The History of Wandsworth Common

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Part Two

This is the second part of the Chronicles for September 2023. The first was on the arrival of groups of so-called "Galician Gypsies" in 1911. One reader, Diane Oldman (who lives in Fremantle, Western Australia — yes, there are Common People all over the world), wonders if this British Pathe film shows the same group. Short answer, I don't know. But it certainly looks as though it could have been filmed on Wandsworth Common. What do you think?

British Pathe: "Gallican gypsies. Spain. 1910". We know they aren't "Gallican" but Galician. So is the date wrong too? Is it really Spain? Or is it Wandsworth (Common) in 1911?

Diane suggests: "If you had the patience you could perhaps compare some of the women’s frocks with other images you found." There are copies of this short film on YouTube (e.g. "Gallican Gypsies (1910)"", and also on the British Pathe website, where you can access a higher-resolution version of this film, and read a good description.
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During both world wars, a lot of history happened in Septembers. A Zeppelin was shot from the skies one night in September 1916, and this was seen from the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. In WWII, the UK and France declared war on Germany on 3 September. The London Blitz started a year later — the first major raid was on 7 September 1940, with aerial bombing for 56 of the following 57 nights. In September 1944, the V-1 bomb (aka the "Doodlebug" or "Buzz-Bomb") ceased to be such a threat, to the relief of Battersea and Wandsworth, but V-2 Rockets took their place the same month.

September 2023 Chronicles / 2

— Zeppelin Raid, 1916  . . . 

— Harry Fullwood, Balloon View of the 3rd London General Hospital, 1915 (video)  . . . 

— Bombs on and around Wandsworth Common 1940—1945 (intro)  . . . 

— Bomb hits Wandsworth Common Station, 1940  . . . 

— "Grace's Gruelling Grind" — cycle clubs meet on the Common in spite of the bombs, 1940  . . . 

— "Footballers need shower-baths — not horse troughs", 1953  . . . 

— "From time immemorial the inhabitants of the Western suburb of London have rejoiced in Wandsworth Common: it is a delicious recreation ground. Nature's own handiwork with no laid out flower beds, no palings or stretched stiff walks", 1863  . . . 

— "In marking out the new season's soccer pitches, the LCC improves upon 'old Euclid'", 1920  . . . 

— The transfer of control over the Common from locally-elected Conservators to the distant Metropolitan Board of Works evokes fears of punitive over-regulation, 1887  . . . 

— "I, for one, never walk on a beaten track when I can get fresh turf for my feet", "Rus in Urbe" rails against rutted, straight footpaths over the Common, 1867  . . . 

— Alleged Black Sea Nuisance, 1870  . . . 

— Sounds of the (18)80s, 1889  . . . 

— This issue is between the games-playing and the non-games-playing public.  . . . 

— A puzzle for you: Who is young "Charles Baldwin", who parachutes from the top of a local printworks?, 1890  . . . 

— Cricket fracas at the Freemason's Tavern [Roundhouse], 1867  . . . 

— Navvies and Bricklayers' Labourers' Union meeting on Wandsworth Common, 1892  . . . 

— "Prisoner's arrest was the outcome of the smartness of a scboolgirl named Holly Leggett, 40 West Side, Wandsworth Common", 1909  . . . 

— Kalulu, "the lion of the day", has returned to Africa with Henry Morton Stanley, so cannot be present at Halbrake School Sports Day, 1875  . . . 

— The quest for conkers has begun, 1938  . . . 

— Beware men with badges: "In a furze bush — alleged spy charged with blackmail", 1906, and another in 1902  . . . 

— Death of Dr John Tod Thyne, 1932  . . . 

— "Obstinate alien" lands on Wandsworth Common, 1904  . . . 

Before I started working on this month's Chronicles I knew next to nothing about the aerial bombardment of London by Zeppelins. It's been a revelation. We're all aware of the WWII Blitz (September 1940—May 1941), but there was an earlier Blitz too, during the First World War. Nineteen great guns were installed in a defensive ring around London — one was on Wandsworth Common. (I'm still trying to work out exactly where — perhaps you know?).

[Colonel Alfred Rawlinson's map of London Anti-Aircraft Defences 1917-18 shows 19 Gun stations, 36 Searchlights, and 38 Observation posts. There appears to have been a searchlight very close to the Wandsworth gun, perhaps within a few hundred yards, and an observation post near Clapham Common station. Intriguingly, the major AA centre is shown as "PUTNEY" (in u.c. letters) — this is unique. Were its sight-lines so much superior to anywhere else?]

We have a number of eyewitness accounts from local people, which I'll publish eventually. But for the moment, I'll start with a remarkable painting, by Harry Fullwood, reproduced in the 3rd London General Hospital's monthly magazine, The Gazette.

Zeppelin raid, 2 September 1916

"An Historic Night. The fall of a Zeppelin as seen from the Hospital in the Autumn."

The view is from the front of the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum looking northward. Notice the silhouette of a spire on Emanuel School (taken down in 1932). Where exactly did this Zeppelin fall to earth? Notice also the painting is by "Sgt A.H. Fullwood" (see below). I wonder if this painting still exists?
[The Gazette, 3rd London General Hospital, March 1917.]
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Roughly the same view in a contemporary photograph.

