Between 9 and 24 September there will be the Wandle Fortnight celebrating the history and ecology of the river.
Part of that history involves the highly populated state of the river between the Wars.
In 1929 the Wandsworth Trades Council set up a Committee to investigate and recommend how things could be improved. It published the report The Scandal of the River Wandle on the findings of its preliminary investigation at the end of December.
Report on Preliminary Investigation.
Fellow Workers,-Your Committee herewith presents its report of the preliminary investigation into the conditions relating to the River Wandle.
This little river, which flows from the region of Beddington, in Surrey, through the pretty Carshalton lakes, through Mitcham, and on as a boundary between Wimbledon and Wandsworth, into Wandsworth as a dividing line 'between the Parliamentary constituencies of Putney and Central Wandsworth, empties itself finally into the River Thames.
The River Wandle is an interesting and historic waterway. Once upon a time it must have been an extremely beautiful and delightful river, flowing through rich green meadowland, with its banks overhung' with willow trees. Izaak Walton, in his " Compleat Angler," tells of his fishing' experiences in the Wandle. Fishing—as far as the lower portion of the river is concerned—is no longer possible. No fish could survive in the Wandle nowadays: they would immediately croak from poisoning. The once clean, swiftly-moving waters are now black and muddy, cluttered with evil-smelling', putrescent flotsam, and rendered foul and malignant by the outpouring's of industrialism.
An 0pen Sewer.
The river has not merely been neglected: it has been deliberately, wantonly turned into a kind of open sewer. The bottom is littered with old tin cans, scraps of old iron, broken bottles, miscellaneous rubbish of all kinds particularly menacing to the feet of the children who frequently bathe and paddle in the water. Dead cats and dogs can often be seen floating' down the stream, or caught in some backwash of the river's banks where they decay and rot. Refuse from the streets, the houses, and the factories and workshops finds its way to those waters, resulting in frightful pollution.
Your Committee, in the course of its investigations, felt the need of expert opinion. Being workmen without scientific training', it is impossible for us to give you a chemical analysis of the deleterious matter contained in the water. It would require an authority on river pollution to do that with any degree of thoroughness. That it is deleterious to health there is no question in our minds, and the wonder is that the inhabitants by the lower reaches in Wimbledon, Putney, and Wandsworth are not fever-stricken as a consequence. During the warm weather the river is even more pestiferous and germ disease breeding. As we say, this aspect of the matter calls for scientific analysis and medical examination. We could judge of the condition of the water of the Wandle with our eyes and our noses— particularly our noses. The stench in places, such as by Haydon Park, by Trevint-street, Garratt-lane, and by the Baulk, was awful. Then we needed with us the presence of an experienced surveyor, who could, no doubt, have made more precise and more detailed recommendations than it is possible for us to make.
Our cursory survey was made from where the Wandle enters Wandsworth, by the bridge in Merton-road, at Colliers Wood. There is a by-path which follows the bank of the river from there to Mitcham, which, in our opinion, could be easily transformed into a delightful parkway, but which is in a derelict condition. We did observe some cleansing operations in progress by the mills close to the bridge.
Patches and Parks.
From the Mills at Merton Road Bridge right to the place where the Wandle enters the Thames at Boll Lane Creek, the whole stretch of river runs through land which is, alternately, industrial patches, where factories, works, laundries, power stations, etc., border the water—patches which are given over to sewage, rubbish dust shoots, industrial refuse dumps and public refuse dumps, where every imaginable kind of muck, filth, and putrefying matter is heaped and exposed to the open air— patches of waste ground, and patches where it is evidently intended there shall be playing fields or parks, such as the ground facing Garfield-road, Wimbledon, and Garratt Park and King George's Park, Wandsworth. These parks are only parks in name; in reality they are peculiarly neglected muddy fields. With no flowers and no amenities or conveniences usually associated with parks. King George's Park — which we will refer to later — named after the present King, is a crying scandal and an insult.
A Grotesque Mix-up.
It is all a grotesque mix-up. At one place, within the immediate vicinity of Haydon Park, is a cemetery, which, we understand, belongs to the Lambeth Borough Council. It is said that the smells arising from the dead citizens of Lambeth give offence to the living citizens of Wimbledon. There have been protest meetings of the citizens of Haydon Park Ward against the malodorous smells which come from the Wandle, the Cemetery, and the Sewage Farm. Certainly the noxious odours that are wafted about the Wandle constitute a general public nuisance.
On Saturday afternoon. November 30th, your Committee visited what is known as the Baulk, entering Southfields. This is a road—a private road, we are given to understand—which crosses the Wandle from Guelph-street. This road is used by hundreds of workers every day to obtain access to a number of factories and industrial concerns. It is a slough of muddy pools, and one has literally to wade through mud. There are no lights upon it, and at night it is a very unwholesome place, to say the least, for women and girls. It passes through King George's Park, part of which is used as a rubbish dump by the Borough Council. On our visit we observed quantities of dirt, dust, and decomposing vegetable refuse thrown down with reckless abandon, unquestionably a source of positive danger to those who use this so-called park for recreative and playing purposes. There are two derelict bridges crossing the Wandle at this part—in a state of general disrepair—from which, we were informed, it was the practice of youngsters to bathe in the black and turgid stream. One bridge crosses from Guelph-street, Wandsworth; the other from Lydden-road.
