Thursday, July 23, 2009

Further historical facts about Wandsworth in the days gone by

Borough News June 14, 1912

The hand of the improver is busily engaged in Wandsworth at the present time. Buildings which have done duty in their respective spheres for many, many years, are being sacrificed at the altar of improvement; what were not so long ago winding lanes, bordered on either side by hedgerows, severing the corn fields on the one side from the meadow-land on the other are now fairly wide thoroughfares. The modern Aladdins of the lamp are transforming with almost incredible speed old-time premises into more commodious wants more fitted this twentieth century.

The coming of the electric tramway system is much to answer for in this direction. The road-ways, which, until a few years ago, were considered ample for the modest horse-drawn vehicles, are no longer thought worthy of the more speedy and up-to-date electrically driven conveyances. Hence, houses have been demolished to permit of roadways being widened. Unmindful of anything of the historical import, the housebreakers have carried on their work of abolition ruthlessly, and old Wandsworth is fast becoming unrecognisable.

"Love-lane" is now but a memory, and so for that matter is Slough-lane and Pickpocket-lane. Indeed, as regards the two latter, it is doubtful whether they find a place even in the memory of the average Wandsworthian. As I write these notes my glance wanders through the office window over a forest of bricks and mortar, where previously existed fields of weaving corn, undulating pasture land and orchards. It requires an imaginative mind more pronounced than that of the scribe who pens these notes, to eliminate the hundreds of houses which now exist in the area under discussion and to picture in their stead the beautiful country which formerly existed. It takes one back to the days when Wandsworth was still a country village, nestling on the banks of the one-time pellucid Wandle. Pickpocket-lane and Slough-lane are things of the past; today, York-road and Fairfield-street are the names in vogue. It was the mention of the alterations which are now taking place at the corner of Fairfield-street which induced Mr. Cecil T. Davies, the Wandsworth Librarian, to divulge the following interesting facts concerning the locality:

On turning to Rocque's map of 1741, the street is called Slough-lane, and joined Pickpocket-lane, now better known as York-road, and the district is termed Bridgefield, an older name than the more modern appellation Fairfield. Where the bridge was which acted as sponsor has not yet been traced, the toll of it is mentioned in Doomsday, and in many documents subsequent to date (1087).

In a deed September 24, 1490, by which John Warner, alias John Lincoln, yeoman, grants to Richard Parker, gentlemen Katherine his wife, and John Parker, citizen and writer of the Court letters of the city of London various properties in Wandsworth, appear the following entries:

"And another half-acre lies towards the Slowe on the South and the said road called Millewey on the North, and the land of the said Archbishop (of York) on the East, and the land of the said Thomas Wattys on the West."

"And another half-acre called to the Hedeland lies between the Slowe on the West are 'down' there called the 'Litell Down' on the South."

The 'Litell Down' was open and on the top of Tonsley-hill.

Not far from the 'Litell Down' stood Tonsley Hall, the residence of Sir Richard Blackmore, the physician and poet who died in 1729. The son of an attorney at Corsham, Wilts, he came to Westminster School, thence to Oxford, where he took his B.A. in 1674. For some reason dire necessity making a schoolmaster.

By nature form'd, by want a pedant made
Blackmore at first set up the whipping trade.
Next quack commenced; then, fierce with pride he swore
That toothache, grapes and corns should be no more;
In vain his drugs as well as birch he tried,
His boys grew blockheads, and his patients died."

He took the degree of M.D. in Padua, and became a F. R. C. P. of London in 1687, and eight years after he sought relaxation in publishing "Prince Arthur, an heroic poem, in X Books." Written, so the author informs us, "In such scant moments of leisure as his professional duties afforded." William III appointed him as a physician in ordinary, and on March 18, 1696-7, his Majesty knighted him in his bedchamber at Kensington Palace. He held the same appointment in Queen Anne's court, and that gave a semblance of reality to the tradition that, while Queen Anne resided at the Manor House he occupied Tonsley Hall, so as to be in immediate attendance on her Majesty. 'Tis true he lived at Tonsley Hall, but Princess Anne (afterwards Queen Anne) was never in residence at the Manor House.

