The History of Wandsworth Common


of Wandsworth Common



Late, as usual. No particular links between the stories (that I can see), except perhaps a surprising number of references to Ireland, to people who share the name "Thorne", to walking and running, to cricket pitches, and to dangerous and annoying fences.

There are also a couple of sequels to earlier stories, including the evolution of Earslfield road, and the identities of last month's mystery duellists.

Chronicles of Wandsworth Common — April 2023

— Jack Heath's attempt on the World Non-Stop Walking Record, 1973  . . . 

— "Mr. Bertram . . . for a wager . . . to walk from the Hope Tavern, Wandsworth Common, to Clapham Junction station in 20 minutes", 1877  . . . 

— Notice of Arthur Twilley's first race, 1845  . . . 

— Ninety-five reindeer have their run of the Common, 1887  . . . 

— Would-be duellists "Wilkinson, Smith and Jones" — their identities revealed, 1839  . . . 

— Earlsfield Road evolves, 1879  . . . 

— The remnants of the 3rd London General Hospital sold off, 1921  . . . 

— Cricket pitches opposed as "enclosures", 1877  . . . 

— Spencer Cricket Club leaves the Common, 1878  . . . 

— Indignation at the public "being deprived of ancient common rights" by the erection of fences and signs to "keep off the grass", 1895  . . . 

— Some very naughty boys set light to the Reformatory on Spanish Road, 1870  . . . 

"Black, grim, and weird looked Wandsworth Common  . . . 

— Mysterious death of a woman, 1887  . . . 

— Cowkeeper George Rough waters down his milk, 1874  . . . 

— The first prefabs to be built on the Common, 1946  . . . 

— Classic anti-war play by Battersea resident Sean O'Casey performed at St Mary Magdalene, 1939  . . . 

"The day when all news will be transmitted by wireless may be far distant, but a decided step in this direction has been made" on Wandsworth Common, 1913  . . . 

— In case of emergency  . . . 

— Crossing the Common at night, William Thorne breaks both his legs, 1838  . . . 

— Fundraising for Bolingbroke Hospital, 1895  . . . 

— Man injured vaulting over iron railings, 1939  . . . 

— A(nother) slaughter-house for Bellevue Road?, 1893  . . . 

Last April's Chronicles — 2022

— Rough-and-ready index of all stories in the Chronicles so far.

Fifty years ago this week Wandsworth Common was the setting for Jack Heath's attempt on the World Non-Stop Walking Record . . . 

As he walked, he was interviewed for the BBC.

We've just passed the 50th anniversary of Jack Heath's attempt at the World Non-stop Walking Record, on Wandsworth Common.

Grrr — I missed this in March, but I simply can't wait another year so I'm including it now.

You can view the whole TV interview here (3 mins 43 secs), and read a transcript here.

Notice some interesting views of Wandsworth Common in the background as he walks and talks . . . 

Jack Heath's probable circuit — I measured it out and the numbers work.

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Are you asking yourselves whether Jack Heath succeeded in his attempt on the world record?

I simply don't know the answer. Other than the TV report, I have found absolutely no references to his epic journey. If you know anything more about it, do please get in touch.

And while we're on the subject of circumnavigations, let's not forget John Buckmaster et al's "Beating of the Bounds" of Battersea Parish in May 1862.

South London Press — Saturday 21 April 1877

"Mr. Bertram . . . undertook, for a wager, to walk from the Hope Tavern, Wandsworth Common, to Clapham Junction station in 20 minutes."


On Saturday evening the quondam [former] quietude of the neighbourhood of Wandsworth Common was somewhat rudely disturbed by the carrying out of a pedestrian feat, which, from the notoriety of the actors therein, deserves passing record.

Mr. Bertram, of Park-road, New Wandsworth, a gentleman hitherto not credited with Westonian or O'Leary-like proclivities, undertook, for a wager, to walk from the Hope Tavern, Wandsworth Common, to Clapham Junction station in 20 minutes, accompanied by the referee, Mr. Bell Miller, a gentleman inclined to corpulency, and who was consequently entirely out of training, and by a somewhat diminutive medical student, who acted the part of "coach."

The well-known amateur commenced his task, which he accomplished in 19 1/2 minutes; but not before the corpulent retiree had got what in pedestrian parlance would be called a good bucketting, and the diminutive coach had been compelled to resort to anything but "fair heel-and-toe" pedestrianism.

The match has been the talk of the week in New Wandsworth and Clapham Junction pedestrian quarters, and the out-paced student has been heard to swear by St. George and various other hospital saints that he will never more attempt to be Mr. Bertram's mentor, and yet the performance is not a great one, unless the lateness of the hour be considered.

