Matters arising from May's Chronicles . . .
Comments and further images, including flooding at the Battersea Rise crossroads, puzzling adverts and a crooked chimney in Leonora Green's painting, the plight of Battersea boundary posts, and prime cuts of information about secretive slaughterhouses behind Bellevue Road.
Today, History is being made on Wandsworth Common.
A year ago this week, I wrote:
"Whoopee, I've been writing these chronicles every month for a whole year! I'm pretty amazed, so I'll probably carry on for a while — there are so many more stories to tell."
So now it's two years, not a paltry one. I can't believe that I've kept it up for so long (it's really not in my nature, as anyone who knows me will confirm). But somehow these stories of long-dead people involved in long-forgotten dramas in long-ignored places seem somehow to insist that they're brought to light and life again . . .
June 2023 contents
— Gone fishing . . .
— Children fishing in the 1930s and 1950s - and "gentles" . . .
— Edward Thomas on fishing . . .
— Even more on fishing . . .
— Dora Littlechild (1928—2023) . . .
— Friends of Wandsworth Common, Common Memories video (2023) . . .
— Victory Funfair — Wandsworth Goes Gay (1945) . . .
— Bagpipes on the Common may spark revolt (1904) . . .
— Yellow-bay gelding stolen from Common — £5 reward (1831) . . .
— Those darned spikes again (1939) . . .
— Trees and lightning deaths — science v. the supernatural (1914) . . .
— Couple's disgraceful conduct (1901) . . .
— Ernest Bevin public meeting attended by just 14 children (1945) . . .
— Elsie Duval in court for smashing post office windows (1912) . . .
Gone fishing . . .
From the first moment of Friday 16 June, until the last stroke of midnight on Thursday 14 March 2024, it will be "open season" for coarse fishing on the Common. The shorter balance of the year — the end of March, April, May, the start of June — is the "close season", which helps protect fish such as roach, bream, tench and carp while they're spawning, and to give young fish a chance to develop so that they too can go on to breed.
At the start of June, I was walking around the lake when realised with a start that nobody was fishing, and that seemed strange. But then I quickly realised that it was still early June, and therefore in the "close season".
I found myself thinking about fishing on the Common, about my own obsession with it in the 1950s and early 1960s, about the almost complete absence of fishing on the Common today — particularly by children. Indeed, does
I wondered how the "open/close" seasons had ever been agreed upon, and you will not be surprised to hear that there is a Wandsworth Common connection, albeit slight.
The open/close season was established in 1878 by the "Mundella Act", so-called because it was promoted in the House of Commons by the radical Liberal MP Anthony John Mundella (1825—1897). He's probably best known as an educational reformer (though much else besides) but cherished by us as the author of the Introduction to his friend (and our local hero) John Buckmaster's autobiography, A Village Politician.
Here's a fine caricature of Mundella by the great French painter James Tissot:
— Wikipedia: A. J. Mundella.
— Canal and River Trust: History of the coarse fishing season.
Here's an item from the early 1930s that mentions children fishing on the Common:
"Fishing . . . of the most lawless type is openly and continuously carried on in the ponds . . . At Wandsworth Common, for example here are no restrictions as to methods, bait or season. The pond is hooked and netted every day of the week by crowds of children . . . "
There are rules and regulations which govern the practice of angling. At times we ask ourselves why these laws of the ponds and rivers are enforced by the London County Council. Fishing — if it can be so termed — of the most lawless type is openly and continuously carried on in the ponds that are supposedly under the Council's jurisdiction.
At Wandsworth Common, for example, there are obviously no restrictions as to methods, bait, or season. The pond is hooked and netted — we hope these terms are correct — every day of the week by crowds of children. True sportsmen and sportswomen if they catch a fish below a reasonable size and weight — they carry a tape measure and a scale to determine these matters — return it to the water.
But the youthful anglers at Wandsworth Common scoop up everything they can get, irrespective of age or anything else.
The wonder is that a single finny creature is left in the pond. Nothing of edible size has ever been taken out of it to our knowledge and nothing ever will unless the County Council give the fish a chance to grow up.
