The History of Wandsworth Common

The Wandsworth Common


— "Volunteer Sham Fight", 1807  . . . 

—" American Water-Weed" invades the Black Sea, 1863  . . . 

— "Memorial" petition sent to Metropolitan Board of Works to take corral of Common away from Earl Spencer, 1867  . . . 

— George Bickerdike calls for donations to support John Buckmaster's court costs, 1870  . . . 

— Calls for gravel digging to stop, 1869  . . . 

— "Coronation" of a new Mayor of Garratt, 1804  . . . 

— John Hobbs runs away with the gypsies, 1866  . . . 

— Pedestrian races, 1847  . . . 

— A deputation of local "great and good" granted an audience with Earl Spencer, 1863granted   . . . 

— Death of John Breeze, who fought in the Charge of the Light Brigade, 1889  . . . 

— Polytechnic Bazaar at Bramblebury, 1889  . . . 

—"The Great Storm", 1987  . . . 

— Suffrage campaigner Emily Duval to speak on Wandsworth Common, 1908  . . . 

— Gravel digger buried alive, 1866  . . . 

— Rugby: Bath v Harlequins on "Wandsworth Common", 1907  . . . 

— Thomas Hardy falls seriously ill, 1880  . . . 

— In praise of Wandsworth Common, no thanks to the Neal Family, 1886  . . . 

— MCC to play Wandsworth home and away, 1828  . . . 

— Birth of John Poyntz Spencer, future 5th Earl   . . . 

Morning Post, 1 October 1807.

"Volunteer Sham Fight", Wandsworth Common — more military manoeuvres on the Common during the Napoleonic Wars.

A force "of upwards of 3000 men . . .  subjected themselves to military exercise, for an uninterrupted period of nearly 30 days." [See also last month's story, 25 September 1804].

The Second Brigade [implicitly perhaps "the British"], constituting the army to be attacked, mustered at an early hour; it was composed of the Camberwell, Clapham, Wandsworth, Battersea, a Corps of Cavalry, and several other corps in the vicinity. The whole marched and occupied a strong position on the top of East Hill, Wandsworth.

The First Brigade, or attacking party [in effect "the French"], consisted of the Hon. Artillery company, with field pieces and Sharp-shooters, the first Surrey Regiment and Sharp-shooters, and the Lambeth Regiment.

The Brigade assembled at Vauxhall Gardens about nine in the morning, and the troupe . . . proceeded with colours flying, and the bands playing, towards the town [Wandsworth], where the enemy was posted . . .  most advantageously situated on the top of East Hill fronting Colonel FLEMING's house.

Things then got quite heated between the two armies but the various moves are too complicated for me to follow (let alone explain), so here are some sentences that at least convey the spirit of the battle:

 . . .  the sharp-shooters were admitted into the gardens of the neighbouring farmers, and by that means were enabled to conceal themselves unperceived, under hedges, and gall the enemy by a fire which could not be returned upon them . . . 

"The Second Brigade, thus harassed, retired behind the Church-yard [presumably Mount Nod/the Huguenots Burial ground], and took a fresh position on Wandsworth Common, with the Sand Pitts and Ponds in front."

The First Brigade detached the left wing of the First Surrey, with one fieldpiece, round by an avenue [presumably the turnpike, today's St John's Hill] leading to the Plough [pub]. This wing advanced to the Common, threatening the right flank of the Second Brigade in their new position.

In spite of their best efforts, the Second Brigade were forced to retire up Nightingale Lane. For a while they took up a position in front of the bridge over the Falconbrook, at the lowest point where today's Birchlands and Hendrick Avenue [beneath which the river now runs in a culvert] enter Nightingale Lane. But they could not hold this position for long:

The cannonade . . .  was so impetuous that they were fairly driven away, and forced to retreat full speed towards . . .  Clapham Common . . .  on which they took up a position in rear of the Mount.

But it was no good. The Second Brigade were soon forced to call for a parley:

The Second Brigade then advanced in line to within twenty paces, halted, and saluted; and the salute was immediately returned by the First Brigade.

The manoeuvres closed, and the different Regiments, after partaking of a military repast [food and drink always played a large part in "sham fights"], returned to their respective places of parade, about eight o'clock in the evening.

