Above: Bing map showing the northern end of the Wandle (where it joins the Thames). The dark line of the Wandle can be seen. It is crossed by Wandle Bridge (which carries Wandsworth High Street) and another bridge (carrying Armoury Way). The large shopping precinct is south of Wandle Bridge and is built on top of the Wandle.
Several books, pamphlets and also Webpages have been written on the subject of the ‘Lost Rivers of London’. The River Thames flows through what is now Inner London and it was one of the reasons why the Romans established their township that they called Londinium. Flowing into the Thames, in Inner London, are many smaller tributaries – both on the north bank and on the south. We often refer to them as ‘lost rivers’ because, in the main, many of them now flow under the ground, often through sewer pipes. To the casual observer, they are, therefore ‘lost rivers’ because their course is not obvious – as any stream in the countryside is usually obvious.
The River Wandle is often included in the list of tributaries of the Thames (which it is) but it is also often also included in the list of ‘lost rivers’ (which it certainly is not). It is true that, for short lengths, the river is buried below ground, especially near busy high streets but, in the main, the Wandle is open to the sky. It makes an interesting and rather long walk to follow its course – from its two sources all the way to the Thames.
There are two sources for the Wandle – one at Carshalton Ponds (in the London Borough of Sutton) and the other at Waddon Ponds (in the London Borough of Croydon). Two streams flow towards each other and meet a short distance north of Carshalton. The Wandle then flows in a generally northerly direction through Morden (in the London Borough of Merton) before entering the London Borough of Wandsworth and flowing through what was originally the old village of Wandsworth. From that point, it widens and flows about half a mile further north to meet the Thames. Of the London Boroughs just mentioned, only Wandsworth is within Inner London. The other three (Sutton, Croydon and Merton) are Outer London Boroughs.
The first mention of the name we know as Wandsworth was as ‘Wendleswura’ in AD 693. The name is taken to mean ‘Wendel’s worth’– ‘worth’ being Old English for an open space, so a literal translation could be given as ‘Wendel’s Farm’. Of course, who ‘Wendel’ was we shall never know. It will be seen, therefore, that both the place name ‘Wandsworth’ and the river name ‘Wandle’ both derive from the ‘mystery man’ called ‘Wendel’.
The River Wandle falls 38 metres (126 feet) along its length of about 19 kilometres (12 miles) – making it a very fast flowing water course. Over the centuries this made it suitable to power watermills. It is known to have done this since Roman times. A wide range of different industries used the water power in their manufacture. In its heydey, there were no less than 56 water-mills being driven by the Wandle justifying its title as the ‘hardest working river for its size in the world’.
Whilst industries still exist along the river today, they sadly no longer use its power. Today, the river is a place of leisure with nature reserves and pleasant parkland that makes a walk along its length a very enjoyable one. Although stretches of the Wandle pass through busy high streets and built-up areas, it is surprising how much open space is to be seen along its banks.
This is very encouraging because, in the 1970s and 1980s, much of the river was in a very poor state and had been described as a dumping ground for waste. Some of the industries nearby discharged their chemical waste into the river, causing the water to turn various shades of blue and purple. In a relatively short space of time, more rigorous regulations have been enforced and the water is back to its original state. In fact, the water is probably better now than it has been for something like two or three centuries.
After flowing past Merton the Wandle flows near the western boundary of the London Borough of Wandsworth – running beside Wandle Park (near Collier’s Wood Station) and then through Wandle Meadow Nature Park (a short distance west of St George’s Hospital). The Wandle flows along part of the western boundary of the London Borough of Wandsworth as is passes through Garratt Park. It flows just west of Earlsfield Station and continues north via the long but not very wide King George’s Park, flowing between the park and Garratt Lane. The river flows under the large shopping precinct whose main entrance is at the northern end – beside Wandsworth High Street. The old Wandle Bridge – once a country bridge in the original village of Wandsworth – is now part of a busy one-way traffic-laden road forming part of the A3. North of the road bridge the Wandle flows past the old Ram Brewery, a part of the river that has been closed to pedestrians for over a century. Access for walking beside the Wandle at this point will become possible, once the new development is completed.
Wandsworth High Street is one-way for westbound traffic. Armoury Way is the one-way street for eastbound traffic. North of Armoury Way, public access is now possible in the form of a side street called ‘The Causeway’. A railway line via Wandsworth Town Station then crosses the Wandle and a footpath linking Smugglers Way to Enterprise Way acts as a good vantage point to see the northern end of the river and also glimpse the point where it meets the Thames. Access on foot, to the mouth of the Wandle, is not yet possible. There is a footpath which lies just west of the Wandle. It joins up with a relatively recent riverside footpath called Nickols Walk.
Comment 06 – 400th Blog
Started on the 19 September 2014 and now publishing three blogs each week, ‘Know Your London’ has reached its 400th edition. The author wishes to thank all those who have taken the trouble to get in touch on the blogs – either adding a comment or contributng further information. They have enriched each blog and have often added information that is not generally available elsewhere. Thanks also to those who have added a ‘like’. Such actions help to asses popular opinion of a particular blog.