mocked by Taylor's repurposing of it? I have no idea. Perhaps an Arnold scholar would care to comment?)

See also the reference to Battersea's once-famous asparagus fields, grown in enormous quantities for the nearby London market. Battersea was especially blessed because there was such a superabundance of horse and other sources of manure (including human excrement from domestic cess-pits).

The top of today's Plough Road appears on John Rocque's fine map of 1746 map as "Dunghill Square" (top centre). Carts and boats went down river to the City laden with vegetables, and returned with holds filled with dung — an example of the "circular economy" at its best?

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[For further information, see for example Sally Sellers, "Feeding London: The Market Gardens of Battersea".]

Photograph of Tom Taylor (1817-1880), by Lewis Carroll, 1863. Carroll visited (and photographed) a number of Battersea residents, including Taylor and the Pre-Raphaelite painter Arthur Hughes.

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Since we've just mentioned Lewis Carroll, here's something vaguely related that caught my eye:

Cycling — Saturday 4 March 1899

WHITELEY EXERCISER, new, 8/6, cost 12/6, will exchange acetylene lamp, Excelsior preferred.

Williams, Ramslade, West Side, Wandsworth Common.

I wondered what a "Whiteley Exerciser" might be, and here it is:

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The connection with Lewis Carroll?

Well, West Side's [Mr?] Williams may have been happy to part with his "Whitely Exerciser" in exchange for a mere bicycle lamp, but Lewis Carroll swore by his. As the editor of his collected letters notes:

In June [1897] he bought a "Whiteley Exerciser," and fixed it up in his rooms. One would have thought that he would have found his long walks sufficient exercise (an eighteen-mile round was . . . no unusual thing for him to undertake), but apparently it was not so. He was so pleased with the "Exerciser," that he bought several more of them, and made presents of them to his friends.

Wikisource: Life and Letters, Chapter IX.

There's probably quite lot to be said about this device.

As you can see from the adverts, it assumes exercise is carried out in the home, and perhaps particularly by girls and women. (Presumably boys and men were much more likely to be exercising in gymnasiums, and of course playing team games — rugby, football, cricket and the like — in open-air settings such as Wandsworth Common).

There was something of a moral panic throughout the western world at this time about high rates of illness among women, high infant mortality, and low (and declining) birth rates (especially among the most affluent). Boys and men (particularly those brought up in city slums) were often found to be poorly developed physically.

In Britain, the problem came to the fore during the Boer War (1898-1902), when it proved hard to find a sufficient number of robust recruits for the Army — certainly many squaddies compared miserably with strapping Boer farmers.

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Girls and women were considered the best targets for intervention — hence (among other things) they were urged to learn to cook more nutritious food (John Buckmaster was an important early influence on the introduction of cookery and "domestic science" into schools), and to encourage exercise that would enhance the intergenerational health of their children.

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Since most of the adverts I've come across for Whitely (or Whiteley) Exercisers are from US newspapers, with a Chicago address, I assume they were imported. Were any manufactured in the UK?

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Charles Booth, Maps Descriptive of London Poverty, 1898-1903.

A visual evocation of poverty and wealth in close proximity around the Common at the time of the Boer War. Streets are coloured to indicate the income and social class of their inhabitants.

Compare, for example, Spencer Park (yellow — "Upper-middle and upper classes. Wealthy") with some of the densely-populated streets near Price's Candle Works (dark blue:"Very poor, casual. Chronic want" or black: "Lowest class. Vicious, semi-criminal").

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Charles Booth, Maps Descriptive of London Poverty, 1898-1903.

For the key to colours and info. about Booth's Inquiry into Life and Labour in London (1886-1903), visit Charles Booth's London.

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At the Old Bailey, cabman George Neal is jailed for the manslaughter of five-year-old Lottie Crump — Monday 12 March 1900.

