The History of Wandsworth Common

Some matters arising from May 2023's Chronicles . . . 

(Click on image to see May's Chrnicles)

Thanks, everyone, for your kind comments, queries, and further info.

After writing about Leonora Green's fabulous painting of the crossroads of Battersea Rise, Northcote Road and St John's Hill, I came across a video of flooding at this very spot — to be expected, of course, because the sewer pipe that carries the Falconbrook runs just a few feet beneath, and St John's Road was once a chain of ponds. Perhaps it's only a matter of time and it will be so again?

Tweet by David Savizon, 26 July 2021, as seen in Cyril Richert's admirable Clapham Junction Action Group blog. CR comments, "With climate change, are we taking enough notice of flooding zones?" Definitely worth subscribing to Clapham Junction Insider.
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Leonora Kathleen Green (1901-1966), Crossroads from my window, 1932.

(Wandsworth Borough Collection, courtesy of Wandsworth Council)

More on the adverts . . . 

I had identified a couple of the adverts on the hoarding (right) — Combe's Brown Ale and Ediswan electric lamps — but couldn't quite make out the other two. I asked for suggestions . . . 

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Hoardings on the side of a house in Northcote Road — adverts for Ediswan light bulbs and Combes Brown Ale.

Speedy Jason Hazeley was the first — the poster top right was for Guinness: "Life seems brighter after Guinness". But there were others who knew their 1930s Guinness adverts including Barbara Sanders, Fred Pearce, Stephen Midlane and my daughter, Rebekah. Cheers to you all.

"So close, yet nowhere near", wrote Jason about this version of the Guinness ad. He also suggested that the poster bottom right is for "Veritas Mantles and Burners". But no images have yet to come to light.

I was also curious about the "Buy DU . . . " at the back of the bus. Here's a view of the rear of a similar bus — notice the curving external stairs to the upper deck, with a "Buy Dunlop" advert, as in the Leonora Green painting.

"Buy Dunlop", Punch, 1 March 1933.
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David Ainsworth recalled photographing the curious chimney in the 1970s (he donated the image to the Heritage Library):

The very odd zig-zag chimney, now removed, that David Ainsworth photographed.
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"Thanks for the article on the Battersea Rise painting. About 1974 I took a photo of the crooked chimney behind the Whitbread's pub, which I eventually gave to Wandsworth Heritage. It intrigued me (as to why that shape — function or decoration?), plus I may have had a new telephoto lens, or just a new pocket Rollei camera. The chimney was later removed (sigh).

I asked David for some more info. about this image:

"Regarding the photo, I have no copy now (I should have the negative, but know not where — loft probably). I hope that it is findable in Heritage's photos — I'm sure that I noticed it in the illustrations cabinets, when I worked there. I would think that it can only be under Northcote Road or Battersea Rise — unless it is under "Chimneys" (can't remember Dewey number for chimneys). It is not a great photo — just a note really. I guess the chimney shape was just a decorative flourish for the pub.

It would be good to find his photograph.

Shortly after sending out last May's Chronicles I followed up with a (rather long) piece on John Buckmaster et al's perambulation of Battersea Parish in 1862: Beating the Bounds, 1862.

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Stephen Midlane sent some superb photographs he had taken of Battersea boundary markers from Wix's Lane (at the top of Clapham Common) to Nightingale Lane. I hope to post these properly soon; but in the meanwhile, here are two:

Boundary posts on Clapham Common. Photographs by Stephen Midlane — for which many thanks.
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Definitely a case for some TLC.

Slaughter on Bellevue Road . . . 

I've mentioned abattoirs on Bellevue a couple of times in recent months. Stephen, who has been working on the soon-to-be-premiered video of reminiscences of local people, emailed to say that two interviewees had mentioned them:

Michael Taylor [born 1940]:

[Mr Miller] was a butcher in what is now (pause)  . . .  Chez Bruce restaurant and at the back in the little alleyway that goes round there he had a slaughterhouse which I don't remember him using but he did have grazing rights for sheep on Wandsworth Common, and when people started arguing he didn't, he borrowed some sheep and kept them up there for one night, on Wandsworth Common.