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Here is an eye-witness account by Edith Holden, Matron of the 3rd London General Hospital, as recorded in The Gazette:

Matron Edith Holden recalls the first Zeppelin raid, September 1915, in The Gazette, April 1916

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The First Zeppelin Raid

As seen by some of the Nursing Staff

We had been warned so often that to me it was almost a cry of "Wolf! Wolf!" I was just going to bed, when I heard a noise which sounded like far-off knocking. I listened, and it was repeated at very short intervals. Then I heard a voice from below say, "There they are!" I thought to myself "Zeppelins," so, picking up the pup (as my most valuable possession)*, I flew downstairs, and joined Cpl. Hunwick on the front step.

It was very dark — a darkness that could be felt. When I got accustomed to it, I saw an oblong object, surrounded by light, travelling very quickly away from us. The guns by this time were very loud, and we could see the firing quite distinctly. After a short time I saw a second Zep., not as distinctly as the first. Then all sorts of rumours began to spread. Victoria Station being destroyed was the principal one, I think.

The Nursing Staff in one house were very disturbed. One Sister, who was in bed, jumped out, crying "They are bombing us!" dressed at lightning speed (even to putting on her cuffs), and was heard to mutter, as she disappeared in the darkness, "Let me die with the men."

Some time later I saw the same lady, quite collected, going back to her rooms, and on enquiring what she was doing in hospital at that time of night was told that if she had to die she would much rather die in her ward with 'her men' than escape being hurt if they were in danger.

Another poor thing in the same house was left to turn out all the lights, which was such a lengthy proceeding that the Zeppelins were almost back in their own country when she got outside to see them.

Another Sister, after making elaborate preparations in the cellar (and spoiling numerous garments with candle grease in doing so), went to bed and slept soundly. On hearing the news next morning she was furious, and could not think why she had not been wakened to go to the cellar!

Since then we have repeatedly been "warned." I shall never forget the feeling it gave one to see all the men engrossed in their concert, singing at the top of their voices, and listening afterwards to Mr. Dion Cane recite 'The Hell-gate of Soissons,' while a few of us who were 'in the know' listened with the other ear and half expected — well, things we do not even dare think of.


The first Zeppelin airship raids on London took place in May 1915. At first, little could be done to stop them, but by the middle of 1916 powerful searchlights and coastal and suburban batteries had been developed that helped turn the tide.

More powerful planes were developed that could reach the higher altitudes that Zeppelins flew at. These could fire both explosive bullets, to penetrate the hard outer skin, and incendiary bullets to set light to the highly explosive hydrogen gas within.

[Wrong. Not two different bullets, just one: "a highly sensitive bullet that would explode on making contact with an airship’s skin and create a fireball when the hydrogen inside the Zeppelin mixed in the correct proportion with the outside air." This was invented by a former Dulwich College boy (and scion of the Brock's Fireworks family). For details, see Frank Arthur Brock – Meet the Swashbuckling British Inventor Who Ended the German Zeppelin Menace, MHN, 18 September 2020.]

Matron Edith Holden's "most valuable possession" was her Pekingese pup — it accompanied her everywhere in her work. (It probably looked nothing like this.) For a while, I despaired of ever discovering its name, but now I know. Indeed, I have not only learnt its name, I have located some remarkable portraits, and even found a revealing interview he gave in 1916, which was reported at length in The Gazette. But for these, you'll have to wait.

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Matron of the 3rd London General Hospital, Edith Holden, The Gazette, March 1916.

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British propaganda postcard: The end of the "Baby Killer", 3 September 1916.

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There's a lot more to be said about how Zeppelin raids were experienced in Battersea and Wandsworth, including some remarkable eye-witness accounts. I hope to have the opportunity to do a talk or a video or similar sometime soon. Let me know if that's something you would be interested in.

"Two Zepps and a Cloud" — a new name for "Bangers and Mash" during WWI.

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[For vignettes of local life in WWI, see e.g. Wandsworth Heritage Service's fascinating series of posts, "Wandsworth 1914-1918: Commemorating the First World War as it happened in the borough of Wandsworth", which includes London’s Air Defences strike a blow — 2nd September 1916. and Zepp. Raid which Wrought Havoc in Streatham and Brixton’ — 23rd September 1916.]

[For a good general introduction, see e.g. German bombing of Britain, 1914–1918.]

Harry Fullwood, Balloon View of the 3rd London General Hospital, Wandsworth Common, 1915.

You may have seen this little video before. (I made it a few years ago). But since it's by Harry Fullwood (whose image of the Zeppelin in flames I've posted above), here it is again:

Harry Fullwood's 1915 incredible aerial view of the RVPA reincarnated as the 3rd London General Hospital.

The music, by the way, is contemporary with the image. Although now often identified with WWII (because it was used so memorably in David Lean's Bridge on the River Kwai), the"Colonel Bogey March" was written in 1914 by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts (1881-1945) (pen name Kenneth J. Alford), a British Army bandmaster.

