The History of Wandsworth Common

Added 23.9.2019


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I have a very strong feeling I have found and transcribed a number of other novels and stories that I have not added.]

Including this multi-part-work that was re-printed at least twice :

See folder: 1910-THE-RED-BAND-IllustratedPoliceNews

Illustrated Police News — Saturday 09 April 1910



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 [PB: ??] 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 %torcy 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.

Frances Grose (1731-1791)

The antiquary, satirist and soldier Frances Grose lived for many years in Mulberry Cottage on the edge of Wandsworth Common. He is known to have made sketches locally. [More to follow...]

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William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (1847-1853)

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Mrs. Kirk... put one or two leading professional questions to Amelia, to see whether she was awakened, whether she was a professing Christian and so forth, and finding from the simplicity of Mrs. Osborne's replies that she was yet in utter darkness, put into her hands three little penny books with pictures, viz., the "Howling Wilderness," the "Washerwoman of Wandsworth Common," and the "British Soldier's best Bayonet," which, bent upon awakening her before she slept, Mrs. Kirk begged Amelia to read that night ere she went to bed."

[Source: Vanity Fair, chapter 27.]

Henry Mayhew and John Binney, The Criminal Prisons of London, and Scenes of Prison Life (1862)

A marvellous account of a train journey from central London to Wandsworth Prison — published 1862, but likely to have been written earlier, c.1855 (?).

More here.

Cornelius Webbe, Man About Town (1838), Glances at Life in City and Suburb (first series, date?, and second Series, date? [REFS?]

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Henry Dunbar — the Story of an Outcast (1864)

MEB, widely referred to as "Mrs Braddon" and "Miss Braddon", published more than 80 novels (and much else). Her bestseller was the classic "sensation novel" Lady Audley's Secret. Henry Dunbar, which some critics say is even better, contains numerous references to Wandsworth and Wandsworth Common (also Clapham).

[Wikipedia: Mary Elizabeth Braddon b.4 October 1835 [Soho?], London, d. 4 February 1915, Richmond,]

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The town of Wandsworth is not a gay place. There is an air of old-world quiet in the old-fashioned street, though dashing vehicles drive through it sometimes on their way to Wimbledon or Richmond Park.

The sloping roofs, the gable-ends, the queer old chimneys, the quaint casement windows, belong to a bygone age; and the traveller, coming a stranger to the little town, might fancy himself a hundred miles away from boisterous London; though he is barely clear of the great city's smoky breath, or beyond the hearing of her myriad clamorous tongues.

There are lanes and byways leading out of that humble High Street down to the low bank of the river; and in one of these, a pleasant place enough, there is a row of old-fashioned semi-detached cottages, standing in small gardens, and sheltered by sycamores and laburnums from the dust, which in dry summer weather lies thick upon the narrow roadway.

In one of these cottages a young lady lived with her father; a young lady who gave lessons on the piano-forte, or taught singing, for very small remuneration. She wore shabby dresses, and was rarely known to have a new bonnet; but people respected and admired her, notwithstanding; and the female inhabitants of Godolphin Cottages, who gave her good-day sometimes as she went along the dusty lane with her well-used roll of music in her hand, declared that she was a lady bred and born. Perhaps the good people who admired Margaret Wentworth would have come nearer the mark if they had said that she was a lady by right divine of her own beautiful nature, which had never required to be schooled into grace or gentleness.

She had no mother, and she had not even the memory of her mother, who had died seventeen years before, leaving an only child of twelve months old for James Wentworth to keep.

[Source: Chapter 6.]

NB "the second week of July..."

So it happened that...I went out for a walk one evening, at the end of the second week in July...for a solitary ramble amongst the quiet Surrey suburbs, in any lonely lanes or scraps of common-land where the speculating builder had not yet set his hateful foot.

It was a lovely evening; and I, who am so much a Cockney as to believe that a London sunset is one of the grandest spectacles in the universe, set my face towards the yellow light in the west, and walked across Wandsworth Common, where faint wreaths of purple mist were rising from the hollows, and a deserted donkey was breaking the twilight stillness with a plaintive braying.

Wandsworth Common was as lonely this evening as a patch of sand in the centre of Africa; and being something of a day-dreamer, I liked the place because of its stillness and solitude.

Something of a dreamer: and yet I had so little to dream about. My thoughts were pleasant, as I walked across the common in the sunset; and yet, looking back now, I wonder what I thought of, and what image there was in my mind that could make my fancies pleasant to me. I know what I thought of, as I went home in the dim light of the newly-risen moon, the pale crescent that glimmered high in a cloudless heaven.

I went into the little town of Wandsworth, the queer old-fashioned High Street, the dear old street, which seems to me like a town in a Dutch picture, where all the tints are of a sombre brown, yet in which there is, nevertheless, so much light and warmth. The lights were beginning to twinkle here and there in the windows; and upon this July evening there seemed to be flowers blooming in every casement. I loitered idly through the street, staring at the shop-windows, in utter absence of mind while I thought -

What could I have thought of that evening? and how was it that I did not think the world blank and empty?

[Source: ref?]

I came upon a reference to this book in the Victoria County History of Surrey (1902-1914):

As late as 1864 Wandsworth was described by a popular novelist as a small old-fashioned town with country lanes and by-ways branching off from its quaint High Street, but its rural characteristics have vanished since that date with most of its old houses.

Notes to follow up:

James Grant, Second to None, A Military Romance (1864)

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Second to None, A Military Romance, vol 1 (of 3), Chapter XI "Wandsworth Common", pp.159, 171, 182 ("She was the charming blonde I had met on Wandsworth Common — the heroine of my last night's adventure!"

[Date — Napoleonic War?] Our military hero, crossing Wandsworth Common on horseback, hears a woman's scream and encounters a highwayman:

(p.163) I had left behind me the little village of Wandsworth, which is finely situated on the declivities of two small hills, and was traversing the common, then a wild and open waste covered with grass, gorse, and tall waving woods through which the roadway passed...[ADD MORE]

Thomas Hardy (1840-1926)

Thomas Hardy lived near Wandsworth Common (in 1 Arundel Terrace — "The Larches" — now 172 Trinity Road) for three years between 1878 and 1881, partly because the house was cheap, the area still fairly rural, but mainly because he could get up to London quickly from Wandsworth Common Station (opened 1869). Victoria Station was only a little over 4 miles away. His letters etc from this period refer to the Common and surroundings. It is also possible he was inspired by certain events at Wandsworth Prison.

March 22 1878 — We came from Bolingbroke Grove to Arundel Terrace and slept here for the first time. Our house is the south-east corner one where Brodrick Road crosses Trinity Road down toward Wandsworth Station, the side door being in Brodrick Road.

[More to follow...]

William Ulick O'Connor Cuffe, Earl of Desart (1845-1898), Mervyn O'Connor & Other Tales (1880), Vol 1

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Given a knowledge of the whereabouts of Wandsworth Common, the finding of Manor Lodge was easy enough. Everyone knew it, and one or two shop-people of..." (p164)

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Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost (1887)

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...afterwards shot in a duel by Lord Canterville on Wandsworth Common, and Lady Barbara died of a broken...

In a collection with Lord Arthur Saville's Crime.

