Why not join me on one of my walks in January?

The Postcode Walks blog will resume in January but in the meantime why not consider joining me on one of my walks in the real world. Below is my full schedule for January. Hope to see you!

MR SELFRIDGE AND HIS COMPETITORS (Thursday 2 or Sunday 19 January)

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If you are coming to Oxford Street for the sales, why not also come with me to hear fascinating stories about some of the West End’s major stores and the characters behind them. Learn about the bet between Harry Gordon Selfridge and Harrods and what the loser had to do. Find out why John Lewis spent three weeks in Brixton prison in 1903. See the building which housed the very first store with the name Debenhams (and which is not on Oxford Street). Hear why Liberty’s has an unexpected connection to the British Navy and much much more.

THURSDAY 2 JANUARY: 11:00

£10 (Concs £7.50)

To book: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mr-selfridge-and-his-competitors-tales-of-the-west-ends-greatest-stores-tickets-9591802339?ref=ebapi

SUNDAY 19 JANUARY 14.00

£10 (Concs £7.50)

To book: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/mr-selfridge-and-his-competitors-tales-of-the-west-ends-greatest-stores-tickets-9592167431?ref=ebapi

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THE STREETS TO THE STARS: A TOUR OF THEATRELAND (Saturdays 4 and 18 January)

(A City of Westminster Guide Lecturers Association walk)

You will almost be able to smell the greasepaint as we explore the star studded West end, enjoying high drama and low comedy. See where Eliza Doolittle sold her flowers, Henry Irving and Ellen Terry stode the boards and learn why every theatre has its ghost.

£8 (£6 Concs)

NO NEED FOR ADVANCE BOOKING: JUST TURN UP!

Meet at 11.00 on Saturdays outside Covent Garden station in James Street – exit side of tube station

I will be taking this walk on 4 and 18 January. But it runs every Saturday morning, with one of my fellow qualified City Westminster guides.

City of Westminster Guides also do regular walks in St James’s every Saturday afternoon and in Mayfair every Wednesday morning (although not 1 January!)

More info at: http://www.westminsterguides.org.uk/

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HOW LONDON CHANGED BETWEEN THE WARS (Sunday 5 or Thursday 23 January)

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London changed dramatically between the two world wars, laying the foundation for the modern city we see today. On this walk, we will see how the development of office blocks, grand showrooms and shops and cinema buildings of all shapes and sizes changed the face of London. And we will hear how things such as the motor car, the telephone and neon lights all had an impact on London.

SUNDAY 5 JANUARY: 14.00

£10 (Concs £7.50)

To book: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/how-london-changed-between-the-wars-tickets-9609413013?ref=ebapi

THURSDAY23 JANUARY: 14.00

£10 (Concs £7.50)

To book: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/how-london-changed-between-the-wars-tickets-9609647715?ref=ebapi

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WESTMINSTER BYWAYS (Thursday 9 or Sunday 26 January)

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Westminster Abbey is so familiar but not many people know the streets that lie just behind the Abbey. Here you will find tranquillity and could almost imagine yourself in a small English cathedral city. Join me to explore the little known byways around Westminster. See some of the best preserved 18th century streets in London, plus  a couple of very specialist shops and hear about some of the people who lived hereabouts.

THURSDAY 9 JANUARY: 14:00

£10 (Concs £7.50)

To book: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/westminster-byways-tickets-9609814213?ref=ebapi

SUNDAY 26 JANUARY 11.00

£10 (Concs £7.50)

To book: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/westminster-byways-tickets-9609930561?ref=ebapi

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WEST END MOVIE HOUSES (Sunday 12 or Thursday 30 January)

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The West End has always been the UK’s premiere location for cinemas. This walk will not just show you some of the cinemas which still operate today but will also point out some of the buildings which once housed cinemas – large and small.

We shall hear about how quite a few of these buildings replaced old Music Halls and how in the 1920s, developers hedged their bets by having stage facilities as well as a projection room. We shall learn about the small specialist cinemas showing foreign language movies, cartoons and newsreels and how many of these declined into seedy places showing X rated movies before finally closing. Sadly most of the wonderful interiors of these buildings no longer exist, but on this walk we can usually get a peek of a couple of the surviving 1920s foyers. And we end up at a pub which started life as a cinema in 1911. But you will certainly get to see the wonderful exteriors and hear the stories associated with these fascinating buildings.

SUNDAY 12 JANUARY: 11.00

£10 (Concs £7.50)

To book: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/west-end-movie-houses-fleapit-to-deco-super-cinemas-tickets-9591585691?ref=ebapi

THURSDAY 30 JANUARY: 11.00

£10 (Concs £7.50)

To book: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/west-end-movie-houses-fleapit-to-deco-super-cinemas-tickets-9591619793?ref=ebapi

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MADE IN CHELSEA (Thursday 16 January)

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Chelsea has long been associated with artists and writers, and there are so many fascinating stories to be told.

In this walk, we hear what happened when actress Ellen Terry came for her portrait to be painted. Then there are the cautionary tales of two different libel cases which turned out rather badly for the libelled party. And what happened to the book of poetry buried with the writer’s dead wife. We will also learn about Dracula author, Bram Stoker’s day job and how american writer Mark Twain got his name.

THURSDAY 16 JANUARY: 11.00

£10 (Concs £7.50)

To book: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/made-in-chelsea-tickets-9591653895?ref=ebapi

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THE POSTCODE WALK BLOGS WILL RESUME IN THE NEW YEAR STARTING WITH W1

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SW20: The Good Life … or Bleak Suburbia

I have to confess I have struggled a little with SW20. It is a bit lacking in history. It was just farm land here until the 1870s when development took off. And – dare I say it -SW20 does seem a bit dull on the surface at least.

I have however discovered two people with a connection to SW20 who neatly sum up how people react to this kind of suburban area. The actor Richard Briers, who is forever associated with playing typical, and not so typical, suburban husbands was born and spent his early years in Raynes Park, so he could be said to reflect the “Good Life” aspects. On the other hand there is the Irish writer, Edna O’Brien, who lived in SW20 when she first moved to London in the 1950s with her young family. She hated it, calling SW20 “bleak suburbia”. She could not wait to escape, and she did – eventually.

