Figge’s Marsh

Figge’s Marsh, Merton

A triangular open space and its neighbouring housing at the fork of London Road and Streatham Road, in north Mitcham – with several dubious stories attached

Hidden London: path on Figges Marsh by Bill Boaden

Figge’s Marsh is nine miles from Lon­don, accord­ing to its 18th-cen­tu­ry mile­stone, which is rumoured to have been removed dur­ing the Sec­ond World War in case Ger­man planes land­ed here and realised how close they were to the city cen­tre.

Despite sug­ges­tions by some authors that the name is a cor­rup­tion of Pigs’ Marsh, it was in fact named after William Figge, who from the 1350s held Pound Farm in sergeantry to the king. Present-day Car­ling­ford Gar­dens and Man­ship Road mark the bound­ary between Figge’s prop­er­ty and that of the medieval Big­gin Farm estate. Swain’s Farm also stood near here and mar­ket gar­den­ing was car­ried on.

Daniel Defoe is said to have lived in a house on Lon­don Road near Figge’s Marsh around 1688, when he was serv­ing as a Pres­by­ter­ian min­is­ter in Toot­ing, but this whole sto­ry is some­what sus­pect. Nev­er­the­less, roads to the north-west of the local­i­ty have been giv­en names con­nect­ed with Defoe’s sto­ry of Robin­son Cru­soe.

In Defoe’s time, a plague pit is said to have been dug on the marsh but there is scant evi­dence for this (as is the case with many alleged Lon­don plague pits).

Anoth­er tall tale of Figge’s Marsh revolves around sight­ings of the semi-leg­endary Spring Heeled Jack† on Streatham Lane (now Road) in the 1870s, more than two decades after his hey­day. A local posse was got up in a vain attempt to catch him.

Hidden London: Public footpath across Figge's Marsh by Bill-Boaden

The Lit­tle Graveney Stream ran along­side Figge’s Marsh until the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, when it was cul­vert­ed and cov­ered over. The only signs of it now are a few man­hole cov­ers on the pave­ments of roads such as Car­ling­ford Gar­dens.

As part of Mitcham Com­mon, Figges Marsh was used for graz­ing until 1923 when the urban dis­trict coun­cil assumed con­trol. Most of the land was left as mead­ow until mechan­i­cal mow­ing became pos­si­ble in the 1940s. Around this time, the sur­round­ing area began to be built up with hous­ing, much of which was erect­ed by the coun­cil.

The ward of Figge’s Marsh has a rel­a­tive­ly high pro­por­tion of house­holds rent­ing from the coun­cil. It has sig­nif­i­cant black and Asian minori­ties. Figge’s Marsh is one of Merton’s pri­or­i­ty wards for action on areas of social con­cern, such as the wel­fare of lone par­ent fam­i­lies.

Postcode area: Mitcham, CR4
Population: 11,240 (2011 census)

 

† Spring Heeled Jack was an almost certainly imaginary character who was sighted in various locations throughout Victorian England. In contrast with the axe murderers of modern urban myths, Jack behaved primarily as a prankster, scaring travellers by appearing out of nowhere and then bounding away in great leaps, often sideways. He was also said to possess devilish physical characteristics and to wear skin-tight apparel. Most of the early sightings were in the London area, including an appearance on Clapham Common in October 1837. As stories of his deeds spread, eye-witness reports increased, with embellishments such as the molestation of terrified servant girls, sometimes with added fire-breathing. Spring-Heeled Jack was spotted in an arc of London suburbs in 1838, from Ealing in the west, through all the major districts of inner south London, to Bow and Limehouse in the east. After a few months of mass hysteria London sightings abated but similar stories were reported from the provinces and in November 1845 he was held responsible for the death of a young prostitute in the Folly Ditch, in Bermondsey.
 
* The pictures of the path on Figge’s Marsh and Zippos Circus on Figge’s Marsh on this page are both adapted from original photographs, copyright Bill Boaden, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.