The History of Wandsworth Common

of Wandsworth Common

Revd Theodore Wood's Dwellers in the Pond, c.1910.
At the time this book was published, Canon Wood was the vicar of St Mary Magdalene, Trinity Road.
(Click on image to enlarge)


"February's ice and sleet,
Freeze the toes right off your feet."

[Flanders and Swann, A Song of the Weather. In 2013 the Battersea Society erected a plaque to Donald Swann on his former home on Albert Bridge Road.

Jennifer Penny

Jennifer Penny, Christmas 2021
With many thanks to her daughter Rachel, who sent us this delightful photograph.
(Click on image to enlarge)

We are very sad to report the death of Jennifer Penny in early January 2022, after a brief illness.

Jennifer was a very active Friend of Wandsworth Common who joined at the launch in May 2018. She was part of the litter-picking and swan-and-duck-food-bagging teams and a great supporter of the Walking for Health group.

She also contributed to the article on Bellevue Road in The Wandsworth Common Story, based on her extensive research, and described herself as 'obsessive' about the Wandsworth Museum.

Stephen Midlane and I met with Jennifer just before the start of Covid in January 2020 to plan a walk'n'talk along Bellevue during the Heritage Festival in May of that year. When it became clear that wasn't going to be possible, we made an online "virtual walk" instead.

Join us on the Bellevue Virtual Walk.

Magical History Tour

As planned, on 18 January 2022 I delivered a MAGICAL HISTORY TOUR for the Friends of Wandsworth Common via Zoom.

I even managed to keep the journey-time to just 40 minutes, to give some time for questions afterwards and still get everybody home within the hour. For me, brevity is a very considerable achievement.

I enjoyed it a lot, so I hope somebody else did too.

A recording was made, which you can view here — along with links to previous HistoryBoys Talks & Videos etc.

So now for some February Chronicles...

As ever, I'll keep adding to and tweaking texts and images for a few days. (Hence if you're returning to this page, it may be worth refreshing your browser.)

Email me if you want to comment on anything you've seen or read on the site, or would like to know more about something, or just want to be kept in touch.

Philip Boys


Thomas Hardy — 1 February 1880

This passage in Thomas and Florence Hardy's The Life of Thomas Hardy intrigued me:

"On the first of February 1880 Hardy observed a man skating by himself on the pond by Trinity-Church Schools at Upper Tooting, near his own house, and was moved to note down:

"It is a warm evening for the date, and there has been a thaw for two or three days, so the birds sing cheerfully. A buttercup is said to be visible somewhere, and spring has insured, peeps in upon us. What can the sentiments of that man be, to enjoy ice at such a time? ... He skates around the edge, it being unsafe to go into the middle, and he seems to sigh as he puts up with a limitation resulting from blessed promise."

Trinity Schools? A lake on Trinity Road in Upper Tooting?

Now, thanks to a large-scale OS map, I think I know where Hardy encountered the enigmatic lone skater, and this is what's there today:

BP Connect Garage, 62-64 Trinity Road.
[Source: Google Maps.]

And before the garage? See these interesting images on the Borough Photos website:

"National Schools" were built on either side of Trinity Road, next to Holy Trinity Church. View from road showing demolition in progress, 1959.
The older school, built next door to the parsonage, was demolished in 1959 and later a filling station put on the site. After many years of dereliction, the school across the road now contains (rather handsome) flats.
[Wandsworth Borough Photographs.]

(Click on image to enlarge)

Holy Trinity Church and its environs, c.1870.
I have coloured in blue what I believe was Hardy's pond (at the corner of Field 20). Today's Trinity Road is called "Wandsworth Lane", Trinity Crescent is "St Nicholas Road". The road opposite the "National Schools" is now Glenburnie Road, and the crossroads at the bottom of the map is now Tooting Bec.

(Click on image to enlarge)

South London Press — Saturday 01 February 1868


It was resolved that the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway should be requested to remove the gipsies "camping on their land on Wandsworth Common."