We start our walk at the Post Office which is at 1a Amity Grove, just off Coombe Lane in the centre of Raynes Park. Go to the end of Amity Grove and turn left. Across the road is our first stop (and the reason why the area built up in the first place).

Stop 1: Raynes Park Station

The railway was built through the area in 1838 but there was no station here until October 1871. The name Raynes Park was originally applied to the area south of the railway line where the local landowner, Richard Garth, planned to develop a new garden suburb similar to that being developed by John Innes at Merton Park. The Rayne family had been previous landowners of the farmland on which Garth intended to build. It did not quite get developed as a coherent “garden suburb” but it did get developed, and we shall visit the roads on the south side of the station shortly.

Like Merton Park, there is no actual park called Raynes Park. It is simply a device to make the area sound nice and leafy. I think John Innes also had this idea when he started to develop nearby Merton Park in 1870. He even persuaded the railway company to change the local station name in 1887 from Lower Merton to Merton Park, as it sounded better. And the same “deception” occurs further down the line at Motspur Park and Worcester Park, neither of which seem to have an actual park of that name.

The station at Raynes Park is unusual. The fast tracks run through with no platforms and but there are two pairs of platforms for the local trains as the station stands at a junction – where the line to Epsom and Chessington peels off the main line out of Waterloo. The Southern reconstructed this in the 1930s as a grade separated junction so the trains from Epsom and Chessington could pass under the main line rather than cross on the level. And I guess this meant the up and down platforms could not be opposite each other.

A distinctive feature of the station is the long footbridge set at an angle over the 4 tracks of the main line. This really stands out as the main line is already on quite a high embankment. However you do wonder what the point is. There is a subway entrance to each set of platforms and so you could interchange by going down to street level. And there cannot be many people who want to interchange between the up platforms and the down ones, so why go to the expense of building – and maintaining – this foot bridge.

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Continue along Coombe Lane, crossing Lambton Road and then taking a left into Lambton Road. Follow this road round to the right where it becomes Worple Road.

Stop 2: Pepys Court

Just along from the corner is our next stop, Pepys Court.

This block of flats was the childhood home of the actor Richard Briers who died in February 2013. Given all the suburban characters he played I associate him with one of the 1930s semis in a street that all looks the same. But he clearly came from more humble beginnings. One of his best known characters was in the sitcom “The Good Life” where he and his wife played by Felicity Kendal gave up all the trappings of modern life to become self sufficient in a 1930s semi. Although filmed in Northwood it was actually set down the road in Surbiton – or should I say Suburbiton.

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Interestingly there is no connection to Samuel Pepys. The Pepys remembered here and in the adjoining Pepys Road is a very distant relative of the famous diarist. He is Charles Pepys, 1st Earl of Cottenham who lived locally until his death in 1851 (Hence also nearby is Cottenham Park Road, Cottenham Drive and an actual park called Cottenham Park – Cottenham is a place in Cambridgeshire). Charles Pepys was a lawyer and senior politian and had two spells as Lord Chancellor in the late 1830s and late 1840s.

Now look over the road.

Stop 3: Methodist Church and Lantern Arts Centre

There is a pair of large red brick Byzantine style buildings. The one on the right is a functioning Methodist church. The building on the left looks like it was built as an assembly room or church hall. All this is probably rather too big for the current congregation but the church hall has at least found a purpose, as the Lantern Arts Centre.

It has been going almost 20 years according to the signs and has no doubt been home to myriad am-dram productions. Their aim is to involve members of the local community in their productions and they aim for creativity with a christian ethos at its heart. I see they are doing Aladdin as their panto this year  – I guess they were not best pleased to discover that the big local commercial theatre (New Wimbledon Theatre) is doing the same story this year. But I suppose it does not really matter as you do not exactly go for the story!

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Now continue along Worple Road and follow the one way system right (into Pepys Road)

Stop 4: Site of Rialto Cinema, 3 Pepys Road

Just around the corner on the right is St George’s House – one of those uninspiring 1980s suburban office blocks. This was the site of Raynes Park’s one and only cinema.

Raynes Park never had a grand super cinema but it did have just one modest little picture house dating from the silent era. Built in 1921 and originally called the Raynes Park Cinema, it was refronted in 1933. It then re-opened as the Rialto Cinema and kept this name until it closed on 23 September 1978. From what I can find out it was never part of a big chain and stayed independent until the end.

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The building stood empty and unused for several years, and was finally demolished in the mid-1980s. Not sure why the new building got called St George’s House. It is a bit of a shame that the Rialto name was not used for the building on this site.

Go under the railway bridge and ahead you will see the library and to the left is Kingston Road. The roads going off the main road to the right form our next “stop”

Stop 5: The Apostles

Estate agents always have to find a tag for an area if it does not have one already and sometimes even if it does. This chunk of Raynes Park is known as the Apostles. Not because of any religious connection or because the roads have saints names – They do not (unless Sydney and Edna count which I don’t think they do). 

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No, nothing as obvious as that. The area gets its estate agent name because there are twelve parallel streets off of Kingston Road running towards, but not actually going into, Bushey Road. (And wouldn’t it have been great if Edna O’Brien had lived in Edna Road but sadly she did not)

This area was the first part of Raynes Park to be fully developed once the station had opened in 1871.

Just as an aside, isn’t it rather fitting that at the corner of one of the Apostles streets is the Kingston area office of the Church of England’s Southwark diocese.

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Now it is a bit of a trek to our next stop. You can walk all the way down Kingston Road following the bend round to the right and the turning left at the traffic lights (into what continues to be Kingston Road). Go under the railway bridge and our next stop is on the left. Alternatively you can hop on a 152 or 163 bus from outside Raynes Park station on Approach Road for a couple of stops to Wimbledon Chase station.

Stop 6: Wimbledon Chase Station

This sad looking building dates from 1929 and was one of a number of new stations which the Southern Railway built between the wars. The story of how this station (and the line it is on) came to be built by the Southern Railway is down to the rivalry between train companies.

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This station was only built by the Southern Railway because of a compromise between them and Underground Electric Railways of London (UERL) who in the 1920s owned most of the tube. UERL needed more traffic on their lines and wanted to extend their City and South London Railway (C&SLR) from Clapham Common to Sutton and their District Railway from Wimbledon to Sutton. The two would join just near a little village called Morden. Needless to say the Southern with their virtual monopoly of train services in south London objected.