[BNA: Link.]

Notice of a forthcoming race on Wandsworth Common between two local "pedestrians" (i.e. professional runners, walkers and jumpers), Robert Inwood of Tooting and Arthur Twilley of Wandsworth. This will be Twilley's first known contest.

Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle — Sunday 13 April 1845

R. Inwood of Tooting and A. Twilly of Wandsworth — to run one mile, £10 a side, near the Plough, Battersea Rise, Surrey.

Inwood and Twilley — Robert Inwood, Tooting, and Twilley, Wandsworth, Surrey, are matched to run one mile, for £10 a side. £5 a side are now down, and the race to come off on the 5th of May, near Wandsworth.

[BNA: Link]

You may recall this fine image of Robert Inwood. I haven't found one of Arthur Twilley, but I live in hope.

A fine portrait of local pedestrian Robert Inwood. I haven't found one of Arthur Twilley yet, but I live in hope.

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For a report of the race itself, which took place on 5 May, and Arthur Twilley's racing year to April 1846, see next month's Chronicles.

Some questions for you. Does the name "Twilley Street" ring a bell? And how did Twilley end up in outer space? More on these as well.

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Ninety-five reindeer have their run of the Common.

The Sportsman — Saturday 16 April 1887

Young man running past Windmill — also vest insignia

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This promising club, whose muster-roll now shows a total of ninety-five members, have now changed their head-quarters to the Freemasons' Hotel. Battersea Rise, Wandsworth Common, and the following are the handicaps decided during the summer evenings:

April 27 — 120 Yards Handicap;

June 1 — 880 Yards Handicap;

July 6 — One Mile and Photo;

August 3 — One Mile Walk;

September 7 — 300 Yards Handicap. The races will decided the vicinity of their head-quarters, which are about two minutes' walk from Clapham Junction.

Three prizes will be given for each race, and entries for the sprint should sent the hon. sec. on or before Wednesday next, April 20.

All officers are requested to attend the committee meeting at the Freemasons' Hotel on the same date, at 8 p.m.

[BNA: Reindeer Harriers]

More on Reindeer Harriers (Chronicles December 2022).

"Alias Wilkinson, Smith and Jones" — again

Last month I wrote about the would-be duellists "Wilkinson, Smith and Jones". Frustrated in their desire to shoot one another on Wandsworth Common, they gave the police false names, and were altogether evasive about the cause of their dispute. In April, their identities were exposed . . . 

The Pilot — Friday 12 April 1839

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The Late Meditated Duel

We have been given to understand that the parties recently prevented from fighting a duel on Wandsworth Common were Robert William Jackson, Esq, the barrister (formerly a candidate for Armagh), and Mr. William John O'Connell, Esq,, relative of the member for Dublin.

The police, who arrived just to time to prevent the exchange of shots, succeeded in capturing Mr. Jackson and his friends, and took them to Union Hall*, where they gave their names as Wilkinson, Jones, and Smith, and were bound over to keep the peace.

Mr. O'Connell escaped; but one of his pistols, which he lent to Mr Jackson, was impounded by the magistrate, and still remains at Union Hall.

The parties would subsequently have earned out their intentions on the continent, but were advised by two eminent counsel that the recognizances of their friends would nevertheless be forfeited.

We understand the quarrel originated in some misunderstanding, unconnected with politics, at Mr. Jackson's lodgings, Thayer-street, Manchester-square — Weekly Chronicle.

[BNA: Link.]

[* Union Hall — on Union Street, Southwark — the Surrey Magistrates Court. The Justices who sat here were professional lawyers, not lay magistrates.]

"The quarrel [was] unconnected with politics." Really? That's rather hard to believe.

Robert William Jackson: in the 1835 election, the Conservative Jackson (163 votes) lost to the Whig Leonard Dobbin (197 votes). Seats were decided by a minuscule electorate, of course.

The "member for Dublin" must be the illustrious Daniel O'Connell (1775—1847), political leader of Irish Roman Catholics at the time.

Daniel O'Connell

"The charismatic pioneer of Irish popular politics, O'Connell had grown up in the shadow of the repressive 'Penal Laws' which maintained the social and civil inferiority of Catholics in Ireland. In 1823 he founded the Catholic Association to mobilise the entire Irish Catholic population in a systematic challenge to the Protestant ruling class, known as the 'Ascendancy'. By sheer force of numbers and the ultimate threat of civil war they finally achieved the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829."

