Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Wandsworth - 18thC Powerhouse - Part 1


The Wandsworth area of modern day London was an economic and political powerhouse in the long 18th Century. Its riverside industries and mills were an early indication of what the Industrial Revolution could be, while it was a near London rural retreat for the economic and  politically powerful elites.

In  exploring some of the aspects of this area powerhouse, I have drawn on my own research, the Survey of London team on Battersea, the local historians such as Dorien Gerhold, Keith Bailey, Patrick Loobey and Richard Millward and the Legacies of British Slave-ownership project.
With their concentration on individuals, buildings, industries and events and sub-areas local history studies often lack of the broader regional, national  and international context. As a result the significance of an area can be underplayed.

The 18thC Wandsworth area includes  the current London Borough the Clapham, Merton, Mitcham, Streatham and Wimbledon districts of the current London Boroughs of Lambeth and Merton. The area was part of North East Surrey and divided into parishes and manors which were not co-terminus.  It was predominantly agricultural.

What do I mean by the area being a powerhouse?
  • Its agricultural and market gardening activities helping to feed growing London.
  • The River Wandle’s water powering  mills.
  • Thames riverfront industries bringing raw materials up river and finished goods down river.
  • The mansions, houses and parkland for members of the business, political and aristocratic elites.

Lords of the Manor

Major land owners were the Lords of the Manors, who played important roles in national politics like Thomas Osborne , Duke of Leeds in Wimbledon, which included Putney and Roehampton, followed by the financier Theodore Janssen, then Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and John and John Charles Spencer. In the second half of the century the Spencers purchased other Manors, Durnsford from the Brodricks in the 1750s, Battersea from the St Johns in 1763, Downe from the Duke of Bedford in  1792, and Allfarthing in 1816. The Manor of Streatham and Tooting Bec was owned by the Dukes of Bedford, and the Manor of Leigham in north Streatham by Lord Thurlow until much of the land was sold in the 1830s.

When the 3rd Earl Spencer got into financial difficulties he sold the freeholds which made up about one-fifth of Battersea. 87% of the land sold was agricultural as well as the large vitriol manufactory at Nine Elms, and the silk factory at York Place.

Putney Bridge 

The attraction of Putney, Roehampton and Wimbledon for the aristocratic, political, financial and industrial elites  had been helped with the opening of Putney Bridge by a consortium which included the First Minister Robert Walpole in 1729. By 1807 Roehampton had become one of the most aristocratic neighbourhoods in the country.
Putney had some industry including a boatyard. The former mansion house Putney Palace was leased as a factory until 1826 when it was pulled down and smaller houses built on the site.

French Huguenots

Whether they lived in Wandsworth parish or not the French Huguenots and their descendents were important developers of the Wandle industrial revolution in the 1690s to the 1720s.

Kathy Chater’s research shows that several of the newly arrived Wandsworth Huguenots  in the 1680s and 90s had known each other  while in prison together at Rouen.  Along with Janssen as Lord of the Manor of Wimbledon several Huguenots involved in the financial revolution and the South Sea Company had their out of town mansions across the area: including Peter Delaporte, James Doliffe, Ambrose Crowley, James Bateman, Edward Gibbon and ‘Vulture’ Hopkins.

Huguenots included the merchant and brewer Peter Paggen, Peter Dubuisson, the calico printer, and the wine merchant Pierre Reneu who invested n£7,500 in the Bank of England,  the East India Company and  the Million Bank.

The Van Necks
Huguenot descendants continued to play an important role through the century, Theodore Janssen’s son Stephen ran  Battersea Enamels at York House from the 1750s to 1770s with the engraver Simon Ravenet. Gerard Van Neck frequently entertained George II in Putney House before  moving to Roehampton in 1780. His brother Sir Joshua lived in Lime Grove off Putney Hill, and his  son built Grove House.

Mansion houses and estates
The elites were also settling in the area. The owners and tenants of Roehampton’s Great House estate across the 25 years from 1690 included the Countess of Northumberland, then Jeffries who was  unofficial paymaster to English troops based in New York from 1702.  

Wimbledon’s Old Park Estate of nearly 300 acres was bought by the London merchant William Browne  in 1705. He had Westside and Warren (now Cannizaro) Houses built, living in  Westside and leasing Warren. Thomas Cary, the London merchant born in the Virginia colony lived at the Warren before moving to Roehampton House in 1712 which he had built. Thomas Walker, MP. George II’s Land Revenue Surveyor General bought Old Park Estate in 1738.

Parksted House
An estate purchaser in 1751 was  William-Anne Keppel, 2nd Earl of Albemarle, a member of the Courts of George 1 and II. In 1759 George Pitt, later Lord Rivers purchased 41 acres of freehold farmland and built West Hill House. In the early 1760s Parksted House was built for Lord Bessborough with a park. A later occupant was the former diplomat David Murray, Viscount Stormont, then 2nd Earl of Mansfield, becoming Lord Justice General between 1778 and 1795.

The lawyer  Dudley Ryder. who settled in Tooting in December 1733, became Solicitor-General, Attorney-General 1737 to 1754 and then Chief Justice of the King’s Bench until his death in 1756.

The Sister Houses
Businessmen who were Aldermen of the City of London included Sir John Grosvenor who died in Putney in 1735 and Sir Henry Bankes at Wimbledon House. Isaac Ackermann had the Sister Houses (Gilmore – 113 Clapham Common Northside and Alverston) built in 1753. John Walter the founder of The Times lived in Alverston between 1774 and 1784. In 1787 John Lubbock purchased one of the houses.


Wimbledon and Roehampton Houses

In the 1770s Thomas Thyme, Viscount Weymouth, Secretary of State in Lord North’s Government lived  at Eagle House in Wimbledon, followed by Sir Walter Draper, who had conquered Manila in 1762. Downshire House in Roehampton Lane was built around 1779 for General James Cholmondeley. He became a member of the House of Lords in 1783 and Lord Steward of the Royal Household from 1812 to 1821.


From 1787 to 1789 Eagle House was occupied by Hon. William Grenville, a cousin and friend of William Pitt who was a regular visitor. It then became a private school run by Revd Thomas Lancaster, a friend of Nelson who moved into Merton Place estate with Emma Hamilton in 1800.

Note: this series of postings is based on a talk on 30 May as part of the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. An earlier version was given at the January 2016 Annual Conference of the British Society for 18thC Studies.


Note: This series of postings is based on a  talk on 30 May in the Wandsworth Heritage Festival. An earlier version was given at the January 2016 Annual Conference of the British Society for 18thC Studies.

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