A Danger of Flooding
Just at this particular spot, at this time (of the year, the river is swollen. Some time ago the houses of Lydden-road-from what is known as the Rag-and-Bag Wash to the Columbia Record Factory- were flooded. There is a present danger of flooding. Those houses are old, and are, indeed, slum property; they are inhabited by poor people. The Columbia Record Factory has spent considerable money, and ensured safety from flooding by increasing the height of the embankment. We see every reason why the embankment backing the houses of Lydden-road should be similarly heightened if the public authorities have any concern at all for the safety and well-being of the poor inhabitants. Another flood from the Wandle would ruin those little homes completely. In the river just here we noticed a bed mattress and an old bath amongst the litter.
There are places, along what is called "Wandle Bank,'' where the Wandle flows by the Belle Vue Laundry, Copper Mill-lane, at King George's Park, and so on, where it would be possible with very little effort and public expenditure, to immeasurably beautify the riverside with the planting of a few trees and flowers, and introducing seats and other amenities. There is a large piece of ground, almost adjacent to the playing field fronting Garfield-road, left waste, scraped over by a few chickens, which might well lie turned into a playing field also. Indeed, there are several such places. We are of opinion that not the slightest serious attention has been devoted to seeing what can be done with the land through which the Wandle flows as regards making it of public service to the community. The so-called parks are a tragic joke, Wealthy industrial concerns have been permitted to befoul the river and befoul the atmosphere with smoke. Their ugly buildings and monstrous chimneys spoil the scenery of what otherwise would be remarkably beautiful suburban country. Everything appears to have been done, and permitted to be done, to make the vicinity of the River Wandle as hideous, as unhealthy, and as filthy as possible.
Even the municipal authorities of Wimbledon and Wandsworth have, with a kind of wilful deliberation, purposely added to the ugliness, the unhealthiness, and the general litter; they have made the river banks the dumping grounds of waste and sewage, and turned the river itself into a running cesspool.
A Dirty, Germ-Breeding Pestilential Ditch.
It is all a scandal and a shame. The River Wandle is so obviously a menace to public health in its present condition: it is a source of disease and death ; it does not enhance the dignity of the neighbourhood to have what has been reduced to a dirty, germ-breeding, pestilential ditch running through our borough amidst the crowded habitations of our people, spreading noxious matter around, polluting the atmosphere, and making life wretched. It is a grave danger to have children bathing and paddling in those filthy, poisoned waters. The ill-disciplined spread of industrial ugliness along the banks of the Wandle is such as to degrade our whole community.
Immediate attention to the state of affairs appertaining to the Wandle on the part of the public authorities is demanded. Drastic alteration is imperatively necessary. It is possible to cleanse those waters, clear the litter from the river's bottom, ensure a steady flow in those parts where the water has become stagnant and rank, build embankments to prevent overflow, clear away the rubbish and debris from the shores, do something with the adjoining land, and enhance, improve, and beautify the entire environment of the Wandle. What is urgently needed is a full, comprehensive public inquiry into the whole matter.
We do suggest that a thorough, properly-conducted survey would show innumerable immediate improvements that could be made, in addition to those indicated in this report. We are of opinion that the river could be deepened in parts so as to permit of pleasure boats during summer months. We are of opinion also that greater access could be provided to the banks of the Wandle than is now the case, and that pleasant walks, tree-lined and flowered can be established on its shores. We are certain that all the dust and rubbish can be dumped elsewhere, and that real parks and playing fields can there be instituted which will permit of healthy enjoyment on the part of the inhabitants. We do not believe it is impossible to restore much of the old-time beauty of the River Wandle and its adjoining country. On the contrary we are confident that a little practical work on the part of the responsible authorities could effect wonderful change in that respect. We are certain that the Wandle can be so transformed as to give character and distinction and charm to the respective localities.
The Need for Strong Public Opinion.
Our immediate aim is to get a joint conference of the Town and Borough Councils of Mitcham, Wimbledon, and Wandsworth, so as to prepare a scheme in regard to then regional planning of the course of the River Wandle, and then to make the London County Council and all having responsibility in the matter proceed with the practical operation of that scheme.
On behalf of the Committee,
S. PECK. Chairman,
A. LATTA. Secretary,
J. GREGORY, Treasurer.
Wandsworth Trades Council'
Back of published report
On Tuesday, 17 December 1929,
His Worship The Mayor of Wandsworth stated that he had received this report, and referred it to the Public Health Committee and the Highways, Sewers, and Lighting Committee for the consideration and report.
We are awaiting news of what steps these Committees propose to take.
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