St Mary, Battersea

Above: View today of the church of St Mary, seen across the Thames from Chelsea, with the large Montevetro development on the northern (left) side.

This is an unusual location for a parish church. It stands in its churchyard whose western boundary is beside the Thames. In fact, it is not unusual to see boats moored on the river right beside the railings of the churchyard.

The origins of the church are believed to go back to AD 800. The church was first mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) when the manor and rectory were held by the Convent of St Peter, Westminster – now better known as Westminster Abbey.

Above: The west front of the church today.

A new church, replacing the medieval one, was built 1775-76, designed in Dutch style by Joseph Dixon. The elegant west front of the church faces almost immediately onto the River Thames. It is certainly the only church in London to be sited so close to the river and, in England, there are few churches that are situated in a similar position.

On 18 August 1782 the English poet, painter, and printmaker William Blake was married at the church. His bride was Catherine Sophia Boucher, the daughter of a Battersea Market gardener. Blake was a writer and artist who is regarded as an important figure of the Romantic Age. His writings have influenced countless other writers and artists through the ages. He was both a major poet and an original thinker. Blake was born in the Soho area of London and claimed to have had his first vision – a tree full of angels – at the age of 10. He studied engraving and grew to love Gothic art, which he incorporated into his own unique works.

A few years later, the English botanist and entomologist William Curtis died in 1799 at Brompton where he was then living. There is a stained glass window in the church of St Mary, Battersea, in tribute to him. It is claimed that many of his botanical specimens were collected by Curtis from the churchyard in Battersea. Curtis was born in Alton, in Hampshire. From 1771-77 Curtis was a demonstrator of plants and ‘Praefectus Horti’ at the Chelsea Physic Garden, which is on the north bank of the Thames. He established his own London Botanic Garden at Lambeth in 1779, moving to Brompton in 1789.

Another visitor to the church was Joseph Mallord William Turner. He went there not to attend the church services but because the western side of the church faced onto the Thames. It is claimed that Turner painted scenes of the river from the vestry window.

Until the 1990s, the church was surrounded by small industrial warehouses and a few factories. It gave the area a feeling that little had changed since Victorian times. It came as quite a shock to locals and visitors alike to see the site to the north of the church cleared before the erection of a vast asymmetrical block of apartments called Montevetro. The development in glass and steel, contrasting sharply with the 18th century church, was completed in 1999 and has certainly changed the landscape of this otherwise ‘sleepy’ corner of Battersea.


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Battersea Overview

Above: The original village of Battersea stood beside the Thames. The village church remains today, now surrounded by modern buildings.

Battersea was once a tiny fishing village on the banks of the Thames. Its name goes back to AD 693 when it was first mentioned as ‘Batriceseg’. It also appears in the Domesday Book (1086) as ‘Patricesy’. The ‘ea’ in today’s spelling derives from ‘ey’ in Anglo-Saxon and refers to an island which, in this case, was probably a small piece of land within the marshes that was surrounded by water. The name, therefore, means ‘Beaduric’s or Patrick’s Island’ but the name ‘Beaduric’ is more likely.

Above: Outline map (in red) of the London Borough of Wandsworth. The additional boundary (in yellow) shows the boundary between the pre-1965 Metropolitan Boroughs of Battersea (right) and Wandsworth (left). On the map, the GREEN dot shows the ancient village of Battersea – known to be in existence from Saxon times. The YELLOW dot shows Nine Elms which came into being after 1086.

Battersea was an early manor and, at the time of the Domesday Book (1086), it was held by the monks at what we now call Westminster Abbey. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536) the manor passed to the Crown and in 1627 the manor was granted to Sir Oliver St John and continued to be owned by the St John family for at least two centuries.

From at least AD 800 there was a parish church, called St Mary. The church was unusually mentioned in the Domesday Book. Today’s 18th century church stands on the same site within a churchyard which borders the bank of the River Thames.

The name of the original village of Battersea was used for the Metropolitan Borough of Battersea, which was one of 28 Metropolitan Boroughs formed in 1900. It continued until 1 April 1965 when Battersea and Wandsworth were combined to form the larger London Borough of Wandsworth. The London Borough is still the administrative unit today.

Most of the land covered by the Metropolitan Borough was just open farmland for centuries, being used for market gardens. Large amounts of produce were grown which was sold at London’s markets and fed those who lived in the Westminster and City of London areas.

