The History of Wandsworth Common

PB, June 2022

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"June just rains and never stops
Thirty days and spoils the crops."

Flanders and Swann, A Song of the Weather.

Whoopee, I've been writing these chronicles every month for a whole year! I'm pretty amazed, so I'll probably carry on for a while — there are so many more stories to tell. This month's includes last year's entries, but with quite a number of new subjects.

But I've now got to finish off a video on Sporting Wandsworth Common. Billed as "a Talk of Two Halves" for this year's Wandsworth Heritage Festival I'll be looking at sport before and after 1871.

This will include, in the earlier period, deer-hunting, cock-fights and bird shoots, bare-knuckle bouts, hare-and-hounds, terrier-coursing, pedestrianism, trotting, and velocipede racing.

And after, especially the profound effects of the explosion of team and ball sports such as cricket, tennis, rugby, and football (including some lesser-known local sports, such as rugby-netball).

These led to intense conflicts not only among rival teams, but also to (literal) "turf wars" over the use and abuse of the Common by different sports. (Can cricketers co-exist peacefully with footballers? Hmm, not really. Damage done in the winter cannot be restored in time for the summer.) Together, these have had a surprisingly profound effect on the Common's topography and vegetation.

Tennis near North Side Wandsworth Common (not Spencer Park) e.20th century.

There were no permanent courts until the mid-1920s. Players put up and took down their own nets, and there were no fences around the court so it was quite a challenge to retrieve stray balls.
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I am very grateful to Wandsworth Heritage Service archivist Emma Anthony for inviting me to do this video-talk, and for providing some terrific images from the fabulous Loobey Collection of postcards.

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For more information about "Sporting Wandsworth"/Wandsworth Heritage Festival 2022, click here. For a brochure, click here


This month's stories

and more...

Wednesday, 1 June 1870 — James McNeill Whistler, Friend of Wandsworth Common

Back in April, I mentioned that the artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) had a close friend/patron/solicitor who was very active in the battle for Wandsworth Common. This was James Anderson Rose, who lived on the edge of the Common in a large house with substantial grounds more or less where Airedale Road is today.

James McNeill Whistler: Nocturne: Blue and Gold (Old Battersea Bridge)., 1872.

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James McNeill Whistler, photo-portrait, [unknown date]

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In early 1870 Sir Henry Peak MP promised to donate £1000 towards a fighting fund if the people of Battersea and Wandsworth could raise a further £4000. (See April's Chronicles.)

It was good to see Whistler's name in the subscription list published 1 June 1870. (He gave a guinea.)

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It's an extraordinarily interesting list of the local great and good, and others not so well known.

Notice for example the wonderful Bohemian glass engraver Paul Oppitz (who lived in Garden - now Vardens - Road) and his brother Ferdinand (Park Road, now Elsynge Road), alongside the playwright and Punch-editor Tom Taylor (Lavender Sweep), the founder of the National Trust Robert Hunter (Louvaine Road), and the gifted young local photographer Geoffrey Bevington (today's West Side).

Only a couple of supportive MPs are named at this time — later there would be more, including WH Smith (yes, the WH Smith), and Professor Henry Fawcett (who had been blinded in a shooting accident in 1858).

Ford Madox Brown, Henry Fawcett and Millicent Garrett Fawcett, 1872, National Portrait Gallery, London.

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A number of professionals and owners of local businesses contributed, including the St John's Hill butcher Mr [Thomas?] Clark/Clarke (who was often in court for fence-breaking and trespass), a doctor, some builders, a dairyman ("and wife 5/-"), a stationer, a newsman, an ironmonger, a draper, a grocer, a shoemaker, a saddler, and a soldier.

Intriguingly there is a reference to "Working man named Forrester, 2/6". Clearly innumerable people had contributed small amounts for the saving of their Common ("on collection card") but remain nameless.

Most contributors live nearby, but not all (Forest Hill, Windsor, Belsize Park).

Other than the dairyman's wife, the only woman to be named is Lady Pollock. Why did she contribute to the fight for Wandsworth Common? Did she ever live here? I don't know. She was born in Calcutta, India c.1815 (nee Sarah Anne Amowah Langslow, the daughter of a soldier) and died in Hatton, Middlesex, in 1895. She was married to a noted lawyer-turned-politician, Sir Frederick Pollock, who died this very year (22 August 1870).