"No restrictions as to methods, bait, or season"? Hmm, that was the 1930s. It couldn't be more different now. Here are some of the do's and don'ts in current regulations:
1. Magnet fishing is not permitted.
2. Fly fishing is not permitted.
3. Rods without tackle must not be left in the water at any time
4. Rods may not be left unattended (with or without tackle)
5. Only “fish safe” rigs or leads are allowed. In the event of fish breaking free they must not be tethered by parts of the main tackle.
6. Micro barbed and barbless hooks only, minimum of size 6. No long, curved shank hooks or 360 rigs to be used.
7. The use of boats and drones (including model boats) is not permitted.
8. No plugging, spinning or bait boats allowed.
9. All spods must have a float. Spod sizes should be limited and excessive spodding will not be tolerated.
10. No live bait to be used.
11. The use of a catapult is not permitted.
12. No leadcore or lead-free leaders
13. No braided reel lines or shock leaders allowed, including fluorocarbon and mono shock leaders (with the exception of spod/marker rods).
14. No zig rigs allowed
15. No plastic baits allowed
16. Landing nets must be used.
17. No keep nets, keep sacks, or tubes are allowed. abl
18. To ensure fish welfare, wet hands must be used whilst handling fish and wet unhooking mats must also be used.
19. Fish must only be weighed using a wet fit for purpose weigh-sling.
20. All fish are to be returned to the water as soon as possible after weighing, using an unhooking mat or landing net.
21. Carp welfare/care kits must be used.
[You can download the complete rules and regs from Enable: Fishing-in-Wandsworth-Terms-and-Conditions-2022-2023.docx.]
Even to get started, would-be anglers need two licences or permits: an Environment Agency rod licence — £33 for an adult but free for under-16s. And a local Wandsworth Council permit — £112 for adults, £76 for Seniors, and £55.50 for Juniors (up to 16 years). Applications also require form-filling, proof of Date of Birth, two passport-sized photos, and so on.
That's a lot of money and effort.
So in answer to my question about whether any child goes fishing on the Common, given all the rules listed above, and the cost of rod licences, it would be a wonder if any ever did.
Fishing in the fifties . . .
It was very different in the 1950s, when we all fished. (Actually, when I say "we", I mean boys — I don't recall any girls fishing, though some may have done. I hope someone can tell me I'm wrong.)
Even before I hit my teens I had a Saturday job, of sorts, at Mr Parker's fishing tackle shop towards the bottom of Earlsfield Road. (There was also a local rival — Stabler's, I think — near the station.)
My principle function was to fill angler's bait boxes with "gentles" — wriggling fly maggots. In return he gave me a little money to buy tackle — hooks, fancy plugs and spinners, lines, lead weights and gorgeous fishing floats. Nice man, Mr Parker. Does anybody remember him?
The use of the word "gentle" for maggot is pretty old. Izaak Walton uses it in his marvellous Compleat Angler (1653), which was a favourite book of the great local poet Edward Thomas.
Edward Thomas on fishing . . .
Like me, Edward Thomas (1878—1917) was obsessed with fishing. His first experiences, even before the age of eight or nine, were on Wandsworth Common, which lay a short walk away from his home on Wakehurst Road. He spent much of his spare time on the Common, which he writes about more vividly and more precisely than anyone else I have ever read. (See The Childhood of Edward Thomas: A Fragment of Autobiography (publ. 1983).
For him, the "long pond on the far side of the railway" is our "lake" — "long" because the main stretch of water still had no island in the middle.
He also writes about "the roundish Box Pond that lay half-way between the top of our street and the railway", filled in at the end of the nineteenth century:
I fished for sticklebacks and gudgeon in the long pond on the far side of the railway, which owed its name of "Backaruffs" or "Pack of Roughs", so I always thought, to the poor ill-dressed boys who used to swarm to it from Battersea on Saturdays and bank holidays.
[Some of the notes I wrote some years ago on the correspondence between the naturalist Arthur Gardiner Butler and Charles Darwin about sexual selection among sticklebacks made it into The Wandsworth Common Story. I'll add something more on this eventually, but feel free to ask if you want to know more. You can read a transcription of Arthur Butler's letter of 29 June 1871 here.]