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Arthur Lillie, The Cobra Diamond (1890)

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Arthur Conan Doyle, Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure Of The Greek Interpreter (1893)

Mr Melas, a Greek interpreter, is deposited far from his home on Wandsworth Common. He makes it to Clapham Junction just in time for the last train to Victoria. He has now presented his story at the Diogenes Club to Mycroft, who asks his brother Sherlock to look into it. Melas recalls the events of the might:

I cannot tell you the loathing and horror with which this insignificant-looking man inspired me. I could see him better now as the lamp-light shone upon him. His features were peaky and sallow, and his little pointed beard was thready and ill-nourished. He pushed his face forward as he spoke and his lips and eyelids were continually twitching like a man with St. Vitus's dance. I could not help thinking that his strange, catchy little laugh was also a symptom of some nervous malady. The terror of his face lay in his eyes, however, steel grey, and glistening coldly with a malignant, inexorable cruelty in their depths.

'We shall know if you speak of this,' said he. 'We have our own means of information. Now you will find the carriage waiting, and my friend will see you on your way.'

I was hurried through the hall and into the vehicle, again obtaining that momentary glimpse of trees and a garden. Mr. Latimer followed closely at my heels, and took his place opposite to me without a word. In silence we again drove for an interminable distance with the windows raised, until at last, just after midnight, the carriage pulled up.

'You will get down here, Mr. Melas,' said my companion. 'I am sorry to leave you so far from your house, but there is no alternative. Any attempt upon your part to follow the carriage can only end in injury to yourself.'

He opened the door as he spoke, and I had hardly time to spring out when the coachman lashed the horse and the carriage rattled away. I looked around me in astonishment. I was on some sort of a heathy common mottled over with dark clumps of furze-bushes. Far away stretched a line of houses, with a light here and there in the upper windows. On the other side I saw the red signal-lamps of a railway.

The carriage which had brought me was already out of sight. I stood gazing round and wondering where on earth I might be, when I saw some one coming towards me in the darkness. As he came up to me I made out that he was a railway porter.

"'Can you tell me what place this is?' I asked.

'Wandsworth Common,' said he.

'Can I get a train into town?'

'If you walk on a mile or so to Clapham Junction,' said he, 'you'll just be in time for the last to Victoria.'

So that was the end of my adventure, Mr. Holmes. I do not know where I was, nor whom I spoke with, nor anything save what I have told you. But I know that there is foul play going on, and I want to help that unhappy man if I can. I told the whole story to Mr. Mycroft Holmes next morning, and subsequently to the police."

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Leonard Merrick (1864-1939), One Man's View (1897)

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...on the line was reached. When the name of Wandsworth Common was cried, he glanced out at the dimly lighted

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[Wikipedia: Leonard Merrick.]

Richard Marsh, Tom Ossington's Ghost (1898)

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Jack went on.

"I've said before, and I say again, and I shall keep on saying, that you two girls ought not to live alone by yourselves in a house in ths out-of-the-way corner of the world."

Out-of-the-way corner of the world! — on Wandsworth Common!"

For all practical intents and purposes you might as well be in the middle of the Desert of Sahara; you might shriek and shriek and I doubt if any one would hear you...."

[Source: Link to text, (p.49).]

Fred Merrick White (1859-1935), Slave of Silence, (1904)

"Where shall I drive, sir?" the cabman asked.

Keep that cab in sight without being seen," Berrington said hastily. "Do your work well, and it will be a sovereign in your pocket. Now drive on."

[Pg 57]


The cabman gave a knowing wink and touched his hat. Berrington lay back inside the hansom abstractedly, smoking a cigarette that he had lighted. His bronzed face was unusually pale and thoughtful; it was evident that he felt himself on no ordinary errand, though the situation appeared to be perfectly prosaic. One does not usually attach a romantic interest to a well-dressed military man in a hansom cab during broad daylight in London. But Berrington could have told otherwise.

Poor little girl," he muttered to himself. "Sad as her fate is, I did not think it was quite so sad as this. We must do something to save her. What a fortunate thing it is that I have always had a love for the study of underground human nature, and that I should have found out so much that appears only normal to the average eye. That innocent patch of salt in the shape of a bullet, for instance. Thank goodness, I am on my long leave and have plenty of time on my hands. My dear little grey lady, even your affairs must remain in abeyance for the present."

The drive promised to be a long one, for half London seemed to have been traversed before the cabman looked down through the little peep-hole and asked for instructions, as the hansom in front had stopped.

The gentleman inside is getting out, sir," he said. "He's stopped at the corner house."

[Pg 58]

Go by it at a walk," Berrington commanded, "and see what house our man enters. After that I will tell you exactly what to do, driver. Only be careful as to the right house."

The cab pulled up at length once more, and the house was indicated. Berrington proceeded a little further, and then sent his own driver away rejoicing, a sovereign the richer for his task. Turning up his collar and pulling down his hat, Berrington retraced his steps.

He was enabled to take pretty good stock of the house Richford had entered, and without exciting suspicion, because there were trees on the opposite side of the road and seats beneath them. It was a fairly open part of London, with detached houses on the one side looking on to a kind of park. They were expensive houses, Berrington decided, houses that could not have been less than two hundred and fifty a year. They looked prosperous with their marble steps and conservatories on the right side of the wide doorways; there were good gardens behind and no basements. Berrington could see, too, by the hanging opals in the upper windows that these houses had electric lights.

This is unusual, very unusual indeed," Berrington muttered to himself, as he sat as if tired on one of the seats under the trees. "The gentry who cultivate the doctrine that has for its cult a piece of salt in the shape of a bullet, don't as a rule favour desirable family mansions like these. Still, fortune might have favoured one of them. No. 100, Audley Place. And No. 100 is the recognized number of the clan. By the way, where am I?"

A passing policeman was in a position to answer the question. Audley Place was somewhat at the back of

[Pg 59]

Wandsworth Common, so that it was really a good way out of town. The policeman was friendly, mainly owing to the fact that he was an old soldier, and that he recognized Berrington as an officer immediately. He was full of information, too.

Mostly rich City gents live in Audley Place, sir," he said. "There is one colonel, too — Colonel Foley of the East Shropshire Regiment."

An old college chum and messmate of mine," Berrington said. "I followed Colonel Foley in the command of that very regiment. What house does he live in?"

That's No. 14, sir," the delighted officer grinned. "Excuse the liberty, sir, but you must be Colonel Berrington, sir. I was with you all through the first Egyptian campaign."

Berrington blessed his own good fortune. Here was the very thing that he wanted.

We'll fight our battles over again some other day," he said. "I am pretty sure that I shall see a great deal more of you — by the way, what is your name? Macklin. Thank you. Now tell me something as to who lives yonder at No. 100. I am not asking out of idle curiosity."

I can't tell you the gentleman's name, sir," Macklin replied. "But I can find out. The people have not been there very long. A few good servants, but no men, no ladies so far as I can tell, and the master what you might call a confirmed invalid. Goes about in a bath chair which he hires from a regular keeper of this class of thing. Not a very old gent, but you can't quite tell, seeing that he is muffled up to his eyes. Very pale and feeble he looks."

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Berrington muttered something to himself and his eyebrows contracted. Evidently he was a good deal puzzled by what he had heard.

That is very strange," he said, "very strange indeed. I will not disguise from you, Macklin, that I have a very strong reason for wishing to know everything about No. 100, Audley Place. Keep your eyes open and glean all the information you possibly can. Talk to the servants and try to pump them. And write to me as soon as you have found out anything worth sending. Here is my card. I shall do no good by staying here any longer at present."