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Daniel O'Connell's four sons also became MPs — is the "William John O'Connell" of the article his third son, John (1810—1858)? Possibly, but perhaps not, because John was an MP at the time of the duel, and surely the report would have said so.

For more info. see the Wikipedia articles: Armagh City (UK Parliamentary Constituency) and 1835 United Kingdom General Election.

The evolution of Earlsfield Road . . . 

In last December's Chronicles I began to describe the origin and development of Earlsfield Road. Its Garratt Lane end was originally called "Nottidge Road", after the main landowners in the area.

By the 1870s, the Nottidges had been displaced by Robert Davis. He enlarged their substantial home, "Elm Lodge", and renamed it "Earslfield House", and Nottidge Road was restyled Earlsfield Road. By 1884 a railway station had been created at the lower end, originally called "Earlsfield and Summers Town" but eventually abbreviated to "Earlsfield".

["Earl", incidentally, was his wife's surname. See Geoff Simmons's excellent account (with lots of pics), Earlsfield Celtic Connection.]

"Nottidge Road" on a Stanford map of 1877 — the cul-de-sac (ending in a field) that will eventually become Earlsfield Road. Notice there is no Magdalen Road, or railway station.

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Stanford 1891 — lots of changes. Nottidge Road has been extended and renamed "Earlsfield Road". Magdalen Road now runs straight as a ruler across the fields. The cemetery is still small (it opened in 1878, and was enlarged in 1898). Where the roads converge, notice "Earlsfield and Summers Town" station (opened 1884).

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South London Press — Saturday 5 April 1879

The fact that Mr. Robert Davis, a wealthy City merchant, residing at Earlsfield House, Wandsworth Common, had purchased some ninety acres of land, lying to the right of the London and South-Western line, and extending from the Wandsworth prison to Garratt-lane, is now tolerably well known.

It is intended, we are informed, to erect thereon villa residences, averaging in cost from £800 to £1,000 each plot, having some forty feet frontage and a depth of from one hundred to one hundred and eighty feet.

The plans, which have been drawn up by Mr. T.G. Lynes, the well-known architect of Suffolk [??] House, St John's Hill, have been passed by the Metropolitan Board, and the contract for making the principal road, which is to be called Earlsfield-road, and will extend from the end of Windmill-road to Garratt-lane, has been given to Messrs. Robert and George Neal, of Wandsworth Common, the following being the various tenders sent in: Messrs. Nowell and Robson, £7,700; Neave and Son, £6,348; Clarke (Thornton Heath), £5,997 3s. 4d.; Hampton (Wandsworth), £5,586; Aviss (Putney), £5,498; James Neal, £5,283; and R. and G. Neal, £5,266 (accepted).

The Neal family, lowest bidder, won the contract. By this time they had ceased to be principally involved in ornamental plant nurseries and had other businesses, including hansom cabs and road construction and surfacing.

Part of a 1912 Railway Clearing House map of showing "Earlsfield and Summers Town" railway station

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West London Observer — 1 April 1921

"Corrugated iron buildings and huts. All in excellent condition . . . "

The last remnants of the 3rd London General Hospital sold by auction.

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Having cleared the "Extension" of its wartime assemblages, the LCC could get to work on transforming it, adding hard tennis courts and a bowling green, converting Neal's Farm into a refreshment house (now the Skylark), and creating what we call the Cricket Field. The area is now slightly larger than the Extension — its edge bellies southward — since the needs of cricketers demanded a wider boundary.

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The LCC slightly enlarged the Extension's southern edge to increase the area of the cricket pitches. You can just about see the original limit in the top image as a pale line in the grass.

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The need/demand for decent cricket pitches proved a persuasive argument for saving the Common. But pitches take up a lot of space, and must be carefully tended — levelled, drained, grassed, rolled, mown and so on. Non-cricketers could get very resentful.

Although it was public land, private cricket clubs were often happy to contribute to the costs — but only if they could signal and protect "their" area by some kind of fence or boundary rope, and had priority over use of the pitch. Hence, conflict occurred between clubs over bookings, and between cricketers and other users of the Common.

Interestingly, even after the passing of the Wandsworth Common Act in 1871 the language of "enclosure" continued to be deployed to preserve the Common — not against sale of land, of course, but to oppose its exclusive use by particular sectional interests.

South London Press — 5 April 1877


The clerk then read a letter from Mr. E. Hawkins, of Clapham Junction, complaining at a proposed spoliation and encroachment on a portion of Wandsworth Common by a body called the Wandsworth Cricket Club, and requesting that the vestry might take such steps in the matter as they deemed necessary.

