Wandsworth Historical Society

The archaeology and history of the Borough of Wandsworth

Battersea : Balham : Putney : Tooting : Wandsworth Town

A brief summary of the constituents of the Borough of Wandsworth

Du Cane CourtDu Cane Court in Balham

Battersea Power StationBattersea Power Station before redevelopment

Leather BottleThe Leather Bottle pub, site in eighteenth-century Earlsfield of the ignominious Mayor of Garratt elections

Putney BridgePutney Bridge

Kings Head pubThe Kings Head Pub in Roehampton

Frame FoodThe former Frame Food factory in Standen Road, Southfields

Tooting BroadwayEdward VII at Tooting Broadway

Wandsworth Town HallWandsworth Town Hall


The origins of the name Balham can be traced back to a mention as a point on the boundaries of the Battersea-Wandsworth in the year 957. Until the 18th Century Balham was a small village accompanied by mansions and villas belonging to wealthy merchants. A ribbon of development stretched from Clapham down Balham Hill from the 1870s. St Marys Church dates from 1808 although it only became an independent parish in 1855. The area changed rapidly once the railway arrived in the 1850s with large houses continuing south along the high road.

The 1890s saw the development of the Heaver estate and Bedford Hill although Tooting Bec common had been bought by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1879 to preserve it from spreading development. Trams arrived in 1903 and the Northern Line extension from Clapham Common to Morden opened in 1926. In the 1930's the building of the Art Deco Du Cane Court marked a high point in genteel serviced accommodation.


Battersea was once a small village by the Thames, with its population centred around Battersea Square. The soil was particularly good for market gardens which flourished there until the 19th Century. Manufacturing came with a rush and the railways were to occupy much of the former market gardens. Nine Elms was chosen for the terminus of the London and South Western Railway quickly expanding with a depot and workshops. Gasholders and factories towered above the streets and many noxious chemical trades moved to the area. In the hundred years from 1801 the population rose from 3,000 to nearly 169,000. In these conditions Battersea became a fertile ground for union activists, such as John Burns.

It was in Battersea that the opportunity was taken in 1858 to create a new part for South London which was to be home to the frivolous side of the 1951 Festival of Britain. Battersea also plays host to the most famous dogs' home in the world.

Since World War Two, the industrial concerns have left and been replaced by residential developments along the Thames waterfront, and the Battersea Power Station redevelopment is finally happening after many years of dereliction.

From 'Battersea Past' by Patrick Loobey - a former WHS Chairman.


It is from a long-demolished 1860s mansion called 'Earlsfield' just south of Allfarthing Lane that the suburb gets its name. In those days the whole area was an uninhabited stretch of open country, apart from the hamlet of Garratt to the south, famous in the eighteenth century for the bizarre political burlesque of the Election of the Mayor of Garratt which took place near the Leather Bottle.

Earlsfield finally started growing in the 1880s. The railway came in 1884, and in 1885 a vast workhouse was established on Swaffield Road. By 1900 developers had covered practically the whole area north of the station with terraced housing. In the years just after the First World War, Wandsworth Borough Council created the Magdalen Park Estate between Swaby Road and Openview. Nowadays, Earlsfield is a commuter suburb with little industry, though it contains a stretch of attractive restaurants and bars near the station.


Putney was occupied in prehistoric and Roman times, and there was a Roman settlement in the Star and Garter area. The medieval village was almost entirely in and around the present High Street, and was sustained both by farming and ferrying. Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's chief minister, was born in Putney in about 1485, probably in Brewhouse Lane.

From about 1500 large houses for London merchants and gentlemen multiplied, at first in the High Street area and later on Putney Hill and by the Heath. The last in the High Street went in 1887. In 1647, in the Putney Debates, officers and men of the New Model Army under Fairfax and Cromwell discussed who should have the vote. A wooden bridge was built over the Thames in 1729, the first between London and Kingston; the current bridge replaced it in 1884-6. The university boat race adopted its present course in 1845. In 1846 the railway was opened.

The key decade in Putney's suburban development was the 1880s, which saw the creation of 27 new streets, many of the High Street shops, the new bridge, the District Railway and the Embankment. Subsequent developments have included mansion flats (in the 1930s), Council estates (especially the Ashburton Estate in the 1950s), and new flats east of Putney Hill, but most of Victorian and Edwardian Putney survives.


Roehampton was a village within Putney parish, with its own open field system and its own local officials. Early Anglo-Saxon buildings have recently been excavated, but the settlement probably dates back much further. The first detailed survey, from 1617, places the village in Roehampton Lane, in the Downshire House area. There was a medieval hunting park including what is now the Dover House Estate.