[BNA: Link.]

Cycling — Saturday 03 February 1894

"RIDING over Wandsworth Common the other day, we suddenly met a cycling Rip Van Winkle...

Strayed out of a picture.

RIDING over Wandsworth Common the other day, we suddenly met a cycling Rip Van Winkle, who looked as if he had ridden straight out of one of Geo. Moore's earliest drawings.

He was a gentleman of mature years, dressed in the light uniform, and polo cap, once considered de rigueur, and mounted on a venerable ordinary, in good condition.

In our own party was a young lady on an up-to-date pneumatic safety; the contrast was quite impressive, a perfect picture of May and December in cycling.

[BNA: Link.]

(Click on image to enlarge)

An "Ordinary" was what we might call a "Penny-farthing". All the rage with young men in the 1870s, such bicycles were already now obsolete. No gears, no air-filled tyres, hard to climb on to, and a great height to fall from. And of course almost exclusively male.

The arrival of "Safety bicycles" revolutionised women's opportunities for independent travel.

Up-to-date "safety" bicycles with pneumatic tyres. Illustration by George Moore.
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Two women cycling on Burntwood Lane, early twentieth-century. The photograph is by Dorrett and Martin, whose studio was on Bellevue Road.
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I'm hoping to give a talk in May or June on changes in local sports (and how sport transformed the Common itself) — to be called something like "Sporting Wandsworth Common: A Talk of Two Halves". More news soon.

5 February 1881 — Death of historian and cultural critic Thomas Carlyle

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Arrangement in Gray and Black No.2 1873 (portrait of Thomas Carlyle). Glasgow Museums
Whistler's friend, lawyer and major collector James Anderson Rose was a major figure in the fight to save Wandsworth Common. Rose lived on the edge of the Common (facing Wandsworth Commmon Station).

(Click on image to enlarge)

Recollections of Carlyle

Carlyle, in 1865, after having finished Frederick the Great, said one day that he had ridden as many miles in his life as would have taken him round the globe, and as he would ride no more he offered him (Mr. Blunt) his horse. It was one which Carlyle, he thought, had got from Lady Ashburton. Well, he accepted the horse, but it was one which had exceedingly bad manners. There was no riding him.

Carlyle used to ride him out to Wandsworth Common and Clapham Common, and while doing so would begin to think about Frederick, so that the horse had his own way, and frequently people would see the horse grazing at the side of the road and a tall figure sitting all unconscious on his back thinking about Frederick the Great (laughter).

When he (Mr. Blunt) tried to get the animal past some places, nothing would induce him to move, and he gave him up altogether. He had been a good horse once, but had been entirely spoiled by Carlyle's habits.

[BNA: London Evening Standard — Thursday 19 January 1893]<>

Dundee Evening Telegraph — Wednesday 05 February 1930

"The Thames Angling Preservation Society has just presented 5000 "tiddlers" for restocking the ponds of Wandsworth Common...

"Pleasures to come — small children watching men who are restocking the ponds on Hampstead Heath and Wandsworth Common with 5,000 good fat tiddlers" (Reynolds's Newspaper, 9 Feb 1930).
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"Tiddlers" From the Thames.

The Thames Angling Preservation Society has just presented 5000 "tiddlers" for restocking the ponds of Wandsworth Common and Hampstead Heath, two of the most popular youthful hunting-grounds.

Attempts to secure a restocking of the ponds were made in Parliament last year by various members without result and the question has been, troubling the L.C.C. ever since. It is to be hoped that the youthful anglers will properly appreciate this gift from older members of the craft. A touch of sport makes the whole world kin.

[BNA: Link.]

It's hard to understand why the introduction of "tiddlers" into a pond on Wandsworth Common should interest the good people of Dundee, but there you are.