The original article can be viewed: here. Let me know if you can work out all the moves.

2 October 1863

George Fergusson Wilson (of Price's Candle Works) on how he dealt with the invasion of "American Water-Weed" in the Black Sea, which lay outside his house on the Common.

Several years ago the weed made its appearance in a five-acre pond on Wandsworth Common. We were told that an aquarium owner, living more than half a mile off, had put a small plant in a pond near his house, for the sake of getting a good tank specimen. With us it spread very rapidly, soon overpowering all the old weeds, and destroying all pleasure in rowing.

Wilson's American Water-Weed, Anacharis is more usually called "Canadian Pondweed", Elodea canadensis.

5 October 1867

A deputation from the Wandsworth Common Preservation Society presents the petition or "memorial" to the Metropolitan Board of Works, calling on the Board to take control of the Common away from Earl Spencer.

South London Chronicle — Saturday 8 October 1870

Common campaigner George Bickerdike asks for donations to support John Buckmaster's court costs — Buckmaster had "accidentally" broken a window of the "Lord of the Manor" pub for which he was facing prosecution.

The provocatively named "Lord of the Manor" pub had been built (on land until recently still part of the Common) on the corner of Bolingbroke Grove and Battersea Rise. The pub seems not to have lasted very long, given how many others it was competing with nearby — and of course the closure of the two railway stations, New Wandsworth and Clapham Common.

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Sir, — Some time ago Mr. J. C. Buckmaster broke down a few palings on Wandsworth-common, and afterwards accidentally broke the window of the "Lord of the Manor" beershop, in removing a notice for a licence. Two actions for heavy damages, one by the beershop keeper, and the other a speculating builder, were commenced; but as the right to enclose the common and sell it for beershops and rubbish heaps could not be decided these actions, and as the chief object appearad to annoyance and expense to Mr. Buckmaster, his solicitor thought it better to pay the costs, which amounted to upwards of £50.

I felt that Mr. Buckmaster's long and faithful services in defence of common rights ought not to subject him to any pecuniary loss, and without his knowledge or consent I commenced subscription to defray his expenses, and now beg to thank most sincerely the gentlemen who have kindly and readily subscribed, and to assure them that the preservation of commons and open spaces is a question of serious growing importance to the metropolis, and all large towns, and I trust at the next general election the middle and working classes will make legislation on the subject a condition of their support.

I am, &c., George Bickerdike.

New Wandsworth, Oct. 3

According to Wandsworth Common Preservation Society, in which he was a stalwart campaigner and committee member over many years, George Bickerdike lived at Elm-terrace on St John's-hill, Battersea. He was a Gas Engineer.

The original position of the Lord of the Manor pub on the corner of a rectangular plot of Wandsworth Common acquired from the London and Brighton Line by speculative builders George Todd and his son Christopher.
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Fences they erected around this 12?-acre plot were the focus of many demonstrations at this time. John Buckmaster regularly broke down fences that removed land from the Common and interrupted footpaths. In his view this was not criminal damage but a traditional means of "trying a right" — in effect he was goading the Todds and others to bring a case in court that they would lose, without himself facing the legal costs of a direct challenge.

South London Press — 9 October 1869

Calls in the Wandsworth District Board of Works "that all gravel digging on Wandsworth Common be discontinued, and that all the parishes under the jurisdiction of the board be prohibited from purchasing gravel or flints for the use of the roads dug from Wandsworth Common".

As one member complained:

When he took his walk on the common he found the gravel being taken away so quickly that when he wanted to return by the path he taken earlier on the same day, he found gravel taken away in that short time to such an extent that the pathway [was] quite diverted.

He had assumed this was being done by Lord Spencer; but no, it was the Local Committee [i.e. the WBW].

Opponents of the resolution said the holes were being filled "with something better than was being taken out . . . not in any way detrimental to the health of the inhabitants". (To which the retort was that, on the contrary, they were being filled with noxious "filth, smudge and dirt".)


To conform to this resolution would be simply taking some hundreds — he might say thousands — out of ratepayers' pockets, and putting it into the hands of the contractors. The contractors could purchase the gravel from the lord of the manor [Earl Spencer], and they could go on doing so to eternity, and this board could not prevent them . . .  [A]s long as the board had the right to get this gravel they should do so, or some one else would, unless, of course, some arrangement could be come to by which it would be agreed that no one would have the privilege of taking away gravel."

