The History of Wandsworth Common

The Warning of Wandsworth Common

Anon. [Tom Taylor]

Punch, 4 March 1865

(Click on image to enlarge)


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

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

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

An eldritch sound that thrilled the ground,
And through the air did run;
'Twas the Spirit of Wandsworth Common that called
To the Spirit of Wimbledon!

Spirit of Wandsworth Common.

Sleep'st thou, Brother?

Spirit of Wimbledon Common.

Brother, nay!
Sleep from me is scared away.

Round my skirts surveyors stride,
Through my furze-brakes builders glide:
Bold invaders, plotters sly,
Meting me with pace and eye.

Chain and tape — ah, woe is me!
Draw around my dingles free —
'Tis for this I watch and weep,
Now when happier Commons sleep!

Spirit of Wandsworth Common.

Watching, Brother, thou dost well:
'Twas for want of watch I fell.
As secure I sleeping lay
In the shade of SPENCER's name,

Foemen cut my skirts away,
Left me scarred and bared to shame.
Well thou knowest once how brave,
Robed in green, I met the spring;

How my birch-plumes used to wave
O'er golden gorse and purple ling;
How the April-lovers knew me,
Summer loiterers flocked unto me;

What rich feasts of light and air
'Neath the blue sky's breezy tent,
I would spread — life-giving fare —
To the pale Poor, city-pent!

Happier Common, then, than I
Basked not under Surrey sky:
Freer, fairer Common none
Took frown of cloud, or smile of sun.

So I slept — till evil men
Stript and scarred me, back and brow;
Think, oh think, what I was then,
See, oh see, what I am now!

My green robe's a tattered shred,
Gold and purple's rent away:
Torn the birch-plumes from my head;
E'en my very skin they flay!

Take my bones to mend the roads,
Dot me o'er with vile abodes —
Hideous Cockney-villa spawn,
Each squat in its cube of lawn!

And a prison glares and glooms
From its iron-windowed tombs; —
Burial-place o' the living, here,
And a cemetery, there!

Schools, asylums — well I ween,
Little children are my joy;
In old times my gladdest green
Was put on for girl and boy;

And my lap was full of flowers
To make sweet their playin' hours.
But the more I love their play,
From their schools I turn away.

But e'en schools I'd bear to take,
All for Charity's sweet sake.
No such plea my soul resigns
To the hateful iron-lines,

That my wasted forehead score,
Growing ever, more and more!
Then be warned, ere 'tis too late,
Brother, by a brother's fate.

If thou sleep, as I have slept,
Thou wilt weep as I have wept.
SPENCER is a noble name, —
Noble still a SPENCER's aim:

Yet though SPENCER spurns reward,
And though SPENCER seeks not pelf,
Better than e'en SPENCER's guard,
Is his guard that guards himself.

I know how the shoe doth pinch —
And this tale each corn doth tell —
Brother, do not give an inch,
Lest, perchance, they take an ell!

Anon. [Tom Taylor], "The Warning of Wandsworth Common", Punch or the London Charivari, 4 March 1865

[ Link]