Wandsworth Common: from the manor to the people

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Wandsworth Common itself

The Earls Spencer started a process of major land sales in the 1830’s and 1840’s that included the Wimbldeon Park Estate. Equally in Wandsworth Earl Spencer and his agents were aware that the land was of significantly increasingly value as London rapidly developed: possibly seeking to emulate The Grosvenor and Bedford Estates‘ considerable successes.

This lead to attempts at a progressive enclosure of the common lands which did not go down very well with the locals who depended on it for gazing their cattle and other agricultural functions. So the locals objected organised by John Buckmaster [c1820-1908]. This included the formation of a committee and the printing and distribution of plenty of flyers and pamphlets!

Pamphlet Preservation of Wandsworth Common
An 1870 pamphlet campaigning for the preservation of Wandsworth Common. Wandsworth Heritage Services

The reality was somewhat more nuanced and complex and some enclosures had been going on before 1800. The appalling state of the common both as a rubbish tip and gravel extraction operation may have been more of a tipping point for Buckmaster’s intervention as in reality the farming operations such as grazing had been reducing for some time. However, the space was being used increasingly for recreational activity as grazing and agriculture was increasingly taking place further and further out of town.

In reality the greatest areas actually lost to Wandsworth  Common were from the railway construction, these acquisitions were by various Acts of Parliament with some compulsorily purchased. It was certainly the case that The Crystal Palace Railway took far more land than it needed as it then promptly sold the excess of to form Chivalry Road and its environs.

Buckmaster, successfully organised demonstrations and meetings, as well as a letter writing campaign and a petition to Earl Spencer. These fell on deaf ears.

There was a debate in The House of Commons, on 21st February 1865, reported in Hansard. Various bills were read and withdrawn and we can see by the very fact that it took the best part of six years to pass the bill that it was a tortured process.Wandsworth Common Bill – Select Committee – Friday 21st April 1871 – Morning Session OCR.

A committee was formed on or about 14th March 1870 to raise £4,000 from local people to augment the £1,000 that had been put up by H. W. Peek MP.

wandsworth comms basement excavations
Committee is formed in April 1870 to raise money to challenge Earl Spencer in the courts. Wandsworth Heritage Service.

Funding was raised quite rapidly by subscription. If you click on the image below it opens into a PDF of various surviving subscription lists.

Wandsworth Common extension
Subscribers to the £5,000 fund – April 1870. Wandsworth Heritage Service.

Earl Spencer could probably sensed that this was an increasingly serious issue that needed to be resolved without a tussle that he probably had little appetite for.

Then an amicable resolution was arrived at by the Committee and Earl Spencer. It is dated 22nd October presumably 1870.

Development of Wandsworth Common resolved
An amicable resolution is arrived at between Earl Spencer and the Joint Committee of Battersea and Wandsworth. Wandsworth Historical Service

Wandsworth Board of Works were not delighted by this turn of events preferring to keep things simple and to maintain the existing duopoly with the Metropolitan Board of Works.

Wandsworth Board of Works is not keen on the Conservators and would rather Wandsworth Common was managed by MBW. Minutes of Proceeding of the Metropolitan Board Works 1871-1 10th February Page 265.

Meanwhile this was not going down well with the unelected Metropolitan Board of Works who were getting increasingly controlling, of all things London, and were keen to put a spanner in the works and get control of the Common for themselves.

Wandsworth Common objections
MBW try and scupper the 1871 Wandsworth Common bill and take control of Wandsworth Common for themselves Minutes of Proceeding of the Metropolitan Board Works 1871-1 17th February Page 314.

By 10th March 1871 the bill was advancing through the legislative process and shortly after MBW were discussing the serious matter of making ‘drawing with crayons on the pavement’ a penal offence under an unspecified Buildings Bill – attention turned to scuppering the 1871 Wandsworth Common Bill.

Proceeding of Metropolitan Board of Works 1871-1 10th March page 400.
Proceeding of Metropolitan Board of Works 1871-1 10th March page 400.

In a series of hearings a select committee heard evidence from various witnesses in two session on 21st April 1871. Morning session here opens as PDF in a new window. Afternoon session here opens as PDF in a new window.

A bill, as amended in committee, was then sent to Parliament.

So, the 1871 Wimbldeon and Wandsworth Commons Act was passed by Parliament which transferred the Common from Earl Spencer to public ownership. This was in return for Earl Spencer receiving permission to enclose and develop the lands know as The Black Sea – which was a large gravel pit, which formed a natural lake, where Spencer Park is now.

The House of Commons demanded an account from The Metropolitan Board of Works as to how much money they had spent opposing the bill. It is  signed by the Clerk of House of Commons one Erskine May who gives his name to what is often known as the bible of parliamentary procedure.

