If you are reading this having read my previous post then I thank you and promise this one is a bit better. Let’s be honest, it wasn’t exactly a riveting read but I was working with some pretty average source material. If you are reading this without having read the previous entry and wonder what exactly I am on about I shall explain.
My previous post was about my first day on the Wandle Trail in South London which is supposedly a signed path following the River Wandle. What that walk had actually entailed was a day of trudging through industrial and residential areas with very little of interest to see. If the path was waymarked at all, which it frequently wasn’t, the signs had no sense of cohesion and many of them featured a URL address which leads to a potentially dangerous Chinese (?) website. The weather had been pretty abysmal and it really had not been a great day out.
I did a fair bit of moaning about all this in that post so you might well wonder why I chose to continue from my finishing point of the previous day and I was frankly wondering much the same as I caught the Tube back to Morden for another go at it. I can only ascribe it to my sheer bloody-mindedness and perhaps a vague notion that things can only get better as D-ream once famously sang. I only just found out that they are from my home country of Northern Ireland. They featured Professor Brian Cox, the well-known physicist and broadcaster on keyboards in their touring band. Perhaps most famously, their signature song mentioned above was hijacked as the anthem for the “New” Labour Party who proved the song’s premise to be totally wrong. I was rather hoping my day would turn out better.
I had found it a little odd that I was so negative in the last entry as I am generally pretty upbeat about places I visit and this was unusual. In the entry prior to that I had wondered whether I was perhaps naive for gushing so much about everything I had experienced on a recent trip to Northumberland. This appears somewhat contradictory and I did think about it before I posted the last entry but I do believe in writing totally honestly or else I just don’t see the point.
Unlike the previous day, the London transport system had not messed me about and I arrived good time for a decent day of walking before the light went at about 1600. I thought I might be able to finish the Trail today depending on what I found to distract me on the way but it was not an imperative. I certainly wasn’t going to kill myself slogging along further or faster than I wanted as that was not the purpose and, although I had been happy with the distance covered the day before, I was still a bit unsure about what my current daily range was
I glanced across the road from the Tube station and noted that Ganley’s pub, where I had enjoyed a pint the previous evening, was not yet open so that was one temptation removed. There is only so much temptation I can resist in the one day.
I went back into Morden Hall Park and turned right to regain the Wandle Trail. I had checked on a map that morning and knew where to go. If I had been trying to follow the river itself I might have had a spot of bother as it splits off in various directions in the park, some terminating in dead ends and which I suspect had been channelled artificially as decorative features.
After a couple of hundred yards I was treated to the sight of Morden Hall itself for which the park was obviously named. I already knew that it is now used as a wedding and function facility so that at least saved me the bother of walking up to it but I did admire it from a distance, it is rather impressive. I took a couple of images of the weir and the little bridge with the Hall in the background which I hope give you an idea.
Morden Hall was built between 1759 and 1765 in the park which had originally been owned by Westminster Abbey. It had been sold in 1533 to two gentlemen called Duckett and Whitworth and almost immediately sold on the the Garth family. The particular Garth who eventually sold the house was the fifth generation of the family, all called Richard. Very imaginative. It was sold in 1867 to a man called Hatfeild who was a tobacco merchant and this shall become relevant in a moment. It was he who laid out the gardens as they are now.
During World War One the Hall was loaned to the London Hospital for the convalescence of injured servicemen. This is of interest to me as the London (now the Royal London and part of the Barts NHS group – is nothing sacred?) is close to where I live and where I am still attending regularly for my seemingly endless consultations. After a period as a Salvation Army refuge for women and children it eventually passed to the National Trust who currently administer it. More of them in a moment.
Not far beyond the Hall I found a waterwheel which, if you have read the previous entry, you will know is the logo for the Wandle Trail. I suspect this is more of a historical reference as this was only the second such piece of equipment I had seen and I was at least half way along the route.