It was about six sheep he had. And being a schoolchild I went to look at these sheep. [laughs]"

[What an interesting story. Strictly, the 1871 Wandsworth Common Act put an end to all "grazing rights", including presumably those previously enjoyed by the Millers and the Roughs. However, at least for a while, ratepayers could pay to graze their animals. Here is the tariff published in June 1872.]

Dora Littlechild [born 1928]:

"I remember that the butcher used to graze their sheep on the common and they were killed there in Wiseton Road and chopped up in the abattoir there."

As Norma Barwis recalled, in the 1950s there were at least three butchers (in the sense of sellers of meat) on Bellevue; and there was at least one other just round the corner in Trinity Road. She wonders whether some sheep were penned on the Common to recover from the stress of being brought to London to be butchered.

The animals may well have been butchered on the premises, but were they actually slaughtered there too? It is generally supposed that they were, but I've never been so sure.

[The Survey of London: Battersea (two amazing volumes, 49 and 50, 2013) refers to an abattoir on Althorp Road but does not say where. I have yet to find any evidence for this (unless they meant Wiseton Road).

Until now I've been rather sceptical about these abattoirs. (See, for example, George Miller's attempt in the early 1880s to site an abattoir at 16 Bellevue Road, and Charles Newbury's proposed slaughterhouse for Wiseton Road, approved by the Metropolitan Board of Works in August 1879 (provided "that a trellis-work screen, of a height of at least three feet, be constructed and placed on the top of the whole of the boundary-wall in Wiseton-road").]

I had assumed that all would-be abattoir-builders had ultimately been denied planning permission. After all, as early as 1872 the MBW Committee "had before them a Memorial from some of the inhabitants of Wiseton-road, protesting against the Slaughterhouse within a few yards of their residences." Surely their voices were heard? Surely the addition of a mere trellis along the wall would not have satisfied local residents?

I was wrong. (Well, partly wrong.)

The slaughterhouse on the corner of Bellevue and Wiseton Road

Here is an advert from 1906, which implies there definitely was a slaughterhouse near the corner of Wiseton Road and Bellevue — where Sainsbury's is today. This would seem to be the one Dora recalls. (Though some sources say it closed in 1915, well before she was born.)

Notice also the reference to a terrace of three houses on Wiseton Road, probably partly concealing the slaughter-house.

Daily News — Saturday 16 June 1906

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WANDSWORTH COMMON (facing the Commmon)

Three Freehold Houses and Shops, Slaughterhouse, and Stabling. 27, 28 and 29 Bellevue road, Trinity Road, let partly on lease, producing £160 per annum.


2, 4, and 6 Wiseton-road. Bellevue-road, producing £92 per annum.

[BNA: Link.]

Bellevue Road and the area nearby on a mid-1890s OS map. The green line is the (then-) boundary between Battersea and Wandsworth, which appears to have gone through 23 Bellevue ("The White Lodge").
Att that time the two boroughs had different policies towards private slaughterhouses. Significantly, Wandsworth was more permissive.
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But however many private slaughterhouses there were, it was only a matter of time before they would disappear altogether.

From 1828 until 1899, the slaughterhouse reform movement campaigned vigorously to abolish private slaughterhouses in London in favour of public abattoirs. Private slaughterhouses were typically small facilities that were owned and operated by independent butchers and located behind or beneath a retail meat shop. Public abattoirs were large municipally owned facilities that included a slaughter hall, a lairage to house animals prior to slaughter, facilities for processing livestock by-products and, by the turn of the century, refrigerated storage for fresh meat.

[Ian Maclachlan, "A bloody offal nuisance: the persistence of private slaughterhouses in nineteenth-century London", Urban History, 34, 2 (2007).]

"In February 1882, Dunedin sailed from Port Chalmers New Zealand with 4,331 mutton, 598 lamb and 22 pig carcasses, 246 kegs of butter, and hare, pheasant, turkey, chicken and 2,226 sheep tongues and arrived in London after sailing 98 days with its cargo still frozen. After meeting all costs, the NZALC company made a £4,700 profit from the voyage." (Wikipedia: Reefer Ship).
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There may even have been a significant difference between the top of Bellevue (which is/was in Wandsworth), and the bottom (Battersea). Battersea prided itself on having very few private slaughterhouses, with the intention to speedily get rid of them altogether; Wandsworth seems to have been more indulgent (after all, much of the Wandle was lined with any number of "offensive trades"). That may be why the Wiseton Road/Bellevue slaughterhouse persisted well into the twentieth century.

