The History of Wandsworth Common

If you're looking for JUNE's Chronicles, they're HERE . . . 


May 2024

Two for the price of one!

— The Royal Victoria Patriotic Building and post-war education . . .  [this page]

— What we were watching at the Granada Cinema, Clapham Junction in 1949 [opens another page]

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As you may have seen last month, 2024 is my 75th anniversary year, and I'm still time-travelling around this marvellous aerial image:

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Here's more or less the same view today:

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1949, mid-century, looked backwards and forwards. April's Chronicles mainly related to the recent past (though not of course the item about local vicar Chad Varah and Dan Dare). Most involved the destruction caused by the war, though I counted my own parents' marriage and my birth as quite constructive. But now I'd like to mention a few more future-oriented projects on and around the Common.

Growing up round here in the 1950s (particularly if you were a boy) meant you were almost certainly taught by men who had not been to university or teacher-training college in the normal way — most had spent years in the armed forces and then speedily retrained after they were demobbed.

I was reminded of this when by chance I came across fragments of a photograph of the "Wandsworth Training College, 1949—1950", which was plainly taken in the grounds of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum/School/Building (which I'll call from now on the Patriotic).

I pieced these together, and tweaked the resulting image for clarity. Perhaps you can recognise a relative, a friend, or an old teacher?

Wandsworth Training College, 1949-1950 — an overwhelmingly (entirely?) male institution offering a crash course to more than 350 recently demobbed military men. They don't look much like today's student teachers, do they?

[Eventually I'll take a photo of the view today — for some reason, Google Streetview doesn't include the housing estate, so I couldn't do a screengrab.]

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The baby-boom of the late 1940s and early 1950s (to which I was making my own small contribution), plus the raising of the school leaving age from 14 to 15, demanded a huge increase in the number of teachers, and many more new schools. Desperate times, desperate measures.

Special crash courses were set up to recruit ex-service personnel (and others) into teaching. Fifty-five new temporary centres, were set up, one of which was the Patriotic, built 1857—1859.

Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum Wandsworth, facade, Wellcome Collection.

By the way, this is an artist's impression of the building made before completion — for example, a clock has been depicted where a statue of St George slaying a Dragon now stands in a niche.

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The Patriotic, permanent as it looks, has proved extraordinarily versatile. Built for the orphaned daughters of military men who had died in the Crimean War of the mid-1850s, it was requisitioned during WWI for use as the 3rd London General Hospital, after which it returned to service as an orphanage. A year or two earlier a substantial area of its grounds had been sold to the LCC and this was re-purposed post-war to accommodate the Cricket Pitches, Bowling Green, Tennis Courts and Cafe.

In WWII the girls were turfed out once again (they were evacuated to Wales) and the Patriotic became the London Reception Centre (January 1941 to May 1945). More than 30,000 "alien refugees and escapers" arriving from occupied Europe were interrogated here with the aim of spotting potential spies (for and against), and gathering intelligence. (It has often been alleged that torture was carried out here, but we'll leave that question for another time.)

In September 1966, boys from Spencer Park School (see below) put on a Son et Lumiere (with Dame Sybil Thorndyke, no less, as the voice of Queen Victoria). Two pages from the programme, including part of a chronology.

Tiered seating was erected on the grass in front of the building. It must have been a terrific success, lasting two weeks.

I wonder if anybody has a copy of the audio, or any photographs? And wouldn't it be wonderful to do it again! (Images supplied by Cathy Rowntree.)

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By 1949, everything had been transformed yet again, and the Wandsworth Training College was opened.

Jenny Keating summarises:

An emergency scheme was devised, aimed particularly at ex-services people. They would not have to have specific academic qualifications but the selection process would be rigorous. The training would be concentrated into one year and there would be a two year probationary period.

The initial scheme, in Dec 1944, was on a limited scale and with limited eligibility but it attracted many applicants. In June 1945 the scheme was opened to all men and women who had served at least a year in HM Forces or in a war industry and applicants poured in — 5000 a month by December 1945.