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— For phone

— For computer

Bombs on and around Wandsworth Common 1940—1945

I had intended to map (and if possible date) the bombs that exploded on and around the Common, but the material grew so enormous (because so interesting, and so significant in the evolution of our area) that I'm postponing much discussion of it for now. But let me know if you want to investigate the numerous V-1 bombs ("doodlebugs", "buzz bombs") that fell on or near the Common from June 1944, and the (thankfully far fewer) V-2 rockets that started in September 1944.

For now, here are some maps and just a couple of incidents, from early in the London Blitz in 1940.

Aerial damage to property shown on The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939-1945, Laurence Ward (ed.) (2015).

The larger circles show where V-1 flying bombs ("Doodlebugs" or "Buzz bombs") fell. Four such circles are shown on or near the north of the Common, and two on the south. (The V-1 that fell near the corner of Lyford Road and Herondale Avenue killed ? people.)

The smaller (much less numerous) circles represent the generally more destructive V-2 rockets. For example, one fell on the SE corner of Wandsworth Prison, near Heathfield Road — as a child I played on this bomb site and then lived in a block of flats built on top of the rubble.

Black — Total destruction
Purple — Damage beyond repair
Dark Red — Seriously damaged, doubtful if repairable
Light Red — Seriously damaged, repairable at cost
Orange — General blast damage, not structural, minor in nature
Yellow — Blast damage, minor in nature
Green — Clearance areas
Small circle — V-2 Rocket
Large circle — V-1 Flying Bomb

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Bomb hits Wandsworth Common Station, 23 September 1940

Notice the engine and carriages waiting to take debris away.

The station restoration was done extraordinarily well. I've just spent some time trying to work out what was original and was new. Interesting.

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In spite of the bombing, local cycle clubs continue to meet.

"Next Sunday Miss Dolling will lead a run she calls "Grace's Gruelling Grind" into Buckinghamshire, leaving Marcilly Road, Wandsworth Common at 9 a.m. (or later in case of raids)."

[Norwood News, 27 September 1940.]
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Cyclists are Adapting Themselves to Raid

Cycling clubs are adapting themselves to air-raid conditions and are carrying on.

The National Cyclists' Union (S.W. London Private Members) are dispensing with their usual tea out, and are returning to town in time for members to get home early. Should a raid be in progress when a run is due to start, the start is ostponed to 45 minutes after the "raiders passed" signal, and all take shelter should a warning occur during the run. When there has been a bad raid overnight runs are shortened accordingly.

On Sunday the Social Section had a run through the Hertfordshire lanes, visiting Elstree and Hatfield, and lunched at Tewin.

Next Sunday Miss Dolling will lead a run she calls "Grace's Gruelling Grind" into Buckinghamshire, leaving Marcilly-road, Wandsworth Common at 9.a.m.(or later in case of raids.

A visiting fotballer describes the facilities at Wandsworth Common as "the nearest thing to a horse-trough in which he had ever had to wash."

Kensington Post — Friday 4 September 1953.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[BNA: Link]

"From time immemorial the inhabitants of the Western suburb of London have rejoiced in Wandsworth Common . . . ", 1863

Bedfordshire Mercury — Saturday 5 September 1863.

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"From time immemorial the inhabitants of the Western suburb of London have rejoiced in Wandsworth Common: it is a delicious recreation ground. Nature's own handiwork with no laid out flower beds, no palings or stretched stiff walks.

Alas! there is a probability of this pleasant common, one of the two or three, that are left within ten miles of London, being built over, inclosed, ruined, annihilated. The inhabitants are getting up a memorial to Earl Spencer, the Lord of the Manor, entreating him not to ruin it, but whether it will have the effect of preserving the open common for the pent up Londoners remains to be seen.

I fear that remonstrance is too late. "

[BNA: Link]

[I wonder what "stretched stiff walks" means?]

In marking out the new season's soccer pitches, the LCC improves upon "old Euclid", 1920.

"Among things noticeable on the face of the commons are a number of geometrical patterns formed with great accuracy . . . "

South Western Star — Friday 10 September 1920.

"Bellevue Field" hasn't been marked up for formal sports for a long time. But years of pitch lines still sometimes show through.

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Among other things noticeable on the face of the commons are a number of geometrical patterns formed with great accuracy. The County Council is an educative body. It has made this plain to the mind of the most indifferent ratepayer. A straight line is a line drawn without deviation between two points. Old Euclid found that out, but be did not demonstrate it as effectively as the County Council has done. Euclid was content to trace his lines with his finger tip in the sand, a sketchy method and one that could not have been absolutely accurate.

The London County Council's straight lines are about 50 yards long. 'They are drawn with whitewash and they improve on Euclid in a very important respect. A line, said Euclid, who knew no better, is length without breadth. The whitewashed lines on the commons in Battersea have a breadth of at least four inches. Circles and triangles are marked out with equal boldness. But far as we can judge, they are mathematically correct. No doubt they serve their purpose, which is to train the eye of the citizen and to teach him to view County Council proceedings in perspective.

[BNA: Link]

For purely cosmetic reasons, here's a random spread from Oliver Byrne's The First Six Books of The Elements of Euclid in which coloured diagrams and symbols are used instead of letters (W. Pickering, London, 1847).