UERL said it had to extend the C &SLR at least as far as Morden because that was the first place the line could get to the surface where a depot could be built. Southern could see this would not impact too much on their traffic as it would largely steal from the London County Council tramway which paralleled most of that route. So a deal was struck. UERL could build as far as a station originally to be called Morden North and get their depot. Southern would build the line from Wimbledon to Sutton on the planned alignment but the two would not connect.

UERL opened their line first in 1926 and they had the last laugh. They included a bus turn round at Morden which allowed the area around the station to be served by feeder bus routes, as indeed it is today. The Underground route was much more attractive and gave a faster route direct into the city and west end. So the Wimbledon – Sutton line never really took off and even now only gets a train every half hour.

By the way, next time you look at a map of this area, see how you have to go through Morden station to get to the Underground depot and then if you carry on, you are close by Morden South station on the Wimbledon – Sutton line. This is just about where the junction of the two lines would have been. And of course because the Underground only built one station at Morden, they called it simply Morden although it was nowhere near the old village centre which was actually south of Morden South station.

Continue along Kingston Road and after the Nelson Hospital site (currently under reconstruction – and in SW19 so that is why it is not covered!) turn right down Watery Lane. Keep going down Watery Lane as it curves to the right.

Stop 7: Rutlish School

Just beyond Manor Gardens on the right is our next stop – Rutlish School is on our left.

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We saw the tomb of William Rutlish in nearly St Mary’s Churchyard on our SW19 walk. He was embroiderer to King Charles II. He died in 1687 and left £400 for a school for the education of poor children of the local parish (around £61,000 in today’s money according to Wikipedia). By the 1890s the charity had accumulated a considerable excess of funds. John Innes (of whom we have also already heard) was chairman of the board of trustees and was instrumental in using some of the excess to establish a school. This was in Rutlish Road, SW19 – next to Merton Park station.

The school moved to its present site in 1957. This had been the location of the John Innes Horticultural Institution which itself had been set up under the terms of John Innes’ will in and around his old house, known as the Manor House. This building still stands as part of the school and has a blue plaque – I think this is probably the only blue plaque in the whole of SW20!

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Now it may not have turned out like this. John Innes’ will specified that his bequest should be used for either a school of horticulture that would provide “technical instruction in the principles of the science and art of horticulture and the application thereof to the industry or employment of gardening”, or a Public museum for the collection of paintings and other works of art. The trustees responsible for the money opted for the former and in 1910 the John Innes Horticultural Institution opened here. It moved to Norfolk in 1945 and of course it is this institution which created the famous John Innes compost mixes long after he died – John Innes may have been somewhat bemused that his name is generally associated with compost rather than as a philanthropist or property developer. There are also lots of varieties of fruit tree which have the name Merton because they were developed by the John Innes Horticutural Institution.

Useless fact: probably the most famous old boy of Rutlish School is Sir John Major who was prime minister from 1990 to 1997.

Now continue down Watery Lane to the end and you will see a little pathway round to Manor Road go down this to the end and turn left into Cannon Hill Lane

Stop 8: Cannon Hill Lane

Cannon Hill Lane meanders from Kingston Road to Grand Drive and it s somewhere on this road, that Edna O’Brien lived out her miserable years in “bleak suburbia”.

I do not know exactly where she lived but in a documentary on her a couple of months back I think it showed the bit of Cannon Hill Lane by the Common, which is beyond Martin Way.

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Just a by the by – according to Merton Council, Cannon Hill Common is not and never has been a common. It did not exist as a public open space until 1925 when the Merton and Morden Urban District Council purchased part of an estate around Cannon Hill House – which was built in the 1760s and demolished between the wars. 

As we have no idea where exactly to go on Cannon Hill Lane, I suggest you just go as far as the roundabout with Martin Way.

Stop 9: Joseph Hood Recreation Ground

When Cannon Hill Lane meets Martin Way at the roundabout, go right into Martin Way. A little way along on the left is the entrance to Joseph Hood Recreation Ground

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Now I am sure that most locals do not know who Joseph Hood was and why this recreation ground is named after him.

He was a local bigwig. Originally from Leicestershire, he was a solicitor, who worked on the creation of British American Tobacco Company Ltd and became one of its deputy Chairman. He was MP for Wimbledon from 1918 to 1924. He and his wife were granted the freedom of the borough of Wimbledon in 1924. In 1930 he was elected mayor of Wimbledon, an office he held until his death in January 1931.  Hood was known as a generous benefactor to the area he represented in parliament. He donated a recreation ground to Merton and Morden Urban District Council and following his death this was renamed Sir Joseph Hood Memorial Playing Fields. But this is not where we are standing. The Sir Joseph Hood Memorial Playing Fields are in Motspur Park. I cannot seem to find out why the recreation ground off Martin Way also has his name (but not as a memorial!) or why there are two recreation grounds with such similar names within a couple of miles of each other.

There is also a local primary school called Joseph Hood, just off Martin Way but again I cannot seem to find out why this particular school bears his name.

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Now return along Martin Way to the roundabout.

Stop 10: St James Church

Just past the roundabout on Martin Way on the left is our final stop – St James church

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St James Church dates from 1957. It had been planned in the 1930s when the housing in the area was developed. The church hall dates from 1936 but war intervened before the church could be built.

The church hall is very typically of that period and had a role in a recent film called “Run for your Wife” – the Ray Cooney farce. This film had vast numbers of well known faces popping up in tiny cameo roles and the scene shot in St James’ church hall included Maureen Lipman and June Whitfield.

The film was however not exactly a great success. When released in February 2013, it had the dubious distinction of taking just £747 in the first weekend. Richard Briers also appeared in this film but not at St James. I had thought this was his last movie but apparently not. The last part he played in a film was in the equally obscure “Cockneys vs Zombies”. Oh dear, he did not exactly go out with a bang!

Although the church looks quite plain on the outside, it has a little gem on the inside. It has a mural by the German jewish artist, Hans Feibusch. He fled Germany in the 1930s and after the war he had a number of commissions to paint church murals. Others in London can be found in St John’s Waterloo and St Alban’s Holborn.

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The St James’ mural is a triptych of the resurrection – all in soft pastel tones to go with the very pale green interior of the Church. And yet it is very powerful.

Sadly this is another Church that is rarely open. Even if the door is open you can only go as far as the side chapel and not into the main church.