"Probably Sarah Anne Amowah (nee Langslow), Lady Pollock", by Camille Silvy,

Albumen print, 11 July 1865, National Portrait Gallery NPG Ax64447.
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"Judges No. 4: The Right Hon. Sir Frederick Pollock" Vanity Fair, 2 April 1870.

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If you know anything more about Lady Pollock's links with Wandsworth Common (and the origin of her name "Amowah"), do let me know.

Monday, 3 June 1872 — the Wandsworth Common Conservators announce new rules for grazing animals on the Common

All "entire" (i.e. uncastrated) males banned.

Having acquired the stewardship of the Common as a result of the 1871 Wandsworth Common Act, the Conservators set about safeguarding and improving the Common, including regulating the grazing of animals.

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THE WANDSWORTH COMMON CONSERVATORS are willing, under certain conditions, to authorize a limited number of Ratepayers to turn out Cattle to graze upon the Common.

Before any such authority will be granted, payment will be required according to the following scale, viz.:

For every Gelding, Mare, Pony, Mule, Donkey, Cow, Heifer, Steer, or Bullock &mspace; £1-0-0 per annum [handwritten insertion: "afterwards reduced to 12/-"]

[For every] Calf less than One Year old &mspace; £0 10 0

Sheep, on terms to be agreed upon with the Owner.

No person will be authorized to turn out on the Common any Bull, or any Entire Horse, Colt, or Donkey.

No person will be allowed to turn out any Goats, Geese, or Pigs.

The Conservators will not be responsible for damage sustained or caused by any animal turned out on the Common.

Applications for authority should be made at the Conservators' office at an early date, as, from and after the 24th of June instant, the following Bye-laws, which have been duly approved by the First Commissioner of Her Majesty's Works, &c, will be strictly enforced.

BYE-LAW "5. It shall not be lawful for any unauthorized person to turn out on the Common any cattle, sheep, horse, ass, mule, or other animal (whether of a commonable nature or not), or knowingly to permit any cattle, sheep, horse, ass, mule, or other animal, to graze or feed, or remain or be on the Common. But this Bye-law shall not be deemed to apply to a dog under the control of its owner or of any other person.

BYE-LAW "23. Every person acting or taking any part in the violation of the foregoing Bye-law shall, for every such offence, be liable to a penalty not exceeding the sum of L5 sterling for each offence, and in the case of a continuing offence, every person so continuing such offence shall be liable to a further penalty not exceeding the sum of 40.s.. sterling for each day, after written notice of the offence, during which the offence continues."

Conservators' Office, St. Anne's Park, Wandsworth. 3rd June 1872.

Notice that "entire" (i.e. uncastrated) male animals are banned altogether, as are goats, geese and pigs. Until the recent past pigs had been allowed as long as their snout had been ringed — to discourage them from breaking up the turf by rooting for food or making wallow holes in which to enjoy a mud bath. "Pannage" — the right to put pigs out on Commons to eat acorns — was a traditional Commoners' right.

I'm not sure why geese were banned — too vicious? Too easy to steal? (as we saw in November's Chronicles?

Tuesday, 9 June 1953 — Queen and Prince Philip drive through Wandsworth Common, along Trinity Road.

The Coronation of Elizabeth II took place on 2 June 1953, and she followed it up by driving all over the country to see and be seen by as many people as possible. Our day was Tuesday, 9th June. Here's her itinerary:


Queen's Gardens. Spur Road. Birdcage Walk. Great George Street. Parliament Square. St. Margaret Street. Old Palace Yard. Abingdon Street. Millbank. Grosvenor Road. Chelsea Bridge, Queenstown Road, Battersea Park Road. York Road. Fairfield Street. Wandsworth Town Hall — halt.

East Hill, Huguenot Place. Wandsworth Common (West side). Trinity Road. Tooting Bec Road. Tooting Bec Gardens. Streatham High Road. Streatham Hill. Christchurch Road. Norwood Road. Thurlow Park Road. Dulwich Common, College Road. Dulwich Village.

Red Post Hill. Sunray Avenue. Denmark Hill, CamberwellNew Road. Brixton Road. Kennington Park Road. Kennington Road. Lambeth Road. Lambeth Bridge. Horseferry Road. Greycoat Place. Artillery Row. Buckingham Gate, Queen's Gardens.

The Queen and Prince Philip visit Wandsworth Town Hall, where they meet the Mayors and Mayoresses of Battersea, Camberwell and Wandsworth.