The motion was carried, but quarrying continued. Similar debates took place in the Battersea and Wandsworth Vestries.

9 October 1804 — "Coronation" of a new Mayor of Garratt.

10 October 1866 — a boy, John Hobbs, caught throwing stones at trains, runs away with the gypsies on the Common (with the court's blessing).

Sunday 10 October 1847

"Pedestrian races" — hundreds of people assemble on the Common to watch — and gamble — on walking and running contests.

10 October 1863

A deputation of local "great-and-good", including the vicar of St Mary's, Rev. J.S. Jenkinson, the solicitor and vestry clerk Arthur Corsellis, and John Buckmaster, is granted an audience with Earl Spencer at Spencer House.

Spencer House, St James's, Westminster

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They hope to persuade Spencer of "the desirability of open spaces being preserved for the recreation and enjoyment of the public." All (except John Buckmaster) are overawed.

Spencer assures them that he believes:

outdoor games and exercises greatly contributed to the happiness and morality of the humbler classes, and any future scheme for enclosures would be considered with reference to that object.

According to newspaper reports, "the deputation thanked his Lordship for the very favourable consideration he had given the matter, and then withdrew."

In his autobiography, Buckmaster tells the story rather differently. He describes his fellow "memorialists" as obsequious and struck dumb by being in the august presence. Buckmaster however was his usual combative self, challenging Spencer's self-declared "right" to dispose of the Common. Spencer, insulted, storms out of the room. When they leave, the deputation is furious with Buckmaster.

 Click to enlarge.
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11 October 1889 — Old soldier John Breeze dies in his home in Park-road Battersea — and is buried in St Mary's Cemetery, Bolingbroke Grove on 18 October 1889. More about JB later in the month, on the anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade (25th October 1854).

South London Press — Saturday 12 October 1889

One of several "Polytechnic Bazaars" at Bramblebury, West Side, Wandsworth Common: "The youth of Battersea want a Polytechnic, and won't be happy till they get it . . . "

Wandsworth Borough Photos: Bramblebury House, Wandsworth Common West SideUnknown date.

The WBS notes state "View from the Grounds", which appears to mean that this is a large enclosed field or meadow behind the house. This is plausible as I vaguely recollect that adverts posted for the sale of Bramblebury for the speculative building of terraced housing state that 9?acres or more are available. This is the area on which today's Cicada Road etc were built, having been bought by [Henry?] Corsellis. It also makes sense of various local school sports days said to have been held there.

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The youth of Battersea want a Polytechnic, and won't be happy till they get it, and in brilliant coloured fires it was declared that the Polytechnic Bazaar was great snccess.

As there was dancing by electric light, and the night was beautiful with the brilliant moon shining, the thousands who had visited Bramblebury seemed very reluctant to leave the scene of day's past work and a good deal of innocent enjoyment.

When Mr. Gray, the treasurer, went round to collect the money from the different stalls and entertainments, he found he had a financial task of considerable magnitude, the day's takings being upwards of £3OO.

View original article here.

[BNA: Link.]

15/16 October 1987 — "The Great Storm"

Last month I sent an email to the Wandsworth Historical Society's Research Group and Friends of Wandsworth Common asking for photographs/stories/memories of storm damage to Wandsworth Common on the night of 15/16 October 1987.

As you may recall, at lunchtime on the 15th TV weather presenter Michael Fish immortalised himself by saying:

Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't!"

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My email continued:

I remember walking on the Common on the 16th and seeing some of the damage. For example, the flattened children's playground (now gone entirely, landscaped and grassed over) that lay between the Lake and the backs of the houses on Baskerville Road. After its virtual destruction, the playground was rebuilt in front of Neal's Lodge (where there used to be a Pitch'n'Putt green).

And the loss of half or more of the lovely grove of Lombardy poplars south of the Lake.

The whole Common seemed utterly flattened. (Though weirdly it soon grew up again and now seems more superabundant than ever. Who would have thought it? )

I don't seem to have taken any photographs (or if I did, I can't find them) — remember, this was pre-digital cameras and phones. So I asked whether anybody had any photos? Any particular memories?