There are no other early villages within Battersea to be mentioned but, at the top NE ‘corner’, the land was called Nine Elms because of nine elm trees which stood on the land. That land is now immediately west of Vauxhall.

Village life around Battersea gradually gave way to streets lined with houses. Much of the land was used by factories and by Victorian times a large proportion of the land was built up. To provide a large green space, Battersea Park was laid out beside the Thames. Work began in 1846 and it was opened by Queen Victoria in 1858. It is one of London’s treasured open spaces.

It will be seen from the map that Clapham Common is shared by both the London Borough of Wandsworth and the London Borough of Lambeth.


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Wandsworth, London Borough of

Above:  Outline map of Inner London. The black lines show the original 28 Metropolitan Boroughs formed in 1900. The two green boroughs were combined in 1965 to form the London Borough of Wandsworth.

Until 1900 the name ‘London’ meant only one thing – the City of London. It is shown on the above outline map in pink and still exists today. Around the City were three Counties – Middlesex was on the north side of the Thames. The County of Surrey and the County of Kent formed the south bank of the Thames. The area outlined on the above map consisted of many villages and parishes which were becoming larger and larger as time went by. Most of the land was gradually being covered by roads and houses. In 1899 a new ‘County’ was formed by taking parts of Middlesex, Surrey and Kent and forming Metropolitan London, administered by the London County Council (LCC). There were 28 Metropolitan Boroughs and, in addition, the City of London remained a separate administration. That newly formed land is shown by all the black boundaries on the map at the top.

In 1965 it was decided to combine the 28 Metropolitan Boroughs into 12 larger London Boroughs. Another 20 London Boroughs were created around the outside of Metropolitan area and the larger area was called Greater London. The area shown above is now called Inner London. The Metropolitan Borough of Battersea and the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth were combined to form the green area on the above map. The new name chosen for it was the London Borough of Wandsworth – Wandsworth having been the larger of the two original metropolitan administrations.


Comment 04 – London Borough of Wandsworth

Today we start a new series. Within the six-year course on the history of London, the three terms of the academic year are devoted to different aspects of London. During the Autumn term we look at a part of the City of London. In the Spring term we consider part of the City of Westminster. The summer term is spent looking at the other 11 London Boroughs. For the next few weeks we shall be taking a look at the places of interest within the London Borough of Wandsworth which is the most westerly of the Inner London boroughs on the south side of the Thames. As can be seen, this London Borough also has a long riverfront with the Thames.


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City from Crystal Palace

At this time of year, the trees in London start to become green once more and the cycle of nature tells us that ‘summer is just around the corner’. Much of London is completely flat. Its cross-section has been likened to a saucer – with hills rising around north and north-west of London and also around south and south-east London. Crystal Palace is an area of London on some of its highest ground. If you pick the right spot, you are treated to some of the grandest views of the tall buildings in Central London – and all for free!

There are several spots that have spectacular views and each one is a little different from the other – both in the angle of view of Central London and of the buildings that are visible. The view above was taken in early April from a steep hill at Crystal Palace called Woodland Road. The particular feature of this view is that it is almost exactly due south of London Bridge which means that its position would be almost in the centre of the view in the picture.

Woodland Road falls sharply from Westow Hill and it is from that T-junction that the view was taken. Along the bottom of the picture are the flat roofs of some low-rise flats and then there is a wooded part formed by the many trees in Dulwich, including Dulwich Park. Above the trees are lines of red-roofed flats, many of which are on and around Dog Kennel Hill.

If you have forgotten the view that you would have seen in the 1970s, it is worth pointing out that one of the only high-rise buildings is the one that is today just to the left of the Shard of Glass. The bulky block is Guy’s Tower which was then the only modern building on the large site of Guy’s Hospital. Since that time the City of London has developed into the large collection of offices that you can see in the picture. One building that the public particularly liked when it went up – and they continue to admire it today – is the ‘Gherkin’. Its nickname arose for obvious reasons, its proper name is 30 St Mary Axe. One of the most hated modern buildings – which happens to be the latest to be added to this view is the ‘Walkie-Talkie’. Its proper name is 20 Fenchurch Street and it is the tall one with the white sides and white top.

