I've featured the brilliant Summerstown182 project on the blog before. This time, though, I'm delighted to feature an Earlsfield article by project founder Geoff. If it whets your appetite for more, turn up to St Andrew's Church on 28 May at 2pm, £5 in hand, and join the guided walk.
"Look up ‘Earlsfield’ on Wikipedia and they rather loftily proclaim ‘there is not a considerable history to the area.’ Of all the nerve [Quite! - Ed.]! There is much to discover, but just as the River Wandle moves invisibly through it, or the ghosts of the long-departed Surrey Iron Railway and visions of pig farms might tantalise us with a picture of some bygone pre-industrial age, you have to know where to look. Much of the history requires a bit of work and perhaps some guidance. I first came here 20 years ago and lived on Steerforth Street. Much has changed, there was a working men’s club at the end of the road, a horse-riding outfitters round the corner, a greengrocer’s and a butcher’s on Garratt Lane. There were even policemen in the police station, would you believe. I moved down Garratt Lane to Summerstown and for the last two and a half years have been doing First World War based Guided Walks. I love it. There’s no better feeling than giving people some kind of understanding of the area they have chosen to make their home. Once they know a little bit about it, the people who lived there before and what once happened there, they will come to appreciate it and treasure it all the more.
So, what of Earlsfield. The river of course plays a key role, though it was the three small hamlets of Duntshill, Garratt and Summerstown which sprouted alongside the mills, that were first on the map. Garratt Lane itself by-passed all the activity, but 200 years ago it sprung to life every year with the procession of revellers heading to the mighty odd ‘Mayor of Garratt’ ritual. A little later it would be jammed with thousands of merry punters on their way to Robert Sadler’s running track to place their wagers on Deerfoot versus Job Smith. Even the one-legged runners would have gone faster than the horse-drawn wagons of coal that moved at a painfully slow pace between Wandsworth and Croydon - but the likes of Robert Stevenson were watching and taking notes and The Surrey Iron Railway was a ground-breaking enterprise that even made it into a full page illustration in a Ladybird book. The running track was round the back of where the Anglo American Laundry would be built. For over thirty years the mighty Alice Creeke was in charge of one of the area’s biggest employers and one that many people still have memories of.
We’ll be starting the walk at St Andrew’s Church which looks across to Trewint Street. At the end of this, though it's hard to imagine, was once located the nation’s second largest supplier of gunpowder. This was back in 1688 when gunpowder was a vital tool for colonising the world. Mrs Robert Davis famously gave her name to the railway station in 1884 and as the houses subsequently sprang up, also the area. By the way, for years the waiting room on Platform One was used for Friday night gatherings of the internationally renowned Earlsfield Pigeon Club. George Dear and his mates packing their birds off on the ‘Pigeon Special’ train to the coast, from where they would fly home. Before the library was built, Summerstown FC played their football on the site before moving down the road to take up residence on what would become the magnificent multi-arched edifice that is the Henry Prince Estate. Before all that, the streets in this particular area were heavily populated by the Romany community, not to mention London’s largest horse-slaughtering yard and its attendant bone grinding and manure manufacturing off-shoots. Later factories here included those making fireworks, records, coffee and Airfix model aeroplane kits.
Alongside all this are of course the houses, don’t we love them - the ornaments, the plinths, the tiled pathways, those coal-hole covers, that Henry Prince Clock... the glorious red-bricked Victorian and Edwardian terraces, the beguiling 1930’s estates and what I refer to as ‘the lost streets’, those roads washed away by the floods of 1968. There is so much to tell and if you are interested in a wander around some of the lesser known corners of this intriguing and historically-rich area, please join me outside St Andrew’s Church at 2pm on Saturday 28th May.
The ‘Historic Earlsfield’ Walk is part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival and I will be doing one of my regular Summerstown Tooting Walks on Wednesday 8th June, starting from St Mary’s Church on Keble Street at 730pm. There will be a charge of £5 for each walk. See you on the streets!"