Source: Wandsworth Borough Photos.
Note: Battersea and Wandsworth had their own mayors/mayoresses at this time since they were not amalgamated as "Wandsworth" until 1965. There was talk that the two names should retained, as "Battersea and Wandsworth", but Battersea's was silently dropped. A scandal.
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And, Dear Reader, I was there, aged four, outside The County Arms pub on Trinity Road, waving my little paper Union flag.

Now here are some very strange things. The photographs above are of course in black and white. But my memory is in GORGEOUS technicolor, all pale blue and yellow and pink. And the car in my mind's eye is not the stiffly upright open-back Rolls Royce (or is it a Bentley?) but a huge Yankie convertible, perhaps a Cadillac.

But also, looking at the planned route, she would have been coming left to right — from Wandsworth Town Hall south along Trinity Road in the direction of Tooting Bec and Streatham. Yet I distinctly recall her travelling from right to left.

An odd thing, memory.

Leopard hunt on Wandsworth Common — Wednesday, 10 June 1846

"What did the strange beast mean by gazing at him?

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Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette — Thursday, 11 June 1846

A leopard-hunt took place Wandsworth on Wednesday. The leopard escaped from a show at Wandsworth fair and ran to the common; where a man noticed it, and thinking it was a dog he approached it, only to take to his heels when he perceived his mistake. A mob assembled, and scoured the common: the stranger was eventually captured at Battersea by his keeper.

Royal Cornwall Gazette — Friday, 12 June 1846

On Wednesday last, a leopard hunt took place at Battersea. The animal was first discovered on Wandsworth Common, having escaped from a travelling menagerie temporarily located at a fair, held near. After leading his pursuers a bit of a chase, the creature took up his abode in a cart-shed, and quietly permitted his keeper to secure him.

[BNA: Link.]

Hunting around for a vaguely relevant image of a leopard, I came across this, from the Revd Erskine Clarke's Chatterbox annual of 1906:


An old leopard came out of his den, and wandered for miles through the forest. As his lithe, spotted body glided amongst the tropical undergrowth, other creatures slunk out of his path, and he found nothing on which to prey. Hunger and restlessness drove the animal on, however, till a new and strange object made him pause to see what it was that stood in his way. The queer thing, made of wood, like the trees, had something bright within it; something that was never seen on the trunk of any tree.

The leopard drew nearer, and found himself, for the first time in his life, face to face with a looking-glass. He looked in, and saw what seemed to him the eyes of another leopard gazing into his own. Curiosity, alarm, and anger, by turns, possessed him. What did the strange beast mean by gazing at him so? He raised his heavy paw, and gave a crushing blow upon the glass.

"What did the strange beast mean by gazing at him?"

Down fell the trap — for trap it was — and the sharp spikes, heavily weighted, did their work. But though the trap was a terrible one, the leopard had in his life done greater harm than he suffered, and the forest was well rid of such a dangerous and cruel animal.

OK, possibly not the message we would want to promote today — surely it's the human that contrived the trap that is truly the "dangerous and cruel animal", and not the leopard? But let's pass over that for the moment.

John Erskine Clarke is an immensely important figure — as I've said before, he richly deserves a biography. He was previously the vicar of St Mary's Battersea (where John Buckmaster was his churchwarden — they got on very well). In later life he moved to become the vicar in a church he himself had built — St Luke's, on the corner of Ramsden Road and Thurleigh Road. Among his many achievements was Bolingbroke Hospital (discussed briefly in the Chronicles for February 2022 and May 2022). Before he came to Battersea he had published Britain's first parish magazine. He also initiated and for many years edited (and probably wrote much of) the internationally popular children's illustrated magazine, Chatterbox, which appeared weekly or monthly and annually between 1886 and 1955. Does any reader remember it?

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Sunday, 14 June 1914 — Thunderstorm on Wandsworth Common kills seven. Four of the dead are small children.

LIGHTNING STRIKES close to the Windmill killed a young courting couple, and a man and his 3-year-old daughter. Near Bolingbroke Grove, on the other side of the Common, three children died: a brother and sister aged 5 and 4, and another boy aged 3.

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"A GREAT BLACK CLOUD hung like a pall over Wandsworth Common, London, lightning zigzagged in the heavens, thunder peals were deafening, and the rain came down in a torrential spate. Under a tree were group of five children, happy in spite of the war of the elements. They were playing "Ring of the Roses," and their childish voices blended merrily in rag-time songs..."

This appalling event was reported throughout the world, and so unusual that it was even discussed in scientific journals. All the victims had been sheltering beneath trees, a fact which was highlighted in the coverage [more...].

