Inventory Site Record

Bowling Greens and Gates of the former Watney's Brewery

Bowling Greens and Gates of the former Watney's Brewery (Richmond)

Brief Description

The two adjoining Bowling Greens of the former Watney’s Brewery were part of the sports facilities provided by Watneys Social Club for their workers from 1919. The Social Club closed in 2000 and the Greens became unused from then. The significance of the site lies in the mid-C17th gate piers and gates of Old Cromwell House at the entrance to the greens, which had been moved from their original site in 1961/2. In 2010 planning permission was granted for a 76-home development on the old bowling green site, due for completion summer 2011.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
Watney's Bowling Greens; gates associated with Old Cromwell House
Site location:
Williams Lane, Mortlake
SW14 7ET
Type of site:
Private Open Land
Open to public?
Opening times:
site under construction
Special conditions:
Public transport:
Rail: Mortlake

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/01/2011
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.;

Full Site Description

The gate piers and gates which now stand at the entrance to the former Watney’s Brewery Bowling Greens were originally the gates to Old Cromwell House. There may have been a house on this site since 1485, but the architecture of Old Cromwell House suggests that it was built, or an older house remodelled, in the mid C17th. Old Cromwell House fronted onto what was then called Cromwell Lane.

Despite the name, there is no direct evidence that Old Cromwell House had any connection with either Thomas Cromwell (Henry VIII’s Chancellor) or Oliver Cromwell, although both men had substantial connections with Mortlake. Those writers who associate it with Thomas Cromwell may be confusing it with the manor house of the Manor of Mortlake, which stood nearer the riverbank (also now under the brewery site). The Manor was held by Sir Thomas Cecil in Elizabeth’s reign and in 1534 Henry VIII gave it to Thomas Cromwell, who rebuilt the manor house in 1536: ‘Mortlake, where Cromwell’s servants are in health and his building ariseth fair’. Cromwell amassed considerable property in Surrey, but in 1540 sold Mortlake back to the king, although his local connection continued: his sister married Morgan Williams, brewer of Mortlake.

From 1689 to 1721 Old Cromwell House was the residence of Edward Colston (1636-1721). The Colston family moved to London from Bristol during the Civil War. In 1654 Edward was apprenticed to the London Mercers’ Company and by 1672 he was a Member of the Company and was trading with Spain, Portugal, Italy and Africa; much of his wealth came from trading in slaves. From 1700 he was a major philanthropic benefactor in Bristol although he continued to live at Mortlake and died there, unmarried and childless, in 1721. His body was carried in a hearse from London to Bristol for his funeral.

By 1792 the house was referred to as ‘An Ancient house’ and was the residence of the Misses Aynscombe. It seems to have been associated with that family for some time: Cromwell Lane was renamed Aynscombe Lane and there was an Ayn(e)scombe Passage nearby. Writing in 1906 about his childhood in Mortlake, local historian J E Anderson recalls a letter to his father from the late Capt. Keene Fitzgerald (the Fitzgeralds were prominent Mortlake landowners). He (Fitzgerald) recalled that when he was a boy he went with his father to visit the Misses Aynscombe at (old) Cromwell House. There was a panel on the staircase and on a spring being touched, it flew open and revealed secret stairs. He also remembered seeing a stone slab in the garden being removed and observing steps going down to a passage which went as far as the towing path and thought that although the ground had been altered, the passage must still exist. But by the mid-C19th the house may have been in decline; in 1854 a writ was issued by creditors of one John Jukes ’late of Cromwell House, Mortlake but now of the Queen’s Prison, Southwark’.

In 1857 Old Cromwell House was demolished by James Wigan, a brewer, although Capt Fitzgerald, in the letter quoted above, wrote that he ’very much regretted the agreement with Mr James Wigan that the house be demolished’, which may suggest his family was the freeholder. On his marriage in 1858 Wigan built the new Cromwell House on Thames Bank between Leyden House and Riverside House, a ‘handsome red brick mansion in the Tudor style’. The new house is shown on the OS 5ins extended series (surveyed 1891), which also shows clearly what had happened. The new, large, house and its 50ft conservatory and a boat house fashionably face the river. A new entrance on Cromwell Lane with a Lodge on one side and stables on the other is shown. At the site of the old house, the original gate piers are still shown while that corner of the 5 ½ acre site is now devoted to ‘range of sheds & cowhouse, greenhouse and propagating house’ listed in the 1867 rateable value assessment for the property.