Witnesses and police:

"[Neal] smelt strongly of drink . . .  he was drunk — he staggered, and smelt of drink, and his speech was thick . . .  he was the worse for drink  . .  the prisoner was drunk . . . "

The prisoner:

"said he was not drunk . . .  "

I have transcribed the full account of this dreadful case here.

Westminster Gazette — Monday 4 March 1901

A young child is killed when the "bassinette" (pram) in which he is being pushed slips from his mother's hands.


To-day Mr. A. Braxton Hicks* held an inquest at Wandsworth Town Hall touching the death of Allan Belcher, aged two, son of a solicitor's clerk.

The mother, who wept bitterly, said that on Thursday afternoon she was taking the deceased child for an airing in a bassinette on Wandsworth Common.

When near Heathfield-road the handle of the bassinette slipped from her hands in consequence of the very uneven and dangerous condition of the pathway along which she was going.

The vehicle fell over into the roadway, a distance of several feet, and the child was thrown out. At that moment a van belonging to Messrs. Singer and Co., of High-street, Wandsworth, came along, and one of the wheels went over the child's head, literally smashing it, death being instantaneous.

The jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death," exonerated the driver of the van from blame, but commented strongly on the dangerous condition of the footpath in question and others on Wandsworth Common.

The coroner said he should write to the London County Council pointing out the dangerous state footpaths in the hope that instant remedy would be applied.

"Mr A. Braxton Hicks" — this is not John Braxton Hicks, after whom uterine contractions not resulting in childbirth are named, but his son, the remarkable coroner Athelstan. I wrote about ABH in September 2022's Chronicles.

London Courier and Evening Gazette — Thursday 21 March 1839

Alias Wilkinson, Smith and Jones — a duel on Wandsworth Common interrupted:

"Wilkinson"? "Smith"? "Jones"? Hmm, a likely tale.

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Yesterday three young men, who gave their names James Wilkinson, Edward Jones, and William Smith, were charged at Union-hall with being concerned in a duel, which was to have taken place that morning, but which was prevented by the activity of the police.

John Webb, policeman, stated that between six and seven o'clock that morning he was on duty at Battersea, and observed a cabriolet, closely followed by coach, going at a quick rate in the direction of Wandsworth Common.

Having some reason to suppose that the parties in the vehicles were going to fight a duel, he followed at some distance until they stopped at Wandsworth Common.

Witness was at a considerable distance from the parties, that he might not be observed at this period; but he distinctly saw the three defendants alight from the coach, and also witnessed two other persons get out of the cab.

All the parties then proceeded some distance, over the common, and in very short time he heard the report of fire-arms, and saw smoke.

He ran towards the spot as fast as he was able, but before he got up all the persons who were on the ground fled to the spot where the vehicles were in waiting, into which they got and were driven off at a quick rate towards Clapham.

Witness, suspecting that the affair had not terminated, and that the parties still intended to carry their object into effect at some other place, followed for some distance to frustrate their design.

Finding, however, that he was outstripped in running the carriages, and suspecting that they would pull up at Clapham-common, he cut across the fields [!] and arrived at a part of the common where the principals were just taking their ground at the time.

Witness immediately rushed to the spot, and was not perceived until he was close upon the parties, and succeeded in taking the three into custody, one of whom, Wilkinson, had a duelling pistol in his hand at the time.

The other two persons, one of whom was a principal, made their escape by running off the common and jumping into the cabriolet, which drove off at quick rate towards town.

Francis Robinson, driver of a hackney coach, stated, that at five o'clock that morning he was engaged at Trafalgar-square stand by Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Jones, and drove them to Battersea-bridge, where the defendant (Smith) was waiting, and he got into the vehicle.

After waiting some time a cab made its appearance, and witness was directed to follow it up closely, and they proceeded over Battersea-bridge into Surrey.

The coach and cab stopped at the same time, and witness saw two gentlemen alight from the latter vehicle, one of whom had a bag with pistols in it. The defendants also alighted, and all the parties went across the common.