Mr. Cleave said that the matter was a very important one, and it appeared to him that if they had any power to deal with it they should certainly do so. It was well-known that by the Act Wandsworth Common was preserved for the purpose of being devoted to unrestricted recreation, but such would not be the case if the Conservators handed over a considerable portion of the land to a particular cricket club which might at any moment be dissolved.

He moved, "That having received a letter concerning the proposed appropriation of a part of Wandsworth Common to a particular cricket club, trusts that the Conservators will keep strictly within the lines laid down in the Wandsworth Common Act — viz., the keeping of the common for unrestricted exercise and recreation, whether by cricket or other games."

Mr. Gosden inquired if Mr. Hawkins was a ratepayer.

The Clerk: Yes.

Dr. Kempster seconded the motion, as he knew personally that there existed a very great objection against any part of the beautiful common being fenced off or in any way appropriated to a particular purpose.

Mr. J.H. Ward did not wish to express an opinion one way or the other, but he had been advised that fencing off of the land was not an "appropriation', within the meaning of the Act, and in support of that view, he quoted various sections and bye-laws hearing bearing upon the case.

The resolution was then put to the meeting and carried unanimously.

[BNA: Link.]

The Spencer Cricket Club leaves Wandsworth Common . . . 

South London Press — 20 April 1878

The Spencer Cricket Club leaves Wandsworth Common, 1878.

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I notice that the Spencer Cricket Club, which have so long monopolized portion of the Tooting side of Wandsworth Common, have now taken a private ground. The posts and rails still exist, but, it is to hoped, only temporarily. The sight of posts and rails on public common, which should be free and open all comers, is anything but a healthy one.

The Conservators will well to guard against any future appropriation of the space in question. yielding the petition Wandsworth Club, very unwise stop was taken, which was suitably resented the Battersea Vestry and others. Were all applications for space to play matches submitted to the ballot, all objection would cease.

I understand several clubs will watch very jealously the course taken Conservators during the present season with regard to the disputed space in question, which is, or should be, the property of all. Should any undue preference shown, the opposition will take very decided shape — whether of the De Morgan character or not I am not able to say.

[Note: "whether of the De Morgan character or not I am not able to say . . . " This is a reference to John De Morgan. For the moment, we can leave it as "political activist" associated with leading popular demonstrations, particularly in defence of Commons (such as the Plumstead Common Enclosure Riots of 1876). He has a number of connections with Wandsworth and Clapham Commons.]

I'm fairly sure that the Spencer Cricket Club used a ground on the Common next to the Hope. It appears to have moved first to a ground between Loxley Road and Magdalen Road, then down the hill to its current location between Magdalen Road and Burntwood Lane.

As I've suggested before, I think you can still see the evidence today in the curving course that "The Avenue" (with its mainly plane trees on either side of the path) takes between The Hope and Trinity Road. It certainly looks like the ghost of a cricket boundary to me. What do you think?

Postcard showing "The Avenue" c.1910. Notice the gentle leftward curve that I think corresponds to the boundary of the Spencer Cricket Club's original ground, near the Hope (and Wandsworth Common Railway station), which they vacated in the 1870s. The Hope was often used as their changing room.

[Notice also the metal estate fencing, crossing left to right in the middle distance, discussed  below.]

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Indignation at the public "being deprived of their ancient common rights" by cinder paths and the erection of fences and signs to "keep off the grass".

South Western Star — Saturday 27 April 1895

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The Commons and the People.

Mr. J.T. Bees, Mr. Sayer, Mr. Hall, and other well-known gentlemen were very indignant (at a meeting of the Bolingbroke Ratepayers' Club Tuesday night) about the County Councll's treatment of the commons.

On Clapham and Wandsworth Common hurdles were put while the turf was being renewed, and the public were shut off the grass. It now appears that what was regarded as only a temporary arrangement is to permanent, and those who manage the commons desire to keep the public to the shingle paths, the order "keep off the grass" being rigidly and not over courteously enforced.

Mr. Watts, secretary of the club, said the complaints about this state of affairs were many. It was resolved to send deputation to the Parks Committee of the London County Council, conveying from the club a strong protest against the public "being deprived of their ancient common rights."

[BNA: Link.]

Some very naughty boys set light to the Reformatory on Spanish Road, 1870

" . . .  while the fire was raging Dwyer clapped his hands and hurrahed, inciting the other boys to insubordination."