So this brings us to the end of the SW20 walk. It has some interest but not as much as most of the other SW postcodes. For some this area represents a safe peaceful area for others it is too quiet or too soulless, or both. You pays your money; you takes your choice.

For onward travel there are buses outside the church to Morden (164 or 413) or across the road to Wimbledon (164)

And this also is the final SW postcode, so that means we are one sixth of the way through the 120 London postcodes. After Christmas, we go west, starting rather unoriginally with W1.

SW19: Liberty, Fraternity and Infidelity

When you look for property in SW19 you will see places advertised as being in Wimbledon Village, Wimbledon Park, Wimbledon, Merton Park and Merton Abbey. But sometimes you will find it just says plain old SW19. This generally turns out to be Colliers Wood, the bit of SW19 that dares not speak its name. I am sure that the folks who live on the hill (ie Wimbledon Village) probably do not even realise their postcode extends to Colliers Wood!

SW19 is huge and I cannot possibly cover it all. So I have decided not to do my SW19 walk in Wimbledon which most people associate with SW19 but I am going to start it right here in Colliers Wood.

We start at the Post Office in Christchurch Road just a couple of doors left out of Colliers Wood Tube Station. Come out of the Post Office and ahead you will see our first stop.

Stop 1: Former Brown and Root Tower

At 17 stories, this is the tallest building in the Borough of Merton and it has the distinction of having been voted the ugliest building in London in a 2006 BBC poll and one of the 12 ugliest in the UK in a 2005 Channel 4 poll for its programme Demolition.

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Unaccountably it seems to have dropped off of the lists of ugliest buildings in more recent polls, but then I guess there is a lot of competition.

This tower was first known as the “Lyon Tower” as it was originally the headquarters of property company Ronald Lyon Holdings. But for most of its life it was known as the “Brown and Root” Tower because of the american construction company that occupied it.

It has been empty for years. Planning permission to develop the site was first granted in 2003 but not much has been done except to demolish the old car park structure at the back. Maybe 2014 will see something actually happen to the building and this eyesore will become something useful like a block of flats.

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Just as a by the by: we are here at the end/beginning of one of the Mayor’s Super Cycle Highways. This was the first one to be finished – the CS7 which runs between Colliers Wood and the City. Note the map shows the route as almost a straight line. This is no accident because the main road here (A24) broadly follows the old Roman Road to Chichester. Interestingly just south of Colliers Wood the modern road veers off this straight alignment. The roman road would have had to cross the valley of the river Wandle here at an angle and maybe it was more practical to take a diversion to avoid the boggy areas around the river. But if you draw a straight line from here southwestward it goes though Merton Abbey Mills and Morden Hall Park and then south of Morden the modern road aligns with the roman one once again.

Now cross the main road and a little way along on the right you will see a park. Go in the gate.

Stop 2: Wandle Park

Wandle Park is owned by the National Trust but managed (after a fashion) by Merton Council. It is not what you would call a very pretty park, but it has some interesting history.

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Almost immediately inside the gate is the first of two fountains – now both sadly out of use.

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This stone drinking fountain was erected as a memorial to a man called John Feeney in 1907.

And there is a verse which runs as follows:

“Calm soul of all things! Make it mine
To feel, amid the city’s jar,
That there abides a peace of thine,
Man did not make, and cannot mar”

This feels almost biblical but actually it is by Victorian poet Matthew Arnold and is the penultimate verse of his poem “Lines written in Kensington Gardens” dating from 1852. Not such a calm position here today – being right by the entrance with the incessant traffic close by.

Now follow the path round and turn left over the bridge. Eventually you will come to a second fountain. This was erected through private subscription in memory of Henry Pollard Ashby ad his son in law Robert Bloomfield Fenwick (1835-1897), who had lived at Wandlebank House from 1867 to 1895.

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Walking on from here you will see another bridge. This one is over the River Wandle. But before you do look ahead at the modern block of flats, this was the location of the Wandlebank House.

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According to the Merton Council website, Wandlebank House was built in 1791 by James Perry and owned by him until his death in 1821. The house was demolished in 1962. Perry owned the corn mill next door (which we shall see shortly) and he was editor of the ‘Morning Chronicle’ newspaper.  Perry was also associated with the construction of the Surrey Iron Railway which followed the Wandle valley and so would have run somewhere nearby, not that there is anything to see of that here now.

Go to the bridge.

Stop 3: Connolly’s Mill

Pause a while on this bridge and have a look down stream. You will see a three storey building literally over the river. This is Connolly’s Mill.

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This is a large former water mill building, dating from around 1805, and designed by the engineer John Rennie. This was the mill owned by James Perry, and according to the plaque is on or close to a site which has been used for milling for at least 750 years.The building was converted into flats in 1994. (By the way this plaque is actually on the left hand side of building as you approach it from the bridge you are just crossing).

Go over the bridge turn left and go down the street running by the river – imaginatively named “Wandle Bank”. At the end of  Wandle Bank, turn right into Merton High Street and cross the road.

Stop 4: Merton Bus Garage

Just here is a big bus garage. It is only has a small facade to the street but it goes back a long way and can house well over 100 buses.

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The  garage was opened by the London General Omnibus Company in November 1913. And recently they had an open day to celebrate its centenary. It is rather fitting that this garage is now operated by the modern day London General bus company and the building next door (a former pub) is London General’s head office.

Useless fact: the code for Merton Garage is AL – see the SW15 walk for an explanation of these codes.

Opposite the bus garage, the river Wandle runs parallel to the street and on the other side of the river is a huge shop (now a combined Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer, but originally it was Sainsbury’s Savacenta).

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Cross the bridge to the shop and go straight ahead, either through the ground floor area of the building or else skirting round it. You want to get to the other side of the car park almost directly opposite where you started.

Stop 5: The site of Merton Priory

You will see ahead of you a subway with a sign saying “Footpath to Merton Abbey Mills”.

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Stop a while here because just here at this edge of the car park and down towards the petrol station was the location of a medieval priory church.

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Now this area is today called Merton Abbey but there never was an abbey here. Actually the monastic establishment here was called Merton Priory – a Priory is lower in the pecking order than an Abbey.