After a short time witness saw the defendant Wilkinson and his antagonist take their stand at some distance from each other, the latter of whom attempted to discharge his pistol at his adversary, but it missed fire, upon which Mr. Wilkinson discharged his pistol in the air.

A policeman having been seen approaching now, all the parties hastily left the ground and got into the respective vehicles, and witness was ordered to drive to Clapham-common, where the apprehension of the three gentlemen who were in the coach was effected; the others escaped.

Mr. Jeremy said that the evidence was sufficiently strong against all the defendants to make it necessary for him to call upon them to enter into sureties to keep the peace.

Mr. Wilkinson said that the principals had not fired at each other, and that the witnesses were mistaken with respect to that circumstance. It was true they might have heard a report, and saw smoke; but it arose from trying the pistols before the parties who were to use them took their ground.

Mr. Smith said that his principal motive for accompanying his two friends was for the purpose of endeavouring to effect an amicable arrangement between the contending parties, and preventing the necessity of having recourse to weapons.

The three defendants, having given a written undertaking that no further steps should be taken in the affair, and also having entered into heavy cognisances to keep the peace and be of good behaviour for twelve months, were then liberated.

[BNA: Link]

There is a curious sequel to all this. In April, the identities of the hapless and frustrated duellists were discovered. I'll pick the story up again next month!

London Evening Standard — Thursday 22 March 1888

In 1888, control of the Common was handed from locally elected representatives ("Conservators") to the massive (and widely-despised) Metropolitan Board of Works.

It had been a bitter struggle. In this letter Edwin Ransome, long-time campaigner for the Common (and chair of the Conservators), defended the record of the last sixteen years. It tells us a lot about the state of the Common in the years after the passing of the Wandsworth Common Act 1871 — and how burdensome having to pay Earl Spencer £250 a year (in perpetuity) for selling to the people of Battersea and Wandsworth a Common he had never in fact owned:

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Without entering at large into the controversy in your columns with regard to Wandsworth-common, I think it only just to my late colleagues on the Board of Conservators of Wandsworth-common to state emphatically that, whilst that Common was under their control — viz., from 1871 to 1887 — no single rood of Common land was alienated from public use.

Nay, more.

Owing to the strong personal interest inseparable from local control, many acres apparently lost before the passing of the Preserving Act of 1871 were restored to public use and enjoyment, and although the income available for the Common was limited to a halfpenny rate, out of which two hundred and fifty pounds a year had to be paid to the Lord of the Manor, besides wages for keepers and labourers, yet, with such small means at their command, the Conservators opposed and prevented divers attempted encroachments, converted some half-dozen or more obsolete ragged gravel pits into grassy slopes, filled up a number of stagnant ponds, constructed some ten or a dozen good footpaths, planted and guarded upwards of eight hundred young trees, provided some dozens of new seats, besides filling up, levelling, and draining a host of ugly, uneven holes and ditches, and in other ways carrying out improvements, which they would have continued to do to the present day, if the Common had not been transferred to other hands.

Moreover, they instituted legal proceedings against the authorities of the Royal Patriotic Asylum, to restrain their tenants' destructive use of a portion of the Common as a road for heavy traffic.

* This matter was still in progress when the Common was last year alienated from the two parishes in which it is situated.

Thus, the local Conservators, when they were extinguished last year, were able to hand over to the Metropolitan Board of Works a larger Common, and in far better conditions than existed when steps were first taken in 1870 towards securing it for public use in perpetuity.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,


late Chairman of the Wandsworth-common Conservators.

Saint Anne's Park, Wandsworth-common, March 20.

[BNA: Link]

[* "their tenants' destructive use of a portion of the Common as a road for heavy traffic" — these were the Neal family (see elsewhere on this page).]

[I wrote a little more about this remarkable man in June's Chronicles last year. He deserves a proper biography.]