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At the Wandsworth police-court yesterday, three boys named Richard Ross, aged sixteen, George Jackson, fifteen, and James Dwyer, fifteen, were charged with wilfully setting fire to the stable at the Wandsworth Reformatory, Wandsworth-common, on Tuesday last. The boys were inmates of the reformatory, under orders of detention.

Jackson was suspected by the superintendent of having caused the fire, and on being questioned he admitted that he set fire to the stable. The superintendent afterwards questioned Ross, who said he supplied Jackson with matches and tapers. He said he did not know for what purpose Jackson required them, but he suspected it was for a bad one.

Dwyer was next questioned, but he denied having had any conversations with Jackson during the dinner hour about setting fire to the place. It, however, appeared that while the fire was raging Dwyer clapped his hands and hurrahed, inciting the other boys to insubordination.

Mr. Dayman considered there was no evidence against Dwyer, and ordered him to be discharged. The other prisoners he remanded. The damage done by the fire was stated to amount to £2,500.

[BNA: Link]

North Side c.1895. Notice the "Boys' Home (Reformatory)" on Spanish Road.

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Illustrated Police News — Saturday 9 April 1910

"The Mystery of Rose Lodge, Nightingale Lane . . .  Black, grim, and weird looked Wandsworth Common, with its thickly-wooded furze-bushes, brambles, and giant fern, while a finger-post at its cross-roads. in the flashes of pale moonlight, appeared like a tall, spectral form in the centre of the bleak, open waste . . .  "

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The Mysteries of the Mint

By Douglas Stewart

Revelations of Life in London Seventy Years Ago

CHAPTER VI, The Mystery of Rose Lodge, Nightingale Lane.

At the furthermost end of Nightingale Lane, and facing Wandsworth Common, at the period our life romance, stood a pretty cottage-like tenement that with thatched roof and covered with jessamine, clematis, and climbing roses, was a veritable arcadia in summer, and in the winter wore a cosy, cheery, comfortable appearance.

The night following the illuminations and festivities in London [meaning?] was a dark and murky one — the moon, in a clouded sky, only occasionally illumining the highway and open country.

Black, grim, and weird looked Wandsworth Common, with its thickly-wooded furze-bushes, brambles, and giant fern, while a finger-post at its cross-roads. in the flashes of pale moonlight, appeared like a tall, spectral form in the centre of the bleak, open waste.

Looming out in the gloom, Rose Lodge (as it was called), with its white stuccoed front and its grey roof, looked cheerful and inviting the passing wayfarer, a light from diamoud-paned window in the upper storey throwing out bright gleam of yellow in the murky air. Faint and dull the hour of midnight echoed over the common as it boomed out from the parish church of the old town.

At the last stroke of twelve was dying away the muffled figure of a man suddenly striding forth from Nightingale Lane made his way the gate of Rose Lodge . . . 

View/download the episode here.

St James's Gazette — Monday 11 April 1887


The police have issued the description of the body of a woman which was found in the waters of a pond on Wandsworth Common last evening, and which is now lying at the Battersea mortuary awaiting an inquest and identification. The deceased was aged sixty-five years. She had large scar on cheek and right side of forehead; and had on a black dress, bonnet, and shawl.

[BNA: Link]

Local cowkeeper George Rough waters down his milk . . .  .

Pall Mall Gazette — Monday 13 April 1874

At the Wandsworth police-court, Edward Rough, a cowkeeper of Chatham-road, Wandsworth-common, was summoned for selling milk adulterated with 35 per cent of water. The defendant was represented by his wife, who said they bought a great deal of milk.

Mr. Ingham said there was a great distinction between the defendant's case and that of small traders who sold a gallon of milk or two. The defendant was a dealer to a large extent. He asked her if she could tell him where the manufacture of milk went on. Mrs. Rough said she did not know. Mr. Ingham fined the defendant £5 and costs.

Illustrated London News — Saturday 18 April 1874

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Milk adulteration seems to be so profitable a business that its followers can afford to brave exposure and to pay fines. On Saturday Edward Rough, cowkeeper, of Chatham-road, Wandsworth-common, was called upon by Mr. Ingham, the magistrate, to pay a penalty of £5 and 7s. costs, for having sold milk adulterated with 35 per cent of water.

[BNA: Link.]

The Rough family feature in many local stories. Some lived for a while on Alma Terrace. I vaguely recall one was a nurseryman on land formerly part of the Common e.g. along Trinity Rd, and a number of court cases involve Roughs. Didn't I once write about the Roughs in court for liberating an impounded mare? (The pound was on the boundary between Wandsworth an Battersea parishes, close to the Skylark.)

The Pound and other local landmarks in 1894.