I was thrilled to get this response from Cathy Rowntree. Cathy grew up on Nicosia Road, then moved to the other side of the Common with her husband Phil. She taught at Honeywell School for many years, and remains their archivist. (She's also the archivist for Clapham County School for Girls, Broomwood Road, 1909-1991.)

Here's her account of the storm, with some wonderfully evocative photographs from her album:

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19 September 2021

I got up in the night for the bathroom, not taking much notice of the power cut and went straight back to sleep.

Our elder son went to school in Sheen, having to be there at 8.30, so I duly sent him off to Clapham Junction, not realising the seriousness of the situation. I felt very guilty when he returned, saying that there were no trains, especially when I found that people were being injured by falling masonry and scaffolding, as well as trees.

Phil [Cathy's husband] had set off to drive to his garage, but the police turned him back on Battersea Rise, saying that the route was not safe.

Leaving our two sons with their Dad, I set off to work myself, walking along Webbs Road and passing a teacher at Belleville School, who was telling pupils & their parents to go home.

It was the same when I reached Honeywell, where the headteacher, in her desperation to be at her post, had made her cab driver drive over the grass on Wandsworth Common, when the road was impassable.

Most of the staff hadn't made it into work and being the one who lived nearest, I found myself in charge of a motley crew of children from different classes, of different ages and attempted to provide them with suitable activities.

Meanwhile, the head was phoning parents who had just left their children in the playground on their way to work, to come back and collect them. There were health and safety issues with there not being any electricity and heating, and the kitchens were unable to provide hot lunches.

Some parents couldn't return, for example the mother of twins who was a care-worker, visiting the homes of elderly clients, so it was into the afternoon before I could be relieved of my duties and return home myself.

Meanwhile, Phil and the boys had been playing Yahtzee, sitting in the bay window in the front room, so that they could see what they were doing, and generally getting bored (no TV!) and the boys both say that they have hated the game ever since!

On my return, we went to explore the damage on the common, which is when I took the pictures. Our younger son is in the first one and Phil is in a couple of others.

The smashed up car was not a complete write-off. The owner had bought it new, only a few weeks earlier, and wanted it replaced with another new one. The car was in the garage for some weeks, being charged storage, before the insurance company eventually agreed. The garage owners waived the storage fee on the understanding that they could buy the vehicle (which was still driveable) and they bought a new body shell direct from the factory, restored and then sold it on at a profit!

My own story was much the same — there may have been a hurricane outside but I slept through it all. In the morning I was puzzled why the French windows were flung open, but took my daughter Catherine to Balham Nursery at the bottom of Endlesham Rd in all innocence, with trees blocking the pavements and roads and debris all over the place — only to find the Nursery shut. What was I thinking?

Any more photos or memories anyone? I'd love to see them!

Women's Franchise — Sunday 18 October 1908

Local suffrage campaigner Mrs Emily Duval is advertised to speak on Wandsworth Common, and her son Victor — Battersea-born founder of the Men's Political Union for Women's Enfranchisement — at Caxton Hall a few days later.

"Emily Hayes Duval, a prisoner at Holloway Prison in London, in prison uniform and sewing mail bags, circa 1908."

[Getty Images: Suffragette Prisoner — Emily Hayes Duval Suffragette. (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images).]

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At this time, the Duval family of militant Suffragists lived close to the Common at 37 Park Road (now called Elsynge Road), having moved there from 97 Lavender Sweep (which runs between Battersea Rise and Lavender Hill).

The Women's Freedom League had held its first "Open-Air Campaign" meeting on the Common five months earlier:

New ground has been opened up at Wandsworth Common, where meetings are being held every Sunday morning. At the first meeting, on May 31st 1908 . . .  the speakers were Miss Mary Smith, Miss Alice Milne, and Mr Duval. On Whit Sunday [June 7th] Mrs Nevinson and Dr Thornett were the speakers.

["Mr. Duval" is probably Emily's son Victor, though her husband Ernest also spoke at suffrage meetings (indeed, the two men sometimes spoke together). "Miss Mary Smith", a working class activist from Manchester. "Miss Alice Milne" wrote a diary for the period 1906—1908, though I have not followed up whether it mentions Wandsworth Common. [The diary is now in the Women's Library at the LSE — surely it's been transcribed?]

