Walking in Wandsworth

With John Goodier

This walk explores some of the parks in the borough of Wandsworth. we start in Battersea with some small local parks and then move on to larger and better-known sites.

Our start is at York Gardens, created in 1972 when the surrounding social housing was built, replacing run-down properties. One fragment of the old landscape is St Peter's Church. The oldest part has a painted mural Battersea Puzzle (1981) by Christine Thomas on it. This is likely to go soon when the church is rebuilt. York Gardens has a central seating area amongst rose beds and some play equipment. It is also home to the library and community centre and the children's centre, which both open directly into the park. It is also home to Thames Waters Falconbrook Pumping Station. This marks the last stretch of one of London's lost rivers.

Fred Wells Gardens is a hidden gem in Orville Road off Battersea High Street. The site in the past has been a greyhound track, and was a railway station from 1863 to 1940, when it was bombed. The site eventually became small works yards. In 1982, it was made into a park in memory of Fred Wells, a local Councillor. An adjacent area in Orville Road had been prefab housing on a site of bombed houses and in the nineties this area was added to the park. The park has several mounds giving an interesting layout and there is good shrub and tree planting. There is an area of more recent formal planting along Orville Road and the park has a tennis court and two play areas. The one for older children exploits one of the mounds. The general impression is of greenness.

Our next stop is Christchurch Gardens. This is an old garden converted from a churchyard by the MPGA and the local vestry in 1885. The church was destroyed by bombing in the war and the current church is by Thomas Ford, with some of the murals by Hans Fiebarch, dates from 1959. Ford and Fiebarch collaborated on several churches in south London after the war. The garden has a pergola and shelter which is a civilian war memorial. The bronze plaque was stolen and has been replaced by a granite one provided by the Co-op Funeral Service.

Latchmere Gardens is the next park. It was laid out in in 1906 as part of the Latchmere estate. The site was originally intended for private housing but was laid out as social housing in 1903. It is thus one of the earliest public housing schemes laid out by a local authority. Most of the properties are half-houses. The park is now in three parts with a play area in the centre and a more formal area to the east with a small pergola. The park was the original home of the Brown Dog statue, and early anti-vivisection protest. The statue is now in Battersea Park.

The next two parks were created after the Second World War on bombed land. Falcon Park is reached by a narrow road that goes under the railway. The park is almost entirely surrounded by railways and must have been a noisy place to live. It is grass with perimeter trees and is marked out for football. It is well used by dog walkers. The arches on the railway have been converted into workshops. The blank back wall has a double X pattern in red brick that adds a bit of interest. At either end of the park the railway arches are open so you can enter Shillington Park. This is more interesting with paths and trees in the northern part and a playing field and trim gym equipment to the south. You can also see the fronts of the rail arch workshops.

The next of open spaces are south of Clapham Junction. Follow Este Road through the social housing and go down Falcon Road, which covers the Falcon Brook. The fine Falcon pub on the corner (a rebuild of 1887) gave its name to the brook back in the 18th century. The pub has a long continuous bar that winds its way through various designated areas. Much of the 19th century decoration remains. Continue down St John's Street, past Arding and Hobbs Department Store to Battersea Rise and turn west.

St Mark's Church, by William White (1874) is a grand red brick landmark. It has some shrubs in the church garden. Adjacent to the church are two detached parts of Wandsworth Common. The one immediately by the church is set out with trees and has an undulating surface. It has a small play area for young children. The other section is flat and is most likely used for informal games. Opposite the church is St Mary's Cemetery, laid out in 1860 by Charles Lee. It has a pair of tiny gothic chapels. The gates have religious motifs and a relatively new lodge. The best and most elaborate of the graves are near the chapels. The graves are notable for the rhyming obituaries, the work of local poets. The cemetery is fairly well looked after and has some fine avenues of trees.