James Wigan was a partner of Charles John Phillips and in the 1850s they bought the long-established brewery at Mortlake. Over the next ten years they bought up adjoining property and the brewery prospered with government contracts (such as India Pale Ale for the British Army in India). But Thames Street ran through the middle of the brewery site, hampering expansion, so in 1865 Phillips acquired the freehold of all the adjoining land on the riverside for £2,350 and then closed off all smaller rights of way to the towpath, enabling the brewery to expand along the river frontage. The partnership ended in 1877 and Wigan bought the Hawke’s Brewery at Bishops Stortford though he continued to live at Cromwell House with his wife and 13 children. Phillips’s sons sold out to Watney in 1889 but stayed on as Directors until 1898 when Watney gained full ownership. James Wigan died at Cromwell House in 1902 at the age of 71 but the house remained in the family until 1919. It seems that it was then purchased by Watney’s as in December 1928 the house magazine ‘Hand in Hand’ records that the Directors ‘have had the beautiful grounds of Cromwell House put in order. The gardens will be open at Easter to members of Watney’s Sports Club and friends.’ In 1947, uninhabitable from bomb damage, it was demolished and the whole area east of what is now Williams Lane was incorporated into the Brewery site then owned by Watney’s (later Watney, Coombe & Reid, then Scottish & Newcastle Breweries and leased by Anheuser Busch since 1995). Brewery buildings now cover the site.

Remarkably, the original gates of Old Cromwell House remained in situ until 1961. In that year the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) surveyed the site and reported on the importance of, and the current state of, the gates and piers: ‘being in a private road, not well lit, or supervised, and much used by children, the gates and stone piers were being seriously damaged’ and asked for sympathetic consideration for their preservation. As it appeared ‘almost impossible to protect the gates from further damage in their original position’, Watney’s decided to take them down and re-erect them about 100 yards to the west as the entrance to the Bowling Greens at the corner of Williams Lane ‘with the addition of a plaque to indicate what had been done’. Although this was not a practice SPAB would normally encourage they accepted this solution in order to preserve ‘the age and good craftsmanship’ of the gates.

The two adjoining Bowling Greens of the former Watney’s Brewery were part of the sports facilities provided by Watney’s for their workers; the Social Club was founded in 1919 for the employees of the Mortlake Brewery, the Stag Brewery, Pimlico, tenants and suppliers. To the south of Williams Lane there was also a sports field whose old name was Cromwell House Field. In 1929 the existing bowling green disappeared under the new arterial road leading to the still-to-be-built Chiswick bridge. The position of the replacement greens is shown in the OS of 1940 and the entrance was on the elbow of Williams Lane. Watney’s groundsmen prepared high quality greens which regularly hosted the English Bowling Championships and international matches. The Social Club closed in 2000, so it is assumed that the greens have been unused since the late 1990s.

By the date of this report (February 2009) the bowling greens were overgrown and derelict, and the gate piers and gates were still standing at the entrance, intact and relatively undamaged, although neglected. In autumn 2008 Scottish & Newcastle plc sold the site for development to Ashill Developments and in 2010 Richmond Council granted planning permission for a 76-home development on the old bowling greens and tennis courts. Developed in association with Shanly Homes, Ashill Developments' scheme, which is to be called Trinity Mews, will comprise 17 3- and 4-bedroom townhouses and 59 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments within a landscaped environment. The draft scheme shows the listed gates retained.

Sources consulted:

LPGT Volunteer Research by Sally Miller, 2009: Anderson, J E, History of the Parish of Mortlake, 1886; Anderson J E, Mortlake Memories, 1906; Barnes & Mortlake History Society, Vanished Houses of Barnes, Mortlake & East Sheen, 1964; Barnes & Mortlake History Society, Barnes & Mortlake As It Was, 1977; Barnes & Mortlake History Society, Glimpses of Old Barnes & Mortlake, 1984; Brown, Maisie, Barnes & Mortlake Past, with East Sheen, Barnes & Mortlake History Society, Historical Publications Ltd.,1997; Bingham, Frederick, Barnes, Mortlake & Sheen: Urban District Council Official Guide, 1921; Gill, R C, A Dictionary of Local Celebrities, Barnes & Mortlake History Society, 1980; Hailstone, Charles, Alleyways of Mortlake & East Sheen, Barnes & Mortlake History Society, 1983; Hedgecock, Murray, ‘Hand in Hand’, Watney’s Mortlake World, Barnes & Mortlake History Society, 2007; Janes, Hurford, The Red Barrel - A History of Watney Mann, John Murray, London, 1963; Lysons, Daniel, The Environs of London Volume 1, 1792; Patrick Loobey, 'Barnes, Mortlake & Sheen - Britain in Old Photographs', Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1995; Malden, H E (ed), Victoria County History, Volume 4, Surrey, 1912; Morgan, Kenneth, ‘Colston, Edward (1636-1721) merchant & philanthropist’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept. 2004; online edn., Jan 2008; SPAB Committee Report, 1961-2; The Times, 18 August 1965, p. 5. 'We could not refuse homes plan' by Helen Clarke, Richmond & Kingston Informer, 9 April 2010, p3.

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
Ashill Developments
Site management:
1928 (bowling greens laid out in present position)
Listed structures:
LBII: C17th Gatepiers and Gates
On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:


Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
In Conservation Area:
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:

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