Offensive trades between Garratt lane and the Wandle, Medical Officer of Health's Report, 1907 [Wellcome . . .  ]
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In 1904 Battersea Council reported there were only seven premises in the whole of their jurisdiction that were licensed as slaughterhouses. The Medical Officer of Health's Report listed two each on St John's Hill, York Road, and Battersea Park Road, and one on Falcon Road.

In short, this implies that animals could not have been slaughtered in the Millers' butchers shop next to the Hope pub during most of the twentieth century.

What happened to the slaughterhouse site?

When the slaughterhouse on the corner of Wiseton and Bellevue was closed, the part of the site facing Bellevue was eventually redeveloped as a Westminster bank (rebranded "NatWest" at the end of the 1960s).

But when? Some sources say 1915, but although this might be true of the slaughterhouse the new bank building itself looks c.1930 though I could be wrong). Or did the slaughterhouse continue, er, slaughtering behind the bank? The terrace of three houses on Wiseton Road (2.4.6) continued to be inhabited. And, as we shall see, some of the slaughterhouse building and stables may have been repurposed.

Have a look round for yourself: Google Streetview — The corner of Bellevue and Wiseton Road.

Sainsbury's Local on the corner of Wiseton and Bellevue Roads. The building looks like a bank, because that's what it once was. The bank was built on the site of a slaughterhouse.

When the bank closed, a succession of restaurants took over (including Est Est Est and Piccolino), one of which [which? Can anyone remember?] added the impressive glass structure on the side that gave diners a wonderful view over the Common (now largely obscured by a old-map-frieze of Bellevue over the lower third of the windows).

One of the restaurants (Est est Est? Piccolino?) that inhabited the bank building before Sainsbury's arrived. This photo suggests just how impressive the glass box was.
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I recall that everyone was amazed by the innovative use of immense seamless glass panels to create an external conservatory projecting forward from the window arches of the old exterior walls. (This remains there today in the Sainsbury incarnation, but with nothing like the same visual impact. This is largely because the bottom metre or so of glass is now covered by an old map of part of Bellevue.)

The glassed-in area created a fine area for diners to see out over Bellevue and the Common, and for outsiders to see in. As a result, when it opened [date?] you had to book weeks in advance (yes, really) to get a table in the window.

Sadly, the company made the mistake of handing out wax crayons, which meant the rather fine stone surfaces, so recently cleaned, were soon covered in a thick waxy murky scrawl up to the height of about 2 metres. I was told that this layer proved incredibly difficult even for specialist cleaners to deal with.

To the left of the building fronting on Wiseton Road is an easily overlooked but rather grand doorway (presumably leading to the flats above?). The name "Bank House" recalls its origins as a Westminster Bank (rebranded NatWest in the late 1960s). (Photo: PB.)
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So when did the slaughter-house close? When was the bank built? I have a record of the Westminster Bank there in 1935, but it could be older than that (some sources say 1915, which I rather doubt). Bellevue Parade (opposite), which is in a fairly similar style, was built 1928-29. More research is needed.

Here is the building immediately next door to Sainsbury's. I won't write about this modernist development now (mainly because I know nothing whatsoever about it), but I've included this photo because it's clearly part of the history of the re-development of the old slaughter-house site:

30B Bellevue (although it is situated entirely on Wiseton Road). Photographed in 2022 (Google Streetview).
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Let's look at what has happened to 2, 4, 6 Wiseton Road.

Let's go back in time, with a series of photographs:

June 2023. Notice the new upper floor. (Photos: PB.)
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The same houses last year (2022):

2021. (Photo: Google Streetview.)

And 2009:

By 2009, nos. 2 and 4 had already been been combined. I wonder when, and how the windows and doors were originally configured. (Photo: Google Streetview.)
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Now back to 2023 . . . 

What could this be in the garden at the rear of 2 Wiseton Road?