Back to Edward Thomas:
I fished with a worm either tied on the cotton line or impaled on a bent pin, and put my stickleback or my rare lovely spotted gudgeon in a glass jam-jar. Once at least I did as I had seen others do, hauling a heavy fruit basket out into the pond and dragging it in full of weed and mud and the little 'blood worms' that breed in mud, and sticklebacks, even a red-throated one, but never a gudgeon.
The gudgeon was so attractive, partly for its looks, perhaps chiefly for its comparative size, that many times I willingly paid a halfpenny for one and let it be believed that I had caught it.
Even when dead it was hard to part with, so smooth and pure was it. I liked even its smell, yet never dreamed of eating it. There were carp, too, in this pond and in the roundish Box Pond that lay half-way between the top of our street and the railway.
By the longer pond I once saw a carp many times as big as a gudgeon in the possession of a rough: he had torn its head off to make it fit his jar. Much larger ones were talked about, caught in the Box Pond by the elder brothers of one boy. I saw them fishing there once or twice without a motion of the float in the motionless water. Once I tried there myself all alone. My expectations were huge: that I failed completely only increased my respect for the sacred pond.
Bigger boys used to fish in the Penn Ponds at Richmond Park and allowed me to buy from them a perch of four or five inches long, which looked magnificent with its dark bars, standing almost on its head in my little round bowl. There in spite of worms and breadcrumbs it shortly afterwards died.
I was pained at coming down in the morning and finding such a magnificent, uncommon and costly creature dead. Nor did I ever like the perch's stiff hard prickly corpse, faded in death, and looking much smaller out of the bowl than inside.
As you can see, there is no golden-age glow of nostalgia in Edward Thomas's writings about childhood.
Some references to fishing in previous Chronicles . . .
1. Pike . . .
Edward Thomas doesn't mention the notorious killer pike of Wandsworth Common, but others have — including the nineteenth-century writer and historian Walter Besant (with particular reference to the Black Sea). And me.
2. Restocking the ponds . . .
"5000 tiddlers for restocking the ponds of Wandsworth Common" (February 1930)
3. Dragging for tiddlers . . .
I don't think dragging local ponds for small fry using baskets (like Edward Thomas, above) or sacks was ever practised in the 1950s, but I have seen other references. See e.g. George Tones, "Youthful Times in 1930s Battersea": "[O]n summer days, we would get a sack and go 'dragging' up on Clapham Common; two of us would hold the four corners of the sack and drag it in the pond. We would catch tiddlers and put them in jam jars" (Wandsworth Historian no 96).
"Dragging" is described in this story of a dog's supersense that saves a young child from drowning in the lake:
GRISSEL IGNORES THE WHISTLE
THE pond at Wandsworth Common is a favourite fishing-ground for the small children who live in South-west London, and the small boys are always excited and happy when the "tiddler" season begins. They wade gleefully through the water with "drags" — imitations of draw-nets, made of pieces of sacking or old clothing.
They are often helped by smaller children, who wade out behind them and anxiously peer at the "drag" as it is brought to the surface and discloses its treasure, which may be a "red-throat" (a very valued and superior kind of "tiddler") or only a small collection of water-weeds.
[PB: A "red-throat", as we have seen, is a male stickleback.]
No one ever knows what will be found in the pond. If a "red-throat" of unusual size is captured, the boys become so excited that they forget that their mothers commanded them to look after little "Bobby" and not to let him get too near the water. As a rule, the baby brother is as deep in the water as he can get. One spring evening a baby brother went so far into the pond that his companions could not see him and went home in the dusk without him.
That evening, Dr. St. Vincent-Ryan was walking with his son round the Common and with them was Grissel, a very handsome collie dog . . .
[Note to self: It would be good to explore local people's recollections of fishing on the Common as posted on social media sites such as Battersea Memories and Wandsworth and Battersea Memories Live On (Facebook), or Nostalgic Memories of Wandsworth's History (Francis Frick). See also specialist anglers' groups (particularly perhaps those devoted to carp fishing).]
4. Revd Theodore Wood's Dwellers in the Pond . . .
5. Fishing and the wondrous parish cope . . .
There are several delightful references to fishing and the lake on the St Mary Magdalene cope, including these:
Dora Littlechild (1928—2023)
I would like to to take this opportunity of showing a photograph of Barbara's mother, Dora Littlechild, whose wealth of recollections were recorded by members of the Friends of Wandsworth Common Heritage Group and featured in Common Memories (below). I'm sad to say that Dora died earlier this year, before she could see the film. I would like to think she would have very much enjoyed it.