"Mrs Nevinson" was the mother of the war-artist Christopher ("C.R.W.") Nevinson whose name is commemorated in one of the new roads near the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building (where he worked with the Royal Army Medical Corps when it was the 3rd London General Hospital).

I assume "Dr Thornett" is the pioneering surgeon sometimes referred to in suffrage newspapers as "Miss Thornett FRCS". In 1910, Mrs Ackroyd served as a Guardian of the Poor for Croydon — she is mentioned in Sally Alexander, Women's Fabian Tracts (1988)).]

Victor Duval c.1910.

"In October 1910, Victor went to prison after causing a disturbance at a meeting attended by the Liberal Cabinet minister David Lloyd George."

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Victor was secretary of the Clapham League of Young Liberals but resigned due to frustration with the Liberal government's refusal to recognise votes for women. After seeing a woman roughly thrown out of a Liberal meeting, he stated: "I am ashamed of the men who call themselves Liberal. I am ashamed of them because they have insulted women — they have dragged the flag of Liberalism in the gutter and have trampled on it."

[Suffrage Resources: Victor Duval]

I hope eventually to write more about the remarkable Duval family, for example Victor's mother Emily and sister Elsie. And there's obviously much more to learn about Victor, who fills many column inches in the press after 1908. See BNA: "Victor Duval". Winston Churchill's attempts to nail him are interesting. I have transcribed a number of articles and added them to "/duvals/victor_duval.html".]

For a very illuminating overview of the Duval family, see e.g. Jeanne Rathbone: The Duval suffrage family of Lavender Sweep .

[Political and religious open-air meetings held on Wandsworth Common — an interesting and important history that needs research. A number of these meetings were either physically attacked by groups of local men and boys, or banned by the London County Council. Which, ironically, is the main reason we can still read about them today, having been reported in newspapers or court records. Peaceful protest is generally ignored.]

Globe — Thursday 18 October 1866

Gravel digger buried alive on Wandsworth Common. Many reports mention a "seam of gravel gave way" and that the 60-year-old man was "buried beneath  . . .  superincumbent earth, yet lived for three days afterwards".

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Mr. J Payne opened and concluded inquiry last night at the Bull's Head Inn, Old-town, Clapham, into the circumstances attending the death of William Puttyfoot, 60 years of age, who died on Sunday last through injuries sustained on the previous Thursday by a fall of several tons of earth, whereby he was for some time buried alive.

John Clegg, a labourer, said deceased had just gone down the pit to commence work, and while he was breaking some lumps of earth there was a heavy fall of gravel from the right side of tbe excavation.

The deceased was buried in the fall of the gravel, and another young man, who were working near him, had a very narrow escape. The sides of the pit were slanting, and they had not shored up or barred the sides of it, because it was considered useless, and it interfered with the comfort of those digging in it.

It was not a usual thing to take precautions of that kind, and it was considered by all that their work was quite safe without.

In his (witness's) judgment the cause of the accident was attributable to a seam of sand giving way which was half way up the pit, and which it waa impossible all times to discover, as they were frequently "a little way in".

After hearing comborative evidence, the jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death".

[BNA: Globe — Thursday 18 October 1866 .]

The death was reported in many newspapers, including those serving areas such as South Shields where deaths among coal miners cannot have been uncommon. So why report a single death in suburban London? I don't know.

George Morland (1763—1804), The Gravel Diggers, c.1800

Not Wandsworth Common, of course. But suitably evocative, don't you think? Tate Gallery: George Morland (1763—1804), The Gravel Diggers .]

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Gravel and sand had been quarried on the Common for hundreds of years but greater amounts were being extracted in the 1860s than ever before. As a result numerous ponds were created all over the Common — many of which were not filled in until after the 1871 Act (which largely — though not entirely — put an end to quarrying. There was a serious risk of drowning in the flooded pits, which also invited fly-tipping.

Ordnance Survey c.1868—69, tinted (by PB) to show the numerous sand/gravel quarries and ponds.

Earl Spencer's initial demand for an annuity of £500 per year for relinquishing control of the Common was largely based on the income from gravel that he would be forgoing.

Although John Buckmaster disapproved of gravel digging on the Common, and called for its cessation, it was a visit by two poor gravel diggers c.1863 that he says caused him to try to save the Common.

