SW14: Once Sheen – never forgotten

In Post Office terms, SW14 is Mortlake but it also covers East Sheen and the two bleed seamlessly into one another. Interestingly in addition to East Sheen, there is North Sheen, which is beyond the London postcodes in TW, but there is no South Sheen (that would have to be in Richmond Park) or West Sheen. There was a West Sheen, or possibly it was just Sheen, but when Henry VII rebuilt his palace at Sheen after a fire in 1497 he renamed it Richmond after his earldom in Yorkshire. And the name Richmond stuck.

We start our walk in East Sheen at the Post Office in Upper Richmond Road. Turning right out of the Post Office and walking along the main road (which is the South Circular), we soon come to a junction with traffic lights. The directional street signs tell us we are Milestone Green.

Stop 1: Milestone Green

There is actually a milestone at this junction in East Sheen, unlike the Red Rover in SW13 where there is no longer anything called the Red Rover. However there is no Green here, it is just a paved area with the milestone and a war memorial.

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The milestone itself is interesting. One face says we are X (10) miles from Cornhill in the City and another face is not exactly clear how far we are from Hyde Park Corner. The carving is odd because it looks like it has been altered at some point. Maybe we are VI (6) miles or maybe we are a further 3/4 mile because 3/4 appears further down.

Hyde Park Corner was chosen presumably because in the 18th century this was felt to be the beginning of London proper coming from the west. Hence the Duke of Wellington’s house (Apsley House) there was known as Number 1, London. But why Cornhill? This is a road that leads into the junction by the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England. I would have thought it might be more logical to use a building like the Bank of England, the Royal Exchange or the Mansion House as they are at a spot rather than a road which has length.

We go up Sheen Lane away from the South Circular Road on the same side as the Milestone.

Stop 2:  173 Sheen Lane

Soon ahead of us is a building which juts out and causes the road to narrow. Now why would that be?

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It turns out this building is the former stable building of Sheen House. This was the big house hereabouts but it was demolished in 1907 and the land developed for housing. I guess this explains why the modern road has to narrow to get round it, as the stable building was there before the road or at least before the road was this wide. The building is yellow brick and has 7 bays, with a little clock on top. This has the nice touch of a carriage as a weather vane, a subtle reminder of the former use of the building.

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Retrace your step down Sheen Lane, crossing over the South Circular and the Pig and Whistle pub is immediately on the left.

Stop 3: Pig and Whistle pub

This pub looks fake.

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Pig and Whistle is almost a joke name and the front looks like it has come out of a catalogue for old pubs, The brickwork is too clean and there is not layer upon layer of paint on the woodwork. Yet the sign on the front says “Est circa 1924”.

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I found this post on Beer in the Evening:  http://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs/s/11/11989/Pig_and_Whistle/East_Sheen which confirms my doubts:

“One more thing, it says ‘est. 1924’ on the sign outside – this is incorrect. It’s only been in existence since 1987 – before this there was a larger, grander pub known as The Bull.”

I think the Bull was actually right at the corner of Sheen Lane and Upper Richmond Road and extended down Sheen Lane. This pub was built on the part of the site of the old pub along Sheen Lane.

Keep walking along Sheen Lane and soon we reach a level crossing. We are at Mortlake Station. It is not entirely clear where East Sheen ended and Mortlake began. But I assume we have now got to Mortlake.

Stop 4: Mortlake Station

This is the next station after Barnes on the way to Richmond. The line was built in 1846, but unlike Barnes, Mortlake station no longer has its original building. It has this odd arrangement of a footbridge next to a level crossing. Presumably this is to allow pedestrians to cross the railway when the barriers are down. And the barriers come down a lot as there are frequent trains along here.

As a result this area is not good to drive in. But this level crossing is not the only source of delay. The main road through the centre of East Sheen is the South Circular – and this is constantly busy, often the traffic is just crawling.

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Almost immediately after the station on the left is Mortlake Green. Go down the path by the sign which says 1 & 2 Mortlake Green.

Stop 5: Mortlake Green

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According to Richmond Council (and they should know) Mortlake Green was formerly known as Kings Arms Field. The site was given to the residents of Mortlake by Earl Spencer in 1860 for their perpetual use and enjoyment as a recreation ground.

Ahead the Stag Brewery dominates the scene. But before we look at that, we are going to look at a pub. So go straight across the green and at the road turn left. A little way a long across the road in the shadow of the brewery is the Jolly Gardeners pub.

Stop 6: The Jolly Gardeners pub

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Unusually for a pub right next to a brewery, it is not connected to that brewery. It is a Young’s house. How audacious for Youngs to have a pub in the shadow of someone else’s Brewery.

In the 18th century the pub was called the Three Tuns. The present name appeared in 1796 as a possible reference to the expanding market gardens of the area. The current building dates from 1922.

Mortlake is famously the end point of the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. There is a marker stone on the riverside but it is a little too far off our track to visit. But if you want to see it go down the road beside the Jolly Gardeners (Ship Lane) and then when you get to the river turn left.  The University Boat Race Stone – marked “U.B.R” – is 112 metres downstream of Chiswick Bridge (ie before you get to the bridge).