Tallest of them all is the Shard of Glass, designed by Renzo Piano and extending 1,017 feet into the sky. Apart from the Shard and Guy’s Tower (which stand in Southwark on the south side of the Thames), all the other tall buildings stand inside the boundary of the City of London.

For subscription members, there is a large pdf version of this image which can be downloaded. It has labels on all the main buildings explaining their names. A link will be sent out by email to all members.


Comment 03 – Updates

In these days of ‘fake news’ on some news Websites, there is also plenty of ‘fake history’ on other history Websites – blogging and otherwise. There are plenty of authors who search for their chosen topic on the Internet and, after finding a couple of suitable write-ups, they copy down the information, edit the text, add a few extra comments of their own then, lo and behold, a new blog has been written. The only problem is that the author, not being a historian, has no idea whether what has been copied is correct or just made up. Sadly such people make little effort to carry out rigorous research to verify what they have created.

Some of us have spent many years researching the information in our blogs. In my case, I am happy to say that my blogs should be free of any hint of fake history.

Since starting these ‘Know Your London’ blogs, most of them have been left unchanged. In just a few cases updates have been made for reasons that are usually (1) a blog has been found to contain factual errors which have come to light since it was written (2) a blog was complete at the time but additional information has been found which has been added or (3) an additional picture has been added to the blog.

Shown below is a list of blogs that have been updated since they were first put on-line. They are listed in the order in which they first appeared. Those of you who are keeping copies of the blogs might like to make updates accordingly.

22 May 2015 – Lyncombe, 1 Crescent Wood Road
The blog was correct apart from details about the life of Lily Payling – which were in error. The blog has been updated under its original date and title.

20 July 2015 – Melon Road, Peckham
A new image related to the original site was found on 30 Nov 2015. The blog has been updated under its original date and title. (The second blog of 30 Nov 2015, announcing the corrections, has been deleted).

12 Aug 2015 – Charlton Lane Crossing
Some of the text was corrected and updated on 25 April 2017 under its original date and title.

21 Aug 2015 – Jamaica Road Tram
Additional information was added to the original article. The blog has been updated under its original date and title. (The second blog of 29 Aug 2015, announcing the corrections, has been deleted).

20 June 2016 – Hay Barges on the Thames
Details about the sepia picture were later found to be incorrect. The blog has been updated under its original date and title. (The second blog of 28 June 2016, announcing the corrections, has been deleted).

13 March 2017 – Paddington Station
Additional text was added on 6 April 2017. The blog has been updated under its original date and title.

29 March 2017 – St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington
The history of building the hospital was later found to be incorrectly described. It has been rewritten and an additional picture has been added. The blog has been updated under its original date and title.

31 March 2017 – Deptford Creek Pedestrian Swing Bridge
A second image was added on 9 April 2017. The blog has been updated under its original date and title.


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Plough Pub, Clapham

“A Moment in Time”

The picture shows a busy scene at Clapham, with the shops in the foreground and trees on Clapham Common in the background. The main road is at the point where Clapham High Street changes its name and runs further south as Clapham Common South Side. The smaller road (to the right of the clock tower) is the start of a turning called The Pavement. The Clock Tower beside Clapham High Street, seen in this picture, was unveiled at a ceremony on 19th July 1906. It had been given to the Parish of Clapham by Alexander Glegg, Mayor of Wandsworth (which included Clapham from 1900 until 1965). The tower was dismantled and rebuilt when the new booking hall was built below it for the underground. The tower has the address of 5 The Pavement, Clapham Common.

Knowing about the clock tower helps with dating the picture which obviously has to be post-1906. It would be a brave man who followed in the footsteps of the gentleman in the foreground (towards the left). Crossing that busy road is now a dangerous business and few people attempt to wander across it, as he is doing. It can also be seen that he is walking across tram tracks, set into the road. The tracks contain a third centre rail which means that they were electric by the time of this picture. This means that the picture was taken at an interesting time in public transport.

Notice that, behind the clock tower, there is no entrance building for Clapham Common Underground Station – as there is today. The underground station was opened in 1926. Not only do we see the evidence for electric trams but the number 4 bus facing the camera is motorised. The other two vehicles are horse-buses. One is moving away from the camera and the other one has stopped beside the pavement, in front of the Plough public house.