This resulted in the problem of finding college places for them all but eventually, by Dec 1947, fifty-five new temporary colleges had opened, in a varied assortment of buildings — country houses, hotels and boarding houses, hospitals etc — offering nearly 13,500 places.

Students ranged from 21 to over 50 and came from a wide range of civilian occupations although clerical workers predominated. Over three quarters had some secondary or technical education and about half had School Certificate or higher qualifications. Training staff came from all branches of teaching, but mainly secondary schools. There was enormous enthusiasm and keenness to get on in the early years of the scheme, although many students had problems settling in to systematic study and working on their own.

Gradually the emergency colleges were transferred into permanent ones and by August 1951 the last one closed. Dent concludes that:

For many years teachers and administrators debated the value of the Emergency Scheme. What is certain is that it produced about 35,000 Qualified Teachers, and this made practicable the raising of the school leaving age in 1947. (By 1951 one in six of the teachers in maintained schools was emergency-trained.) Many of them proved above-average teachers, and more than a few first-class. On the other hand, there was possibly a higher proportion of weak teachers than among those produced by permanent training colleges.

[Jenny Keating, "Teacher training — up to the 1960s", 2010. This paper was produced as part of the wide-ranging History in Education Project, based in the Institute for Historical Research. Numerous background papers, and a substantial oral history archive, are freely available. Well worth following up.]

Cathy Rowntree (25 March 2024):

What an amazing picture! I never imagined that so many were being trained there. I'm not aware of any of teachers that might have gone on to work at local schools, but when I was at Shaftesbury Park (Holden Street School) on the Shaftesbury Estate, 1971-9, the Headmaster, Eddie Holgate, was one of those who had been "emergency trained" and it was annoying to me that such teachers only had to do two years at college, whereas we had to do three.

I think a lot of them were ex-army or navy officers & therefore considered to have had some training, but were now out of work after the war. More teachers were needed because the school leaving age was raised from 14 to 15. Mr Holgate was ex-RAF & had the moustache to go with it.

Hugh Betterton (13 May 2024):

When I started teaching at Kennington School in early 1970s, two or three teachers there had been "emergency trained" in 1945/6. This was a 6-month course usually for ex-physical training instructors (PTIs) from the Forces. One man proudly claimed that he didn't need any "training" as you just told the pupils what to do and they did it . . .  Ah, enlightened times!

The Wandsworth Training College closed fairly soon after the impressive group photograph was taken. So what happened next?

The LCC acquires the Patriotic and builds the Fitzhugh Estate

By 1952 (and possibly earlier) the London County Council (LCC) bought the Patriotic and its substantial grounds and immediately set about building the Fitzhugh Estate (1953—1955 [?]). With its five eleven-storey "point" blocks artfully set in "the serene greenery of Wandsworth Common" (as the Layers of London website puts it), it had quite an impact. Never having seen anything higher, we always called these blocks "skyscrapers". Wandsworth Common had been precipitated into The Future.

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And what about the massive Patriotic, now almost (but not quite) dwarfed by the new Fitzhugh Estate?

Honeywell Secondary School (1951? — 1957/8)

For the next few years the Patriotic became Honeywell Secondary School, which (unusually for the time) was mixed.

[Most of the new schools subsequently constructed in the early 1950s in Wandsworth and Battersea were single-sex. So why was Honeywell Secondary mixed, and most of its successor schools single-sex? Whatever the reasoning, as a result single schools are still the norm among state secondary (though no longer of junior) schools in Wandsworth.]

The school has left only the faintest of traces that I can find, so please let me know if you have anything you can add — for example I have only seen images of girls at the Honeywell Secondary School — does anybody have any of boys? How did they all fare?.

Here's practically all I have found (with the invaluable help of Cathy Rowntree, Archivist of Honeywell, Clapham County and Walsingham Schools):

"Miss Faulkner's Art Class", Honeywell Secondary School, and girls photographed around the Patriotic buildings. (Page from Cathy Rowntree's photo-archive.)