[The Public Doman Review: Link.]
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The transfer of control over the Common from locally-elected Conservators to the distant and authoritarian Metropolitan of Works strikes into many who had enjoyed the freedom the Common had always offered, 1887

South London Press — Saturday 3 September 1887 .

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Wandsworth Common.

Now that Wandsworth Common is under the care of the Metropolitan Board of Works, instead of local Conservators, pretty well the same regulations will be in force as are applied to other Commons under the charge of the authorities at Spring Gardens.

It will be seen that the following proposed bye-laws differ somewhat from those hitherto in force:

1. Carpet-beating, which has hitherto been allowed at spots appointed for the purpose, will be altogether forbidden.

2. Fishing in the ponds will forbidden.

3. Persons will prohibited from going upon the ice on any pond except under certain conditions.

4. Mending chairs or other articles, or causing litter the Common, will be forbidden.

5. Ducks or fowls will no longer be allowed on the Common without the consent, in writing, of the clerk of the Metropolitan Board.

6. Persons will be prohibited from playing any musical instrument, sleeping on any the seats, or drawing or driving any truck, wheelbarrow, or vehicle (perambulator or invalid chair) on any footpath on the Common.

7. It will forbidden to or make preparation to play at cricket, football, golf, or any other game on the Common, except with the consent of the Metropolitan Board, under the band of their clerk.

The proposed bye-law (No. 23) will give great satisfaction to many frequenters of the Common. Many, however, on the contrary, will think it a rather drastic measure, very much curtailing privileges hitherto enjoyed.

We quote the proposed bye-law in full:

Persons will prohibited from delivering, uttering, or reading any public speech, lecture, prayer, Scripture, sermon, or address of any kind or description whatever, or singing any sacred or secular song, or entering into any public discussion maintaining the right to deliver, utter, or read any public speech, lecture, prayer, Scripture, sermon, or discourse, or holding or causing, or taking part in any public assemblage, except between sunrise and sunset, and on the site or sites to approved by the board, which site or sites shall be denoted by noticeboards on the Common, and delineated on duplicate plans deposited at the Home Office, and at the offices of the Board at Spring Gardens.

Objections to the proposed bye-laws should addressed to the Home Secretary, whose assent to them will he applied for on or after the 12th September.

[BNA: Source.]

"Rus in Urbe" rails against rutted, straight footpaths over the Common: "I, for one, never walk on a beaten track when I can get fresh turf for my feet", 1867

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South London Press — Saturday 7 September 1867.


To the Editor of the South London Press.

Sir, In a very interesting discussion, reported in your journal of the 31st ult., I find that the Board of Works gravely discuss the point of what is a pathway, it appearing that a beaten track is not a footpath.

May I be permitted to remark that I, for one, never walk on a beaten track when I can get fresh turf for my feet; and it is really monstrous to spend time in settling whether an open Common, traversed for thousand years from all points of the compass, is not altogether a footpath — although not worn down into ruts and straight lines, as it is provident the public must learn to do.

Is there human being who can desire to have the only pretty walk within 10 miles abolished, and to satisfy practical builders, permit the Black Sea, with its islands, to be levelled and covered with angular villas, fitted up with backyards for the children to play in and annoy the neighbours? I shudder at the thought.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,

Rus in Urbe.

[BNA: Link.]

[*Rus in Urbe — Latin for "country in the city" — the feel or illusion of countryside in the heart of the city.]

"Is there human being who can desire to have the only pretty walk within 10 miles abolished, and to satisfy practical builders, permit the Black Sea, with its islands, to be levelled and covered with angular villas, fitted up with backyards for the children to play in and annoy the neighbours? I shudder at the thought."

(Wandsworth Borough Collection, courtesy of Wandsworth Council)
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Alleged Black Sea Nuisance, 1870 . . . 

Photograph by Geoffrey Bevington of the Black Sea looking very sorry for itself. The water level may have dropped because the nearby Windmill (actually a water pump) was out of action.

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The "Black Sea" had once been considered a delight. Part of the price Earl Spencer exacted for selling off Wandsworth Common to the people of Wandsworth and Battersea was for the lake to be filled in and an affluent enclave created in its place (Spencer Park). For a number of years the lake was allowed to stagnate. It became smelly and was widely believed to be a source of disease — this is the meaning of the term "nuisance".

South London Press — Saturday 10 September 1870 .


An application from the Patriotic Asylum was made to the board for the abatement of an alleged nuisance arising from "The Black Sea." Mr. Brown remarked that the best reply that could be made to them would be to say that they were the greatest nuisance of the two for occupying a portion of the Wandsworth Common.

The surveyor was ordered to report on the subject.

[BNA: Link.]

Map showing how close the Black Sea was to the RVPA — separated only by the railway line that had cut off its original natural water supply (hence the Windmill/pump was needed).

The pink area shows the Wilson family's estate, which they leased from Earl Spencer. It covered more or less the area subsequently developed as Spencer Park.
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Sounds of the (18)80s . . . 

I wish we had recordings of ambient sounds on the Common in earlier times.