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"The first of a new type of pre-fabricated dwelling to be built in Battersea should be completed within three weeks. This house is on the verge of Wandsworth Common, facing Bolingbroke Grove . . . 

Arcon-type prefab (sadly, not in Wandsworth — I'm still looking for good pics). The exterior walls were made out of an exciting new material, asbestos concrete.

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South Western Star — Friday 19 April 1946


The first of a new type of pre-fabricated dwelling to be built in Battersea should be completed within three weeks. This house is on the verge of Wandsworth, Common, facing Bolingbroke Grove. It is proposed to build 107 of these dwellings.

They are the "Arcon" type and are different in many respects from other pre-fabricated houses in the borough. They have steel frames, sloping roofs, and steel doors. The outside walls are made of corrugated asbestos. Inside there are to be many new appliances for the housewife, including a refrigerator.

The house consists of two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and a separate lavatory. There is only one fireplace, and that is in the living room. The heat from that fire is blown through ventilators into every room and warms the whole house. Cupboards are built in the walls.

Other sites for this type of home will be Clapham Common. and a portion of Wandsworth Common, adjoining St Marks Church, Battersea Rise.

[BNA: Link.]

Arcon-type prefab — floorplan

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Fitted kitchen in an Arcon-type prefab.

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Prefabs around the Common, early 1950s.

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[9 April 2023: My old friend Hugh Betterton, who grew up on West Side and (later) the Fitzhugh Estate, sent an email about this item.]

"Somewhere, in the back of my head, is a memory of watching the demolition of the prefabs on Wandsworth Common near Spencer Park — about 1957/8? The site wasn't protected at night and I think that with a couple of mates we wandered around the debris and found some 'treasures' — nails, screws, broken crockery, amongst other stuff. For some years after the ground there was strewn with small amounts of residue from the demolition; I have a small scar of a knee where a piece of glass was embedded and my mother pulled it out with tweezers; no ceremony there!"

Less than 6 months before the start of World War II (1 September), local thespians perform a classic anti-war play (by Sean O'Casey, a Battersea resident) in St Mary Magdalene's church hall.

South Western Star — Friday 21 April 1939


Anti-War Play at Wiseton Road

Sean O'Casey's four act tragi-comedy "The Silver Tassie", which had a long run in the West End few years back, was presented at the Church Institute, Wiseton-road, Wandsworth Common, last Friday and Saturday by the well-known local dramatic society, "The Players".

"The Silver Tassie" is an anti-war play, with dramatic in the front the last war — scenes reminiscent of "Journey's End."

The story is simple. A young man goes to war full of ideas about humanity and returns sadly disillusioned and a cripple. The players did excellently. Realistic scenery was designed by A.C. Rattersley.

[Cast names follow . . .  ]

[BNA: Link.]

Wikipedia: The Silver Tassie.

On the early history of St Mary Magdalene and parish, including The Church Institute on Wiseton Road ("re-developed in 2014-16 into upmarket housing and . . .  designated ‘Charles Baker Place’"), see the Saint Mary Magdalene: Our History.

Plaque commemorating Sean O'Casey's home at 49 Overstrand Mansions, Prince of Wales Drive SW11, facing Battersea Park. See Jeanne Rathbone's terrific article, "O'Casey — Battersea plaque man".

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"The day when all news will be transmitted by wireless may be far distant, but a decided step in this direction has been made" on Wandsworth Common . . . 

True, it requires "a man-lifting kite, capable of lifting 300 yards of copper wire . . .  to a height of 500 feet" [150 metres] to make an aerial, and any messages (sent by Morse code) can only be received a few miles away. But hey, who know what might happen next?

"Flying the kite which suspends the aerial wires", Weekly Dispatch 20 April 1913. Although the article mentions the Heathfield Cricket Ground (now knows as Trinity Fields) the kite is almost certainly being flown from the Scope.

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Weekly Dispatch (London) — Sunday 20 April 1913

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Weekly Dispatch (London) — Sunday 20 April 1913


London Newspaper's Remarkable Enterprise Meets with Success.

The day when all news will be transmitted by wireless may be far distant, but a decided step in this direction has been made by The Daily Mirror, which has fitted up a Marconi installation on the roof of its offices in Bouverie-street, London, and the other day carried on a conversation with Mr. T. Thorne Baker in a motorcar at Wandsworth, South London.

A coil of wire netting was first placed on the ground near the Heathfield Cricket Ground, Wandsworth Common, for the "earth" connection. A man-lifting kite, capable of lifting 300 yards of copper wire, was sent up into the air, and within ten minutes had reached a height of 500ft. — the wire thus providing an effective aerial from which the wireless message would radiate.