Saturday 19 October 1907

Rugby — Bath play Harlequins on Wandsworth Common.

Saturday 23 October 1880

On returning to his home in Trinity Road, the author Thomas Hardy falls dangerously ill. He won't be able to walk outdoors again for seven months — until May 1881, when he sets off alone and ecstatic across Wandsworth Common. He is just 40 years of age.

"The Larches", 1 Arundel Terrace (now 172 Trinity Road), with its entrance doorway in Brodrick Road — photographed in (a rather dreary) 1938.

This was Thomas and Emma Hardy's home for more than three years, 1878-1881. [Source: Collage (recently renamed the London Picture Archive).]

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Thomas and Emma Hardy, c.1870.

Click here for more about Thomas Hardy's debilitating illness and the long months he spent housebound in Trinity Road . . . 

London Daily News — Saturday 23 October 1886

In praise of Wandsworth Common in mid-October. A remarkably poetic article highlights the wholesale damage being done by the Neal family to "one of the prettiest corners of the Common", where "a couple of real full-grown willows stand, as if to weep over the spoliation going on under their shadow."

This is the area "along by the spick and span new houses of the estate", by which is meant Baskerville and Dorlcote Roads — today's "Toast Rack".

This story is particularly interesting because it takes place fifteen years after the 1871 Act that promised to protect the Common. During this time a group of Conservators (mainly locally elected) has been assiduously looking after the Common. But within a couple of years the Common will be taken from them and handed over to the widely-loathed Metropolitan Board of Works, already mired in accusations of waste and corruption.

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Wandsworth Common is probably at its best in the later spring months, and it is most popular amongst the people who frequent it during the long summer days when even the sick and feeble may sit in the shade of the big trees and lounge upon the turf with impunity.

At this mid-October season, however, especially since the rains have turned the brown made by the dog-day suns into the greenest of grass, it still proclaims an abundance of charms, albeit some of them may suggest decay and induce a gentle melancholy rather than the bounding delight which a fresh May morning should bpring to all healthy persons.

Let the season be what it may, indeed, this fine open space tells its own mission of healthful service to the people, and invites every one interested in its preservation, and other places of like character, to be strong and resolute in resisting every attempt at spoliation.

You may reach Wandsworth Common by railway, but to fully appreciate the boon it must be, you should cross Westminster Bridge, and journey to it by the Albert Embankment and along the Wandsworth-road. The locality thus traversed teems with evidences of industrial labour. The shops, eating-houses, and tramcars are patronised mostly by the working classes of a substantial type, and the vast works along the riverside are the sources of their income. For these densely habited thousands, the nearest open air spaces are Battersea Park and Wandsworth Common.

On your way to the last-named you find that the air gets perceptibly clearer when once you are upon Lavender-hill. The shops, breweries, and manufactories are now succeeded by terraces of small villas set back from the pavement; old creeper-fronted houses peep between the trees of their enclosed grounds; the roar of London has become a subdued hum, and you are at a respectable height above the valley of Father Thames.

You descend as well as climb Lavender-hill but immediately on reaching the dip commence the ascent of St. John's-hill. Bye-and-bye you turn off to the left, and a short connecting link of byeway introduces you to Wandsworth Common.

The first glimpse of the greenery of the ground, and the foliage of the trees which are so liberally distributed, bids you imagine that you are almost in the country. Nor is this impression erroneous. Close by, looking over the oak palings, you may see quite a large field with cattle grazing, and as honest a rick as the remotest village could produce. Here, too, you are at the commencement of that chain of prized open spaces which only terminates with glorious Richmond Park.

No doubt the owners of the private grounds, which appear on either hand, can here pluck their flowers without smearing the hand with London smut. Half over the lanes and roadways hang the branches of immemorial elms. There is a fine row of chestnuts on the Common itself, with birches, poplars, limes, and sycamores; and in the corner yonder, to which much public attention has recently been called, a couple of real full-grown willows stand, as if to weep over the spoliation going on under their shadow. In all directions young trees, protected by railings, flourish up and down the Common with full promise of future beauty.

Though it is the 22nd of October there are men, women, and children tempted by the sunshine resting on the seats or strolling or playing on the sward amidst the dark masses of gorse, which truly is only out of bloom when kissing is out of fashion.

