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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.