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The Thames Angling Preservation Society, which provided the fish, is a rather interesting organisation. Founded in 1838, its aims were in line with the movement to protect urban commons — to safeguard and promote the right of everybody to fish in the non-tidal Thames from Richmond all the way up to Staines, about twenty miles. Foul as the river may have been in central London, in the middle of the nineteenth century the river upstream of Battersea was still rich in fish:

"Trout were few in number but celebrated for their huge size and the excellence of their flavour... while pike and jack were numerous, and perch, barbel, chub, eels, lampreys, flounders, roach, dace, gudgeon, bleak, pope, ruff, and minnows were abundant in all parts of the Thames from Battersea Bridge upwards, and fine carp and tench were taken in some places."

Perhaps more about the Society another time.

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Daily News (London) — Wednesday 11 February 1846

On Wandsworth Common, in front of "an enormous concourse", local man Mills loses to "the Holloway Novice" Frost.


Frost, the Holloway Novice, who was recently defeated in his 1000 yards' match with Matthews, at Acton Bottom, encountered yesterday Mills of Wandsworth, for a regular breather of four miles, over Wandsworth Common.

An enormous concourse was attracted, and within a few a minutes of four o'clock the competitors were brought to the scratch.

Mills led for the first mile, Frost occasionally putting in the nippers, after which he parted company, and went home easy victor of 100 yards, covering the ground in 21 minutes 53 seconds.

[BNA: Link.]

South London Press — Tuesday 13 February 1877


William White (46), of Wardley-street, Wandsworth, a labourer, was charged with stealing about a gallon of horsebeans, the property of his master, Robert Neal.

James Boatright, detective of the V Division, said he saw the prisoner about 6 o'clock on Friday evening in Old Farthing-lane, Wandsworth, carrying a basket. The basket contained about a gallon of horsebeans, and as the prisoner could not satisfactorily account for their possession witness took him into custody. Prisoner offered witness a sovereign to let him go.

Robert Neal, of Wandsworth Common, contractor, identified the beans as his property. Prisoner was a yardman in his employ, and had charge of the stores. He had been so employed about two years. Prisoner also had a little general shop in Wardley-street, and kept two horses.

Prisoner pleaded guilty, and begged for mercy on account of his sick wife and seven children. He did not know he could have been so silly as to take the beans. He had the heartache all the way home after he had taken them.

Mr. Bridge sentenced him to six weeks' hard labour.

[BNA: Link.]

Surrey Comet — Saturday 16 February 1878

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(Sons and Successors to Robert Neil)




TAR PAVING and all kinds of ASPHALTING

done by Contract.

Estimates furnished on the shortest notice.

Loam, Peat, Mould, Turf, Gravel, and Sand.



[BNA: Link.]

The Graphic and the Illustrated London News — Saturday 17 February 1883

Before you read on, have a good look at these two images. How might they be connected to Wandsworth Common?

Illustrated London News, 17 February 1883.
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The Graphic, 17 February 1883.
Spotting who's who is a bit like trying to name everybody on The Beatles' Sgt Pepper cover.
[Source: Alamy.]
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The connection with Wandsworth Common? They show revellers at a charity ball in aid of Bolingbroke Hospital, opened three years earlier on Bolingbroke Grove — yet another initiative by the extraordinary John Erskine Clarke. (Write a biography, someone!)


The Bolingbroke Fancy Costume Ball was held at the Albert Hall, February 6th, and was even more successful than last year, being both numerously and fashionably attended. At midnight the area of the vast interior presented to those looking down from the box tiers a veritable kaleidoscope of brilliant and ever-changing colour.

Among the characters there were, as a matter of course, Carmens, Mascottes, Madame Favarts, French Cooks, Pierrots, and Jack Tars; there was a very handsomely-attired Marie Antoinette; an Amy Robsart in blue plush and pearls; an Austrian Vivandiere in a crimson velvet jacket, trimmed with white fur; a Colleen Bawn in a green dress and a scarlet-hooded cloak; a charming brace of Boulogne fish wives; a pair (male and female) of Egyptian slaves; and a lady who cleverly represented a Paint Box, by wearing a skirt of dark brown, arranged with squares of all colours to represent the paints, a palette fan, and hair fastened with palette knife and brushes...

