Wandsworth, Wandsworth

A prominent riverside commercial centre, flanked by Putney to its west and Battersea and Clapham to the east

Hidden London: Wandsworth Ram Quarter CGI

There is evi­dence that a Sax­on named Wen­del had estab­lished a fish­ing set­tle­ment here by 693. All Saints’ church was in exis­tence by 1234. Farm­ing and mar­ket gar­den­ing con­sti­tut­ed the prin­ci­pal inland occu­pa­tions until the late Mid­dle Ages. By the 16th cen­tu­ry the first brew­eries were oper­at­ing in Wandsworth and the land­lord of the Ram inn was brew­ing his own beer by 1581.

Like many vil­lages close to Lon­don, Wandsworth attract­ed wealthy City gen­tle­men seek­ing a spot to build a coun­try vil­la. The king’s embroi­der­er, William Bro­drick, had a house near the present Put­ney Bridge Road by 1605. At Sword House (now the site of Wandsworth police sta­tion) Sir Ever­ard Fawken­er played host to Voltaire dur­ing his two years’ exile from France in the late 1720s.

The arrival of Huguenot refugees enhanced the town’s com­mer­cial vigour and cloth weav­ing, dye­ing, bleach­ing and print­ing all flour­ished beside the Riv­er Wan­dle. Dutch met­al work­ers estab­lished an iron smelt­ing works, spe­cial­is­ing in cook­ware.

Trans­port improve­ments in the 19th cen­tu­ry made Wandsworth a viable place of res­i­dence for City work­ers and dur­ing Victoria’s reign the dis­trict filled with hous­ing, togeth­er with new pub­lic build­ings and parks.

The Young family took control of the Ram brewery in 1831. It closed in 2006 and, after a considerable delay, is now being redeveloped as part of the Ram Quarter, shown in the CGI above. Historic buildings will be restored and brought into public use as a new micro-brewery and brewing museum, accompanied by shops, restaurants and leisure facilities beside the River Wandle.

Satel­lite local­i­ties evolved at Earls­field from the 1880s and at South­fields in the ear­ly years of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Inter­war slum clear­ance brought munic­i­pal hous­ing projects. Bomb dam­age in the ear­ly 1940s was the spur to an exten­sive pro­gramme of post-war rede­vel­op­ment, includ­ing more coun­cil estates, while many res­i­dents chose to move south to out­er sub­urbs like Croy­don or the new town of Craw­ley.

Wandsworth gas­works closed in 1971 and devel­op­ment began along the river­side. In the same year the famous­ly dowdy Arn­dale shop­ping cen­tre was built on the site of ameni­ties that had includ­ed a grey­hound sta­di­um and swim­ming baths. It has since been rebuilt – and then extend­ed – as South­side, with more than 100 retail units, a fit­ness cen­tre and a 14-screen mul­ti­plex cin­e­ma. Sur­round­ing tow­er blocks have been rad­i­cal­ly remod­elled. Apart­ment com­plex­es have replaced dis­used indus­tri­al premis­es in the town cen­tre and by the Thames, notably the 400 flats of the River­side Quar­ter on the Wan­dle delta. In addi­tion, the sites of two for­mer DIY stores off Swan­don Way are being inten­sive­ly rede­vel­oped, pri­mar­i­ly with hous­ing blocks.

Half the characters in the 2003 blockbuster movie Love Actually seem to live in Wandsworth, including Martine McCutcheon’s Natalie, at the ‘dodgy end’ of the district. The film’s climax is set at a nativity play in Wandsworth – actually shot at Putney’s Elliott School.

Postal district: SW18
Population: 61,564 (Earlsfield, Fairfield, Southfields and Wandsworth Common wards, 2011 census)
Station: South West Trains (Wandsworth Town, zone 2)
Further reading: Rod Gilmour, The Wandsworth Companion, History Press, 2009