June 2023 — COMMON MEMORIES — Life on & around Wandsworth Common, 1930s-1980s
COMMON MEMORIES — Life on & around Wandsworth Common, 1930s-1980s
6/2023 - Over the past year, members of the Friends of Wandsworth Common Heritage group, led by Ros Page, have interviewed lifelong residents of the Common to explore their life and experiences and how the Common used to be.
The interviews were all filmed by John Crossland and the more than 20 hours of footage beautifully and sensitively edited down into this ‘charming and engaging’ film by Rosa Navas, a local film maker and Friend.
The film is interspersed with old images and film clips, bringing alive the narrative of the interviewees. The result is a fascinating insight into how life on Wandsworth Common has changed over five decades.
With special thanks to the production team led by Ros Page, including Stephen Midlane, Henrietta Gentilli, Louise Murphy, John Turner, cameraman John Crossland and editor Rosa Navas.
The film was launched on 6 June 2023 in the Fiennes Theatre, Emanuel School, and special thanks are due to Lisa Irwin and the school for their very generous support.
As one of the twenty people interviewed, I'm obliged to state I have a special interest in this film. And here we all are:
The interviews (each up to an hour long) were filmed and transcribed in full (though only short extracts appear in the film, of course). They have been archived in the Wandsworth Heritage Service at Battersea Library, Lavender Hill.
I hope people will explore the interviews, and perhaps use them to inform and inspire further historical work.
Funfair for young children pitched near Bellevue Road, 9 June 2023
"Victory Fair — Wandsworth Goes Gay"
Wandsworth Common Goes Gay
All the fun of a victory fair is to be found on Wandsworth Common, South Side. Crowds of young people, accompanied by those who remain young at heart, found exciting attractions and thrills galore. There you can swing high in the air, or try your skill at managing "Dodgem" cars. You may ride in a chair-o-plane or visit Noah's Ark. You can roll, bowl or pitch to your heart's content, or visit a host of inviting side shows.
BORN IN THE BUSINESS
Mr. Harry Grey, the proprietor of this fair, told a 'South Western Star" representative that he was the son of a fair showman, and that members of his family had been "on the road" and caravan dwellers for over 100 years.
His wife was born and brought up on a Battersea fair ground. "It is difficult to obtain new and novel attractions these days," said Mr. Grey, "but even so, fairs are much more elaborate and costly than they were in my young day.
"When my father left me some cars I started on my own account with a few swings and dart throwing stalls, but I soon bought a 'cake walk' and a steamboat and I've been on the look out for novelties ever since.
"The most successful fair innovation in my time has been the "Dodgem" car. This has certainly come to stay and more than retain its popularity because people like to feel that they are independently in charge of the cars."
[I've never heard of anywhere on the Common being referred to as "South Side". Have you? Is it possible the journalist confused Wandsworth Common with Clapham Common?]
Bagpipes bump brass bands — will the populace "rise in revolt"?
The London County Council must be a courageous body of men. They have arranged for the pipers of the Scots Guards to give performances in certain open spaces of the metropolis in place of the usual brass bands.
Yesterday evening the kilted musicians played on Clapham Common, afterwards on Wandsworth Common, and later on Tooting Common. For a month or so the entertainment will continue in different parts of London if the populace do not in the meantime rise in revolt . . .
"STOLEN from Wandsworth-common, on Tuesday, the 7th of June, 1831, between the hours of eight and nine, an aged Yellow Bay GELDING . . . "
STOLEN from Wandsworth-common, on Tuesday, the 7th of June, 1831, between the hours of eight and nine, an aged Yellow Bay GELDING, about fifteen hands and fired in front of both fore-legs — the inside of the rear fore-heel recently injured by an overreach — cut tail and white heels behind.
FIVE POUNDS Reward will be given on recovery of the said Gelding, and conviction of the offenders, Mr Deane, Livery-stable-keeper, Upper Tooting, Surrey.
Those darned spiked railings again . . .