You must push up past the great school buildings with their ample enclosures of private ground, and cross the wooden bridge over the London, Brighton, and South Coast line to find the corner of which readers of the Daily News will have learned much within the past few days . . . 


The Neals (not named) have for some years controversially been renting from the Patriotic Fund the 20+ acres no longer needed by the nearby Royal Victoria Patriotic Asylum. (This is the site now enclosed for cricket, tennis, bowls and other games, bought back by the London County Council and added to the Common in the early years of twentieth century.)

Thanks to the Neals' destructive mismanagement:

All along by the spick and span new houses of the estate laid out in that quarter runs a rough muddy road, and this, just past the willows, branches off into two up-ploughed, quagmiry cartroads, worse than many a colonial bush track. One of these cuts right through the gorse."

One of the correspondents who have very properly sounded an alarm correctly described this part as one of then prettiest corners of the Common. The spoliation requires no magnifying glass to discover it. All along by the spick and span new houses of the estate laid out in that quarter runs a rough muddy road, and this, just past the willows, branches off into two up-ploughed, quagmiry cartroads, worse than many a colonial bush track. One of these cuts right through the gorse.

These rude reminders of the heavy traffic of roads of contract manure carted to the farm (which has passed from the Patriotic Commissioners to a private tenant) would be an eyesore under any circumstances, but they are doubly ugly as being the encroachments upon the space which should be devoted to public uses . . . 


These "spick and span new houses" are on Baskerville and Dorlcote Roads. And "the estate", once called "Magdalen College Park" (after its owner-developer), is now widely called the "Toast Rack".

[Incidentally, where was this "large field with cattle grazing, and as honest a rick as the remotest village could produce"? Presumably not part of the Common itself, but probably somewhere off Bolingbroke Grove? Check maps.]

Wednesday 25 October 1854 — The Charge of the Light Brigade

Battersea-resident John Breeze died on Friday 11 October 1889 and was buried in St Mary's Cemetery, Bolingbroke Grove a week later.

I've delayed writing about John Breeze until 25 October because this is "Balaklava Day" — the anniversary, once widely celebrated but now almost completely forgotten, of a massacre of British cavalrymen (the "Light Brigade") in the opening months of the Crimean War (1853—1856).

Edward Morin, The Cavalry Charge at Balaklava, Oct. 25th 1854"

Click on this link to read more about the Charge and the life and death of John Breeze  . . .  including how he lost his arm (and how cheese saved his life), his meeting with Queen Victoria (and the sketches she made of him), and his burial in Battersea Cemetery in October 1889.

Bell's Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 26 October 1828

Cricket: MCC to play Wandsworth home and away.

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Mary-le-Bonne and Wandsworth.

To-morrow, eleven players of the parish of Mary-la-bonne will, for once more this season, contend against a similar number of the gentlemen of Wandsworth, at Lord's Cricket Ground, St. John's Wood. The first match was to have been played on Thursday last, on Wandsworth Common, and the Mary-le-bonne players assembled, in consequence, at an early hour, at the house of Mr. Gooding, at Wandsworth; but owing to the extremely unfavourable state of the weather, the match was not proceeded in.

The worthy host, however, exerted himself to the utmost to make up for the disappointment, and it was ultimately agreed to play the first match tomorrow at Lord's, and the return match on Tuesday at Wandsworth. An excellent contest is anticipated.

If you want to know how our boys did against the MCC, you'll have to contain yourself until next month (2nd November 1828).

Thursday 29 October 1835

Birth of John Poyntz Spencer, future 5th Earl Spencer, who relinquished control of Wandsworth Common in 1871 in return for a substantial annuity and the land on which Spencer Park now stands.

John Poyntz Spencer (1835-1910)
[Source to be added.]
JPS was widely called the "Red Earl" — after his spectacular beard, not of course his politics (which were Gladstonian Liberal).

Most images of Spencer show him in older age, but he was still only in his thirties when confronted by the rebellious residents of Wandsworth Common.

Contrary to widespread assertion, 5th Earl was not the ancestor of Princess Diana — JPS had no children. The Spencer titles and estate were inherited by his half-brother, Charles, whose great-grand-daughter she was. So I suppose JPS could be described as her "Great-grand-half-uncle" (if such a relationship exists).

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