The Bowling Green Gates at Mortlake

SALLY MILLER describes the survival of a 17th-century gate

The Gate of Old Cromwell House, Mortlake, 2009 (Sally Miller)
The Gate of Old Cromwell House, Mortlake, 2009
(Sally Miller)

The riverside at Mortlake is set to change with the closure of the Stag Brewery (formerly Watney's). Just west of the brewery site, and due to be redeveloped, is a piece of land formerly laid out as two bowling greens. These were part of Watney's Sports & Social Club, which closed in 2000, leaving the greens to become derelict. At the site entrance on Williams Lane stands a fine mid-17th century gate with piers (Grade II listed): they were the entrance gates of old Cromwell House.

Architectural gate piers were a feature of mid-17th century houses and occur in the work of John Webb (Gunnersbury House), Roger Pratt (Coleshill), Peter Mills (Thorpe Hall) and Hugh May for Sir Stephen Fox at Chiswick. The Mortlake gate piers are more modest in scale, surmounted by plain finials with seated niches on the outside and the gate has fine ironwork over. A painting c.1790 shows the gates opening into the courtyard of a compact villa with hipped roof, casement windows still on the top floor and a Venetian window over the entrance, which confirm a mid-17th century date.

From 1689 to 1721 Cromwell House was the residence of Edward Colston (1636-1721) of the London Mercers' Company, a major philanthropic benefactor in Bristol, his home town. In 1792 Lysons described it as an "Ancient house" and it was then associated with the Aynscombe family: Cromwell Lane was renamed Aynscombe Lane.

House Rebuilt

Old Cromwell House c. 1855 (reproduced by kind permission of Lambeth archives)
Old Cromwell House c. 1855
(reproduced by kind permission of Lambeth archives)

By the mid-19th century the house was in decline and probably in multi-occupancy: a view shows it in disrepair, with plaster fallen off the walls and broken windows, but the gates are clearly intact. James Wigan (1829-1902), co-owner at that time of the Mortlake Brewery, purchased the old house, demolished it and on his marriage in 1858 built a new Cromwell House on Thames Bank, a red-brick Tudor-style mansion. A new gate with lodge and stables was built but, at the site of the old house, the original gate remained in place.

By the 1920s the house was in the hands of the Watney company (who had gained full ownership of the brewery in 1898). In December 1928 the house magazine 'Hand in Hand' noted that the Directors had had the beautiful gardens of Cromwell House put in order and they would be opened to Sports Club members. In 1947, uninhabitable from bomb damage, the house was demolished and the whole area east of what is now Williams lane was incorporated into the brewery site.

Remarkably, the gates of Old Cromwell House remained in situ until 1961. In that year SPAB surveyed them, recording their good craftsmanship and current state. In a private road, not well lit and used as a playground by children, they were being seriously damaged. It appeared impossible to protect them in their original position, so Watney's took them down and re- erected them about 100 yards to the west as the entrance to the Bowling Greens at the corner of Williams Lane, where, intact but neglected, they still stand.