This wheel was not used for milling flour, as was common in the 19th century, nor was it used for manufacturing material as the one at Merton Abbey had been but I mentioned Mr. Hatfeild, the tobacco merchant earlier and the building here was a snuff mill. The second image shows some of the quern stones associated with the milling.
Younger readers may not know what snuff is as it has fallen completely out of fashion in the 21st century. It is finely ground dried tobacco leaves in a powder form which you then sniff, or “snort” in modern drugs parlance, to give you nicotine “hit”. Yes, I know it sounds odd and before you ask, yes, I have taken it.
I once played for, and helped to organise, a social rugby side who played end of season charity games. We had a tradition of taking snuff and drinking vintage port which sounds quite sociable but we used to do it BEFORE the match. It used to get messy as we would meet in the pub we represented and have a few pints beforehand. Come the first scrum, ruck or maul most of us were half drunk and still sneezing. Half-time was more vintage port, more snuff and a cigarette for those of us who indulged. Fun times indeed but hardly geared to high performance athletic activity.
The snuff mill here was one of two operated by Taddy & Co., of which Hatfeild was a part owner and there is another connection with the East End of London here. The milled tobacco was taken to the company factory in the Minories, which again is easy walking distance from my home and where I was to have a Christmas meal with some Virtual Tourist friends a few weeks later. Everything goes round in circles. At the height of production the mill here was turning out 6000lbs. of snuff a month which is a considerable amount.
Following a strike in 1922 in the Minories factory the company closed down and the mill became a workshop for the estate with the wheel still producing the power. This mill was opened as a classroom and education centre concentrating on the lives of the mill workers which must be fascinating.
Now that I have more or less stopped smoking I might see if I can find a box of snuff somewhere, just for old times sake.
The walking here was very pleasant with the noise of the nearby A297 no more than a murmur and the weather wasn’t too bad. It was cold and flat calm as the images of the water show but there was no sign of rain which I was grateful for. After the previous day it was positively bucolic despite being in a busy London suburb.
Morden Hall Park more or less peters out and I found myself in Ravensbury Park although I had no idea of that at the time, there was nothing to tell me. I had crossed a road to get there so I guessed I was in a different open space. This Park is apparently part of the part of the Upper Wandle River Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation, whatever the Hell that is. I am completely baffled by the number of official designations for open land and this is yet another new one on me as I research this piece.
Just to put you out of your misery, the official definition states that “A site of metropolitan importance is a site of importance for nature conservation within London at a London-wide level. They contain examples of London’s habitats, may have rare species, or have significance in built-up areas”, whatever that load of jargon might mean. I do hope you are a little the wiser now because I’m not.
Whatever it’s designation, it is a pleasant enough open space although I didn’t spot any of the rare species mentioned. Come to think of it, I didn’t spot much in the way of common or garden species either. Well, it was November, I suppose. This Park was once part of a large industrial area in the grounds of Ravensbury Hall and had it’s own water driven power source, in this case used for calico production. The Park today is much smaller than the original grounds as much of the land was sold off in the early 20th century for residential development.
Yet again I tried my hand at a bit of creative photography as you can see above. Amongst the traditional russets of autumn there were plenty of these snow-white leaves which I found rather attractive.
Another road crossed and another park entered, this time Watermeads Nature Reserve which is also administered by the National Trust. This is hardly surprising as it was gifted to them in 1913 by a committee set up by Octavia Hill, one of the three founders of that worthy organisation. I shall take a moment here to tell you about that remarkable lady who, to my shame, I had never heard of until walking this Trail.
Octavia was born in Wisbech in Cambridgeshire in 1838 into a large and relatively affluent society who were home-schooled by her Mother who had initially been Governess for her Father’s children from a previous marriage. Things were soon to change, though, as her Father’s business went bankrupt and he declined into mental illness. At age 13 the young Octavia was sent to a “guild for distressed gentlewomen” where she learned glass painting. By the age of 14, she was not only in charge of the guild but working in her spare time for the art critic, artist and social reformer John Ruskin.