The copper wire was attached to the transmitting device in a motor-car, and Mr. Thorne Baker began to tap out the message.

It happened that the message sent by Mr. Thorne Baker was first intercepted by the British School of Telegraphy at Clapham, and it was that school which flashed the message to the receiver at The Daily Mirror, as follows:

The wire was despatched and received, within half an hour. It is hoped that the General Post Office will give permission for The Daily Mirror to receive Press messages from greater distances.

[BNA: Link.]

In case of emergency . . . 

Before St George's Hospital relocated from Hyde Park Corner to Tooting in the late 1970s, if you had an accident on or near the Common you could be taken to one of a number of hospitals (all now closed).

For example, when I was knocked down by a bicycle by the lake (head wounds), or run over by a motorbike and sports car (mashed up all over), I was rushed to St James's Hospital, on St James's Drive. (It was closed in 1988, and demolished and houses built on the site in 1992).

And when I was kicked in the eye playing rugby, they treated me at Bolingbroke Hospital (Bolingbroke Academy from 2012).

(I also remember going to St John's Hospital on St John's Hill, but I can't remember exactly why.)

But the area didn't always have such an abundance of casualty departments. Here are a few stories about Bolingbroke Hospital, instigated by local vicar John Erskine Clarke in 1876 (and opened in 1880).

Bolingbroke Hospital on the corner of Bolingbroke Grove and Wakehurst Road — photographed in 1906, before many of its extensions and modifications were made.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Crossing the Common at night, William Thorne breaks both his legs . . . 

When Wandsworth Common was still a working "common" — on which animals were grazed, firewood collected, gravel and turf dug up (and above all before team ball-sports came to govern the landscape) — the surface was not the smooth lawn it came to resemble. It was a wild, rough, and really rather dangerous place.

John Bull — Monday 23 April 1838


Oa Monday a person named William Thorne, compositor, was conveyed to St. Thomas's Hospital, having unfortunately broken both his legs.

It appears that on Sunday night was going across Wandsworth-common, when he thought he heard the shrieks of a female at some distance, as if in distress; immediately proceeded with all speed towards the spot afford assistance, in doing which he sprang from a bank which lay in his way, and not being aware of the height he had to jump, it being dark at the time, met with the dreadful accident.

[BNA: Link.]

Notice he is taken to St Thomas's Hospital (opposite the Houses of Parliament) — until Bolingbroke was created, there was no nearer hospital.

South London Press — Saturday 27 April 1895


At a meeting of the Bolingbroke Ratepayers' Club on Tuesday night it was stated that under the auspices of the club, a street collection would take place on May in aid of the accident ward of the hospital.

Dr. Lister wrote giving some interesting particulars the work of this ward. Between Oct. 1, 1894, and April 22, 1895, 616 cases had been attended to; many of the patients treated outside had had attend five or six times for dressing, &c.

During the same period new cases had been received, and 33 patients had been detained in the hospital, the period of detention varying from a few days to nearly three months.

It appeared that the cost of maintaining a patient in the hospital averaged about 30s per week. Several members said they regarded the doctor’s statement as very satisfactory.

The proprietors of the Grand sent a cheque for two guineas. The recent Grand benefit for the hospital will realize about £16.

[BNA: Link]

The music-hall star Dan Leno hosted benefit performances for Bolingbroke Hospital at his theatre, The Grand, St John's Hill.

Dan Leno as Widow Twankey in Aladdin

(Click on image to enlarge)

[The Grand, on St John's Hill — in which the music hall comedian Dan Leno was a major shareholder. Leno ("The funniest man on earth") was involved in many fundraising stunts on behalf of Bolingbroke Hospital, including knockabout celebrity cricket matches photographed by Dorrett and Martin. (I chronicled another fundraising event, The Bolingbroke Fancy Costume Ball, held at Albert Hall in February 1883.)]

Portrait of Dan Leno by Paul Martin (V&A).

Maurice Pimm taken to nearby Bolingbroke Hospital after failing to vault an iron railing . . . 

Railings proliferated on the Common under the LCC. Most were fairly benign estate-type fences, but other (such as those that surrounded the once-sacred Cricket Field) were lethally equipped with sharp points (which, being iron, soon rusted, greatly enhancing their danger). I had friends who became impaled on them. I can't quite remember when but "health and safety" concerns eventually led to the lethal pointy bits being sawn off.