[See also 1875-03-13-WC-conservators-improvements-SouthLondonPress-13mar1875-1024px.jpg]

"A meeting at Spring Gardens," The Graphic, 1 May 1888

The London County Council took over from the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1889, with vastly increased responsibilities for the governance of London (including control of the Commons), but for many years remained in the same (tiny) building near Trafalgar Square.

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Norwood News — Saturday 16 March 1912

Appeal to buy back the Extension . . . 

The "Extension" is the 20-acre area of the old Patriotic School grounds that had for many years been rented to the Neal family as a "farm" — now the invaluable enclosure that includes the Cricket Field, Tennis Courts, Bowling Green, and the Skylark Cafe.

For many years local people had argued that this land, if not needed for its original charitable purpose, should be returned (free) to the Common. They feared that if its owners (the Patriotic Fund Commissioners) had their way, it would soon be built over.



A public meeting was held at the Wandsworth Town Hall on Friday evening of [?] week under the auspices of the committee inaugurated to raise a sum of £12,000 for the extension of Wandsworth Common by the purchase of the Royal Patriotic Corporation lands, some 20 acres in extent and known as "The Farm," Wandsworth Common.

[As we saw in June 2022's Chronicles] In 1912, cricket fan Sir Edward Davis Stern, brother of Lord Wandsworth (Sydney Stern), pledged to make up any shortfall in money collected.]

Three maps showing the history of the Extension


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"The pride of the County Council is to destroy and to level . . .  "

The public campaign to buy the Extension was successful and the area eventually reintegrated with the Common. After a six-year interruption caused by WWI (when the Extension had been used by the military to house the 3rd London General Hospital), from 1920 the LCC worked hard to improve it.

But not everyone appreciated their efforts since the extra land was entirely dedicated to sport (mainly cricket, but also tennis and bowls), hence largely the preserve of the young (i.e. mostly young men). In spite of protests from some older people, all "natural beauty" was annihilated and no ornamental gardens were created to take its place.

South Western Star — Friday 26 March 1920

Nothing short of a ratepayers' strike will stop the orgy of destruction in which successive Councils have been indulging for many years.

At Spring Gardens * there is a fixed idea that every vestige of natural beauty is wrong and demoralising, and that therefore the common must be hacked and levelled to a prim uniformity.

The peculiar charm of open country is its diversity, its gentle slopes and verdant hollows, the play of light and the stateliness of well-grown trees, the picturesqueness of furze clump and bramble bush.

The pride of the County Council is to destroy and to level. Wandsworth Common has suffered terribly and will continue to suffer with Clapham Common until both places are dusty areas sparsely strewn with struggling blades of grass.

In this district the council's greatest achievement is the reduction of the once smiling orchard of "The Farm", Wandsworth Common, to a well-rolled cricket pitch.

Norwood News — Tuesday 31 March 1925

Open-air dancing, a bandstand, quoits and croquet on the Common — the Extension is finally "thrown open to the public".

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The L.C.C. has allocated space for the coming season of summer pastimes at Wandsworth Common. It has been decided to retain the former site for the open air dancing, and the band performances on Sundays will be given on the same site. No additional facilities will be provided for tennis.

The twenty-acre extension which formerly belonged to the Royal Patriotic Corporation and which was purchased by local authorities for £12,000 will be thrown open to the public. Though heavy games will not be allowed owing to the nature of the soil, light games will be permissible. The expenditure for laying out the land has amounted to more than £3,000.

An improved and enlarged quoits pitch will be available, and a croquet court will be provided in the vicinity of Bolingbroke Grove.


The moving bandstand

In 1913, there was a bandstand close to the Three-Island Pond near Bolingbroke Grove, but I'm pretty sure it had moved by 1925 to the other side of the railway — to the small triangle near the Cafe on which the children's playground now stands.

OS 1913, showing the location of a bandstand near the Three-Island Pond by Bolingbroke Grove.

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Geographia, early 1930s, showing a new bandstand near the cafe.