The policeman touched his helmet and strode on his way. Berrington strolled along under the friendly shadow of the trees till he had left Audley Place behind him. Once clear of the terrace he called a cab and was whirled back to town again.

Meanwhile, absolutely unconscious of the fact that he was being so closely shadowed, Richford had been driven out Wandsworth way. He did not look in the least like a modern millionaire of good health and enviable prospects as he drove along. His moody face was pale, his lips trembled, his eyes were red and bloodshot with the brandy that he had been drinking. The hand that controlled the market so frequently shook strangely as Richford pressed the bell of No. 100 Audley Place. There was no suggestion of tragedy or mystery about the neat parlourmaid who opened the door.

Mr. Sartoris desires to see me," Richford said. "He sent me a messenger — a message to the Royal Palace Hotel. Will you please tell him I am here."

The neat parlourmaid opened the drawing-room door and ushered Richford in. It was a big room looking

[Pg 61]

on the street, but there was nothing about it to give the place the least touch of originality. The furniture was neat and substantial, as might have befitted the residence of a prosperous City man, the pictures were by well-known artists, the carpet gave to the feet like moss. There was nothing here to cause Richford to turn pale, and his lips to quiver.

He paced up and down the room uneasily, starting at every sound until the maid returned and asked if the gentleman would be good enough to step this way. Richford followed down a passage leading to the back of the house into a room that gave on to a great conservatory. It was a fine room, most exquisitely furnished; flowers were everywhere, the big dome-roofed conservatory was a vast blaze of them. The room was so warm, too, that Richford felt the moisture coming out on his face. By the fire a figure sat huddled up in a great invalid chair.

So you have come," a thin voice said. "Most excellent Richford, you are here. I was loath to send for you on this auspicious occasion, but it could not be helped."

There was the faintest suggestion of a sneer in the thin voice. Richford crossed the room and took another chair by the side of the invalid. The face of the man who called himself Carl Sartoris was as pale as marble and as drawn as parchment, the forehead was hard and tangled with a mass of fair hair upon it, the lips were a little suggestive of cruelty. It was the dark eyes that gave an expression of life and vitality, surprising in so weak a frame. Those eyes held the spectator, they fascinated people by their marvellous vitality.

[Pg 62]

What devil's work are you upon now?" Richford growled.

My dear sir, you must not speak to an invalid like that," Sartoris said. "Do you not know that I am sensitive as to my own beloved flowers? It was my flowers that I asked you to come and see. Since you were here last, the room has been entirely redecorated. It seemed to me to be good that I should share my artistic joy with so congenial a companion."

Damn your flowers!" Richford burst out passionately. "What a cruel, unfeeling fellow you are! Always the same, and will be the same till the devil comes for you."

Which sad event you would regard with philosophic equanimity," Sartoris laughed. "So, we will get to business as soon as possible. I see that Sir Charles Darryll is dead. I want to know all about that affair without delay. What did he die of?"

How should I know? Old age and too much pleasure. And that's all I can tell you. I found him first."

Oh, indeed. The evening paper says nothing about that."

For the simple reason that the evening papers don't know everything," Richford growled. "Quite early to-day I found Sir Charles dead in his bed. I dared not say a word about it, because, as you know, I was going to marry his daughter. But, of course, you all knew about that, too. You see if I had made my little discovery public, Beatrice would have known that death had freed her and her father from certain very unpleasant consequences that you and I wot of, and would have refused to meet me at the altar. So I locked the

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door and discreetly said nothing, my good Sartoris."

The little man in the invalid chair rolled about horribly and silently.

Good boy," he said. "You are a credit to your parents and the country you belong to. What next?"

Why, the wedding, of course. Lord Rashborough, as head of the family, was giving Beatrice away. Sir Charles did not turn up, but nobody wondered, as he had never been known to attend to an appointment in his life. And so we were married."

Once more the little man shook with unholy mirth.

And the girl knows nothing about it?" he asked. "I suppose you'll tell her some day when she is not quite so loving as she might be? Ho, ho; it is a joke after my own heart."

Richford laughed in his turn, then his face grew dark. He proceeded to tell the rest of the story. The little man in the chair became quieter and quieter, his face more like parchment than ever. His eyes blazed with a curious electric fire.

So you have lost your wife before you have found her?" he asked. "You fool! you double-dyed fool! If that girl chooses to tell her story, suspicion falls on you. And if anybody makes a fuss and demands an inquest or anything of that kind — — "

They are going to hold an inquest, anyway," Richford said sulkily. "Dr. Andrews was in favour of it from the first, and the family doctor, Oswin, has agreed. The police came around and sealed up that suite of rooms before I left the hotel. But why this fuss?"

Silence, fool!" came from the chair in a hissing whisper. "Let me have time to think. That sense

[Pg 64]

less act of folly of yours over the telegram bids fair to ruin us all. You will say so yourself when you hear all that I have to tell you. Oh, you idiot!"

Why?" Richford protested. "How did I know Sir Charles was going to die? And if his death took place in a perfectly natural manner and there was no foul play — — "

Oh, if it did. Perhaps it was wrong on my part not to take you more fully into my confidence. But there is one thing certain. Listen to me, Richford. Whatever happens between now and this time to-morrow there must be no inquest on the body of Sir Charles Darryll!"

The words came with a fierce hissing indrawing of the speaker's breath. He tried to get up from his chair, and fell back with a curse of impotence.

Push me along to the door," he said. "Take me to that little room behind the library where you have been before. I am going to show you something, and I'm going to reveal a plot to you. We shall want all your brutal bulldog courage to-night."

The chair slid along on its cushioned wheels, the door closed with a gentle spring, and, as it did, a female figure emerged from behind a great bank of flowers just inside the conservatory. She crossed on tip-toe to the door and as gently closed it. As the light fell it lit up the pale sad features of the grey lady — the Slave of Silence.

[Source: Link]

Fred Merrick White (1859-1935) wrote a number of novels and short stories under the name "Fred M. White" including the six "Doom of London" science-fiction stories, in which various catastrophes beset London. These include The Four Days' Night (1903), in which London is beset by a massive killer smog; The Dust of Death (1903), in which diphtheria infects the city, spreading from refuse tips and sewers; and The Four White Days (1903), in which a sudden and deep winter paralyses the city under snow and ice.

[Wikipedia: Fred M White. PB: Also The Invisible Force, The River of Death, and A Bubble Burst, (1903)]

Sarah Macnaughtan, Three Miss Graemes, (1908?).

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...Not long afterwards he took her for a walk on Wandsworth Common, and actually asked her if she was tired...

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George Moore (1852-1933), Hail and Farewell! Vale (first of 3 vols 1911-14, numerous editions)

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...for in the darkness we had wandered into Wandsworth Common, one of my guests said to me: "You mustn't...

Edward Thomas, In Pursuit of Spring (1914) etc

I had planned to start on March 21, and rather late than early, to give the road time for drying. The light arrived bravely and innocently enough at sunrise; too bravely, for by eight o'clock it was already abashed by a shower. There could be no doubt that either I must wait for a better day, or at the next convenient fine interval I must pretend to be deceived and set out prepared for all things. So at ten I started, with maps and sufficient clothes to replace what my waterproof could not protect from rain.

The suburban by-streets already looked rideable; but they were false prophets: the main roads were very different. For example, the surface between the west end of Nightingale Lane and the top of Burntwood Lane was fit only for fancy cycling — in and out among a thousand lakes a yard wide and three inches deep. These should either have been stocked with gold-fish and aquatic plants or drained, but some time had been allowed [35] to pass without either course being adopted.