Merton Priory was established in the 12th century and has several claims to fame. Thomas Becket was educated here as was Walter de Merton, who went on to found Merton College, Oxford. It was the place where in the 1230s the first comprehensive statute since the Magna Carta was agreed.  This was the Statute of Merton which allowed amongst other matters Lords of the Manor to enclose common land provided that sufficient pasture remained for their tenants. As this was the first recorded statute of the first recorded parliament, it can be viewed as the starting point for parliamentary democracy.

But with the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, the buildings were largely demolished. Much of the stone was taken down the road to build Henry VIII’s Nonsuch Palace, which itself was later demolished.

There is a fascinating website with more info: http://www.mertonpriory.org/

There is precious little left of Merton Priory today. We will see a gateway at the end of our walk and there is a bit of wall which we shall see shortly. But the most significant remains are actually below the road by the Sainsbury’s/M & S building. What is left of the Chapter House was preserved below the road built in the late 1980s (and fancifully called Merantun Way).

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You cannot actually see the remains except on special open days because they are behind some sad boarded up windows. However it looks like some money has been found to sort this out at some point.

The plan is to create a new glass wall on the south side (other side from Supermarket) just by that pylon you can see in the picture above.

Now go under the subway under Merantun Way and across the car park taking a right on the service road. Ahead is our next stop.

Stop 6: Merton Abbey Mills

At Merton Abbey Mills, there is a reminder of the Wandle’s industrial heritage.

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The Wandle powered a number of mills and so all sorts of industry sprung up along the banks. Here at Merton Abbey, a calico manufactory was established in 1724 and a second one in 1752. They not only bleached the cloth but also dyed it here.

William Morris, at the forefront of the Arts and Crafts Movement, relocated his dye works to Merton Abbey Mills in 1881 after determining that the water of the Wandle was suitable for dyeing. The complex, on 7 acres included several buildings and a dye works, and the various buildings were soon adapted for stained-glass, textile printing, and fabric and carpet weaving. The Morris works closed in 1940.

Another business associated with this location was Littler and Company.  In 1875 Littler’s started to print goods for Liberty. The hand block printed quality that Littler used became synonymous with Liberty. Liberty’s purchased the Merton print works in 1904, ceasing production in 1972.

Today Merton Abbey Mills is a crafts market with food stalls, mainly operating at the weekend.

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A number of buildings from the Morris period, and even earlier, survive, and there are displays on the history of the site. There is even one building surviving from the mid 18th century.

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This is the Colourhouse built around 1740 or 1750 and today used as a children’s theatre.

And there is a working waterwheel dating from 1860. This is unusual in having seven spokes and is said to have been the inspiration for the Merton Council logo, which is a waterwheel.

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The building now houses a pottery which uses the waterwheel.

This is a lovely enclave and could have been so much nicer. But the modern development around it sadly detracts from the atmosphere – especially the american style drive-through KFC and Pizza Hut buildings.

Cross the river by the water wheel building and then turn right, go over the main road at the crossing and pass through the archway.

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This little arch is a reconstruction of an old archway but apparently some of the walls either side are the old wall of the priory.

Walk along the road ahead (this is Station Road, although the station has long since disappeared) and at the end turn right into Abbey Road. Continue to the end of Abbey Road.

Stop 7: Nelson Arms

At the junction of Abbey Road with Merton High Street, stands the Nelson Arms.

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This pub is at the site of the lodge and gates to Merton Place, which was Admiral Lord Nelson’s home between 1801 and 1805. The pub dates from 1910 and is somewhat reminiscent of the Leslie Green tube stations with this deep red glazed tiling. There are some lovely tile murals of Nelson and HMS Victory.

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Now walk along Merton High Street going in front of the pub. Soon the old buildings finish and there is a modern housing estate. A little further along just before by what looks like a horses’ drinking trough, you will see a rectangular blue plaque on the end of one of the buildings. 

Stop 8: site of Merton Place

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This plaque explains where Merton Place used to stand.

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It is hard to work out just where the house might have been but I reckon it is probably somewhere around where these garages now stand, just near a block of flats called “Merton Place”.

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Nelson lived in Merton Place after he separated from his wife Fanny in 1801. Nelson shared Merton Place with both Sir William and Lady Emma Hamilton – a somewhat unusual arrangement. Emma Hamilton was the hostess. She had a lavish lifestyle and after Nelson’s death in 1805, she soon ran into debt and Merton Place was sold. The house was demolished in 1823 and the land developed for housing and industry. The grounds of the house were on both sides of Merton High Street and apparently there was a tunnel to link them. There is a little clump of roads to the north of Merton High Street which all have Nelson connected names: Hamilton, Hardy, Nelson, Trafalgar,Victory.

From the High Street, take a left down Pincott Road and at the end you will reach High Path. Turn right. At this junction there is another pub. This one is called the Trafalgar. It is tiny and looks like a real locals’ local (I did not venture in)

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Stop 9: St John’s Church, High Path

Just along High Path from the Trafalgar pub on the left is St John’s Church.

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This church lies in what were the grounds of Merton Place, but this is not the church Nelson would have gone to – for one very simple reason. It was not even built when he was alive. This church dates from 1913/14 to mark the anniversary of Nelson’s death – a bit late! The altar piece is apparently made from timber taken from HMS Victory and there is some stained glass by pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne Jones. Not that you can see this as here is another church which appears hardly ever to be open. It does look very lovely in these pictures. You feel you could almost be in the country but this is deceptive. The other side of the road is much more workaday London – an estate of not very special blocks of flats.

Just past the church on the left is a small garden, go in the gates.

Stop 10: Nelson Gardens

Like the church, this garden is on land donated by the great nephew of Rear Admiral Issac Smith to commemorate the centenary of Nelson’s death. There is a plaque which explains this. It is flanked by two small cannons. These are 12 pounder guns (whatever that means) and are thought to have adorned the lawn of Merton Place at one time.

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Rear Admiral Issac Smith is not a name you may have heard of, but he does have an interesting claim to fame. He was a cousin of Captain James Cook’s wife Elizabeth, and Smith accompanied Cook on two voyages of exploration in the South Pacific. Smith was the first European to set foot in eastern Australia and the first to prepare survey maps of various Pacific islands and coastlines including Tierra del Fuego in South America. On his retirement he shared a house in Clapham with Cook’s widow until in the 1820s he inherited Merton Abbey and then until his death in 1831 he split his time between Clapham and Merton.