This brings us to main part of Wandsworth Common. This is not as wild as Wormwood Scrubs, nor as formally converted to park as Kennington. However, both roads and railways dissect it, which gives it a very urban feel. Wandsworth Common Station, originally of 1856 was moved to the present site in 1859 on a southern area of the common. It is in red brick with stone details. The main entrance opens directly on to the common and this adds to the urban-rural switching of the whole site. For those doing this as an actual walk, I would suggest walking down by the railway on the east side where the common is given over to playing fields, and then crossing on the road bridge and following the railway north past the ponds, which are an important wildlife habitat, and then heading out to Windmill Road. There are many feature of interest on the Common and I suggest you explore some of them. There is a café by the playing fields at the northeast where there is some of the small amount of formal planting on the common. The best gardens are around the bowling green where there is a fine collection of shrubs and bedding plants. The toilets beyond the tennis courts have what looks like the original 30s lettering. The grand gothic building is the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building, an asylum for female orphans of military officers, built in 1859 by Rhodes Hawkins. In 1987, it was converted to offices, studios, flats, a drama school and a restaurant/bar. It is worth having a wander round. Windmill Road has the remains of a smock mill built in the 1830s by the London and South Western Railway to pump water out of the cutting. Further north is the memorial to those killed or affected by the Clapham Junction Rail Disaster of 12 December 1988. It is an accident that changed, forever, the practices of electrical and mechanical engineering. The memorial is a large piece of slate with a simple statement on one side, and the helping hand symbol on the other. When I visited, the area was being smartened-up for the attendance of Her Majesty the Queen for the 25th anniversary commemoration. Whilst in this part of the common, it is worth mentioning Spencer Park. This is a private development of large villas from around 1870, plus some later buildings. It contains a private park in the middle with access available only to residents, but looking well wooded in an aerial photograph. There are some more detached parts of the Common in the area. There is a small area just opposite the memorial which is a flat area with trees. On the other side of Spencer Park are two sections of the Common mainly given over to grass but with some scrubby areas and trees. These two sections are divided by Trinity Road, a major part of the local transport infrastructure, which reinforces the urban-rural nature of the Common.

One reason for venturing onto these areas of the Common is that it brings us to Huguenot Burial Ground on West Hill. This was opened in 1687 and closed in 1854. It is now managed as a small park. Many of the graves still remain and there is a plaque erected in 1911 that recalls the origin of the site. The park was given new railings in 2003 but the style is of an earlier period. Ironically, the burial ground now finds itself next to a Catholic Church of 1887 onwards. At the other side is Book House of 1888, originally the Wandsworth District Board of Works. Having made this detour we can return to the main route.

Hidden behind Wandsworth Prison, of 1849 by D R Hall, is Groom Crescent, which has a large area of grass.

Amanda Egan adds: "This is private and owned by the prison, but was given to the residents in the 1890s by the then Governor for cricket and growing vegetables. In the 1970s and 1980s prison football teams used it weekly and it was also used to train prison dogs, however no longer. Residents still have use of it as a private addition for a peppercorn fee from the MoJ, who no longer maintain it. The residents committees prefer to keep the estate as private, as this reduces crime, and certainly do not want anyone thinking the green is a park or council land. There is signage stating 'private estate' at each entrance from Heathfield Road. Probably the most interesting feature is the wall opposite the new flats being built, where Ronnie Biggs jumped into the laundry van; prior to this there were post-war prefabs here."

Wandsworth Cemetery in Magdalen Road is the next open space. The eastern part was the first section opened in 1878 but it now extends almost to Garratt Lane, and there is a pedestrian entrance in the far corner so it is possible to walk through the whole site. The gates are fine and the small chapels are by H W Young. They date from 1899 and were added when the cemetery was enlarged. The older and more elaborate monuments are at the east end of the cemetery. The cemetery has eight war memorials, many commemorating servicemen from the Dominions. Back in the 1980s, the section of the cemetery by the railway was covered in soil to provide reusable space. This now is getting full.

The next open space can be found by walking down Penwith Road and Acuba Road to reach the southernmost point of King George's Park. Originally laid out in the 1920s by Percy Crane, it was opened by King George and later renamed after him. The southern parts are mainly sports fields with some trees and small wooded areas. The path is called Fosters, named after a local soldier awarded the Victoria Cross in 1917. There is a new skateboard and BMX trail by Kimber Road. The park now begins to get more formal. The path becomes a brick path and descends in to an area of pergolas, and flower beds. As we approach the main entrance, there is a pond with a lot of interesting planting. It was created from one of the many parts of the River Wandle, which is the water course that we have glimpsed as we walked through the park. Even in the formal area, there are sports facilities. The park has facilities for a wide variety of sports and ages. Although King George's Park does not appear to be a King George Memorial Playing Field, it well fulfils the function of one. About where we entered the formal part of the park there is a little alley that leads to the Wandle and is followable to Garratt Lane. If we were to follow, this we could go further north to the Old Burial Ground, opened in 1800 as an overflow from the parish church. The last burial was in the thirties. There is a modern entrance with seats and sculptural wall features. If, however we leave the park by the main gate, we should make for Armoury Way and go to the east side of the bridge over the Wandle. The Wandle can now be followed down to the Thames. There is a lot of development going on. A new stretch of Thames Path has been opened upstream through Riverside Quarter. There is planting of the usual modern development style, and it is a well laid out space. The path leads to Wandsworth Park. There are avenues of trees along the Thames. To the south of these, the grass area is given over to sport. The cricket square is being restored. Cricket pitches and practice nets seem to be getting rarer in public parks in London. Putt in the Park provides a café for parents and a crazy golf course for children. The best way to leave the park is go out the upstream gate and over the footbridge on Putney Railway Bridge.

Wandsworth map

Wandsworth Park
Wandsworth Park