BOY'S PAINFUL MISHAP
Reginald Spong, aged 15, of 49 Strathville-road. Earlsfield, slipped when climbing some iron railings on Wandsworth Common on Saturday morning. A spike penetrated his body. His mother took him to St. James's Hospital.
[See also "Maurice Pimm taken to nearby Bolingbroke Hospital after failing to vault an iron railing", in April 2023's Chronicles.]
14 June 1914 — lightning strikes kill four children and three adults sheltering beneath trees on the Common.
You may recall from previous Chronicles the deaths from lightning strikes of four children and three adults sheltering beneath trees on the Common in 14 June 1914.
The event was reported all round the world, and led to much discussion in scientific journals and elsewhere about where lightning was most likely to strike.
Here are two (rather different) accounts:
Science . .
Trees and Lightning
The two species of trees — lime and elm — concerned in the lightning fatalities on Wandsworth Common on Sunday are very differently affected by the electric fluid, remarks the "Westminster Gazette."
Trees rich in starch and deficient in fatty oils offer the least resistance, while those containing plenty of fatty substances are rarely struck during a thunderstorm. The lime belongs the latter category, but any tree standing alone, as was the lime beneath which the unfortunate children sheltered, is liable to be struck, particularly when several people congregate together near its trunk.
The elm should always be avoided during an electrical storm. Even more dangerous than elm trees are the poplar and oak tree.
The safest trees are walnut, lime, beech, and birch; M. Flammarian failed to trace a single instance of the latter having been struck by lightning when he collected statistics on the subject some years ago.
. . . and the supernatural
The Long Arm
An Earlsfield lady correspondent, evidently with a leaning towards the superstitious, writes with reference to the lightning fatalities of June 14th on that part of Wandsworth Common opposite the Royal Patriotic Asylum, of a curious coincidence.
"On the part of the Conmmon referred to," she says, "is bounded on the south by a road called Trinity-road, and on the north by one called Spencer Park, and the four people who were killed were standing under the thirteenth tree from the former road, while the other three who were injured were standing under thirteenth tree from the latter row.
With regard to the number 13, some of your readers may recollect that it was close to the thirteenth tree from the Pont du Mont Blanc at Geneva that the late Empress Elizabeth of Austria was assassinated."
[BNA: Link to be added.]
[Just curious: I wonder if the thirteenth tree from Trinity Road up Windmill Road, presumably a lime tree, is still there? And if so, whether it shows any marks of the lightning strike?]
A man, described as Thomas Baker (37), 9, Triton-street, Battersea, was fined 20s. for gross misbehaviour on Wandsworth Common on Saturday. His companion, Alice Batchelor (40), 141, Speke-road, was remanded for inquiries. She said she was a widow with three children. One of the London County Council constables said the prisoners were close to a footpath, children were playing near them and several cricket matches were taking place.
It's not clear what the couple were doing that counted as "gross misbehaviour", and perhaps we shouldn't ask. But the case is one of a number where it is clear that there was something of a moral panic at this time about monkey business on London's commons — having been preserved, the commons now needed taming. And not just physically, but also morally.
June 1945 — local MP Ernest Bevin holds a meeting on Wandsworth Common. He is mocked by the "gutter press" for a turn-out of just fourteen children. But are things as they seem?
[Any idea where the photograph was taken? It looks rather like the Frying Pan — the only the flat, grassless area I can think of on the Common — but surely that would have been rather too remote to attract an audience. A more likely location is near Wandsworth Common Station.]
"A clean Press is great asset to the nation. In every great fight we have had the Daily Herald has never let us down "
This led him to give a contrasting example of what he called the "gutter Press".
He told of a meeting which he addressed on Saturday on Wandsworth Common. "It was very hot," he said, "and the people moved back under the trees and I envied them. But a few children came before the van from which I was speaking and this gutter Press published a great photograph this morning in their provincial editions indicating that there were only 14 children at the meeting.
I don't complain. I only mention it to show what depths that man is prepared to plumb."
Mr. Bevin commented that the children must have been well off because the collection at the meeting realised £14 8s. 4d.
Why "Ernest Bevan Academy"?
I used to wondered why the boys' school on Beechcroft Road, Tooting, is called "Ernest Bevin Academy". Happily it turned out there's a strong Wandsworth Common angle to the answer.