Continue along High Path and turn left at the end (Morden Road)

Stop 11: the end of Merantun Way

Go a short way along Morden Road and you come to the end of Merantun Way. But look carefully at the road layout.

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It it rather odd. The carriageway splits and there is a wide grass verge in the middle. This is because Merantun Way was never finished as intended. The plan was to extend it further along the disused railway track to join Kingston Road thereby bypassing the level crossing on Kingston Road. It would have sliced through Merton Park but it never happened because of local opposition in the late 1980s. That opposition mutated into a strong community group which put up candidates in the borough elections and today Merton Park continues to be represented by independent councillors. This does not usually matter but it has since 2006 because the main parties are so evenly balanced in Merton. So the Merton Park councillors have been the king makers, allowing the Conservatives to run the administration from 2006 until 2010 and then Labour from 2010. It will be interesting to see whether Merton Park councillors will play such a pivotal role following the 2014 elections.

If it is not too muddy you actually walk along the route of the old railway line on the other side of Morden Road from Merantun Way (see picture)

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But if it is wet, you can head back past the Staples store and turn left and go down a street called The Path which then leads you into Melbourne Road and then onto an open space. Either way you will end up in the same place a junction of pathways. Here you can take a short diversion following the signs for the Merton Park tram stop. 

Stop 11a: former Merton Park station building

This path will lead you to the end of Rutlish Road and there where the traffic has to turn round, there is a building that looks like a station building.

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The reason it looks like a station building is because it is the original station house of Merton Park station. The rest of the station is gone and is now just a tram stop with nothing to show that there was actually a railway station here.

Retrace your steps to the path junction and follow the other path (or if you have not made the diversion, take this path)

Go over the tram line and into Merton Park.  At the end of the path cross Dorset Road and go down Sheridan Road. When you reach Church Lane, turn left and soon you will reach St Mary’s Church. This is a bit of a trek but it is worth it.

Stop 12: St Mary’s Church

You could almost be in a country village. All that is missing is the village pub (there are no shops or pubs in the Merton Park estate).

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Now this is the actual church which Nelson went to and it still has his pew apparently. If you can, go in and see the various memorials as well as stained glass by Burne Jones and Morris and Co made locally at Merton Abbey Mills.

There are a couple of interesting tombs in the graveyard. At the front between the war memorial and the lych gate, is a fairly weathered one, which is of William Rutlish, who was embroider to King Charles II. Presumably this was a well paid trade and Rutlish left money to found a school. Rutlish School still exists just over the border in SW20 as we shall see in the next walk.

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And then if you go into the graveyard, you pass by an archway on the right and a fair way in on the left is John Innes’ grave. We will hear more of him in SW20 also.

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Returning back to the entrance do have a look at the archway between the churchyard and the vicarage.

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This is a norman arch which came originally from Merton “Abbey” and was reconstructed here in 1935, paid for by Gilliat Edward Hatfeild (yes that is the right spelling). Hatfeild was the last owner of nearby Morden Hall Park and it was he who bequeathed that property to the National Trust. However it is over the border in SM4.

We have reached the end of our SW19 walk. Much of the story of this part of London can only be told with the fragments of what is here today and it is kind of sad that more has not survived of this historic part of London.

It seems we are in a country village here by St Mary’s but if you go down Melrose Road and then turn left into Dorset Road you will be at Kingston Road and then Merton Park tram stop in less than 10 minutes. Alternatively there are buses to Wimbledon and South Wimbledon from Kingston Road.

SW18: Forever Youngs

We have reached Wandsworth, which for me is forever Youngs, even though Youngs Brewery closed down in 2006. Well the town centre is not the prettiest with the one way system carrying both the radial route to Portsmouth (A3) and the orbital South Circular Road (A205). No wonder the place seems permanently congested. Then there is the Southside Shopping Centre which is still called the Arndale by many locals even though it was rechristened in 2004. And it is here that the river Wandle reaches the Thames – it is surprising that many people do not make the connection between the Wandle and Wandsworth. Maybe people do not realise the river is here – it is not easy to see as the Southside Shopping Centre is built over it.

We start our SW18 walk at the Post Office on the High Street, just to the west of the Southside Shopping Centre.

Turn left out of the Post Office and just a little way along across the road is our first stop.

Stop 1: W G Child and Sons, 106 – 108 Wandsworth High Street

This is a remarkable survival. This company has been producing bespoke suits for over 120 years spanning 5 generations, making them one of the oldest family run tailors in London.

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According to the company’s website, the business was established by William George Child in 1890 and although the family were tailors before this date, this was the starting point of the current business. The location of Wandsworth was chosen at that time as it was known as a prosperous and thriving area with many potential customers and no rival tailoring businesses.

They opened a second shop at Clapham Junction, run by one of the two sons of William George, with the original Wandsworth shop run by the other son Charles. This situation continued on through into the 1940s when with the start of World War II production was given over to the war effort, and uniforms were made instead of suits. In 1944 both branches were hit during German bombing raids with the total destruction of the Clapham Junction branch and the partial destruction of the Wandsworth branch. The Wandsworth shop was rebuilt and continues to operate to this day. Sadly it was the end for the sister shop in Clapham.

And the thing is that this is not some dowdy survivor. It is a working business and they clearly put a lot of work into keeping the shop front well maintained and also in having proper window displays. But it must be a struggle.

Stop 2: Former Wandsworth Borough News Offices, 144 Wandsworth High Street

Now just a little way further along after before the start of West Hill is an old business which did not survive beyond a few years into the 21st century.

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Here was the office of the Wandsworth Borough News. First published in the 1885, its 123-year history finally came to an end just before Christmas 2008. In its last years it had been a sub-edition of the Surrey Comet. In effect now it has been incorporated into the Wandsworth Guardian which gets distributed free across the borough. The Guardian is the last local newspaper standing in this part of London.

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Today their old office is an estate agents but there is this lovely sign – a silhouette of a man reading a newspaper – to remind of what used to go on here.

Now retrace your steps back down the High Street, crossing over when convenient. 

Stop 3: former Youngs Brewery

Just opposite the Southside Shopping Centre, you can see on the left of the road the River Wandle flowing down towards the Thames, having come out from a tunnel under the shopping centre. On the right hand bank is the now defunct Youngs Brewery. Until its closure in 2006, the Ram Brewery in Wandsworth was claimed to be Britain’s oldest brewing site in continuous operation, with a history dating back to the 1550s when a Humphrey Langridge leased the Ram pub here.