Erskine May demands an account from MBW
An account of the monies expended by MBW opposing the Wandsworth Common Bill is demanded. Minutes of Proceeding of Metropolitan Board of Works 1871-1 8th March Page 368.

The history and antics of John Buckmaster need to be taken with a fair pinch of salt. A few of the stores may even be true. One, often recounted tale, is that Buckmaster got a witness drunk and then got him to sign a statement concerning his grazing activities on Wandsworth Common. Under cross examination the witness admitted to this – more than somewhat derailing the resultant court case.

Under the 1817 Act the common was then managed by a group of eight conservators for the next 16 years beginning the process of managing the common lands for general public benefit.

An interesting map survives in the Wandsworth Heritage derive archives entitled ‘Wandsworth Common As It Was And Is’ – possibly 1889 – ascribed, by some authorities, to John Buckmaster although this appears a little tenuous. The map has a descriptive key against each numbered area. If you click on the map it opens up into a PDF with the key and annotations.

The map actually is has been very heavily ‘updated’ with houses and roads simply drawn on top of trees etc. For instance, look at The Toast Rack area.

The printed caption on the map states that the map is “Photographed from the (6-inch) Ordnance survey taken ins 1866-70 and corrected down to date.” This is simply not correct as simple visual inspection of the full set of OS Maps held online in The National Library of Scotland shows that this is a marked up version of the 6″ Middlesex Sheet XXI Surveyed: 1865 to 1866, Published: 1873

However, the Wandsworth Common ‘As It Was And Is’ map crosses an OS sheet boundary which means that this was likely taken from a special printing of the map. Or that the whole thing has been traced and reproduced by a draughtsman manually. The general impression of the original is that it is not a printed OS map.

There is a copy of the map that accompanied the 1871 Wandsworth Common Bill [described in the bill, paragraph 20, as ‘a duplicate whereof is intended to be deposited with the Clerk of the Peace for the County of Surrey’] held at the London Metropolitan Archives [SC/PM/MB/01/27/019] special collections.

Wandsworth Common basements
Wandsworth Common As It Was And Is – possibly 1889 – ascribed, by some authorities, to John Buckmaster although this appears tenuous. The map it is more likely taken from the 1865-66 6″ OS published in 1873. Wandsworth Heritage Service.

The conservators were replaced by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1887 under The Metropolitan Board of Works (Various Powers) Bill 1887.

The Metropolitan Board of Works was ultimately succeeded by London County Council [LCC] in 1889.

The London County Council [LCC] was succeeded by the Greater London Council [GLC] in 1965 and the common passed into GLC’s care.

Finally, on the demise of the GLC, ownership of Wandsworth Common passed to Wandsworth Borough Council 1986. The Commons Act 2006 protects and safeguards public spaces, such as Wandsworth Common, for future generations.

The Development of Wandsworth Common and its environs based on maps

Looking at later maps such as the very first of the large scale Ordnance Survey maps, which are known as “the original series” we can see a little more detail. however, it is very clear that there is nothing more than a market gardening enterprise at the location. But the area that is now The Toast Rack is now enclosed from Wandsworth Common.

1869 – 1874 Ordnance Survey Map – showing mainly fields or market gardening.

1868 – 1881 – Country Series for Surrey

1868 – 1881 – Country Series Ordnance Survey Map for Surrey – showing a very agricultural scene but with Wandsworth Prison now built. Alma Terrace predates all of the developments in the area.

The 1896 – Ordnance Survey Map, showing the development of the Toast Rack part way through.

1896 Ordnance Survey Map – showing that Trinity road is not yet continuous, particularly where it crosses the common land and Wandsworth Prison has been built but is now not shown on the map. It is not unusual for prisons and military facilities to be redacted from maps of the era. Henderson Road has not been laid out, Nicosia Road has its final name.


The Building of Trinity Road

Perhaps, surprisingly, Trinity road was not formed in one go even though it took the route of the historical footpath or cart track from Wandsworth to Tooting. Access to the Toast Rack was actually from Magdalen Road in this early period.

So access to The Toast Rack was, initially, via Magdalen Road.

This may well have been, at least in part due to the ruckus that ensued, over previous attempts to enclose and develop the common lands by Earl Spencer that were not totally out of mind or memory and lead to the 1871 Wimbldeon and Wandsworth Commons Act which transferred the Common from Earl Spencer to public ownership.

However, this should also be seen not just in the context of the development of the lands of the Magdalen Estate but also in the rapid pace of development of Tooting making a better and more direct road link with Wandsworth and Wandsworth bridge essential.

Read on The planning by l’Anson and building of The Toast Rack with Mr Kynock