Croydon Chronicle and East Surrey Advertiser — Saturday, 15 June 1912

Sir Edward Davis Stern, brother of Lord Wandsworth (Sydney Stern), pledges to fund any shortfall in money being collected to purchase the old Patriotic School grounds and restore it to the Common — now the invaluable 20-acre area that includes the Cricket Field, Tennis Courts, Bowling Green, and the Skylark Cafe.


Sir Edward Davis Stern has informed Mr. Edwin Evans, the Chairman of the Farm Land (Wandsworth Common Extension) Acquisition Committee, that he is prepared, as soon as the local subscription list is closed, to make up the whole amount required, which will probably amount to about £500, in order to secure this open space to the public for ever. Sir Edward Stern some time ago presented a home in Nightingale-lane, Wandsworth, for deaf and dumb Jews.

[BNA: Source.]

I assume this "Farm Land (Wandsworth Common Extension) Acquisition Committee" was a Committee of the LCC (London County Council).

South Western Star — Friday, 14 June 1912

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Mr. Edwin Evans writes as follows from 233, Lavender Hill:

"Your readers will be glad to know that the success of this scheme is now assured.

"Sir Edward Davis Stern, brother of the late Lord Wandsworth, sent for me and asked what money was wanted. I told him we were still appealing and should continue to appeal up to the end of the month to the public generally for subscriptions, but notwithstanding this it was probable we should be about £5OO short. He asked me to let him know when the subscription list is closed and promised to send a cheque for the balance required.

"Sir Edward's splendid generosity will, I am sure, be appreciated by the people of London generally and of Wandsworth and Battersea in particular. This gift adds only one more token of the interest Sir Edward has shown in this neighbourhood. It was he who gave the beautiful home for deaf and dumb Jews in Nightingale-lane, whilst his brother (the late Lord Wandsworth) gave the other fine institution, known as the Home for Aged Jews [now called Nightingale House], also in Nightingale-lane."

[BNA: Source.]

Sir Edward Davis Stern

[add further info. about photo.]
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I would like to know more about this call for donations from the public to save part of the Common. Until I read Edwin Evans's letter, I had assumed all the money came from the London County Council, funded by local rates. Clearly not.

"Have some (more) Madeira, m'dear" — Saturday, 15 June 1867

Wine auction at Burntwood Lodge (top of Burntwood Lane)

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The list of "about 240 dozen of choice wines" includes:

— 81 dozen of fine port (of celebrated vintages)

— 25 dozen Chateaux Lafitte [the ad spells it "Lafetti"] and Chateaux Margaux

— 27 dozen Richebourg Burgundy

— 9 dozen East India Madeira

— 50 dozen Maclean's 1815 very fine Sherry

— 44 dozen of East India Sherry

Wednesday, 24 June, 1857 — Lord Spencer sells 55 or so acres of Wandsworth Common to the Crimean War Patriotic Fund for £3700. The land is described as "waste".

This is the area on which the Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylums for girls and boys were built ["1a, 1b, 1c"]. The girls' school is now generally called the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building ["1a"] and the boy's school houses Emanuel School ["1b"].

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In the recent past the Spencer Earls had sold land to St James's Westminster Vestry for an Industrial School (on what is now St James's Drive) ["6"], to the Royal Freemasons' School for Girls ["11" to the north], and a large area to local resident Henry McKellar (the 20+ acres of McKellar's Triangle ["7"], now enclosed by Trinity Road, Bellevue Road, and St James's Drive), and the fields now covered by Hendham, Wandle and Brodrick Roads southern "11"] and Trinity Fields ["2"]. He had also sold land to railway companies [including "4" and "8"], and a wide strip of land in front of Wandsworth Prison (now Neal's Nursery etc) ["3"].

Half of this area "3" was restored to the Common around 1969, when the northern section of Trinity Road was made into a dual carriageway. This is now styke the "Prison Banks".

As noted above (in entry for Edward Davis Stern, 15 June 1912), about a third of the land sold to the Patriotic Fund was eventually bought back and restored to the Common (by the London County Council) in the early twentieth century ["1c"].

Friday, 27 June 1879 — Thomas Hardy records in his diary the appearance of young women passengers on the train from Wandsworth Common to Town.

"In railway carriage a too statuesque girl; but her features were absolutely perfect. She sat quite still and her smiles did not extend further than a fingernail's breadth from the edge of her mouth. The repose of her face was such that when the train shook her it seemed painful. Her mouth was very small, and her face not unlike that of a nymph.