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In 2006 the brewing operation was transferred to a new company, Wells & Young’s Brewing Company Ltd, which was a joint brewing venture with Charles Wells of Bedford. Young’s held 40% of the shares in the new company but sold their stake in 2011. However the Young’s name continues in beers produced by Wells & Young’s, and the Young’s company still runs pubs.

There have been plans for redeveloping the site but in the current financial climate they have so far come to nothing. However in July 2013 Wandsworth Council gave consent for the redevelopment by a company called Minerva. This will provide 661 new homes and will include a 36 storey residential tower. There will also be shops, cafes, bars and restaurants plus space for a micro brewery and museum.

Brewing has apparently continued at the Ram Brewery site since Young’s departed for Bedford.  John Hatch, one of the Young’s brewing team, was retained as site-manager by Minerva and was charged with making sure that brewing continues in the interim period until any microbrewery or brewpub can be developed.

Youngs famously has a ram as its logo. This can be seen on a weathervane on the site.  And the pub at the corner of the brewery, dating from 1883, was latterly known as the Ram, although it had at one time been called The Brewery Tap. This became the visitor’s centre for the Brewery and so is now also closed.

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Take a left at the Ram Inn and go down Ram Street (here are a lot of Rams here). 

Stop 4: Surrey Iron Railway plaque and stones, Ram Street

You may wonder why we are coming down this desolate street. But there is something worth seeing here. Once you go past some gates to the Brewery, soon on the left you will see some stones in the wall and a metal plaque.

This is virtually the only tangible reminder of the Surrey Iron Railway which is claimed to be the first public railway in the world.
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The Surrey Iron Railway opened in 1803 between Wandsworth and Croydon to bring lime, chalk, fuller’s earth and agriculture products to London. This had horses drawing wagons down cast iron railway tracks. But what makes it the first public railway is that it was open to anyone who wanted to carry their goods along the route – in effect a different kind of toll road. The company did not operate its own trains, and passengers were not part of the equation. The initial route was around 9 miles following along the River Wandle, by then was becoming industrialised with numerous factories and mills. Later there was a branch to Hackbridge and an extension to Coulsdon.

In 1823  the engineer George Stephenson was approached to supply a locomotive for the line but he realised that the cast-iron rails could not support the weight of a steam locomotive. This meant the Surrey Iron Railway never made it as a “proper” railway. It was not a commercial success, and in 1844 the proprietors sold it to the London & South Western Railway, which sold it on to the London and Brighton Railway. They obtained an Act of Parliament authorising closure in 1846. Part of the route did get reused as a railway towards Croydon and some of this route remains in use today but as part of the Wimbledon – Croydon tram line.

Now retrace your steps back down Ram Street and turn left in to the High Street (actually you get a better view of our next stop from across the road by stop 6, which is where this photo was taken)

Stop 5: Former Palace/Gaumont Cinema

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Although it was opened as the Palace Theatre in 1920, this was a purpose built cinema and does not appear ever to have been an actual live theatre, apart from performances on the cinema organ perhaps. It was initially independent but came under Gaumont British Theatres management in July 1930. It was re-named the Gaumont Theatre in 1954. Having closed as a cinema in 1961, it was a bingo club until 1979. The building lay unused for three years until 1982 when it became a church. In 1992 it came back into entertainment use as a nightclub called the Theatre. It is now a gym. So I guess apart from this facade there is not really much left of the old cinema.

Cross over the High Street and just a little way to the left is our next stop (again you actually get a better view of the whole building from the other side of the road – ie where you have just come from.)

Stop 6:  The Spread Eagle, 71 Wandsworth High Street

Here we have the magnificent Spread Eagle pub, one the many Youngs pubs in Wandsworth. The current building dates from 1898, although this site had been a coaching inn for many years before that.

This is a splendid pub , with a lovely porch over the pavement. But inside is a real treat with fabulous glass and mirrors. Some nice pictures on http://www.pubs.com/main_site/pub_details.php?pub_id=221

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Now just around the corner in Garrett Lane, there is a building dating from 1890 which was constructed as the Assembly Room for the Spread Eagle pub.

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From 1908 it was operating as a cinema, the Biograph, and it is claimed this was the first licensed cinema in the country. It was subsequently known as the Picture Palace, the Picture Palladium and the Court Cinema. It closed in 1931. The building was later used mainly as a warehouse – after the war, Young’s Brewery used it to store beer crates. Wandsworth Council have put up one of their green plaques.

Our next stop is across the road.

Stop 7: Southside Shopping Centre (formerly the Arndale Shopping Centre)

Opened in 1971 and originally called the Arndale Centre, it was said to be Europe’s largest indoor shopping centre at the time. Southside has 530,000 square feet of retail space. Interestingly this is just a little smaller than Selfridges, the UK’s second largest single store.

The centre was looking a bit sad by the 1990s but there was a concerted effort in the naughties to sort the place out, including that name change from the Arndale Centre. However it has an odd mix of shops – there cannot be too many shopping centres where two of the largest stores are Waitrose and Poundland! There is more redevelopment going on the northern and eastern sections involving the demolition of office accommodation and the creation of a further 220,000 square feet of retail space, which will include a Debenhams, apparently.

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Useless fact: The name “Arndale” is a combination of  parts of the names of the two people who set up the original company – Arndale Property Trust: “Arn” is from Arnold Hagenbach and “dale” is from Sam Chippendale. Just think if they had used another combination, we could have had the Old Chip shopping centres.

Just before you reach Sainsbury’s you will see a garden. This is the old burial ground of the parish. Take the path through this green space. (Actually the second photo of the shopping centre is taken looking back through this garden)

At the end follow the road straight ahead until you reach St Ann’s Hill where you turn right. A little way along on the left is our next stop. 

Stop 8: St Anne’s Church

At the top of the hill is a church called St Anne’s, which is odd given the street is called St Ann’s Hill. It is a so-called “Commissioner’s” church – built as a result of an 1818 Act of Parliament which set up a Commission for “promoting the building of churches and chapels in populous parishes”. The first of these churches were also termed Waterloo churches because they were looked upon as national monuments built in thanksgiving for the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.