It may be that all the draining forces of the neighbourhood had been directed to emptying the ornamental pond on Wandsworth Common. Empty it was, and the sodden bed did not improve the look of the common — flat by nature, flatter by recent art.

The gorse was in bloom amidst a patchwork of turf, gravel, and puddle. Terriers raced about or trifled. A flock of starlings bathed together in a puddle until scared by the dogs.

A tall, stern, bald man without a hat strode earnestly in a straight line across the grass and water, as if pleasure had become a duty. He was alone on the common. In all the other residences, that form walls round the common almost on every side, hot-cross buns had proved more alluring than the rain and the south-west wind.

The scene was, in fact, one more likely to be pleasing in a picture than in itself. It was tame: it was at once artificial and artless, and touched with beauty only by the strong wind and by the subdued brightness due to the rain. Its breadth and variety were sufficient for it to respond — something as Exmoor or Mousehold Heath or Cefn Bryn in Gower would have responded — to the cloudily shattered light, the threats and the deceptions, and the great sweep of the wind.

But there was no one paint [36] ing those cold expanses of not quite lusty grass, the hard, dull gravel, the shining puddles, the dark gold-flecked gorse, the stiff, scanty trees with black bark and sharp green buds, the comparatively venerable elms of Bolingbroke Grove, the backs and fronts of houses of no value save to their owners, and the tall chimney-stacks northwards.

Perhaps only a solitary artist, or some coldish sort of gnome or angel, could have thoroughly enjoyed this moment. That it was waiting for such a one I am certain; I am almost equally certain that he could create a vogue in scenes like this one, which are only about a thousandth part as unpleasant as a cold bath, and possess, furthermore, elements of divinity lacking both to the cold bath and to the ensuing bun.

It is easier to like the blackbird's shrubbery, the lawn, the big elm, or oak, and the few dozen fruit trees, of the one or two larger and older houses surviving — for example, at the top of Burntwood Lane. The almond, the mulberry, the apple trees in these gardens have a menaced or actually caged loveliness, as of a creature detained from some world far from ours, if they are not, as in some cases they are, the lost angels of ruined paradises.

Burntwood Lane, leading down from a residential district to an industrial district, is no longer [37] as pretty as its name. Also, when it seems to be aiming at the country, it turns into a street of maisonettes, with a vista of houses terminated by the two tall red chimneys of the Wimbledon Electricity Works. But it has its character.

The Lunatic Asylum helps it with broad, cultivated squares, elms, and rooks' nests, and the voices of cows and pigs behind the railings that line it on the left hand from top to bottom.

On the right, playfields waiting to be built all over give it a lesser advantage. How sorry are the unprotected elms on that side! They will never be old. Man, child, and dog, walking in and out of them, climbing them, kicking and cutting them, have made them as little like trees as it is possible for them to be while they yet live. They have one hour of prettiness, when the leaf-buds are as big as peas on the little side sprays low down. Then on a Saturday — or on a Sunday, when the path is darkened by adults in their best clothes — the children come and pick the sprays in bunches instead of primroses. For there are no primroses, no celandines, no dandelions outside the fences in Burntwood Lane.

And Garratt Green at the bottom is now but a railed-in, perfectly level square for games, with rules on a notice-board. It is greener than when it was crossed diagonally by paths, and honoured [38] on a Saturday by gypsies and coconut-shies. Probably it now gives some satisfaction to the greatest number possible, but nobody will ever again, until After London, think of Garratt Green as a sort of country place. I went round it and its footballers in haste. Nor is that thickening portion of London beyond it easily made to appear beautiful or interesting. It is flat and low, suitable rather for vegetables than men, and built on chiefly because people can always be enticed into new houses. The flatter and lower and more suitable for vegetables, the more easily satisfied are the people with their houses, partly because they are poor, partly because they are half country folk and like this kind of land, it may be, and the river Wandel, the watercress beds, the swampy places, the market gardens, the cabbages and lavender, and Mitcham Fair, more than they would like the church-parade along Bolingbroke Grove, the bands, the teetotallers, the atheists, and the tennis-players, on the commons which have a gravel soil.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917), arguably Britain's greatest nature poet of the twentieth century, learned to love nature on Wandsworth Common. When he was ?? his family moved from Lambeth to a number of houses between the commons (Wakehurst Rd, Shelgate Rd). He attended local schools Belleville School, Battersea Grammar School, and a private crammer, before transferring to St Paul's School in Hammersmith.

The landscapes of Edward Thomas' childhood...were the scrubby wastes of Wandsworth Common in the 1880s..."

The landscapes of Edward Thomas' childhood had nothing of the sweep of Buchan's Border hills, Haggard's Norfolk acres, or the South African High Veld. They were the scrubby wastes of Wandsworth Common in the 1880s, relieved by long ..."

[Source: Kay Dunbar, Letters to Helen: and an appendix of seven letters to Harry and...(2005), p.??

[REF?] Tonie Holt, _Valmai Holt, _Charlotte Zeepvat — 1996 -

The received image of Edward Thomas is of a man of the English soil, steeped in country ways from birth, ... The closest Edward came to a green, open space was Wandsworth Common, where this nature-lover watched, with almost hypnotic ..."

[Source: C.L.S. Bulletin — Issues 122-168 , p.187

Thrushes' eggs, catapults, tame pigeons and butterfly-nets were the stuff of their dreams; Wandsworth Common was all America and each of them a Christopher Columbus. "

Jean Moorcroft Wilson (2015):

Wandsworth Common, completely away from both school and home. One hundred and seventy-five acres of coarse grass, shrubs and trees, it was the nearest these Battersea Board schoolboys got to nature, and a stimulating escape from ..."

Jean Moorcroft Wilson, a href="" target="_blank">Edward Thomas: A Biography and a Bibliography (date?), p.327.

Edward Thomas (2013):

... ornamental pond on Wandsworth Common. Empty it was, and the sodden bed did not improve the look of the common — flat by nature, flatter by recent art. The gorse was in bloom amidst a patchwork of turf, gravel, and puddle...

[Source: The Life and Letters of Edward Thomas, p.10.

Edward Thomas, Roland Gant (1948)

Hedge-sparrow laying: in a low-built nest with the willow ... Swallows, house-martins, and sand-martins come to Wandsworth Common in fine blue weather...

[Source: check.]

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William Le Queux (1864-1927), The Bomb-Makers: Being Some Curious Records Concerning The Craft And Cunning Of Theodore Drost, An Enemy Alien In London (1917)

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Link to text

Le Queux wrote 150 novels dealing with international intrigue, as well as books warning of Britain's vulnerability to European invasion before World War I. See e.g. Wikipedia: William Le Quex.

Sax Rohmer, The Hand of Fu-Manchu (1917)

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[Wikipedia: Sax Rohmer.]

". . . somewhere on the west side of Wandsworth Common!"

Short extract:

The words broke in through the curtain of unconsciousness. I strove to arouse myself. I felt cold and wet. I opened my eyes and the world seemed to be swimming dizzily about me. Then a hand grasped my arm, roughly.

"Brace up! Brace up, Petrie " and thank God you are alive! . . ."

I was sitting beside Sir Baldwin Frazer on a wooden bench, under a leafless tree, from the ghostly limbs whereof rain trickled down upon me! In the gray light, which, I thought, must be the light of dawn, I discerned other trees about us and an open expanse, tree-dotted, stretching into the misty grayness.