As the great Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga argued many years ago, we typically fail to consider what the past sounded like. (See, for example, his marvellous evocation of the soundscape of medieval towns and villages at the start of The Waning of the Middle Ages (1924) — church bells, urban clatter, sacred chant, street traders' cries, the hubbub of the marketplace, the smith's and the stonecutter's hammering, the sloshing of water, the cries of sheep, cows and hens on their way to slaughter, hoofbeats, barking dogs, honking geese, the creaking of carts, trumpet fanfares, the rattles of crippled people soliciting alms, and so on.

Music was popular on parks and commons throughout London in the late nineteenth and early-twentieth century, much of it performed by military bands. Here's a programme that tells us something of what you could expect to hear. I've found a few examples of performances on YouTube (click on the links). If you come across any others, let me know and I'll add them.

South London Press — Saturday 7 September 1889 .

The Battersea and Wandsworth Military Band.

This band plays on Wandsworth Common every Saturday, and grows more popular week by week, A large audience assembled on Saturday afternoon, when, under the direction of Mr. E. J. Haynes, the band performed the following interesting programme; March, "lolanthe" (Newton); valse, Soldaten Sieder (Gung'l); overture, d'Or (Brepsant); Roman dance (Boggetti); valse, "Elaine" (Lowthian); fantasia, "Echoes of the Night" (Riviere); solo (trombone), Mr. Williams; solo (horn), Mr. Elliot; serenade, "May Night," (Hartmann); polka mazurka, "Entre Nous" (Faust); and pas redouble, "March of all Nations" (Asch).

[BNA: Link.]

[And today's ambient sounds on the Common? The hum and throb of cars and lorries? The whoosh of trains? The planes every two minutes descending to Heathrows? The grind of helicopters on their way to and from Battersea. The outraged T-rex roar of motorbikes? The wow-wow-wow, howls and lamentations of police cars, ambulances and fire-engines? The pinging and ringtones of phone alerts? How will they seem to people a hundred or hundreds of years in the future? Get your phones out and start recording!]

"The County Council's policy with respect to Wandsworth Common is further defended in another letter written to the editor of the 'Daily Telegraph'. Mr T.W. Cole, Ralph [Routh] Road, Wandsworth Common, writes:"

South Western Star — Friday 16 September 1927.

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"Sir, would it not help matters if the various criticisms on the London County Councils management of Wandsworth Common were brought down to their real issue, especially as this is one which affects all London commons? This issue is between the games-playing and the non-games-playing public.

"The provision for games necessarily entails temporary enclosures, partial railings, netting, restrictions on dogs, etc. Everybody agrees that games should be played, and the only question is that of preserving equity among the various conflicting tastes.

"On Wandsworth Common the London County Council have provided 18 football pitches, 24 tennis courts, two putting greens, two dry playgrounds for children, one good-sized bowling green, and one green for band and dancing. All your critics apparently think this is too much. (It is the preparation for, and the maintenance of, the grass, etc., which has evoked the present protests, apart from relatively insignificant permanent enclosures.)

"Some 500 or of the public can thus enjoy games at one time, and if we count in the friends and spectators, who evidently enjoy watching the games, the total is considerable. But it is not amusement only that the London County Council have in view in thus encouraging games. The health and physique of the next generation is the paramount consideration, and even at the risk of displeasing those who do not wish to exercise the right of playing games, or who have some of their rights of walking, etc., curtailed in small part or at times, the London County Council have given priority to games players. From a national point of view there does not seem to be any question as to the judiciousness of this policy.

"Moreover, in actual fact, the curtailment of the rights of the public is negligible on Wandsworth Common, even with wide and wise provision for players. What your critics really complain of is not that the London County Council have restricted the rights of public on the common, but have extended them to dancing, bowls, putting, etc. Every member of the public shares in these 'rights' equally. But one cannot such extension of rights without a corresponding limitation on the individual option. It is individual option, not public rights, that is in question. In the present case there is no doubt that the non-placets [negative "voters"] are few and far between and that the London County Council are fully pleasing the vast (but inarticulate) majority, besides adding to the health-wealth of the country."

[BNA: Link.]

Who was "Charles Baldwin"?

This item is quite a puzzle. It refers to a "precocious youth" who has been jumping from the chimney of a local printing works at Wandsworth Common using a parachute "of his own manufacture".

Is the "local printing works" referred to the one that stood at the corner of Chatham Road and Webb's Road? Did it have a high chimney?

South London Press — Saturday 6 September 1890 .

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The young gentleman, now known by the professional name of Charles Baldwin, is a familiar figure in the neighbourhood of Clapham Junction. Before the Alexandra Palace parachutist came to England, this precocious youth used to descend from the top of the high shaft at the printing works by Wandsworth Common with a parachute of his own manufacture.

When he at last reached the height of his ambition, and became possessed of a balloon, engagements flowed in upon him rapidly. He has made ascents and descents in all parts of England; his daring and graceful performance have been pronounced by the provincial press to have surpassed in interest the performances of his predecessors.

His great descent at Rochdale will be remembered. To be sure of clearing the chimneys in his descent, he had to ascend two miles. In making his descent he bad the option of dropping on the telegraph wires or into the canal — he chose the latter.

He is not twenty-one yet, and if he don't break his neck soon he will shortly beat the record as as a parachutist,

"Baldwin" is the young brother of Mr. Richard Judd-Green, and a nephew of Mr. James Judd, the well-known Surrey J.P.