In the train coming home there was a contrasting girl of sly humour — the pupil of her eye being mostly half under the eyelid.""

Did the young women know they were being scrutinised? Did they react?

Saturday, 28 June 1823 — Edwin Rayner Ransome, a passionate campaigner for Wandsworth Common, was born today in Colchester, Essex.

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Edwin Ransome was the owner of ?, and a Director of the Wandsworth Gas Company. Members of his extended East Anglian family (which included the prodigious Robert Ransome, inventor of the self-sharpening ploughshare) subsequently diversified into a numerous related engineering businesses — including the lawnmowers that were a precondition not just for domestic manicured lawns, but also of course for the maintenance of playing fields: cricket, football and rugby pitches, bowling greens, golf courses, and tennis courts.

>("Ransomes" is still a major brand of lawn-mower. I must find out if Enable use Ransomes machines to keep our grass nice and tidy.)

1893 poster for a small lawn mowers.

(Ideal for middle-class girls.)
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Ransomes were the first company to power a ride-on mower. This photograph, from 1902, shows an early petrol-engine model, sold to Cadbury's to maintain their Bournville sports ground.

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Edwin Ransome was deeply involved in the saving of Wandsworth Common, including negotiating terms with Earl Spencer, and later serving for many years as the chair of the Conservators.

You can see his name on the 1st June 1870 list of subscribers above. He was there at the meeting in February 1870 when John Buckmaster announced Henry Peek's offer to give £1000 to a fighting fund if local residents could raise £4000. Edwin threw himself into the project, taking responsibility for all the North Side houses. He was driven by an intense religious conviction:

that it would be good, both morally and spiritually, for those who might succeed him, to have such an open space as this preserved for public use; that he himself had often felt the benefit of being able, even for a short time, to retire from the noise and bustle of city life, and quietly to enjoy what there might be left of country.

One of his achievements as a Conservator was to persuade the railway company to remove their fences around the "bumps" next to the track on the Bolingbroke side of the Common and restore them to the Common. Later, in the late 1880s, he vigorously opposed the handing over of the Common to the Metropolitan Board of Works/London County Council.

He was an active Quaker (the Meeting House was just down the road). Another long-lasting achievement was the establishment of a Quaker school in Hobart, Tasmania, which is still thriving. (I have been in very fruitful correspondence with their archivist, Melinda Clarke, to whom I am indebted.)

Edwin Ransome died on 17 May 1910 in Rushmere Cottage, Wandsworth Common, London at age 86, and was buried in the Friends' Burial Ground, Wandsworth.

Last year I gave a talk via Zoom to the Friends (as in Quakers, not Friends of Wandsworth Common). It wasn't recorded so I hope to write it up some day. So much more to say. Amazing man.

Globe — Friday, 28 June 1912

Emily Duval's daughter Elsie in court for throwing stones through a Post Office window at Clapham Common.

"...the magistrate remarked that she seemed to be only a child, and remanded her for the state of her mind to be enquired into."

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Attacks by Suffragettes on the windows of post offices and other buildings in London and the provinces are reported today...

At the South-Western Court, Elsie Duval, aged 20, of Wandsworth was charged with breaking the window of a Clapham Common post office, damaging it to the extent of 12s. 6d. It was stated that she threw two stones through the glass.

Mr Francis, the magistrate, remarked that she seemed to be only a child, and remanded her for the state of her mind to be enquired into."

Emily Duval, militant campaigner for women's suffrage, pictured sewing mailbags at Holloway Prison c.1908.

The Duval family were living at this time on Park Road (now called Elsynge Road), shown parallel to North Side on the map above.
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Elsie Duval's case came to court in July, so I'll discuss it in more detail then.

Motor Sport Magazine — June 1935

Bellevue Garage: We Win!

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Above: Doreen Evans, photographed by Bassano Ltd, 21 March 1935.
Below: Doreen Evans and her brothers, Kenneth and Denis [which is which?], Bellevue Garage, corner of Althorp Rd and Bellevue Rd, with Wandsworth Common behind. One source gives the date as 1935.

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Inside Bellevue Garage: "Doreen Evans and her brothers, Doreen sitting atop her R-Type".
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OS map c.1950 showing location of Bellevue Garage, on both sides of Althorp Road, near Bellevue and the Common.
Notice, incidentally, the double row of prefabs on the edge of the Common.
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The site of the Evans workshop/garage in Althorp Rd, as seen in 2019

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