Stop 7: Mortlake Brewery

Now walk back along the main road in the direction you have come. This is Lower Richmond Road. Soon you see one of the main gates to the current Brewery site. This area has been used for brewing since the 15th century. In 1889 the brewery was acquired by James Watney & Co., which later became Watney Combe & Reid. When Watney’s Stag Brewery in Victoria, was demolished in 1959, the name was transferred to Mortlake Brewery. Hence the Stag  relief on this little office block by this gates

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The road turns and there is a small roundabout. The road to the right is Sheen Lane and goes back to the station but we take the road to the left, which is Mortlake High Street.  Along the left hand side is possibly the oldest large building on the Brewery site – a formidable Victorian industrial building which has the date 1869 above the name. It looks a bit like a prison from the road.

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The Brewery is now operated by Anheuser-Busch and produces Budweiser(!). In 2009, Anheuser-Busch merged with InBev and announced they would cease brewing on this site. It has not happened yet but clearly this is a major riverside site with huge potential for development. I am sure that in 5 or 10 years time, this area will look very different – and somewhat less industrial.

Stop 8: Mortlake High Street

Keep walking along Mortlake High Street and on the left are some delightful Georgian houses. First comes Numbers 101 and 103.

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Then the next group to watch out for are Numbers 115, 117 and 119.

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And finally Number 123 which has gate piers and interiors circa 1720 according to Pevsner, who also says the house and garden were painted by Turner. But these are paintings that got away – one is in the Frick Collection in New York and another in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. The Tate, famous for its Turner collection, only has some sketches and engravings.

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These houses are unusual in London because their gardens back onto the river. Today there is a public path between the gardens and the river but even so this is a rare sight in London.

We can loop back and get down to the river across this little green. When you get to the river turn left along the riverside path to see these houses from the back.

 Stop 9 Mortlake Riverside

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Just a little way along there is another alleyway which comes down to the river, turn left up that.

Stop 10: Tapestry Court

There really is precious little to remind us that Mortlake was once an important location for the production of tapestries in the 17th century. But there is this little path, named Tapestry Court. Here is a little green and on this green is a small stone which says it is the site of the Lower Dutch House, part of the Mortlake Tapestry Works. But before that, this was the site of the house of John Dee – mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, alchemist and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I.  He lived in Mortlake during the latter part of the 16th Century dying here in 1608 or 1609.

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Return to the main road and across it you will see St Mary’s Church.

Stop 11: St Mary’s Church

Although this is an old church it was largely rebuilt in the 1880s. But the west tower dates from 1543 and is reputed to have been built by order of King Henry VIII.

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Go to the right of the church and you find yourself at the end of Church Path. This is a long straight path, which according to the sign was used for walking funerals from Sheen – until that is the railway severed the route.

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Go down Church Path but take a left down Fitzgerald Road. At the end of Fitzgerald Road turn left into North Worple Way and continue to the Roman Catholic church of St Mary Magdalen. Go in the gates and go to the graveyard which is round the back of the church – the access is to the left of the church.

Stop 12: Sir Richard Burton’s tomb

In this churchyard is the most extraordinary tomb. This is a mausoleum for Sir Richard Burton, explorer and translator of the Arabian Nights. It is in the form of a tent. It even has folds as if it were cloth but it is stone. Truly once seen never forgotten, or perhaps once Sheen never forgotten! Except we are still in Mortlake, I think, as we are north of the railway.

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Return to the front of the church and turn right into the street (North Worple Way). If you continue along here, it leads back to Mortlake Station, for onward travel.

Well this has been a surprising walk. Mortlake is so dominated by the Brewery which looms large over so much of the riverside, you do not expect to find too much. But there are these little reminders of a historic past – the stable building of the big house at East Sheen, some tudor connections and a 17th century Tapestry works. And perhaps the most surprising find is the tomb of Sir Richard Burton, not what you expect to see in a small graveyard in suburban London.

7 thoughts on “SW14: Once Sheen – never forgotten

  1. Great to see such a good post about the area I live 🙂 I only realised a few weeks ago that the Richard Burton mausoleum was just down the road. You didn’t mention it in your post but I hope you didn’t miss looking behind it – you can climb up a stair and look inside the mausoleum.
    I discovered your blog today and as a London explorer myself (as much as time and kids allow!), I’m really enjoying your posts.

  2. I’m surprised no mention was made of the old Railway Tavern at the bottom of Sheen Lane and the Victorian block adjoining (13-21 Sheen Lane) and which also circled in the other direction around the corner where the Post Office sorting office now stands. These had shops underneath and flats above, but now all flats and converted in 1981.
    Garry Shortt (ex resident)

  3. Most interesting! I used to live in The Old George, a pub at 40 Mortlake High Street. It was torn down in the 1960’s to widen the road and The Charlie Butler was built in its place. I can send you a picture of a painting of the interior of The Old George if you would like. Many thanks. Ian Harwood, Penticton, British Columbia, Canada.

  4. I’m intrigued by the John Dee entry: “But before that, this was the site of the house of John Dee – mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, alchemist and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. He lived here between 1595 and 1595. There is no reminder of that though.”
    Wikipedia places him in Mortlake from at least 1556 to 1608/9
    Are your dates right, or has the old wizard been tampering with them?

    • Well spotted and thanks for drawing my attention to this. No matter how many times I cross check and reread the blog before I publish there is always some little error I do not spot. But this is the most significant yet. Clearly at least one of those dates is wrong – maybe it was an unseen hand at work! Interestingly one bit of Wikipedia I read (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortlake) said: “who lived at Mortlake from 1565 to 1595 except for the six years between 1583 and 1589 when he was travelling in Europe”. But then the entry for John Dee (linked from that) says he died at Mortlake – ie 1608 or 1609. I think I will alter this to “He lived in Mortlake during the latter part of the 16th Century dying here in 1608 or 1609.”

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