Wandsworth Historical Society

The archaeology and history of the Borough of Wandsworth

Battersea : Balham : Putney : Tooting : Wandsworth Town

Reports on our past lectures in 2024.

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2013 (November only) | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021 | 2022 | 2023

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2024 | Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr


26 April

'The Calico People'

John Sheridan, The Wandle Industrial Museum

John Sheridan of the Wandle Industrial Museum recounted the history of calico-working along the Wandle. Printing and dyeing had been practised along the fast-running river but in the late 17th century import restrictions were imposed on printed calico from the subcontinent and there was an upsurge in domestic processing - by 1805 a survey lists 12 such mills along the Wandle. At Merton Lodge in Wandsworth Henry Gardiner, who imported and finished calico, could overlook his fabric bleaching in the area that is now King George's Park. Several other families set up printing businesses, the most noteworthy were the Littlers, who owned the long-established Merton Abbey Mills from the 1830s until selling to Liberty in 1904 and William Morris's famous nearby concern. Both mostly used pearwood blocks, but there were also the more modern engraving and screen-printing processes. Bennett's of Phipp's Bridge used copper cylinders.

John showed us photographs of the old dye house at the Abbey, the printing process at long tables in the Morris Works as well as block-cutting - some designs needed as many as 15 differently coloured blocks. Demand declined in the early 20th century and in 1940 the Morris business was finally wound up. At Merton Abbey, Merton Printers, who took over from Liberty, soldiered on until finally closing in 1982.

Celia Jones

22 March

'The Joy of Post-ex: A summary of the post-excavation work so far on Tideway Site 4: Barn Elms'

Mike Curnow, Museum of London Archaeology

Mike began by introducing himself and giving us an overview of the site at Barn Elms. This is a pristine landscape that has never been developed for housing or industry so has a high potential for the survival of archaeology. WHS dug in the area in 1974, there have been recorded historical finds and items logged under the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

MOLA carried out an evaluation in 2015-16 and the most recent dig is due to the super sewer works from 2019 to 2021. There were 5 excavation areas including the shaft, coffer dams and connecting culverts with so we were told, 712 contexts and 154 postholes. The finds included pottery, Potin coins, looms weights, crucible fragments and weaponry. The phasing of the site is a complex task of grouping contexts and has produced 8 phases, from Early Paleolithic, Late Paleolithic, 4 Iron Age phases, a Roman to early Post Medieval and finally a later Post Medieval phase.

The talk concentrated on the four Iron Age phases and their likely dating. One set of dates were taken from contextual evidence, but because food remains were observed adhering to the pottery it was possible to obtain carbon-14 dates. There have been fed into a 'Bayesean' statistical model but this has produced different dates.

Mike concluded by talking about the Iron Age diet, evidence has been found for barley, wild oats, cherry or plum stones and in terms of meat, beef, lamb, pork and possibly horse. No direct evidence for the consumption of fish however.

The post excavation work continues in particular around the issue of dating the Iron Age occupation where more data and modelling are needed to resolve the conflicts.

Colin Jenkins

23 February 2024 (Online via Zoom)

What we can learn from the records of the Wandsworth and Clapham Union Workhouse

Adrian Finch

Andrew began by explaining how the system of poor relief changed drastically in 1834 and how this change affected the experience of the poor in the transition to the new system of union workhouses post 1834.

Before 1834 a system existed that dated from Tudor times, based on the idea that every poor person had a parish to which they belonged and the support was by the parish. Mostly 'out-relief' supported people at home and the parish officials were members of the same parish.

The Napoleonic wars put pressure on this system and led to change. The idea of the deserving and undeserving poor came to prominence and a commission devised a new Poor Law in 1834. This was based on unions of parishes with a move to people entering workhouses, with the principle that life in the workhouse would be deliberately and uniformly miserable, so no one would chose to go there. There was to be minimal 'out-relief' under the new system.

The Wandsworth and Clapham Union consisted of six parishes. Each donated their existing workhouse to the union and the plan was that these would be sold and one workhouse created. A census of paupers was made in 1836-38 and Putney was the first of the parish workhouses to go. Plans to expand either Wandsworth or Streatham met opposition so a new Union workhouse on East Hill (now St John's Hill) was built and opened at the end of 1838. Extensions were added in 1842 and an infirmary in 1866. This later became St John's Hospital which was demolished in 1975 so photos from the 1960s show what it looked like. (The poor law system was abolished in 1930 and the NHS created in 1948).

In the workhouse, men, women and children over 7 was separated. Food was weighted and detailed records of what was provided survive. The children did receive schooling. As workhouse employment was neither prestigious not lucrative, and no training was given, the workhouse found it difficult to hold onto staff. The inmates were unhappy and the Vicar of Battersea complained to the Poor Law Commissioners in 1844 which led to an enquiry. The entire management were sacked.

The transition from old the new system was very painful and the Wandsworth and Clapham Union twice became a national scandal in the early years, but this was not unusual and it could be cited as a typical example of the new system. Things improved post 1840s although even in the 20th century such was the horror of workhouses that people did not want to go into St John's hospital even when it was part of the NHS.

Colin Jenkins

26 January 2024 (Online via Zoom)

14th Nick Fuentes Memorial Lecture

'Before and after the Great Fire of 1666: debunking some myths'

John Schofield

John began by pointing out that in the Great Fire, only 20% of total built up area was destroyed as can been seen by the map of Wenceslas Hollar.

In the same street it would have been possible to see the break between pre and post file housing at the boundary of the fire area, but the Ogilvy and Morgan map has a wavy line to show the fire boundary. On the map there is no visible difference in the plans of the buildings either side of the line which shows that rebuilding followed the old boundaries as people wanted to get their lives and businesses restarted as soon as possible after the fire.

The fire began off Pudding Lane - this area was excavated in 1981 and there are also house plans in existence. An earlier 1974 excavation found a pre-fire cellar with a pine floor and a fire bucket.

Pre-fire London had some houses of note, with pilasters in brick and timber to attempt to emulate Roman classical style. There was also a Dutch influence pre and post fire which lasted until the end of the reign of William and Mary. It is likely that pargetting and weatherboarding could also have been present on houses in the fire area. Timber frame housing could have persisted after the fire although there were regulations post-fire about only building in brick and on the sizes of houses, but not about the function of houses. Buildings post-fire were very similar in function and use.

John used plans drawn by William Leybourn in 1686. These show that shops remained in their pre-fire form, with no glazing until around the 1730s. It is also noted that corner properties could be higher. John mentioned some areas where research is needed such as Weatherboarding on buildings ; this existed on houses shown in watercolours of Southwark so did it also exist in the fire area; Inns, which were numerous, although these are being researched; also it would be instructive to make comparisons with properties of a similar period in colonial America.

John has recently published a book London's waterfront 1666 to 1800. Goto www.archaeopress.com, and search for Schofield. The complete book can be downloaded as a pdf for free.

Colin Jenkins


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