"Where are we?" I muttered " "where . . ."

"Unless I am greatly mistaken," replied my bedraggled companion, "and I don't think I am, for I attended a consultation in this neighbourhood less than a week ago, we are somewhere on the west side of Wandsworth Common!"

Noel Coward (1899-1973), Fallen Angels (1925)

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JULIA (rustling newspaper): I say — Muriel Fenchurch is divorcing her husband.

FRED: That's uncommonly generous of him.

JULIA: Do you want any more coffee?

FRED: No thanks, dear.

There is another pause. JULIA goes on reading.

Julia: There was an old lady found dead on Clapham Common last night.

FRED: Another!

JULIA: Don't be silly, Fred, the last one was Wandsworth Common.


[Google Search Books: Link]

[Wikipedia: Fallen Angels]

[Wikipedia: Noel Coward]

Born Teddington 1899, but spent early years (1908-1913) in 70 Prince of Wales Mansions and 50 Clapham Common Southside — hence he knew whereof he spoke, e.g. in Fallen Angels and This Happy Breed.

[Prospect Magazine: Link]

[Independent: Link]

RC Sherriff, The Fortnight in September (1931)

Rita Gallinari-Jones (email to PB, 25.9.2019):

I have attached two pages from RC Sherriff's delightful novel The Fortnight in September. The Stevens family go every year on holiday by train from Herne Hill via Clapham Junction to a guest house in Bognor. The direct route Herne Hill to Clapham Junction is no longer available. RC Sherriff lived for many years in Esher where died in 1975. He is probably best known for his play Journey's End."

(Click on image to enlarge)

There is an enthusiastic blog about Fortnight... here.

Pamela Hansford Johnson, This Bed Thy Centre (1935)

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Her first novel, This Bed Thy Centre is set in Battersea, so may refer to WC. In that she frequently writes about "the common", but this could be Clapham Common. Check. But she was born and spent her young life on Battersea Rise (the other arm), went to Clapham County Grammar School, and attended St Mark's church for a while. She also wrote memoirs, which may mention WC.

I have created a page for her here

David Severn [David Storr Unwin], A Cabin for Crusoe (1943)

From Hazel Sheeky's PhD thesis: Camping and Tramping...Interwar Children's Fiction and the Search for England, 2012: the 'Waggonner' novels made clear, life on the road was changing. Looking back to his father's time Patch Cooper remembered days when Wandsworth Common was covered with 'tents as far as the eye could reach' and laments the fact that 'things are changed to-day'.

He continues, 'I reckon we Romanies... we of the true blood... I do reckon we be a dyin' people.... There be fewer of us each generation.' According to Cooper, it isn't only the fact that the Romany language is dying out but that the pattern of gypsy life is being slowly eroded, a fact that he also puts down to the increased use of cars rather than horses among gypsies. He concludes, 'the day of the motor car was a bad day for us, as indeed it was for many. No man can say they've brought peace to the countryside'.

[Source: ADD.]

Stephen Bigger on David Severn (David Storr Unwin), Children's Writer.

David Severn (3.12.1918 — 11.2.2010) is a pseudonym for David Storr Unwin, British, son of Sir Stanley Unwin the publisher. Not wishing to trade on the Unwin name, he chose the name Severn as a family name (his uncle Severn Storr went with Sir Stanley on a world tour (Unwin and Storr, 1934). David Severn wrote 30 children's books, mostly for John Lane at The Bodley Head, mainly school holiday adventures on a farm, or camping or travelling. The war is not mentioned till it is over, and then barely: the stories offer vicarious countryside peace at a time of national stress and danger, drawing positive learning from adventures, including with Romanies and a hermit artist, at a time of bombs, bullets and hunger in a countryside littered with tank traps, barbed wire and pill boxes.

His first series (1942-6) featured 'Crusoe' Robinson who was befriended by youngsters in holiday adventures, many featuring a Romany group and included a Romany funeral pyre. The Warner family series followed (1947-52) featuring pheasants, ponies and country life. The woodcut illustrations of Joan Kiddell-Monroe greatly enhance these two series. A number of books experimented with the paranormal and time-slip, and can be compared with many modern books exploring supernatural themes. Drumbeats! has a musical youngster beating a native drum which transports children to a lost expedition to Africa twenty years earlier. Dream Gold shows the hypnotic power of one boy over another, with dreams actually reliving the conflicts of their ancestors. The Future Took Us is a time-slip into 3000AD. The Girl in the Grove, his longest book, is a psychological ghost story. He produced books for younger children, often to contract and for series....

Same source?

...The second Severn book was A Cabin for Crusoe (1943) where an attempt to build a wilderness cabin brings Crusoe and the children into conflict with a group of Romanies, a conflict fomented by the farmer. The Romanies are painted realistically with a gang of lads, a bad-tempered heavy, his scheming and cheating wife, and a decent elder figure who appears continually throughout the series, Patch Cooper. The story discusses traditional Romany camping sites, the Romany way of life, and attitudes of settled folk in a very sensitive way. The Romanies are real people, not stereotypes. The tone is respectful. The conflict is resolved, and with Patch's help, Crusoe gets a caravan instead of a cabin.

Elizabeth Berridge, Across the Common (1964, Faber 2008)

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Elizabeth Berridge (1919-2009) grew up in the 'safe London suburb' of Wandsworth Common. A year in Switzerland and a 'hateful' period at the Bank of England, described in Be Clean, Be Tidy (1949), was followed by work in a photographic news agency. She married Reginald Moore in 1940, published her first short story in 1941 and, in 1943, after the birth of the first of her two children, moved to a remote house in Wales, where Moore edited Modern Reading and other wartime anthologies and she wrote the stories reprinted in Tell It to a Stranger — published as Selected Stories in 1947; they returned to London in 1950.

Elizabeth Berridge published nine novels, Across the Common winning the Yorkshire Post Award for Best Novel of the Year in 1964. She reviewed fiction for the Daily Telegraph for twenty-five years. Her last novel, Touch and Go, was adapted as a play by BBC Radio 4.

[Source: Persephone Books: Elizabeth Berridge.]

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ISBN: 0571246575, 9780571246571

Note: Set near Wandsworth Common.

Physical Description: 192p

Faber (and Amazon) blurb:

When Louise returns to the house where she was brought up, old violence stirs beneath the calm surface. What, for instance, is the significance of the rare Chinese lily carefully raised by her grandmother in the odd greenhouse, perched high up on the side of the garden? Why is the gate at the bottom of the garden kept barred and locked against the common lapping up against its walls? Only by unravelling these secrets which the Braithwaites, in their fierce family pride, have deliberately hidden, or deliberately forgotten, can she arrive at the truth about them and about herself.

[Source: Across the Common Paperback — 21 Sep 2009 by Elizabeth Berridge (Author). According to Amazon, it has been serialised by the BBC.]

Faber blog:

Across the Common: The Sinister Lungs of London

Faber | 31 October 2008

Looking back on a seemingly idyllic 1930s London, Elizabeth Berridge evokes a bygone era of bakery vans, coalcarts and tranquil commons. But all was not what it seemed. These commons, 'the lungs of London', haunted the author's dreams, menacing memories which later sparked her 1964 classic, Across the Common.