The Bolingbroke House Pay Hospital, on behalf of which this entertainment was organised, is a spacious and conveniently arranged mansion, standing on the verge of Wandsworth Common. It is intended to offer to sick persons who are able to pay, wholly or partially, for their support, all the advantages of hospital treatment and nursing, with, as far as possible, the comfort and privacy of home. Patients are admitted on payment of a reasonable proportion of their weekly cost, which averages £2 2s., if they are really unable to pay the whole of that sum. Each room contains from two to six beds. A private room may be had at from £3 3s. weekly.

Full particulars concerning the Hospital may be obtained from the Honorary Secretary, J.S. Wood, Esq., Woodville, Upper Tooting,

[BNA: ILN, 17 February 1883.]

Here's how the Illustrated London News reported the event:


The Bolingbroke House Pay Hospital, on Wandsworth Common, is "a home in sickness for thuse who need the advantages of hospital treatment, and who are able to pay wholly or partially for the same," the cost of each patient being, on the average, two guineas a week. 'This institution, of which the President is the Rev. Canon Erskine Clarke, Vicar of Battersea, and Mr. J.S. Wood is Honorary Secretary, has been two ge in operation; and we have more than once commended it to public support.

For the benefit of its funds, resorting to au agreeable method of raising inoney that is fashionable in these days, a Grand Fancy-Dress Ball took place on Tuesday night of Inst week at the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington. About four hundred and fifty ladies and gentlemen wearing costumes figured in the arena reserved for dancing, while the stalls, boxes, and galleries were filled with spectators of a very gay and amusing motley assemblage, some figures of which are shown in our Artist's Sketches.

The Earl of Leicester, from "Kenilworth," in a gorgeous white satin doublet slashed with gold, made a still more splendid appearance; there waa a Claude Duval, a Faust and a Mephistopheles, a Red Indian with tomahawk and scalp-belt, a Julius Cesar, an Ivanhoe, a Union Jack, an Albanian, a Turk, and a Chinaman, among the gentlemen; but some of them appeared in Court dress, or in military uniform.

Among the ladies there were shepherdesses, fisher-girls, flower-girls, and fairies, grandes dames of the French Court in the last century, Roman matrons, Egyptian slaves, and a copy of Mrs. Langtry in the character of Hester Grazebrook.

Thanks to the meticulous reporting of the event by the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, we can know exactly who dressed up as who.

It's rather interesting to follow up some of the contemporary references. Many allusions are largely obscure to us now. But here is one with a number of links to Wandsworth Common: "Mrs. Langtry in the character of Hester Grazebrook" — a character in Battersea author Tom Taylor's play An Unequal Match.

Lillie Langtry as Hester Grazebrook.
(Click on image to enlarge)

Lillie (or Lily) was also close friend of Oscar Wilde, later to be sent to Wandsworth Prison. (A plaque on Clapham Junction station commemorates his transportation to Reading Gaol from Wandsworth Prison. In 1882, Wilde wrote an article for New York World, "Mrs. Langtry as Hester Grazebrook", which appears to have secured her reputation. It starts:

"It is only in the best Greek gems, on the silver coins of Syracuse, or among the marble figures of the Parthenon frieze, that one can find the ideal representation of the marvellous beauty of that face which laughed through the leaves last night as Hester Grazebrook.

[Source:"An Unequal Match".]

The Wikipedia article on Lillie Langtry is mind-boggling.]

Manchester Evening News — Thursday 17 February 1881

High drama on Bellevue Road. A greengrocer horsewhips a lady living nearby for not having paid her bill.