[BNA: Link.]

[born c.1870]

Local cricket fracas . . . 

"Fistic encounters" at the Freemason's Tavern involving the new Wandsworth Cricket Club — was the wrong man turfed out?

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The Wandsworth Club appears desirous of maintaining the not very enviable prestige attaching to it in connection with the Wandsworth Common enclosure.

On Saturday evening, the club-house — the Freemason's Tavern [now the Roundhouse] — was the scene of a fistic encounter, in which the original secretary of the club, a well-known medical student, played a conspicuous part.

Whether the heat, or the generous fare provided by the club hostelry, is responsible for the melee, or the diminutive ex-secretary's temper had been soured in the course of the day's cricket, we know not; but a wordy encounter came about between that gentleman and one of Boniface's patrons, resulting in the ex-secretary being very cruelly handled.

After a short but merry "mill," the bar door was opened, and the assailant of the little man was ejected by the landlord, ice and arnica being applied to the bruised one.

Truly, the gentlemen of the Wandsworth Club are bent upon distinguishing themselves. The little bout has been the talk of the neighbourhood during the past week. Several present were anxious to know why the proprietor, in his zeal for the club patrons, ejected the wrong man, who was certainly the most insulted, if the least punished, of the two.

[BNA: Link.]

The Navvies and Bricklayers' Labourers' Union meet on Wandsworth Common, 1892.

London Evening Standard — Monday 12 September 1892 .


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

[BNA: Link.]

West Side schoolgirl gives beggar into custody.

"Prisoner's arrest was the outcome of the smartness of a scboolgirl named Holly Leggett, 40 West Side, Wandsworth Common . . .  "

South Western Star — Friday 17 September 1909.


John Johnson (69), a costermonger, of 56, Welford-road, Croydon, was charged on remand with begging from house to house — at West Side, Wandsworth Common, on Monday week.

Prisoner's arrest was the outcome of the smartness of a scboolgirl named Holly Leggett, 40 West Side, Wandsworth Common. He tried to obtain money from her by telling a pitiful tale about his wife having been robbed at Clapham Junction which she did not believe.

She followed him and discovered that be told a somewhat similar story to a gentleman. She then gave him into custody.

lt was stated that prisoner had served 30 years in prison, including 21 years' penal servitude for minor offences.

Mr. de Grey said great credit was due to the girl, who followed prisoner and found him out. He would be sentenced to a month's bard labour.

Prisoner: Thank you, sir.

[BNA: Link.]

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Kalulu, "lion of the day", returns to Africa.

"Kalulu — who is more familiarly known as 'Stanley's boy,' being brought home by the celebrated journalist and traveller, Mr. H.D. Stanley — has once more cast in his fortune with his patron, and left Halbrake House, where he was placed by Mr. Stanley for tuition, and has gone out with Mr. Stanley to act as a medium of linguistic intercourse between that gentleman and the natives; so that Kalulu was not this year, as last, one of the lions, or rather the lion of the day . . .  "

"Kalulu" (Ndugu M'Hali, 1865—1877) by "New Wandsworth" photographer Henry Morris, c.1875.

(Click on image to enlarge)

South London Press — Saturday 18 September 1875 .

Halbrake House Athletic Sports.

The celebration of the annual sports in connection with Halbrake House Schopl, New Wandsworth, constitutes one of the permanent features in the diary of events to come amongst the middle and upper classes resident in the neighbourhood, and is looked upon by the parents of the pupils as entirely a red-letter day.

Saturday last proved no exception, and the principal, the Rev. John Condor, may be congratulated upon the success of the day's proceedings, the attendance being both numerous and select, notwithstanding that the sports had been postponed, on account of unfavourable weather, from July 15 — a period more favourable to a large attendance than the present, when so many families are absent at the seaside.

Although on this account many familiar faces amongst the local gentry were absent, there were still many of the leading inhabitants present. The scene was an effective one. The gay toilets of the ladies, as the latter flitted hither and thither — the bright costumes of the competitors, in addition to the gay colours of the flags which marked out the scene of contest, afforded the necessary elements to the production of an animated and festive assembly, whilst the military-attired band of the Laylands Boys' House, under their evidently painstaking master, Mr. W. Herring, infused an additional spirit into the proceedings.

The locale selected — a field adjoining the residence of Mr. James Du Buisson, J. P., which was kindly placed at Mr. Conder's disposal — was both central and well adapted for the purpose, the picturesque and rural surroundings lending an additional charm . . . 

It may interest many if, before closing our notice, we state that Kalulu — who is more familiarly known as "Stanley's boy," being brought home by the celebrated journalist and traveller, Mr. H.D. Stanley — has once more cast in his fortune with his patron, and left Halbrake House, where he was placed by Mr. Stanley for tuition, and has gone out with Mr. Stanley to act as a medium of linguistic intercourse between that gentleman and the natives; so that Kalulu was not this year, as last, one of the lions, or rather the lion of the day.

[BNA: Link.]

HistoryBoys, Magical History Tour: From "The Beeches" to the "Belgian Congo" (January 2022) — section of video on Kalulu.

(Click on image to enlarge)

[Halbrake School was situated on Park Road (now Elsynge Road). James DuBuisson's house was on West Side.]