South Western Star — Friday 21 April 1939


On Wednesday evening while vaulting the iron railings surrounding Wandsworth Common, West Side. Maurice Pimm, of 36 Eltringham-street, Wandsworth, slipped and cut his hand. He was taken by ambulance to Bolingbroke Hospital.

[BNA: Link.]

A(nother) slaughterhouse for Bellevue Road?

South Western Star — Saturday 29 April 1893


With reference to a letter from the London County Council, inquiring the grounds upon which the Vestry object to Mr. G.S. Miller establishing the business of a slaughterer of cattle at the rear of No.16, Belle Vue-road, the Sanitary Committee reported another slaughter-house was not wanted in the neighbourhood, and were strongly of the opinion that the time has arrived when public abattoirs should be provided in place of private slaughter-houses. They recommended that the Vestry adhere to their previous decision.

This is interesting.

From 1868, the butcher G.S. [George Short] Miller had a shop at No.2 Bellevue Road. So far as I know it stayed a butcher's until 1987, when the "celebrity chef/enfant terrible" Marco Pierre White opened Harveys restaurant there (since 1995, under new ownership, Chez Bruce).

A modern photograph of the Millers butchers at no. 2. (Is the ironwork original? reproduction? fanciful?). By 2019 Chez Bruce had annexed no.3, seen on the right.

(Click on image to enlarge)

[8 May 2023: David Ainsworth responded:

" I remember going there with a friend in 1971 to buy some meat, and I think that there was either that ironwork (probably black) or similar in position. Fifty years on I may be enhancing my recall, but I do think that I felt that it was an interestingly old shop. And as we walked over from Ellerton Road, it maybe had a good reputation, as it probably wasn't the nearest butchers."

Many thanks, David. It's what I remember too, but I don't really trust myself.]

This photograph, from the early C20, shows the original Miller business must have thrived. Notice the immense advert on the wall next to the Hope:

"Miller & Sons
Wholesale and Retail
[to?] Government
Telegrams "OXGOAD, LONDON"
Telephone 31, Balham"

(Click on image to enlarge)


The newspaper report says that "Another slaughter house was not wanted in the area". So where were the others? Is this perhaps a reference to the Millers' first establishment, at no.2?

Perhaps. It is often said that animals were slaughtered on the Millers' premises — having been fattened up on the Common first. Neither claim seems unreasonable but I have yet to find any evidence. True, after 1871 animals could still be grazed on the Common (for a fee, paid to the Conservators). And of course there are a number of well-known images of sheep on the Common, mainly from the early C20, but so far as I know these sheep were not owned by or supplied to the Millers (grazing was organised by the LCC), nor were the sheep slaughtered on their premises.

"Sheep on Wandsworth Common." Photo, c.1920, by Dorrett and Martin, whose studio at today's no.16 ("Atholl House") — the probable site of the proposed abattoir — was only a short distance from Millers' butchers shop.

(Click on image to enlarge)

But was there ever a slaughterhouse at No.2? I've looked at contemporary maps and can't be certain there was any space for it — the maps are ambiguous. The area now covered by Bennet Court and Jigsaw Clothing appears may have been owned by the Hope, not the Millers, but possibly not. In any case proximity to a public house and the railway station cannot have been ideal for the semi-public slaughter of numerous sheep, pigs and cows. But if there was an abattoir here, the idea of a new, larger one higher up Bellevue, with an entrance from Althorp Road leading to the rear of no.16, must have been very appealing.

OS, surveyed 1894

(Click on image to enlarge)

So was a slaughter-house ever built behind No.16 ? The Survey of Battersea asserts that "there was a  . . .  slaughterhouse in Althorp Road" (vol.50 ch.19). An application was certainly made to the Wandsworth Board of Works (and approved by them, with minor modifications), but was it ever built? I'm not so sure.

Were the house numbers the same in 1893 as now? Today's no.16 is the fine red-brick "Atholl House" — Dorrett and Martin's studio from c.1899 — built twelve years earlier by the interesting local builder, Leonard Bottoms. But I think they probably were.

Atholl House, 16 Bellevue Road. Could this really have been the site of the Millers' intended new slaughterhouse? Had the Millers acquired adjacent land, and the narrow passageway from Althorp Road?

(Click on image to enlarge)

I'll return to these questions (and Leonard Bottoms) another time — the debates in the Battersea Vestry, Wandsworth Board of Works, and the LCC about the suitability of locating an abattoir in a rapidly growing middle-class area are full of fun.

Let me know if you have any further info.

[I have since found evidence of a slaughterhouse on the site of Sainsbury's Local, where Wiseton Road meets Bellevue. See more here.]

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