Octavia became very aware of the appalling conditions of the poor children she encountered in her work and developed very strong ideas about assistance for the worse off in society through self-help. She thought that unsupervised and untargetted philanthropy was a terrible thing. By 1865 Ruskin had inherited a large sum and some of that went to purchase three six room cottages in Marylebone which were in a pretty rough state of repair. He put Octavia in charge of the project and of a subsequent group of another five houses nearby which they leased the next year. Through his contacts Ruskin knew that money men would be prepared to invest in such schemes if they were guaranteed a 5% annual return on their investments.
The homes were made habitable and rented to the less well off and her methods became a template for social housing. Rents were collected weekly, always by women who, in addition to their revenue gathering duties also ensured the premises were kept in good order and looked to the welfare of the tenants. For the early part of the Victorian era this was a most forward-looking way doing things and it worked so well that by 1874 she was in charge of 15 schemes with 3,000 tenants.
It seems an ideal situation whereby the investors saw a reasonable and steady return on their investment, the tenants had living conditions vastly superior to the awful slums most of them were used to and Hill, Ruskin et al had something to ease their acute social consciences. It is a model that continues, more or less unchanged, to this day.
Hill believed that, apart from sanitary living conditions, people’s well-being was a holistic matter and they also needed recreational space, fresh air, leisure activities and so on. It seems that her enthusiasm, not to mention sheer energy, were almost boundless. Amongst her accomplishments she set up the first independent Army Cadet Force Unit in Southwark which was so popular it’s numbers had to be capped. She also laid the foundations for the modern social work system by having her lady rent collectors look after the welfare of her tenants. So good was she at what she did that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners asked her to take over their slum properties in South London which were very lawless and deprived. She quickly turned them into model communities.
What Octavia Hill will undoubtedly be best remembered for is her championing of public open spaces, all part of her holistic approach to well-being and thinking that was well ahead of it’s time. It was her who actually coined the term “green belt” and, whilst she saved open spaces all over the country, Londoners (myself included) have a couple of things to particularly thank her for. Along with others, she saved Parliament Hill Fields and Hampstead Heath from residential development and it is difficult to think of London today without them as open spaces. Apart from anything else, Hampstead Heath affords some of the best views of London without hiring a helicopter!
Her relentless campaigning, managing and lobbying took it’s inevitable toll in 1877 and she had a breakdown which necessitated her delegating some of her workload, something she had been loath to do previously. She still managed to do enough to set up the National Trust in 1894, along with Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and Sir Robert Hunter. The rest, as they say, is history. Octavia Hill died on 1912 of cancer and is buried in Kent alongside her sister who predeceased her.
On the subject of urban open spaces I shall leave the last word to this remarkable lady herself. In 1883 she wrote, “I think we want four things. Places to sit in, places to play in, places to stroll in, and places to spend a day in”. In 2020 I write “I think she did rather well and I thank her”.
According to the information board at the Reserve entrance there is an inscribed sandstone seat here dedicated to Octavia Hill’s sister Miranda who was a teacher hereabouts although I was damned if I could find it. What I did find beside the path was a large sports ground which was apparently the training ground for Chelsea F.C. from 1966 – 1976 so the likes of Peter Bonetti, Dave Webb, John Hollins and “Chopper” Harris would all have been training here when they won the F.A. Cup in 1970. I actually remember that game.
Out of the Watermeads and a bit more walking to come to another open space of note albeit considerably more modest in size that the previous ones.
This is Hackbridge Community Garden, the brainchild of Brazilian artist Claudio Funari who moved to London from his native Brazil in 2016 to be nearer his son. He started by clearing rubbish from the Wandle and as if that wasn’t a noble enough thing to be doing at the age of 68, he took into creating seats and pieces of art out of all the waste he collected. He then used these to trick out a garden he created on a piece of waste land with the results you see.
Obviously November was not the best time to see a garden but it was getting geared up for Xmas with the reindeer which I believe are constructed from recycled fencing. Muito bem, Senhor.