St Anne’s dates from the early 1820s and was designed by Robert Smirke, best known for the facade and main block of the British Museum. Architectural historian, Pevsner does not like this church describing it as having “unhappy outer proportions … and a circular tower, exactly twice as high as it should be.” But I think it is lovely but then I am not an expert on Greek Revival architecture.

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Now go back down St Ann’s Hill right to the end and at the bottom you will see the corner of Wandsworth Town Hall across the road on the left.

Stop 9: Wandsworth Town Hall

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The Town Hall we see today was built in three phases, and as Pevsner puts it “none distinguished”. The part at the far end along the High Street (almost next to the Pavilion Theatre) is the 1970s brick bit which houses the modern day reception. Then comes a mid 1920s section and finally the bit on the corner of Fairfield Street is from the mid 1930s  You can see why after the boroughs of Wandsworth and Battersea merged in 1965, the new borough chose to make Wandsworth Town Hall its main home.

The 1930s section is triangular and goes around a courtyard and with forecourt gardens. There is a frieze around the outside showing Wandsworth’s history, although I find it impossible to distnguish what events are portrayed.

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And there is a lavish entrance hall. One thinks of the Thirties as a time of austerity but clearly the council felt it could spent what must have been a significant amount of money on these new offices. It does not look like it was done on the cheap.  Interesting though the council chose to call this “Wandsworth Municipal Offices” according to the words set in the stonework – it was not the town hall or civic centre. I wonder why.

Now cross over the High Street and go to the right (eastern) side of Fairfield Street.

Stop 10: The Royal “Pool”

On the eastern side of the junction between the High Street and Fairfield Street is a curved brick wall with a large stone plaque, in front of which is a round brick walled bed with a tree and other plants in it.

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The stone plaque explains about this odd arrangement which derives from a Royal visit on 14 July 1937. The plaque reads as follows:

“This pool, with its surroundings, has been provided from a fund subscribed by local citizens of the Borough of Wandsworth commemorating the visit to Wandsworth of Her Majesty Queen Mary on July 14th 1937 to open the new municipal offices. Her Majesty drove through the borough escorted by the Mayor and Mayoress, Councillor and Mrs W H Heath when she was welcomed by 500,000 people. By the fund raised, 55,000 flags were distributed down the line of route, 42,000 bags of sweets given to the children and 250,000 people attended firework displays at King George’s Park, Streatham Common and Clapham Common. On the site containing the pool, Her Majesty paused after the opening ceremony and a choir of 2,000 children sang”

Well isn’t it unusual to have a Royal visit recalled in a such a way. Sad though there is no actual pool here now and judging by the size of that tree in front of the stone, there probably has not been a pool there for a long time! And you do have to wonder about some of those numbers.

Go up East Hill away from the Town Hall. This is the A3/A205.

Stop 11: Huguenot Burial ground

At the top of the hill the A3/A205 splits into two one way streets. In the middle is a grand looking Italianate building called Book House.

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It was built in 1888 for the Board of Works – I assume this was for the local Wandsworth District Board of Works, which was in effect a predecessor body to the borough council. Behind Book House flanked by these two one way streets is something rather unusual – the Huguenot Burial Ground

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The burial site was opened in 1687 and closed in 1854. It was used by the Huguenot refugees who settled in Wandsworth during the seventeenth century, fleeing France after the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The burial ground later became known as Mount Nod.  In 1911 a memorial was erected to the memory of the Wandsworth Huguenots. This describes says how they “found in Wandsworth freedom to worship God after their own manner. They established important industries and added to the credit and prosperity of the town of their adoption”.

It looks like it has been tidied up a bit but it seemed very closed. Mind it is not a transquil spot with major roads on either side. At the far end a footpath separates the burial ground from St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church. Funny how there should be a catholic church hard by the last resting place of so many French protestants.

Cross to the north side of East Hill and go down Alma Road.

I am conscious that this walk has not really had much about the residents of this area – it’s been all about buildings and artifacts. At this point I offer you a little diversion off Alma Road to see the street where someone famous once lived. As you go down Alma Road you will see Dighton Road on your right. Take this and then take the third on the left. If  you do not want to do this just carry straight on.

Stop 11a Bramford Road

Bramford Road is a fine street of small mainly gentrified terraced houses. You used to be able to tell the gentrified houses because they did not have net curtains. Now you can tell them because they tend to have these little wooden blinds which usually only cover the lower half of the window. Normally painted a off white or pale grey, they prevent the curious passersby seeing too much without the owners having to have the dreaded net curtains.

However I did not bring you down here to talk about blinds. I thought I would just mention that according to Wikipedia, Tony Blair shared a house here with Lord (Charlie) Falconer in the late 1970s when they were both young barristers. Don’t know exactly when or which house, but I thought it was worth sharing!

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To regain our route turn left at the end of Bramford Road, and go straighht on to the Alma. If you have not taken the diversion then you will find our next stop at the end of Alma Road.

Stop 12: The Alma and Old York Road 

Here the enclave of tiny terraced houses comes down to Old York Road – a little local centre with a few shops and cafes. Some of the shops are still old school but mainly this has been thoroughly gentrified. There is a nice pub on the corner called the Alma. This name derives from the Battle of the Alma which took place  on 20 September 1854 and which is usually considered the first battle of the Crimean War (1853–1856). The battle is named after the River Alma in the Crimea.

Interestingly the actual pub dates from 1866, according to the pub’s website, wich is a bit later than one might expect. It was first leased by Youngs in 1872 and they bought the freehold in 1883. Still owned by Youngs, it now has a “boutique hotel” attached at the back. Lovely as it undoubtedly looks I cannot help wondering what visitors from outside London might be expecting and whether they might find this gentrified corner of Wandsworth just a little bit disappointing.

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So this brings us to the end of our SW18 walk. Wandsworth undoubtedly suffers from being sliced up by the one way system which carries both the A3 and the South Circular Road. But there are some nice bits and some interesting historical connections. And with the renaissance of the Shopping Centre and the development of the Brewery with its riverside location, it has the potential to be a great deal better.

We are now right by Wandsworth Town station which has a reasonable weekday daytime service into Waterloo, Putney and Richmond – not so good evenings and Sundays though. Otherwise there are buses to places like Fulham and Tooting.