Ernest Bevin was Minister of Labour and National Service in Churchill's War Cabinet and later Foreign Secretary in the Attlee post-war Labour governments. In 1940 he was a prominent trade union leader. But to incorporate him in the coalition government, Bevin had to be made an MP.
A safe seat was needed — fast.
Fortunately "Wandsworth Central" (which then included the western side of Wandsworth Common, as far as the railway line) duly obliged. Harry Nathan, the incumbent (Labour) MP was elevated to the hereditary peerage as 1st Lord Nathan.
A by-election was hurriedly arranged and Bevin was elected unopposed.
In June 1945, at the end of the war, Bevin was up for re-election. Winston Churchill's caretaker government was heavily defeated and the Labour Party led by Clement Attlee (who himself had a close relationship with Wandsworth Common since his grandparents lived on North Side) won a landslide victory, achieving a clear majority of more than 150 seats over all other parties
Bevin himself won Wandsworth Central again, and held the seat until February 1950. He was returned for Woolwich East in 1950, but died in 1951.
[I wonder why EB left Wandsworth for Woolwich? Was he not popular locally? Were boundaries altered? Had the social character of the Wandsworth Central electorate changed?]
— Wikipedia: Ernest Bevin
— Wikipedia: Wandsworth Central (UK Parliamentary Constituency)
Elsie Duval in court for throwing stones through a Post Office window at Clapham Common.
" . . . the magistrate remarked that she seemed to be only a child, and remanded her for the state of her mind to be enquired into."
RENEWAL OF WINDOW SMASHING
Attacks by Suffragettes on the windows of post offices and other buildings in London and the provinces are reported today . . .
At the South-Western Court, Elsie Duval, aged 20, of Wandsworth was charged with breaking the window of a Clapham Common post office, damaging it to the extent of 12s. 6d. It was stated that she threw two stones through the glass.
Mr Francis, the magistrate, remarked that she seemed to be only a child, and remanded her for the state of her mind to be enquired into."
The Duval family were living at this time on Park Road (now called Elsynge Road).
Elsie Duval's case came to court in July, so I'll discuss it in more detail then.
[I know, I know — I promised this for July 2022, but this time I will do everything in my power to make it happen. I promise.]
Given that the main theme of this month's Chronicles has been fishing and the lake, I asked the very good Friend of Wandsworth Common Lewis More O'Ferrall if he had any related photos in his portfolio. He replied that although he didn't have any that showed people fishing, he would send a selection showing the lake.
Given that angling is often less about catching fish than the deep appreciation of place, they're spot on. Thanks, Lewis!
SO many more stories to tell. But that's all for now, folks.
If you would like to receive occasional notifications of new Chronicles, let me know.
I've made a rough-and-ready index of all stories in the Chronicles so far.
Or click on the links to the individual months below.
Plus there's a SEARCH box at the top of this page, and here:
Video of a talk to/for the Friends of Wandsworth Common, Tuesday 29 November 2022. There's still more to be said, so, who knows, there may even be a Part III.
Video of a talk to/for the Friends of Wandsworth Common, Tuesday 29 November 2022.
The Black Sea: Birth, Life, Death (video of talk to the Friends of Wandsworth Common, 18 October 2022).
Maps and the Making of Wandsworth Common (video of talk to the Friends of Wandsworth Common, April 2022).
Magical History Tour: From "The Beeches" to the "Belgian" Congo (video of talk to the Friends of Wandsworth Common, 18 January 2022).
Victorian Photographer Geoffrey Bevington and the Search for Ivy House — video of Zoom talk to the Wandsworth Historical Society, 26 November 2021.
Down with the Fences Part II (May 2021) [link and info to be added].
Down with the Fences Part I (March 2021) [link and info to be added].
Wandsworth Common / WaterWorld (March 2021) [link and info to be added].
What a Carve Up (January 2021) [link and info to be added].
The Hidden History of Loxley Road (date 2020) [link and info to be added].
Incidentally, a couple of years ago I made a short video (my first) from Edwardian postcards and photographs of the lake, set to music by Claude Debussy, which you can view here. Utterly self-indulgent.
And here's one on the Three-Island Pond:
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.