Elizabeth Berridge writes:

[Source: "Across the Common: The Sinister Lungs of London", Faber, 31 October 2008]

[PB: Edward Thomas corresponded with Jesse Berridge — relative of EB? Probably — notice her children are called e.g. Myfanwy, Dylan.]

[PB: Neil Robson writes: "Another suggestion for a Starter for 10 (if you haven't used it already, of course) is Across the Common by Elizabeth Berridge (1964), which closes with words along the lines of 'I love you... We'll have a child, even if we have to conceive it on the common. It won't be the first to be gotten that way." CHECK wording and ADD.]

NB: presumably she is a relation of the Berridges who were close to Edward and Helen Thomas?

[PB: EB tells us she was inspired by her memories of Wandsworth Common - but does her novel actually name the Common? I have a feeling not.

P.Y. [Phyllis Yvonne] Betts, People Who Say Goodbye (1989? First publication?)

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Cover blurbs:

The most amusing book of childhood memories I can remember reading" Graham Greene

A read for sheer pleasure and intense delight. It is haunting, unforgettable...nudges memory wonderfully, sadly, with great hilarity" Dirk Bogarde

People Who Say Goodbye : Memories of Childhood Paperback — 20 May 1999

by P.Y. Betts (Author)



[Source: Link.]

Eighty years ago, when Wandsworth Common was still a countrified suburb, the author of this enchanting book was growing up there, observing with absolute clarity the behaviour and conversation of the adults around her. She did not always understand the implications of what she saw and heard, but she remembered it and here recreates it with startling immediacy. Phyllis was five when the First World War broke out and although it did not affect her immediate family, she was left with an abiding belief that people who came to say goodbye did not come back again.


[Source: Link.]

[includes tempting extracts]

Amazon blurb

A read for sheer pleasure and intense delight. It is haunting, unforgettable...nudges memory wonderfully, sadly, with great hilarity" DIRK BOGARDE

Eighty years ago, when Wandsworth Common was still a countrified suburb, the author of this enchanting book was growing up there, observing with absolute clarity the behaviour and conversation of the adults around her. She did not always understand the implications of what she saw and heard, but she remembered it and here recreates it with startling immediacy. There were summer holidays at places that always seemed to begin with 'B', dark smoggy winters when she lay in bed wheezing and was dosed by an old fool of a doctor with either brown medicine or red tonic, dreaded Christmasses with Grandfather and joyous schooldays with Mrs Stroud whose teaching consisted largely of dictation from the 'Daily Mail'. Phyllis was five when the First World War broke out, and although its effects did not impinge on her immediate family, she was left with an abiding belief that people who same to say goodbye did not come back again...

This book is wonderful. (And everyone in our book group thought so — definitely a first!) P Y Betts' memoir of her childhood during the first world war (when People Who Said Goodbye so rarely came back) isn't gloomy at all. It's sharp, funny, insightful, brilliantly written, and full of details about the small potatoes of a child's life back all those years ago. Intensely readable. The most lovely memoir, and somehow reminiscent of that other classic, My Grandmothers and Myself, by Diana Holman Hunt.

This book convey brilliantly, life in a south London suburb (and a part of Kent) before and during the first World War. The author has a wonderful gift of observation, and a deliciously sharp sense of humour. The book is a relatively unknown marvel.

Get hold of a copy and read it. A vivid picture of the author's childhood, from 1914 when she was five years old at the outbreak of war up till early 1922, when, at thirteen, she is sent to her grandparents in Kent whilst her brother has diphtheria. Her observations are acute, sometimes poignant and often humorous, whether of the people around her, her surroundings, Christmas rituals or her education. These are coupled with a strong sense of the times; sad remembrances of injured soldiers' funerals passing by, of clothes re-dyed ever darker until they wore out and of illnesses now easily treated but then potential killers.

A wonderful book which I'd strongly recommend. And to think I nearly left it on the charity shelf at our local doctors!

[PB: I have since made a page dedicated to Phyllis Yvonne Betts.]

M G Jackson, The Brixton Experiment (2003)

(Click on image to enlarge) place they knew they would be at peace:Wandsworth Common. The sun was beaming down on that...

Alan Wall, China (2004?)>

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...blew across Trinity Road and veered over Wandsworth Common, slapping the faces of sundry suburban runners...

Geoffrey Kennell, The Upper Crust (date?)

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A Nissen Hut on wartime Wandsworth Common is the scene of a seduction in a slightly risque novel.

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Graham Swift, Making An Elephant, (2010?)

Stephen Midlane tells me GS lived on Jessica Road

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...County Arms in Trinity Road, on the edge of Wandsworth Common and barely a hundred yards from Wandsworth..."

I have made a pdf of his chapter on the history of Wandsworth Common.

Marcel Theroux (1968-), Strange Bodies (2013)

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painted for the sessions of D and D; it was on Wandsworth Common in a summer evening, and in the overgrown

[Wikipedia: Marcel Theroux.]

Sabine Durrant, Under Your Skin: A Novel (2014)

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I left the house earlier than usual this morning and, though it isn't exactly dark, it isn't yet light. The common is full of ghosts and shadows; the trees still ironclad, unyielding figurce to the early gauze of spring: de bushes and brambles along the railway line knotted and clumped: a mugger's paradise, though I try not to think about that.

I take my usual route — over the bridge and round the soccer fields, pitch., churned into clods like a choppy sea, lea darkest where the path hits the corner, and there is an uncomfortable moment where you are hemmed in, rail cutting on one side, the adventure playground on the other. A blue anorak, sodden and draped, gives a creepily human form to a post, and my pace quickens until the path channels across the open grass toward the main road. The headlights of cars — commuters who need to be at work earlier than me, if such a thing were possible — rake the pavement. A shape comes toward me almost silently, another runner, a flash of headphone and Lycra, gone in a breath, a whiff of warmth and sweat. You are never alone in London, not in the dead of night, or even in the bone-cold chill of a predawn March morning. There is always the possibility of someone watching, following, seeing what you're up to. I'm not sure I like it.

It helps to run. The pace, the rhythm, the sensation of regular


movement in my limbs help give order to my thoughts. I didn't sleep well last night. Even in the short snatches of unconsciousness I dreamed I was awake and anxious. In the end, I had to get up. I focus on my breath. In and out. In and out. I will run, try and sort things in my mind, and then once home, I will shower. Steve will be there to drive me to the studio at 7:00 Am. Kiss good-bye to Millie — Marta will give her breakfast. (Try to like Marta more.) Will I see Philip? Probably no Already now it is — what, 5,15 Aix ? — he is showering, shaving, shaking off Nobu and the Dorchester (I smelled the cigars when he stumbled in at 3:00 rani), elbowing into all that spandex and peddling off on his brand-new carbon bike for Mayfair, Tokyo, Bloomberg. We used to run together. (Matching running tops, his and hers Asia. Is it pitiable to say I loved that?) But we haven't since last summer. With the they as it is, he says, he needs serious muscle feedback. He needs powerful resistance. Running, he says, doesn't come near reducing his stress.