In the 1620s David Papillon built two mansions west of Roehampton Lane (the predecessors of Grove House and Elm Grove), and a large new park was created there for the Earl of Portland. A new village began to develop in what is now Roehampton High Street. The next transformation was the building of numerous villas in 1750-80, for nobles, bankers and others. Surviving villas include Parkstead, Mount Clare and Grove House. What remained of the old village in Roehampton Lane disappeared.

The present village is largely Victorian, including Holy Trinity Church (1898) and the parish school. Since the 1950s Roehampton has become much more intensively built up, with the Alton East and West Estates in the 1950s and recent developments around Roehampton House and at Roehampton University.


The development of Southfields dates from 1889, when the railway came to the area. Prior to that moment, Southfields was mainly open fields with few inhabitants, though one notable resident was the novelist, George Eliot, who lived on Wimbledon Park Road for a few unhappy months from 1859.

But the railway had an enormous impact, and within twenty years much of the surrounding area was covered with houses. Light industry provided two distinctive buildings still visible today, the eye-catching Frame Food factory in Standen Road in 1904, and the cream-tiled OK Sauce factory on Merton Road in 1928. In October 1926 London's first mosque was inaugurated in Gressenhall Road.

The intense demand for housing after the Second World War resulted in the construction of large municipal housing schemes in the area surrounding Beaumont Road. Southfields is entirely residential nowadays, with a lively centre of shops and restaurants around Replingham Road.


Described in 1876 as 'a region of villas and nursery gardens, very pleasant' (James Thorne, Handbook to the Environs of London), Tooting has ancient origins. The long straight high road follows the line of the Roman Stane Street and remnants of a mosaic floor, possibly from a Roman villa, were found nearby. The name is thought to have Saxon origins, meaning 'the dwelling of the sons of Totas'. It appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as 'Totinges'. By then it consisted of two distinct areas: Tooting Bec (Upper Tooting) and Tooting Graveney (Lower Tooting). The manor of Upper Tooting was assigned to the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Bec in Normandy (hence Tooting Bec) while the manor of Lower Tooting, belonging to Chertsey Abbey, became the property of the De Gravenell family (hence Tooting Graveney).

Elizabeth I visited Tooting in 1600 and some of the oak trees on Dr Johnson Avenue are said to have been planted in her honour. Samuel Johnson himself was a frequent visitor to the Thrale family home at Streatham Park in Upper Tooting. A Dissenters' chapel on Tooting High Street is reputed to have been founded in 1688 by Daniel Defoe, a leading Dissident and author of Robinson Crusoe; this has never been verified but the chapel bears his name.

Tooting remained a small Surrey village until the 1880s when its transformation into a London suburb began. In 1900, it became part of the London Borough of Wandsworth. During the next 20 years, many fine villas (Park Hill, Lynwood House and Elmwood House among them) were demolished to make way for streets of terraced housing. Between 1901-11, the London County Council built a pioneering new cottage estate for working-men and their families: the Totterdown Fields Estate, now a conservation area. In 1926, Tooting's transport links were improved by the opening of two underground stations on the extended Northern Line (then the City & South London Railway).

buildings in Tooting today are St George's Hospital (part of the University of London), the former Granada Cinema on Mitcham Road (the first cinema to receive a Grade 1 listing) and Tooting Bec Lido, the biggest freshwater lido in the UK.


Wandsworth's history has been shaped by its position on the Wandle and the Thames and on a major east-west road (probably of Roman origin). The Wandle provided power for mills, which were numerous by 1086. At first they were usually flour mills, but from the seventeenth century new uses were found - iron working, copper working, gunpowder making, leather working and oil pressing. The Wandle's abundant clean water was used by the dyeing, bleaching and calico printing industries, and other industries were brewing, malting, distilling, chemicals and hatmaking. The Ram Brewery existed by 1576 and closed in 2006.

From the 1680s there was an important community of French Protestants, or Huguenots. The Surrey Iron Railway, from Wandsworth to Croydon, opened in 1802, run by the first railway company in the world, but closed in 1846. A station on the Richmond Railway opened near the current Wandsworth Town site in the same year. Wandsworth Prison opened in 1851.

Suburban development accelerated in the 1860s and 1870s, and spread southwards. The twentieth century contributed King George's Park, Council estates, the one-way system, the Wandsworth Shopping Centre and the first of the riverside flats.