At this point I should explain at this point that there are not going to be a lot of images for the next portion of the walk and I’ll explain why.
For many years I used a succession of Canon Ixus compact digital cameras and was very happy with them. I never leave home without the camera in my pocket and this inevitably leads to dust getting inside them which spoils the images and so I recently changed to a Samsung WB36F which I got at a very good price in a sale. The Samsung is probably a better camera in terms of features but it appears to either have a design fault or else I have been unlucky enough to get a duff battery as it lasts no time at all. With the Canon I could have snapped away all day without having to change batteries but the Samsung only takes maybe 40 images tops before the battery goes. I now have to carry a battery pack with me which fairly well negates the advantages of a compact. Not only that but it takes forever to recharge, it is a bit of a pain. I was therefore wandering along with the damn thing charging in my jacket pocket instead of taking images to bore you good people with.
I passed by the charmingly named Wilderness Island, another Nature Reserve, but I didn’t bother to explore it as by this time I was getting the idea in my head that it was quite possible I could finish the walk off that day. It is at this point that the river divides to go to it’s two different sources. I didn’t make a conscious decision as to which one to follow, I just kept going the way I was already walking and this turned out to be the Carshalton “arm” as it would be called on a canal.
The camera was still not fully charged but it had recovered itself enough to capture the attempt at another of my arty shots and even some of the local fauna in the form of the cute little chap you can see. Actually, I was quite pleased with that one as the buggers never stay still enough to get a decent shot.
Before I realised it I was approaching Carshalton Ponds which I knew was journey’s end and the vista at that end was the complete antithesis of that at the beginning. Click back to my last entry to see what I mean if you have not already read it. This was a scene that would not have been out of place in any rural village in the land which is indeed what Carshalton was until about 150 years ago with the coming of the railway and the building of a station in 1868.
This seems to be a good time to tell you about the history of Carshalton, as I seem to tell you about everywhere else I visit!
Archaeological excavations in the area prove habitation back s far as Neolithic times and, even before the invasion of the UK by the Normans in 1066, there were five manors here, owned by freemen who were not to remain free for long. The Domesday Book of 1086 records the village as Aultone which was owned by a knight called de Manville, obviously a Norman, and it brought in an annual revenue of fifteen pounds and ten shillings.. Interestingly in light of my walk and the watermill motif constant throughout that, there was a watermill here even then and the water probably contributed to the name as “aul” means well or spring and “ton” is a farm. The origin of the “car” element is unclear.
By the end of the 19th century the mills had multiplied with calico production important locally and the village continued to grow steadily but not dramatically until the 1890’s when the local estate was sold for housing. With the railway in place this led to the phenomenon of the commuter and the beginnings of suburbia which was taking place all around the fringes of the capital.
Another local speciality was lavender which was grown in abundance locally and gave Carshalton the title of “the lavender capital of the world”. Although there are still some lavender fields and and annual Lavender Fair in late July, the large scale production stopped some years ago due to a rat infestation of all things. Lavender is still grown on local allotments by a not for profit organisation. It must smell absolutely lovely here at that time of year.
The rather fine church you can see is All Saints and actually pre-dates the Norman occupation although it has been much altered over the years, most notably in 1891. Sadly, it was not open when I visited.
As well as the calico previously mentioned, the mills of the Wandle also had a more sinister purpose and there was a gunpowder mill on the river here in the late 17th century. Paper, log-wood, leather and seed oil were also produced using water power. It must have been an industrious place and I have read of the Wandle being referred to as “the hardest working river in London”.
The ponds should really have signalled journey’s end for me and would have been had I not spotted not one but two things that piqued my interest. First was the very impressive war memorial which has a beautiful situation overlooking the pond and which I obviously took images of for inclusion in the War Memorials Online site.
The second was a sign for the Honeywood Museum which turned out to be the beautiful building you see above. I was not at all certain if it would be open given the day, time of year and location but, to my delight it was and I was in there like a shot.