The Quest for conkers has begun . . . 

Chestnut Avenue, Wandsworth Common, c.1905. This is the view northward, with the County Arms behind you.

There are some very odd fatures shown in this postcard. Any comments, anyone?

(Click on image to enlarge)

South Western Star — Friday 23 September 1938.

(Click on image to enlarge)

(Click on image to enlarge)

Quest for conkers has begun. As in former years we have endeavoured to ascertain why, but so far we have again met with scant success.

In Trinity-road, which is bounded on one side by Wandsworth Gaol, and on the other by the Common, we came across a group of schoolboys who were risking their lives, rummaging among the fallen leaves by the wayside.

Having got them safely on the pavement. we interrogated them as to the why and wherefore of their proceeding.

One of the boys was remarkably bright, his eyes glinted with intelligence.

"Why do you look for conkers?" we asked.

He thought awhile and then answered, "Because we want to find 'em." which was a very good answer indeed, and a model which we commend to Parliamentary candidates when they are harassed by hecklers.

Questioned further, the 'boy admitted that he not eat conkers, though he did not know what urchin discovered that fact.

 . . .

We supposed the discovery by the proceeding known to scientists as trial and error. Some hungry boy ate a conker — boys will eat anything, spill most of what they eat does them good. The conker made him sick, and all the generations of boys since then have profited by his experience.

"We can't eat conkers, but we can rlay games with 'em," explained the bright-eyed boy in Trinity-road.

And can't you play with other thing?!"

"Yes, but they aren't conkers, " which again is only too true.

Then we to findout why conkers have no attraction for girls.

"Girls can't play conkers," we were informed in something like a tone of superiority.

We suggested that they could make necklaces of them, and that girls, when they get big enough, make conquests, and to that extent are conquerors.

These subtleties were lost on the intelligent Wandsworth schoolboy. He resumed and intensified his search for conkers.

We intend to pursue our quest when next we meet with an accomplished psychologist, for we feel almost sure that this adoration of the horse chestnut has its roots in ancestor worship.

[BNA: Link]

Horse Chestnut, from The Ladybird Book of Trees (1963). Text by Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald with illustrations by one of my favourite Ladybird artists, S. Roy Badmin.

(Click on image to enlarge)

"In a Furze Bush — Alleged Spy Charged with Blackmail"

You may recall a story from 1901 I discussed in June 2023's Chronicles: "Couple's disgraceful conduct". The Common was, of course, one of the few easily available places for "courting couples" to, er, "court". But they thereby laid themselves open to public disgrace, and therefore to blackmail — including from men masquerading as Park Keepers. All you needed, it seems, was a badge . . . .

Weekly Dispatch — Sunday 30 September 1906.

(Click on image to enlarge)



Cases of men spying upon lovers on commons and rural parts around London have been frequent lately. Another case, said to be of this description, came before the magistrate at Soutb-West London Police Court.

Charles Nicholls, aged twenty-eight, described as a music-seller, having no address, was charged before Mr. de Grey with unlawfully demanding with menaces a sum of 5s. from Eugene O'Keiffe, a sapper of the Royal Engineers.

The prosecutor stated that he was with a young lady on Wandsworth Common, when the prisoner, wearing a bowler hat, to which was affixed a badge bearing in brass "L.C.C., 643," accosted them unawares, saying, "I've been watching you for a quarter of an hour. You have been behaving improperly, and will have to come with me to the policeman on point duty."

The prosecutor replied, "Very well," and with the lady, who was much agitated and distressed, walked along with him.

After going 200 yards the prisoner stopped and said, "It won't do me any good to run you in; I can be squared."

The witness asked him what he wanted, and he said 5s.

He told him he had no money except sixpence and a few coppers, but promised to meet him at the same place the following night, when he would give him the five shillings.

"What are you going to give me now?" the prisoner asked. He then gave him the sixpence, and the prisoner, accepting his name and address, which he entered in a pocket-book, left after wishing him (witness) good-night. He [Eugene O'Keiffe] reported the matter to a police-constable, and on the following night again visited the common in company of a man friend.

The prisoner did not make his appearance.

They searched about, and discovered the prisoner concealed in a furze-bush. He struggled to avoid arrest, but eventually he was got to the police-station.

William Hutchinson, also of the Royal Engineers, who accompanied the prosecutor to the common, said he was the first to discover the prisoner. He had concealed himself a short distance from a seat on which a lady and gentleman were seated.

The witness said, "What are you doing here? Get up," to which he answered, "I'm not the man."

He was wearing the bowler hat referred to, but near him lay a cloth cap, which he claimed as his.

The prisoner, offering no defence, was remanded for inquiry.

[BNA: Link.]

Here's another account, with further details.

Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper — Sunday 21 October 1906 .


Charles Nicholls, 28, bricklayer, was found "Guilty" of demanding money by menaces from Eugene O'Keeffe, a sapper in the Royal Engineers, of Battersea. lt was proved that he blackmailed young couples on Wandsworth and Barnes commons, and in the course of the case it transpired that he wore a London County Council badge, No. 643.

David Brooks, head common — keeper, Wandsworth-common, proved that the prisoner was not employed by the London County Council. The badges issued to officials were issued annually, and not recalled.

