Wandsworth Historical Society

The archaeology and history of the Borough of Wandsworth

Battersea : Balham : Putney : Tooting : Wandsworth Town

Reports on our past lectures in 2022.

Click on the links below for previous years.

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29 April 2022

'Wandsworth Common's history revealed by maps'

Philip Boys

Philip's talk began with a brief history of the maps covering the common - from John Rocque's of 1746, showing the area as a much larger tract of land, right up to the Wandsworth Borough Council's map of 2006 revealing how diminished and scattered the remnants are.

He then looked at the northern corner and the lake known as the 'Black Sea', the area which in the nineteenth century was leased from the Spencers by the Wilson family of Price's Candles, who had landscaped it as can be seen in a delightful map of 1868 in which almost every tree is included. After looking at various other features of this area, including the gravel pits either side of Trinity Road, Heathfield Cottages and what is now Neal's Nursery, Phillip then concentrated on a large 1640 map of 'Allfarthing Manor and Wandelsworth Common' now in Surrey Archives. The manor was given to Endymion Porter by his great friend Charles I and the mapmaker was Peter Gardiner, who chose to orient it east-west, with the Thames on the left-hand side, probably because the manor lands adapted best to this format. But causing Philip considerable confusion to begin with.

This map shows in great detail the shipping on the Thames and the Wandle, the various fields and what each produced: willow, wood, grazing land and so on. There are very few houses as this was a mostly agricultural landscape. In order to understand how the map relates to present-day features, Philip began to draw in all the modern roads, trees and areas of water. One striking feature is the fact that the dog-leg bend in Garratt Lane was already a prominent feature in 1640. Several of the present-day lanes - Burntwood, Garratt, Allfarthing, Nightingale - can be seen and, most delightfully, Garratt Green has survived almost intact. Philip also pointed out that the wedge-shaped bits of land all around the common today were more than likely the drove roads (or drift lanes) where cattle and other livestock were driven up to the commonlands to graze.

Finally, Philip looked at a small tract of land of approximately 40 acres marked 'Allfarthin Peece' on the easternmost part of the map, the only bit of Allfarthing Manor on the common. Ultimately this was acquired by Magdalen College, and the eastern part of it is what is now known as the 'Toast Rack' development that so noticeably impinges on the western side of Wandsworth Common.

Celia Jones

25 March 2022 (Online via Zoom)

'Roman Road Infrastructure South of the Borough Channel: an alternative model'

Becky Haslam of AOC Archaeology

Rebecca Haslam discussed a new interpretation of the Roman roads and their junctions in the area around Borough High Street following the results of excavations over the last 10 years or so. This included some suggested changes in alignments and a 'new' road, one focussed on a ford at Westminster.

Y-junctions, the meeting of 3 roads, have their own Roman goddess, Trivia, a goddess of boundaries, city walls, doorways and of crossroads too. Swan Street, one of the sites in this area in Southwark produced many wells backfilled with special deposits including flagons and dead dogs. It is a very unusual and odd site.

Rebecca suggests that the 'new' road was a dry land route towards the ford and Westminster, constructed before the bridge was built, perhaps just for the conquest period. This fascinating talk suggests that there should be more investigation and analysis where 3 Roman roads meet and of their immediate surroundings.

Pamela Greenwood

25 February 2022 (Online via Zoom)

'Making a living from the River Thames'

James Wisdom, Chair of Brentford and Chiswick Local History Society

Using a series of engrossing contemporary paintings, engravings and photographs James showed us a River Thames teeming with activity: fishing boats, pleasure boats, boats carrying ballast, boats ferrying horses and carts from one side to the other, even a few hardy swimmers, all of it a very far cry from the almost empty space it has become in recent times. James divided his talk into sections covering a number of topics. He began by looking at the movement of cargoes and goods, first by means of man- horse- and sail-power, but yielding to steam and diesel in more recent times. Specific craft developed to carry goods - the large western barges that were capable of transporting heavy loads (and passengers), as well as the smaller trows. Many craft were powered with large sweeps or often just poled up and down stream - craft had in some cases to be 'pushed' upstream once above Richmond. Others, lighters and spritsail barges for example, often had sails that could be shipped to pass under bridges. Moving on to the passenger trade, we were shown Rowlandson's The Miseries of London, in which foulmouthed watermen accost prospective passengers at Wapping Stairs. The better-off waterside dwellers had their own stairs and, presumably, more biddable watermen. Upstream, tilt-boat passengers might have the luxury of a canvas covering to shelter under. There were recognised ferry points along the river too, few of which remain - these could be used by pedestrians, riders and even carts and horses carrying goods. They were profitable ventures and in time came to be relinquished in favour of toll-bridges, such as those at Putney and Kew. Eventually all of these were taken over by the Metropolitan Board of Works and became the toll-free crossings of today.

Fishing was always a trade - and the double-ended peterboats, with a well admidships to keep the catch fresh, plied their trade into the nineteenth century, although they are now, sadly, extinct. There was some seine-netting, but passing boats and seiners did not mix well. Eels were in abundance and eel-bobbing was one of many trades passed down through families. The transport of ballast in spoon-dredgers was a huge business, balancing the movement of essential coals upriver. More recently, sewage and waste has been moved down the Thames on barges, although it is no longer discharged at sea.

All this activity necessitated boat-building, and the Thames was lined with yards turning out the specialist craft required for the various trades and for the growing leisure market. Thorneycroft was the big employer until it moved to larger premises in Southampton and many others have also gone, including the enormously successful post-war yard of Jack Holt on Putney Embankment. Holt designed numerous light plywood dinghies for hobby sailors and his building remains as a reminder. This topic lead on to the consideration of leisure on the Thames over the years, which ranged from the Boat Race, innumerable rowing clubs, regattas (all ideal opportunities for gambling), steamboat day trips upriver to the delights of Kew and Hampton Court, even floating musical events.

Winding up with a fine William Wiley depiction of the river, James stressed that we should be in no doubt that, despite the picturesque images we had seen, the lot of a Thames worker was grindingly hard year in year out.

Celia Jones

28 January 2022 (Online via Zoom)

12th Nick Fuentes Memorial Lecture

'Crossing the Divide: Roman activity in Putney and Fulham'

Alexis Haslam, Community Archaeologist at Fulham Palace

Alexis Haslam gave a fresh overview of archaeological work on the Roman settlements of Putney and Fulham, using evidence gathered mainly from excavations in the last 50 years by Wandsworth Historical Society and by those working in Fulham. He compared the life of the two settlements on opposite banks of the Thames and demonstrated that the river was not a barrier in the past.

Roman Putney, a life-long passion of Nick Fuentes, dates from the mid-1st century AD into the early 5th century, whereas evidence, so far, from Fulham, particularly from excavations in Fulham Palace's Walled Garden, dates from the 3rd century onwards. Both settlements flourished in the late 4th century.

Alexis discussed what the finds from both settlements might mean and how the two might relate, examined evidence for the local Roman road systems, and raised the possibility of continuity of settlement in the area into the early medieval period.

An altogether stimulating and thought-provoking talk which will lead to further research.

Pamela Greenwood


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