I was bade welcome by a very charming lady and gentleman and invited to look around at my leisure. Not only that but when I enquired I was informed that photography was not only permitted but positively encouraged and would I be so kind as to post any images on social media? I really didn’t have the heart to tell them I didn’t use it but I did mention that my walk was to do with my blog and they would go there. Again, I didn’t have the heart to tell them exactly what the traffic figures were for the site!
The house is on the site of a 17th dwelling called Wandle Cottage and although little of this now remains you can still see the odd bit of the old flint and chalk structure. It may seem like a strange place to build a home, sited as it is over a watercourse which feeds the pond but this may be explained by the vogue then for “cold baths” which were a popular medical treatment. I suppose it was preferable to the blood-letting and leeches which were also prevalent in medical procedures of the day. Basically, patients were dropped through a trapdoor in the floor into the stream and then fished out again. I think I’ll give that one a miss especially on a day like that was.
The house was bought in 1883 by a man called John Kirk who was involved in the embryonic photography industry and from which he eventually made quite a sum of money. He put a lot of this wealth into renovating and extending the building, leaving the rather grand structure we have today. It was taken over in the 1980’s by a charitable group and opened as a heritage centre.
While there are exhibits dealing with all periods of the history of Carshalton and the house itself, for me the great attraction of the place was in the way much of it is preserved as it was in Edwardian times. Absolutely my favourite room was the billiard room, adjacent to the front desk which is a joy. It is as if the gentlemen had merely stepped outside for a moment nd I spent a while sitting imagining myself in full Edwardian garb, cigar and brandy in hand, discussing Gladstone’s policies whilst my friends played billiards.
Dragging myself back to the 21st century I went to explore the rest of Honeywood which is very interesting and includes exhibits dedicated to the Second World War when the building was used for the training of Air Raid Wardens. I was surprised to learn that there had been 78 civilian fatalities in Carshalton during the war as I couldn’t imagine what the bombing targets would have been. It is not near enough central London or the docks on the Thames to have been “collateral damage” as so much of the East End was.
There must have been a threat as there was an air raid shelter large enough for 1,000 people was discovered in 2012 in Carshalton Park where it had lain forgotten about for decades. A little research reveals that Carshalton was hit by several V1 terror weapons which were wildly inaccurate and this may account for the apparently large number of casualties.
I even had another attempt at the artistic side of photography with the image above of the Ponds through a mullioned window which I quite liked.
That then was the end of my “Wandering the Wandle” as I have dubbed it in the title and, had I but known it, I was less than two hundred yards from the Hope pub which hd indirectly started the whole little project. Had I known then a celebratory pint would have been in order but in my ignorance I headed off looking for a bus stop in a direction I had seen buses going.
I found a stop at which there was a large group of schoolgirls who I believe were from the nearby St. Philomena’s School. They were being, well, teenage girls and there was plenty of noise and jumping about and I was thinking the bus journey might be interesting. I am of an age where I like to moan! I moan about lots of things and noisy, ignorant teenagers is one of them. I was somewhat surprised therefore when I was checking the timetable and a very polite young lady from the group asked if she could assist. Credit where it is due. I told her I was fine but it didn’t half make me feel old. The poor girl had obviously been brought up to help the elderly and, at her age, I suppose that is what I was.
I mused on this all the way back to Croydon where I walked to the Overground station by way of another “lost” pub.
So that was my experience of the Wandle Trail and thankfully this day was much better than the previous one so normal service is resumed in my writing about being happy about things I saw and did. Who knows, after this outing I might even return and follow the other part of the river up to Croydon. I’m not sure if I should risk my luck though!
The upper part of the Wandle Trail is fine for a day out walking if you happen to be down that way but overall I wouldn’t make a point of doing the whole route as I did, it really is not worth it. If I do decide to risk the other portion you will obviously be the first to know.
In the next entry I go for another walk, get totally lost and end up doing something that was not only a bit stupid but also illegal so stay tuned and spread the word.