Yesterday, at the Wandsworth Police Court, London, James Sheabey, greengrocer, of Bellevue Road, Wandsworth Common, appeared to answer a summons charging him with having assaulted Mrs Ada Lewis, a lady residing at Star Villa, in the Bellevue Road.

The complainant said that on the night of the 7th instant the defendant called for account, but she told him that her husband was not home.

At a quarter to 12 he came again, and then he carried with him a long carter's whip. She told him to call in the morning, when her husband was at home. He rushed her, but she retreated into the passage.

He, however, struck her with the whip severely, the thong passing from the shoulder along the breast. He also used abusive language and threatened to murder her.

The defendant denied the assault, and said he struck a dog which flow at him. THe complainant said the dog did not fly at him. When the dog barked her sister pushed it into the room. That occurred before the defendant whipped her.

Mr. Matthews, surgeon, said he was called to the complainant on the 8th inst., and found that she had a mark eight or ten inches in length, extending from the shoulder to the breast. The skin was not broken, but the blow had been severe. A blow from a whip stick would have caused the mark.

The complainant, in reply to the magistrate said she wore a thick dress and an ulster too, as she was very cold. Her husband came home by the last train. Mr. Lewis said he had been threatened by the defendant.

The defendant applied for adjournment of the case, but Mr. Paget refused to grant it, and said he had been guilty of very cowardly conduct. He fined him £2. 15s. with £2. 4s. costs, and the money was paid.

[BNA: Link.]

I wonder where the greengrocer James Sheabey's shop was on Bellevue? I have yet to find him in any Census. I wonder if his name really was "Sheabey" — not unique, but pretty unusual. Perhaps a typo? Which was Ada Lewis's home, Star Villa? Did Sheabey's business suffer as a result?

Happy Birthday, Mr Buckmaster — but when exactly were you born?

John Buckmaster, the "man who saved Wandsworth Common", was probably born on the 22nd, 23rd or 24th of February — sources vary. This is confusing enough. But even the year is uncertain. (Presumably he wanted it that way.)

Portrait of John Buckmaster.
(Click on image to enlarge)

Frustratingly, the puzzle cannot be solved by reference to official records. This is before the time of compulsory registration of births, marriages and deaths (1837), and (strangely) there is no entry for his birth or baptism in the parish records in his home village of Slapton, in Buckinghamshire.

Both his mother's family's Prayer Book and Burke's Peerage give 1823, but neither source is necessarily reliable. (Burke's say they've lost the original documentation on which they based their date, and families sometimes record hearsay or estimated dates.)

John Burnett, who edited and republished John Buckmaster's pseudonymous autobiography, A Village Politician: The Life Story of John Buckley (1982) states (without showing evidence) that it was 1820.

At the other extreme, the lengthy obituary notice in the Surrey Comet (published 25 July 1908) states that "Deceased was born on 22nd February, 1819" — i.e. four years earlier than the Prayer Book states.

1819 is also the year that Mary Tasker, his great-great-granddaughter [I think I've got the relationship right, but I must check], plumps for in her terrific MSc dissertation on JCB's contribution to the history of education (1974).

Which year was JCB born? The fine plaque on Wandsworth Common, placed there by the Friends of Wandsworth Common in July 2021, nicely hedges its bets by saying "circa 1820".
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The Battersea Society's plaque, at the upper level entrance to Clapham Junction station (JCB lived nearby for many decades), goes for a year earlier — "c.1819".
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Gravestones are often good sources of info., but not in this case.

John and Emily Buckmaster's grave in Teddington Cemetery (plot Ec Grave B.199-201).
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Although a birthdate is given for his wife Emily (1 November 1831), none is shown for John. Is this significant? I have yet to examine the inscriptions for myself and even the transcription is confusing — FindaGrave gives his age at death as both 88 and 89 (see here). It is not impossible that there is more on the base below the level of today's grass. I must check.

So it's still a puzzle.

But whatever year you were born, John, Happy Birthday!

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Philip Boys ("HistoryBoys")