My breath is ragged. I can feel it, hot, M my chest. It's all wrong; I'm not doing it right. I'm hopeless; Pm a person who can't even run properly. I turn up the central path, past the heartrending bench where someone ties a wreath ("MUM") at Christmas. It might help to filter out the facts first. Philip's parents: want an answer about Sunday lunch. Millie's pretend birthday: beg Philip not to miss this one. (How could he have not turned up on Tuesday?) The weekend in Brighton... Something horrible happens in my stomach when I think about this. He says he's too busy. "No biggie," I said, but I didn't mean it. It's not even the kind of phrase I use. It was as if I were pretending to be someone younger, sassier: India, that girl at work with the orthodontically perfected smile, Stan Kennedy's protegee, pretty and clever enough to have her eye on my job. No biggie? Did Philip look at we oddly when I said that? Did I sound as if I was trying to be cool? No biggie. All this little stuff is big, that's the problem. What's trivial? What's serious? Sunday lunch


with Philip's parents, fancy undies in a suite in Brighton, a younger woman's pearly teeth, an eight-year-old blowing out her candles. It's what life is made of It's all about love in the end.

Up to the bridge and over. Ifs busier out here now. I spot two other runners across the grass, a large dog nosing toward the pond. Three geese fly up, flapping, mckling. Somewhere behind lowering gunmetal clouds, a sun is rising, creating blank trickles °flight that seem to flatten the common, leach it of contrast and color. By the children's playground, a toddler's red shoe is stuck upside down on one of the gray railings. A wet, spotted ladybug hat hangs from a silvery branch. All these abandoned possessions, these bits of people left behind. Once, out running, I saw a pair of men's pants in the undergrowth. How? If 5 not like Clapham Common. If a Wandsworth. Were all Labradoodles and Rusty Racquets here, not cabinet ministers in compromising positions.

At the cafe, I make a split-second decision and turn off, keen on a quick jog round the bowling green. But when I reach the but by the tennis coura, something draws me into the wilderness of the wooded copse beyond. I don't usually run there. lea only a small triangle of denser trees, tall and narrow, that edge the soccer field, but you're out of sight of the main drag It feels too dodgy, too risky. Why did I do it? The gathering light? A desire to outrun the day? The manicure of the bowling green, and the sedateness of my pace? My hopeless failure to sort? I don't know. Afterward, I might say it was a sudden yearning to feel fresh vegetation beneath my feet, to push the pathetic and tame boundaries of the common, to be, for a few seconds, on my own.

I can't tell you.

I'm not scared — because ran running quite quickly, maybe — but it's harder going than I expected. The ground is uneven, shifts to trip you up. Tree limbs poke at eye level; tangles of grass lunge at ankle. And then, through a crisscross of branches, I see it


At first I think of blow-up dolls. Or fish. Once, on holiday in the Isle of Wight, we carne across a dead porpoise high up on the sands — unsettlingly pale and flmhy, a disturbing incongruity. Then, walking along the canal at Oxford years ago, when I was a student, I stumbled on a dead swan, stretched out across the embankment. It was shocking, not an much bemuse it War dead — though there was a sense of savagery in the wasted beauty, all that whiteness — but because it was just there, because no one had cleared it up, I suppose, before me.

I push a little farther into the undergrowth, pressing back the pale limbs of the silver birch saplings, to a place where someone or something has worn the foliage flat, to where the muddle of object is.

She is lying on her side, her bare white arms outstretched above her head, her back arched. Hair the color of mahogany is away from her face, as though someone had pulled it. Her eyes are open, but they are glazed, as if moored in plastic wrap. She has long, thick eyelashes — I wonder if they might be fake — rod a than face. Her teeth are small and her tongue swollen. It looks to be pushing out of her mouth against her bottom lip. She is wearing tight khaki-coloured trousers — Topshop perhaps — with pockets on the thighs and little zips on the ankles. Her feet are bare. Her toenails are polished, almost black. Her fingernails, in contrast, are ragged and torn. A triangle of black thong shows whom her pink cap-sleeved T-shirt has ridden up in back The skin on her face, neck, and some of her chest is bluish white, but there are marks, blood, cuts and scratches, tiny dots and dark horizontal lines, all over. I can hardly bear to look at her neck.

I haven't screamed. I haven't made my sound at all. Isn't that odd? But I'm suddenly aware of my own breathing; it sounds like sobs, or retches. I'm sort of panting. There are lots of things I don't expect — the Topshop thought, for example. Why do I care where


she bought her trousers, or whether her eyelashes are fake? I list the details that I notice in my head. I don't process them, for now I'mjust ordering them. I'm thinking about telling other people. I'm already thinking about later.

My hand is at my mouth and for a moment I think I am going to be sick. Bile has risen at the back of my throat, but I force it down and stagger toward the path. I fumble for my phone, zipped in that thing round my neck, and it takes me several tries to unlock it. I keep pressing the buttons too fast. My hands are shaking so hard I almost drop it even as I get through.

The voice at the other end is cahn and quiet, so quiet I find myself repeating, "Can you hear me? Can you hear me?" She says she can and I stumble out the details. I can remember the name of the road — the one that comes closest to this bit of the common, really near where I live, one of the roads parallel to mine, with the same big, solid houses, a road I know well — but I say, "Trinity Road, the prison, the Toast Rack. You know those roads in a grid? The cafe there. Common Ground. Just beyond. In that triangular bit of woodland. She must have it up on a satnav screen or something, because she seems to know more than I do. She asks if I am okay, whether I feel in danger. She tells me to wait where I am.

When the connection is cut, I suddenly don't feel okay, not at all. I don't know what to do with myself I run back toward the tennis courts so I can see the police coming, show them where to go. No one is in sight — just the cars moving steadily backward and forward on Trinity Road across the cricket pitch, the distant roofs of Wandsworth Prison, the light changing above the big houses on that road whose name — Dorlcote — I now remember. A creak from the tennis hut; darkness behind the windows of the little cabin on the bowling green where years ago a skanky black and white cat used to live. I'm on the other side of the railway line

[Pages 6 to 7 are not shown In this preview]


close, DI Perivale tells me to wait on the path — or rather he shows me to wait by putting out his arm like a barrier.

CID. He's just come on," PC Morrow whispers apologetically. "We've called for the dogs. The soccer team will be along in a sec — eight minutes if they're on a blue light, that's my guess."

The soccer team?" I ask, thinking of the soccer field only a few feet away.

SOCO — Scene of Crime Officers. They'll seal off the area and conduct a fingertip search for evidence."

I ask her what sort of evidence, and she says, "Anything. Foot-print., the weapon, of course, fibers, blood, hair, paint, glass. It's amazing what they pick up. So we can't have you contaminating the scene."

I hope I haven't already contaminated it,. I say. She gazes into the undergrowth and tuts, wonderingly, "You really would think people would pick up after themselves.

For a bizarre moment, I think she means the body and I half laugh in shock, but then with her chin she gestures Nor scrunched-up McDonald's bag, spilling squashed polystyrene and bits of lettuce.

Do you think that might be evidence?. I say, studying it.

More like bloody liner. Not to mention what all that fat and salt does to their arteries. Kids probably."

Kids," I repeat, thinking, Who else has been out here?

DI Perivalc is still crouched over the girl. He isn't touching her; just looking, and then her on his phone. lie calls something out to PC Morrow — sounds like a stream of numbers — and she makes a call


herself. Exhaustion seeps into my neck and head. When she hangs up, I ask if l can go, but she says the has to take down a few details first.

I explain that I am needed at work and she nods. "I. Can. Un-derstand. That," she says. Drawing out the words, distinguishing between the pace of my life and the priorities of hers. After she confers with DI Perivale, the two of us walk back to the café to find


a bench. She says, "You look a bit different. I'm not being funny or anything, but you look younger than you do on the telly."