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However, a number of older local residents recall in the 1950s there was a different bandstand near the passage from the corner of Routh and Baskerville Roads. I wish I could remember it, but I can't.

Shakespeare on the Common in 1951 — who would have thought that plays were once performed here? But where was the bandstand?

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IRA bomb on the track near the Cat's Back Bridge — 10 March 1992

16 December 1991 — Railway line near Clapham Junction Bomb exploded on the railway line. No injuries.

10 March 1992 — Near Wandsworth Common Railway Station, London SW18 Small device exploded beside railway line. No injuries.

[Hansard: Terrorist incidents on the British mainland, 1980—1996.

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News Report: Bomb at Wandsworth Common station

News report; Interview; Vox pop

10 Mar 1992

Nicky Broyd reports on a bomb going off at Wandsworth Common British Rail station just 11 days after an IRA bomb exploded at London Bridge station. A coded warning was phoned through to Westminster Hospital. With comment from eyewitnesses Andrew Thompson (?); Brian Orderman(?) and Mavis Burke; comment from Network South-East Divisional Director Chris Iago(?).

LBC/IRN, "Bomb at Wandsworth Common station" (accessed 07 Feb 2023)

Duration: 00:01:49

A recollection from local resident Charles Walton (13 February 2023):

I used to run on the Common every morning before work and my circuit would take me close to the Cat's Back bridge. But on that day I didn't go!

But around that time I had a number of close encounters with IRA bombs, including having my office blown up in the Baltic Exchange bombing around the same time as the Wandsworth Common bomb.

From 1974-83 I was a Met Police Special Constable and I spent quite a few interesting and amusing hours searching peoples' cars and garages in the hope of finding any IRA arms or explosives.

Thanks, Charles!

Cycling, 27 March 1913.

The energetic local cyclist "Olive Elliott" expresses her enthusiasm for "Constrictor" bicycle tyres. (Yet another example of a Wandsworth woman's apparently unsolicited endorsement in an advert.)

"I feel I must inform you of the satisfaction I have received from using "Constrictor" tyres . . .  the ideal tyre for ladies' use. Olive Elliott, 24 Bucharest Road, Wandsworth Common"

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24 Bucharest Road, Wandsworth Common

Dear Sir, — I feel I must inform you of the satisfaction I have received from using "Constrictor" tyres.

When first advised to try them I was rather doubtful about it, but use has simply proved them to be superior to all others I have tried. The lightness gained by using tubulars, and their extraordinary resiliency, together with the ease which which they can be repaired, make them an ideal tyre for ladies' use, and I am convinced that if other girls could be persuaded to try them they would find them cycling very much easier, and to be able to cover longer distances with less fatigue.

I am sure that these tyres made a material improvement in my riding, and greatly increased my pace which, on ordinary tyres, really exceeded 10 mph. I can easily do 15 and occasionally more on "Constrictors". As I am anxious in the coming year to improve on my previous mileages, I should be pleased if you will send me a pair of your Century tubulars with silk fabric and skin and rubber sides. My present tyres are 26 × 1 3/8, but I think I could do better with 26 × 1 1/4 if the same rims will suit.

I enclose price of tyres — £2.14.6.

In bringing my mileage chart for 1912 up to date I find that, since April last, I have covered 6000 miles on "Constrictor" No.3 tubulars. I have only had one puncture — this was caused by running into a hedge. In future I shall have both my machines fitted with "Constrictors". Thank you in anticipation. I am, yours faithfully,


[BNA: Link.]

[Is Olive Elliott for real? The specificity of the address implies she might be. I have found a number of Olive Elliots living in Wandsworth in the twentieth century, but not on Bucharest Road in 1911.]

Coming soon . . . 

Beating the Bounds — John Buckmaster et al's perambulation of Battersea Parish, 29 May 1862.

With luck, the text of the 1862 perambulation, with my commentary, will be available shortly.