As was common at such times, the photo was being taken using a large camera mounted on a tripod. Exposures were long – due to very slow photographic film or plates – and therefore the cameraman chose his moment when there was a minimum of movement that might show as a blur on the final photograph. Taking such pictures was always rather a performance and we can see that bystanders on the right are looking at what the cameraman was doing.

A few of the buildings in the picture, with shops at pavement level, are still in existence today. The Plough continued in use until the 1920s when it was rebuilt on the same site in mock-Tudor style, with heavy timbers. The pub – still with the same name – closed around the 1980s. Since 2014 the building has been in use as a privately run pub called ‘The Stane Street Syndicate’. It should be explained that Clapham High Street follows the ancient line of the Roman road which the Saxons called ‘Stane Street’.

The view, which was reproduced as a postcard, is seen to be bursting with life. It also contains three interesting public-service vehicles from a bygone era. In one sense the view has hardly changed at all but, if you go there today, take care when you cross the road. It seldom has as little traffic as it was when the picture was taken.


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George Inn, Borough High Street

The 23 April is a saint’s day in England – not just a saint’s day but St George’s Day – celebrating the patron saint of England. The pub name of ‘St George’ or ‘St George and the Dragon’ were once even more common than they are today. The name has been shortened over the centuries to ‘George’ – as in the case of the George Inn, Borough High Street.

There are also pub names of the ‘Royal George’. They are, in the main, derived from the 100-gun Royal Naval ship, built at Woolwich Dockyard and launched on 18 February 1756. At the time it was the largest warship in the world. She saw service during the Seven Years’ War including being Admiral Sir Edward Hawke’s flagship at the Battle of Quiberon Bay and later taking part in the Battle of Cape St Vincent. The end for the ship was less heroic because she sank undergoing routine maintenance work whilst anchored off Portsmouth on 29 August 1782, with the loss of more than 800 lives, one of the most serious maritime losses to occur in British waters.

The name of ‘Royal George’ has nothing to do with St George and the Dragon. The last monarch of the House of Stuart was Queen Anne. On her death on 1 May 1707, her reign was followed by four kings called George – George I, George II, George III and George IV – members of the House of Hanover. It was a new name for British monarchs and many pubs were named ‘George’ – after the kings and the warship.

Returning to the picture, the pub sign is one of three that hang outside the George Inn. One sign hangs above the pavement of Borough High Street but there are two more, including this one, which hangs on the wall of the pub in the large courtyard. The design of the sign is unusual in that is in the form of a Victorian stained-glass church window.

Here’s wishing you a Happy St George’s Day!


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Clapham Common Underground Station

Above: Looking along the island platforms from the original (western) end.

The underground station only has two platforms which form an island between the northbound and southbound tracks. There were three stations which had this layout. One was Angel Underground Station, at Islington, but due to the large number of passengers that used it, the island platform was considered too dangerous in rush-hours and a new layout was incorporated into a redesigned station, with two separate platforms. That means that Clapham Common is now only one of two underground stations to have this layout – the other being the ‘next stop’, called Clapham North.

The original entrance to the station, from street level, is the western end, via a domed building dating from the 1920s. A later entrance was added to the eastern end of the island platform via a modern curved steel and glass pavilion. As a platform layout, the station is becoming a ‘museum piece’ of underground railway design.

The station is on the Northern Line which runs south from Edgware and divides into two parts at Camden. One route passes through Tottenham Court Road and Waterloo with the other route running via Bank and London Bridge. The two lines come together again at Kennington and end at Morden. The history of that line is complex. Parts of it were the first of the underground lines to be constructed by boring deep below the surface of London. It was also the first to be operated by electric traction. The part of the line relating to Clapham Common was opened in 1926. Clapham Common Station was one of seven new stations, all designed by Charles Holden. This had been decided by Frank Pick, who was Assistant Joint Manager of what was then the Underground Electric Railways Company of London Limited (UERL).

Above: Looking at the platforms from the top of the stairs leading from the original (western) entrance.

For anyone reading this article who lives in London, it is worth taking a look at the cramped platform conditions. With Angel Station already pronounced unsafe for public use at peak times and converted to a new layout, one gets the feeling that it will not be long before the two remaining examples of island platforms are consigned to the scrap-heap of history. At least you will have had early warning if it comes to pass.


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