Cathy Rowntree writes (13 May 2024):

"The pictures of the girls' art classes in 1958 were sent to me by Mrs Anne Oree nee Faulkner, when I was researching the Honeywell Centenary in 1991. She was the art teacher and also took a party of about 30 girls on a school journey by coach to France & Italy in April 1958 with other staff."

The RVPB Chapel, as used by the girls and boys of Honeywell Secondary School, c.1952. Notice the organ / organ loft at the end.

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The RVPB Hall, as used by Honeywell Secondary School, c.1952

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[Incidentally, you may recall the hall as it appeared in George Coates's painting of the 3rd London General Hospital, c.1915.]

George Coates, The arrival of the first Australian wounded from Gallipoli at the Third London General Hospital, Wandsworth (c.1915). (Australian War Memorial collection, Melbourne.)

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And then?

By this time, the Patriotic was in a pretty desperate state of decay, and a new school was built on the site, in a modernist style, but for boys only. This was Spencer Park School.

Spencer Park School: classrooms on the edge of the playing field. Notice in the distance the profile of the Patriotic and three of the five Fitzhugh blocks.

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On opening, in 1957, the intake was made up of boys from Honeywell Secondary School (already on the site, of course, in the Patriotic), plus others from Wandsworth Secondary Technical School (Garrett Lane) as well as some students from schools in Lavender Hill and Earlsfield.*

[* Learning this helped me to understand something I recalled (but couldn't make any sense of) from my childhood — the presence in the Earlsfield Primary School playground of Big Boys — and I mean Really Big Boys — up to 15 years of age. I now see that there had been no places for them in any secondary school, so they continued at their former school until Spencer Park and other local boys' schools were completed.]

Why was it called Spencer Park School (and not, for example, Wandsworth Common) School?

Good question. Were the LCC planners ill-informed about the history of the area? Did they think it sounded "historic", and maybe even "classy"?

[After all, they elected to call the Fitzhugh houses after Elizabethan (and earlier) aristocratic families. (I have tried to explain this seemingly strange development elsewhere — see Why "Fitzhugh", "Morville", "Gernigan", "St Quentin", "Skipsea", "Woodham"?].

And the girls?

The girls stayed for a further year in the now sadly dilapidated old building before departing, in 1958, for the brand-new Garratt Green School, erected on the edge of Springfield Mental Hospital a mile away down Burntwood Lane.

The boys returned to the now-empty Patriotic for at least some lessons, but Spencer Park moved out for good in September 1976 as the building was clearly unsafe.

— Layers of London: Garratt Green Comprehensive School, 1960

— Wikipedia: Burntwood School

Spencer Park School . . . 

Architects' model of Spencer Park School, presumably mid-1950s.

Notice top right the RVPB (facing the railway line and Windmill Road), with the Chapel to its left. On the far left, a wall separates the school grounds from the Cricket Field, Wandsworth Common.

At the bottom, a wall stands between Spencer Park and Emanuel School. Is this the original wall between the RVPA for Girls and that for Boys (built 1872 [check]). The latter was closed and sold to Emanuel School in 1883.

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—  Wikipedia: Emanuel School.

Phil Rowntree and classmates, Spencer Park School, c.1960. A beaming Phil is on the right of the teacher. (Photo provided by Phil and Cathy Rowntree — many thanks to you both!)

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Spencer Park School, classroom block, c.1958.

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Plaque commemorating the restoration of the Chapel organ in 1959. (This was rescued by Cathy Rowntree during the demolition of Spencer Park School.) Notice the involvement of Honeywell School. (Photo: Cathy Rowntree.)

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John Archer School (1986—1991) . . .  .

Spencer Park Boys' School moved out of the Patriotic altogether in September 1976, further buildings having been added nearby.The school was amalgamated with Wandsworth Boys' in 1986, on the Patriotic site, and renamed John Archer School. Bur the new school was not to last long.

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— Wikipedia: John Archer (British politician)

— Wikipedia: Wandsworth School

And in the end . . . 

Spencer Park School, rebadged "John Archer School" after joining with Wandsworth Boys' School in 1986, finally closed in August 1991 and was soon demolished.