He was a prolific writer on medical and divine subjects as well as a versifier. He died on October 9th, 1729, and was buried at Boxted, Essex, where he spent the last seven years of his life. A monument was created to his memory, and to that of his wife, Dame Mary, in that church.

The name of the house is still kept green in the-street names - Tonsley-hill, Tonsley-place, and Tonsley-road. The house was pulled down in about the middle of the nineteenth century, but so far no view of it has been found; in the latter called the same century the stump of an old cedar tree which stood in the grounds still showed a few feeble signs of life.

In Corris's map of Wandsworth, 1787, Slough-lane is shown as far as the corner of present York-road, then practically all open and cultivated land (laid out in strips), stretching to Swanden-shot and Windmill Shot to the waterside. The triangular piece now bounded by Fairfield-street, York-road and Warple-way, was the scene of the Wandsworth fair, which was held there for many years, to discontinued in the last century. It is said that the winning post from the races held in that field is on the gable end of the farrier's forge, in Garret-lane. On June 6, 1838, Dr. Longstaff, sen., enters in his diary, "Maria (Mrs Longstaff) went to Wandsworth Fair."

In 1836, Lord Spence sold a quantity of his freehold land in Wandsworth. In the third portion sold on July 8, we notice:-
"Lot 36, pasture west of Hill Shot and fronting Slough-lane. 1a. 0r. 0p.
"Lot 37, a ditto, adjoining North on Lot 36, also with frontages to Slough-lane. 0a. 3r. 26p.
"Lot 38, a ditto, situate north of Lot 37, with frontage to Slough-lane. 0a. 0r. 14p.
All held by Mr. Phillips. The above the three small lots on East hill, was sold to Mr. William King, of New court, Broad-street, London for £1275. These lots are now covered by North Terrace.

At the public library of West-hill may be seen two views of Wandsworth, shoing the Slough-lane and the district around. Then open fields, well cultivated - the corn is shown so high that only a man's head and shoulders may be seen - are now all covered with bricks and mortar.

In the year ending March, 1880, the South London tramways introduced a Bill to authorise the construction (inter alia) a line from Plough-lane along York-road, by the Wandsworth Station, along North-street to the foot of East-hill and along Red Lion-street, to High-street, Wandsworth. The last portion was not sanctioned. In 1882, it is reported that this line is under construction, and was finished opened in that year, and was in continuous use till the new line in Tooting was opened in 1907.

The old horse car, with its uncovered top, makes many long for similar ones to be used on the electric lines during the bright summer weather. The covered tops are oft exceedingly useful, though when the windows are open they are very draughty, and many a cold may be traced to them. It would be agreeable to many if a car with open top were to run from time to time.

When the Richmond railway was opened the Wandsworth Station was situate where the line passed over North-street, at the station was afterwards removed to the York-road Bridge.

Beyond the line lie the works of the Wandsworth and Putney Gas Company, but a description of them and of the site cannot be given now, nor an account of the Baptist Chapel, which stood opposite the Gas Works.

Dr. Longstaff, in December 1837, moved to Bridgefield House which he took for a short time furnished. It was opposite the old Fairfield. A view of it is at the West-hill library. He was there about six months, when he moved to Tooting. Mr. W. R. Selwood has told me that a Mr. Sadd had a cottage with a shop window front on the site of Mr. Stamper's coach factory, in which were displayed drawings of a flying machine, which he believes was the first on record.

In accordance with instructions from the London County Council the name North-street was abolished, and Fairfield-street substituted in August 1906.

R. H. H.


Wandsworth in 1786


Wandsworth in 1862

Note: If you look carefully below Tonsley Place you can see Myrtle Villas (that's us) and the four blocks below are North terrace which is where Fairfield Drive is now. See also "Our house is not Georgian". I cannot help but wonder if the White House shown on the 1862 map isn't, in fact, Tonsley Hall in its final years - that would fit with the above article and the census of 1851.

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