"Beating the Bounds in Battersea" — I've outlined the walk on a copy of Stanford's 6-inch Library map of 1862.

Notice the walk proceeds clockwise, in customary fashion, beginning and ending near the parish church of St Mary's.

There were number of railway lines to cross (e.g. between 3 and 4, 5 and 6, and 10 and 11), but these lines were at the time no great impediment — people just walked across. Tracks were not electrified, of course, and the steam trains of the day announced their presence loudly.

The entire circumnavigation of Battersea took about eight hours.

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Before detailed maps and official boundary markers, this was the way people down the generations knew exactly where the parish boundaries and footpaths were situated — the boys beat the boundary features with their wands, or in many cases were themselves beaten or bumped (and sometimes held upside down and shaken vigorously) at every significant point.

I'm introducing this a couple of months in advance in case anybody wants to organise a walk (all or part of it) either on the same date (29 May), or on this year's Ascension Day (Thursday May 13) — or even some other day entirely!

A group "beating the bounds" on Whitehawk Hill, near Brighton [n.d.]. Notice the "white wands" (sticks fashioned from willow or birch whose bark has been stripped away). I found this photograph in an online article about a campaign in 2018 to "Save Whitehawk Hill Our Ancient Common".

"Whitehawk Hill is threatened by the building of five high rise blocks which will smash the Local Nature Reserve in two. We will be walking the boundaries of our Common, passing its many boundary stones and marks, in defence of our common."

(Click on image to enlarge)

By this time, the once almost universal tradition of "beating the bounds" had almost died out, perhaps because printed maps had become widely available that would determine the exact boundaries of a parish. So was this event in Battersea merely quaintly "antiquarian" in intention? Perhaps. But I wouldn't be a bit surprised if John Buckmaster revived the custom to remind local people of the need for perpetual vigilance in matters of encroachment. As the Whitehorse demonstrators observe:

"beating the bounds is just as important to us today. It reminds us that we have a common with a boundary to be guarded, and in the process also reminds us how much we have to celebrate and enjoy in the richness of our shared wild space.

On 17 March 2023 Sean Creighton sent this very interesting account of future Battersea MP John Burns "beating the bounds" as a schoolboy:

Battersea's civic leaders were conscious of the need to protect the parish boundaries, especially from encroachments from neighbouring parishes.

Every year there was a ceremony "Beat the Bounds" going round the boundaries. John Burns was a member of a group of school children who accompanied one of these 'Beatings'.

As well as a trip along the Thames in rowing boats, they were driven in carriages and brakes to other parts, including Wix's Lane where the boundary line 'intersected a garden and the pass [?] of the house at the corner of Wix's Lane and North Side.'

The parish beadle 'glorious in green coat, gold lace, and cocked hat, pompous in manner, strident in his patronage of lesser folk', ordered them 'to climb the wall and beat the bounds, my lads, as the law and the vestry directs."

After being chased around the garden by the house maids, the children tapped the boundary walls and passage of the house with their willow wands.

The group then went to Crystal Palace and other parts of Penge which were part of the parish until 1900.

[John Burns. "Foreword to E. A. Woolmer, The Story of Battersea (Sampson Low, Marston & Co. 1924), pp.iii-v, quoted in Sean Creighton, Battersea in the 1870s and 1880s (2020, pdf). Sean's terrific essay can be downloaded from his website, History and Social Action.]

Thanks, Sean! Any idea when this might have been? Can we assume that since John Burns was born in 1858 (in Grant Road, Battersea), attended a National School locally until age ten, then had a variety of jobs in the area until was fourteen, he is most likely to have beaten the bounds in the mid- to late-1860s or early 1870s? Interesting that by this time the school children were given rides in rowing boats, carriages and brakes — unlike John Buckmaster's "beaters", they didn't have to walk the whole way!

For a useful introduction to his life, work and significance see Wikipedia: John Burns.

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