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Surely it can't be the slaughterhouse, can it?

Any idea what whose initials these are? Or indeed what the initials are — WCF? WGF?
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6 June 2023 — Jason Hazeley ruminated on this and related questions:

I’ve been thinking about that cartouche on the wall of the (very oddly shaped) outbuilding at 2 Wiseton Road . . . 

I think it reads (left to right) WCF.

If I’m right, the W is one with a loop in the middle – not unlike in Walt Disney’s signature. It’s possible I’m wrong, and that the C is a G, although I tend to think it’s a C with a small uptick serif on its terminal.

I started to wonder what WCF might stand for. And immediately alighted upon The Worshipful Company of . . .  Farriers? Fletchers? Farmers? Fishmongers? Well, all of them (like any livery company) has its own coat of arms, so the idea that a simple cartouche with the initials on it would take its place is rather fanciful.

And then, of course, I bumped head first into the notion that WC could stand for Wandsworth Common. And felt rather stupid.

A cartouche like that would, I think, be something a small commercial outfit might commission. (Although why it would adorn a slaughterhouse is anyone’s guess.)

Unless the history of the place is documented, it might be worth thinking about the way the building is designed. That window suggests it needed lots of light. And it suggests that the place was, at least in part, double height (i.e. one storey in a two-storey space).

I don’t know anything about the anatomy of a slaughterhouse, but I imagine it needed fairly substantial rails to hang carcasses from so they could be rendered. Could that account for its height?

This is almost entirely speculation, of course. And I’m no historian. But I know you don’t get anywhere without thinking this stuff out.

[PB: I completely agree about the shape/size/structure of the building in the yard — it certainly looks right for a slaughterhouse in which potentially very large animals had to be suspended to be bled/slaughtered/butchered etc. And a little more light than usual would certainly have been helpful for people armed with great meat cleavers.

A slaughterhouse scene by Lovis Corinth, painted c.1905. The scene depicted is in Germany, but I imagine practices in small private abattoirs were similar throughout western Europe at this time.
(The USA had already largely gone over to slaughtering animals on an industrial scale — see e.g. Upton Sinclair's cite>The Jungle (1906).)
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As for the initials, I've assumed the large "C" might be the first owner's surname?

I've looked in the 1891 Census, but the butcher's name was William White. (Of course he might have been the manager, rather than the owner/builder/proprietor. Or the original owner may have sold up by 1891.)

A propos your interesting suggestion about the Worshipful Company of Farriers, in the 1891 Census no. 2 Wiseton was indeed a farrier (no. 4 was a carpenter, and no. 6 a County Court Clerk).

Of course this could just be chance. But it does rise the question whether this particular structure might have been a farrier's workshop. (I must declare an interest: my paternal grandfather was, for much of his life, a farrier, including during WWI.)

Farriers with bellows and furnace. Notice the arched window, as in the Wiseton structure. Complete chance? (I have no further info. about this painting, but I'm looking for some.)
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One among many curious things is that the building plots on Wiseton and adjacent streets — they were laid out in the 1860s — the narrowest width possible to qualify owners for a vote — 16 feet. Some builders/developers bought two or more adjacent plots and built larger houses, but 2, 4, 6 appear to have been simple 16-footers. (See the Survey of London: Battersea, chapter on "The Deep South".)

Aerial view of the (possible) slaughterhouse in 2020.
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And today . . . 

No. 2 Wiseton Road is currently (June 2023) on the market for £6.25 million with a number of estate agents, including Savills, Hamptons, and Rampton Baseley (which describes it as "Wiseton House").

Each agent is distributing an illustrated sale brochure (pdf) of great interest. Check their websites.

There's also an interesting speeded-up video walk around the house at London Property Tours, with the promise of a "full commentated walkthrough . . .  coming soon". I very much look forward to it.

I was intending to continue this page with a discussion of "cow-houses" on Wiseton Road, but I thought better of it. That will have to wait. I hope you can bear the suspense . . . 

June 2023's Chronicles [coming soon]

Send me an email if you enjoyed this post, or want to comment on something you've seen or read on the site, or would like to know more — or just want to be kept in touch.

Philip Boys ("HistoryBoys")