Mr. Loveland, K.C., said this case should provide a hint to the London County Council to call in all disused badges, because they might be ut to all sorts of dishonest ends.

Witness said this had already been done.

Detective-sergeant Harvey, V division. stated that the prisoner had been carrying on the "game" on Barnes, Wandsworth, Clapham, and Tooting Bec commons. On several occasions be had aggravated the offence by attempting to assault young ladies after he had succeeded in separating them from their lovers.

Mr. Loveland said the prisoner's conduct was most vile, and he sentenced him to 18 months' hard labour.

[BNA: Link.]

This was not the first time a Parkie's badge had featured in a crime.

Another man with another ("mysterious") badge . . . 

South Western Star — Friday 19 September 1902.


Charles George (38), Ingrave-street, Battersea, engineer's turner, charged on remand with causing annoyance to the public on Wandsworth Common, contrary to the London County Council by-laws.

The accused was seen on the common with badge in his hat, with the letters "W.P.C." inscribed thereon. A woman named Falkner told a L.C.C. constable that the prisoner ordered her off the common. "He had a badge in his hat," the woman said, "and I thought he was a common keeper."

When before Mr. Garrett last week, Mrs. Falkner, who lives at 23, Park-road [presumably today's Elsynge Road], Battersea, told a different story. She said that the prisoner never ordered her off the common, but that he merely told her to get up as a policeman was approaching. She further stated that she never saw the badge in the man's hat.

Prisoner said he picked the badge up on the common, and innocently placed it in his hat.

Mr. Garrett: Have you found out what the letters "W.P.C." mean?

P.C.220 L.C.C.: No; we don't know what to make of them.

Mr. Garrett: I should think not. They're mysterious to me.

The accused, who was given an excellent character, was discharged.

An inspector of the L.C.C. asked what order Mr. Garrett intended to make relative to the badge.

Mr. Garrett (smiling): Oh! I can't make any order about that; it's too serious a matter.

[BNA: Link.]

The death on 1 September 1932 of the local G.P. John Tod Thyne.

Dr Thyne's practice was based in his home at 101 Earlsfield Road.

I had intended to write something substantial about this remarkable local doctor — who, as it happens, was much loved by the people of Wardley Street and Lydden Grove mentioned in Part One. I've run out of time this month, but soon . . .

Dr John Tod Thyne, headstone, Wandsworth Cemetery, Magdalen Road. His wife, Hannah, was born 13 September 1870, and died 21 August 1950.

[Findagrave: Link.]
(Click on image to enlarge)

In the meanwhile, does anybody know where exactly their grave lies?

I'm collecting material on the lives of a number of people in this cemetery. It's not that I'm uninterested in Battersea Rise Cemetery, it's just that so much less attention has been paid to Magdalen Road. And besides, I walked through it to school every day for years — when I went to Beatrix Potter Infant School, then to Tranmere Road Junior School. (It was also a very important place to walk during lock-downs.)

Do you know of anybody buried here who you think is remarkable, or you would like to know more about? Might there be some interest in cemetery walks?

"Obstinate alien" lands on Wandsworth Common.

South Western Star — Friday 2 September 1904.


Pascali Scal, an Italian ice-cream vendor, of 79, Surrey-lane, was charged with causing an obstruction at Wandsworth Common. P.C.111W stated that prisoner was in charge of an ice-cream barrow. He was told to move away and went, but a few minutes later returned. On being asked a second time to go he refused and was taken into custody. Scal was fined 5s or five days [in gaol].

[BNA: Link.]

SO many more stories still 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.

Plus there's a SEARCH box at the top of this page, and here:

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")

Chronicles etc so far . . . 

September 2023 / 2 — Chronicles

September 2023 / 1 — "Galician Gypsies"

"The death of Sarah Tonks, aged 18, who was found on Saturday morning sleeping on Wandsworth Common", 1909  . . . 

August 2023 —part two

August 2023 —part one —Whatever happened to Neal's Nursery?

July 2023 —part two

July 2023 —part one —In search of Benni, Bella and Ruth

June 2023

May 2023

Some matters arising from May 2023's Chronicles

April 2023

March 2023

February 2023

January 2023

December 2022

November 2022

October 2022

September 2022

August 2022

July 2022

June 2022

May 2022

April 2022

March 2022

February 2022

January 2022

December 2021

November 2021

October 2021

September 2021

August 2021

July 2021

June 2021

Some more videos, talks etc . . . 

New videos from The Friends of Wandsworth Common

P.Y. Betts: The Movie. Superb. Don't miss.
(Click on image to view the video on the Friends of Wandsworth Common website.)

"COMMON MEMORIES: Life on & around Wandsworth Common, 1930s-1980s"

(Click on image to enlarge)

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.

The video is now available to view via the Friends of Wandsworth Common website or on YouTube .

A DVD is also available, at £5.

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.

HistoryBoys | Magic Lantern Show #1 | The Lake, Wandsworth Common . . . also known as the Dog Pond, the Long Pond, or just 'the Pond'.

And here's one on the Three-Island Pond:

HistoryBoys | Magic Lantern Show #? | The Three-Island Pond

  Back to the top of this page . . . 

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")