I laugh. "lee the hair. Big hair. Big, red, daytime-telly hair. Ifs quite fine naturally, but for the show ire got to much lacquer in, ire like a helmet."

Do you have a hairdresser to do it?" she says, and when I nod, she asks, "What, every day?'

It's very surreal, this," I my, "talking normally when ..."

I know. Your first body is always a bit of a shock. Someone said to me there are two smells a police officer gets an instinct for in the first year. One: dope. The other: death."

There was a smell ..." I say.

She wrinkles her nose. "Like en old people's home — sour."

Something else," I say.

As she reaches for her notebook, she lists, in the manner of someone cataloguing books they have recently enjoyed, the dead bodies she has seen in two years on the beat — a suicide (hanging), a traffic accident, and a couple of heart attacks.

A suicide?" I say.

Yes, golly," she says. "You get a lot of them in this job." She tells me how women and men do it differently, overdoses and slit wrists, hangings and shootings. And I lmow I could stop to think about this, but it is all too much. I want to get home now, have a quick gulp of coffee if I have time, drink it in the mr if not. I'm aware, guiltily, of being irritated by her chattiness. Maybe she's not being kind and intentionally putting me at ease; maybe she's just like this. So I interrupt and start telling her what happened ("Ooh, slow down," she says): how I had been running and I don't know what led me down that path, but something had, and how at first I had thought the pale, elongated shape was a swan or a porpoise... She writes down wheel say, asks if I saw anything, or anybody. I mention the runners, the dog by the pond. No one else, no.


Nothing else out of the ordinary?."

Just... the girl."

She is reading back what she has written down. I decide to ask her about the dotting on the girl's face. "Little spots," I say, '`the sort of rash you look out for when you have a baby in case it's meningitis."

Ah, that one I know," she says, putting down her notebook. "Petichiae — sign of asphyxiation."

And she had these marks round her neck — like she had been cut with a cheese wire — but no bruises, abrasions, like fingerprints. Do you think her neck was cut, or she was strangled?"

We'll have to wait for the pathologist on that one," she says. "I'm no expert, but finger marks in a case like this often don't belong to the assailant but to the victim. You know, when they're fighting to get the ligature off?"

I shiver involuntarily, and then do it again because it makes me feel better. Agony hoodie is knotted round my waist. I untie it and put it on over my T-shirt. loon feel the shock sealing, becoming something more normal, explainable.

PC Morrow says, "Can I have your autograph?" and I turn, instinctively smiling, hand obligingly raised, before I realize she just wants me to sign my statement.

When I look up, DI Perivale is nudging back down the path and I can hear new sirens in the distance, coming up the Wandsworth one-way system, getting louder. Dogs and SOCO, people with cameras and things — what, sticks? — to prod through grass, to find evidence, to find out who did this.

It's a peculiar feeling, and I don't know if you'll understand, but it's like letting go. Ies no longer my body. It belongs to them now.

Snarled in traffic from Stockwell to Waterloo, incrementally delayed, forty-five minutes telescoping out into ninety, I miss the morning

Link to text

Sabine Durrant, Finders Keepers (2020)

[Find and add clipping from the Literary Review from Neil — "crime book review.jpg", about a new novel, Finders, Keepers.]

Finders, Keepers

By Sabine Durrant

Hodder & Stoughton 320pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

The background to this engrossing psychological crime novel is the gentrification of the area south of Wandsworth Common now known to estate agents as Trinity Fields. Ailsa and Tom have moved into a house they have renovated from roof space to dug-out basement. Their next-door neighbour, Verity, has lived there for fifty years and her presence is a mixed blessing. Her house is decrepit and her garden a tip, but she is the only person who can reach their son, Max, who has learning difficulties. When tragedy strikes, Verity provides support. Told from her point of view, the story plays with our sympathies and explores the boundary between devotion and resentment that exists in relationships of all kinds.

Review by Sarah D

4.0 out of 5 stars/p>

A kind, helpful, sensitive and witty central character who is also manipulative and needy.

Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 9 July 2020

In Verity Ann Baxter, of 424 Trinity Road SW17, Sabine Durrant gives us a kind, helpful, sensitive and witty character who is also manipulative and needy. Given that 'Finders Keepers' is narrated from Verity's point of view throughout, it is not always easy to detect her more troubling personality traits and, in any case, they often make us feel sorry for her. The structure and the strength of the tale, however, allows us to slowly learn far more about the ironically named Verity than she thinks she is telling the reader. In this respect, the novel reminds me of Zoe Heller's excellent 'Notes on a Scandal'.

Ailsa, her husband Tom and their three children move into the house next door to Verity. Their improvements have created a magazine-shot-fit dwelling. In contrast, Verity's house is an advertisement of neglect. Her hoarder disorder means that she is forever riffling through skips and bins, always on the lookout for discarded items to be brought home just in case she might need them one day. Tensions run high as Tom and Ailsa become more and more concerned about their neighbour's junk. However, Verity and Ailsa build a friendship of sorts from these shaky foundations and Verity begins to enjoy coffee and chats with her neighbour.

When Verity offers to tutor Max, the ten-year-old son whose literacy levels are cause for concern, she becomes increasingly fond of the child and he blossoms under her tutelage. Like her, he revels in storytelling, in choosing the right words, in shaping events. He basks in her approval, having always been cast as stupid by his insensitive father.

After tragedy strikes, Verity is on hand to give support. She enjoys being useful. She is practical and loyal and she is determined that justice will out. Durrant carefully leads the reader down a series of interlocking paths as we journey through the novel. We sense that nothing is quite as it seems, yet it is not until the final pages that we learn just how extraordinary a character Verity is. She stops at nothing to achieve her goals.

'Finders Keepers' is a memorable and absorbing read. Durrant explores the effects of dreadful parenting across the generations and what might happen in extremis.

My thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review.

[PB: In reality there is no "424 Trinity Rd, SW17". Incidentally, what is the highest number? Is it the estate agency opposite the County Arms? ]

(Click on image to enlarge)

Peter May, Lockdown (2020)

[Stephen Midlane: Originally written in 2005, it describes a London suffering from the effects of a pandemic and was rejected by publishers as being too unrealistic (although that may also have had something to do with its literary merit). He has finally had it published this year.]

"And in his head, he heard Kazinski say, I don't know the address. It was a big house. You know, some rich geezer's place. It was somewhere near Wandsworth Common. Root Street, Ruth Street, something like that. MacNeil's eyes were fixed on the piece of paper in his hand. The address was in Routh Road, Wandsworth."

"Routh Road was at the end of a collection of streets they called 'The Toast Rack'. Not unreasonably, since Baskerville Road which backed on to Wandsworth Common, and the five streets which ran off it at right angles, made a shape not unlike a toast rack. Although it might just as easily have been called 'The Comb'.

Wandsworth Prison was a stone's throw away, on the other side of Trinity Road. David Lloyd George had lived here once, in Routh Road. At number three. These were substantial detached and semi-detached town houses built in red-brick on three floors, nestling darkly behind walls and railings, and screened from the street by trees and hedges in gardens which had taken more than a century to mature. The kerbs were lined with BMWs and Volvos and Mercedes."

[PB: The author discusses the origin and publishing history of his work here.]

To follow up...

Angela Carter (1940-1992)

A writer generally associated with There had been earlier maps — John ? from the 1744s Clapham (where there is now a Blue Plaque), but she grew up in Ravenslea Road, and went to Hearnville School and Streatham High School.