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The then-headmaster of Emanuel School (Peter Hendry, as it happens my favourite teacher) is said to have wanted to buy the site, to add to the Emanuel grounds, but property developers were able to pay a lot more.

[My old schoolfriend Hugh Betterton reminds me that there had also been talk of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) amalgamating Emanuel and Spencer Park Schools on a combined site, but this was scotched when Emanuel went "independent". It would be interesting to learn more.]

Oblique aerial view of the RVPB and surrounding area. Notice the area to the north of the Patriotic, formerly Spencer Park School, is now a housing estate.

From bottom to top: Trinity Road in the foreground (bottom left), with the cricket pitches on Wandsworth Common (right). In the middle of the photograph, the Fitzhugh "skyscrapers", and the Patriotic. The housing estate is on land once used by Spencer Park Secondary Boys' School, which shared a wall with Emanuel School. Spencer Park (the late-C19 housing development) is top left.

By the way, access to the Fitzhugh Estate and the various educational establishments (Wandsworth Training College, Honeywell Secondary School, Spencer Park/John Archer School, was only ever from entrances on Trinity Road. There was no bridge from Windmill Road until the housing estate was built c.1991 [check date]. Neither was there a path across the Cricket Pitches from the cafe throughto Windmill Road.

The bridge and path, which you can just about see in this photograph, have hugely increased access to and from the Common.

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The bridge and John Archer Way from Windmill Road to the renovated Patriotic and the housing estate. Built after John Archer School had been demolished — early 1990s?

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[Does the housing estate have its own name? Someday soon I hope to write about the people commemorated in its street names: Coates Avenue, John Archer Way, Nevinson Close, Stott Close, Or perhaps a reader would like to do it for me?]

NB As I said at the start, this month you get two Chronicles for the price of one:

— The Royal Victoria Patriotic Patriotic Building and post-war education . . .  [this page]

— What we were watching at the Granada Cinema, Clapham Junction in 1949 [opens another page]

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Coming soon . . . 

"Stories from the Surrey Pauper Lunatic Asylum, Burntwood Lane — the early years"

Tuesday 28th May 7pm, NatureScope, Wandsworth Common (next door to cafe).

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The Asylum opened in 1841, located here because of its proximity to London, and its “southern aspect, good air and ready supply of water”. It was renamed Springfield Hospital early in the last century.

To some it looks more like an Oxford College (or Hampton Court) than a Victorian asylum (and certainly very different from the later "bins" that appeared to be modelled on contemporary factories, warehouses or prisons).

Its grounds have been a farm (home to the "nearest pigs to Piccadilly"), a golf course, and now Springfield Park, London's first for more than a decade.

I'm hoping to cover quite a range of topics, among them (possibly):

— the secretive removal of "pauper lunatics" for anatomical dissection

— the public outcry at the death of Daniel Dolley after "treatment" by freezing cold shower

— visits of Great and Good aeronauts who arrived and departed by gas-filled balloon

— "A visit to Wandsworth Lunatic Asylum on a dark and gusty night" in 1880 to view a theatrical performance

— The Springfield War Hospital WWI as a treatment centre for soldiers suffering from shell shock

— the fate of "Hare-and-Hound" runners lost in the grounds

— revelatory photographs from the 1850s of female patients, by Hugh Welch Diamond, now found in museums and art galleries around the world

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"Stories from the Surrey Pauper Lunatic Asylum, Burntwood Lane — the early years"

Organised by the Friends of Wandsworth Common

The opening of a new park in the grounds of Springfield Hospital has highlighted this extraordinary pioneering building and its grounds dating from 1840. But why was it built here in such an impressive manner, and surrounded by such spacious grounds?

— Tuesday 28th May, 7pm

— Free

— Booking required (contact

— Naturescope, Wandsworth Common, SW18 3RT

I very much hope to see you there.

More info. about the Wandsworth Heritage Festival:

— Visit Wandsworth Heritage Festival 2024.

— Download a pdf of the 2024 festival.

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

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Philip Boys ("History Boys")

May 2024

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