SiR 3) Summerstown to New Wimbledon

Summerstown was known as Garratt Green in the 19th Century. ‘Summerstown’ used to be called Church Road.

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Garratt Lane’s approach to Summerstown. The SiR crossed diagonally to the west side as it progressed towards The Mead

The route of the SiR from Garratt Lane through Summerstown seems to offer a difference of opinion between the two noted authorities on the line. McGow and Bayliss’ routes alternate between the bottom end of Garratt lane towards Summerstown and The Mead.

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Summerstown confusion! Different routes (approximate) given for SiR. Red is McGow’s and blue is Bayliss. The Mead is at right.

In determining the SiR route, Summerstown is clearly difficult. Old maps do not have enough detail and not surprsingly there are differences of opinion on the actual route taken. Judging from the old maps that I can find, it seems to me the SiR actually ran down the centre of Garratt Lane from Franche Court Road and turned nearer the site of St Mary’s Church. This was originally built in 1836 so was clearly there when the SiR existed and built on vacant land to the east of the SiR. It was sited more where the petrol station is and its west side looked right onto the SiR and the possible depot discussed in the next paragraph. The later church of 1904 was built further away at the bottom end of Keble Street. Hence the present arrangment in Summerstown bears no resemblance to the SiR days.

The map shewn below is based on conclusions from the available map data.

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A rough interpretation of the SiR’s possible route through Summerstown.

As envisaged it the SiR’s route ran approximately through what is now the site of the modern Hindu Society Centre. The closure of the SiR obviously prompted alterations to the junction of Summerstown and Garratt Lane. Part of the junction was formerly set into a recess and it appears there may have been gates set at this location which took the SiR into a possible secure area, somewhat like the situation at Collier’s Wood. This indicates the possibility that a depot might have been sited here, serving the many mills sited on the Wandle as well as a recently built iron works.

The bends at the top of Summerstown may have been a result of a very old track from Garratt Lane to the nearby mills on the Wandle. When the SiR was built it bisected the area neatly, and it may be that any improvements to the old roadway, at this time called Church Road, simply followed the much older track rather than cut across the SiR’s tracks.

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The foreground of this picture is approximately where the SiR crossed the Summerstown intersection.

It must be stressed that Summerstown was deemed important enough to warrant proposals made during the 1860’s for a canal up from Wandsworth to a terminus at roughly the same location, perhaps not surprisingly along some of the old railway’s alignment too. The SiR was authorised to build very large areas for loading, unloading, storage, and other commercial activities. The maximum width of its permanent way was authorised by law at 20 yards breadth. If that was not enough more was granted where the “Reception or Delivery of Goods, Wares, and Merchandize, which shall be conveyed on the said railway, and not above Sixty Yards in Breadth, in any Place…”

Because of the locale’s strategic importance, the SiR was operational to Summerstown by October 1802. The establishment of a large iron works, known as Henckells’ may have been for the purpose of supplying plate rails to continune the SiR’s route to Croydon. Previous to this the procurement of plate rails had been taken out of the Ashby and Ticknal tramroad’s allocation from the Butterley Ironworks’ in Derbyshire.

The Tesco’s store on the corner of Garratt Lane with the Summerstown road used to be the Prince of Wales pub. The structure was built in 1898 and apparently replaced a building of 1852 that once stood adjacent to the route of the SiR.

At the southern end of Summerstown the SiR route meets Plough Lane and crosses into The Mead. Nearby is Wimbledon Stadium, famous for greyhound races and stock car racing. The stadium is now the most important in London for these activities now that the famous Walthamstow Stadium has closed.

A 20th Century Guru

South West London held much history in the quite short life of Marc Bolan, the lead guitarist with T-Rex. Summerstown was at one time his family’s home, but he didnt care much for it.

In a 1971 interview Marc Bolan recalled his days in Summerstown, that it “seemed very odd… I didnt relate to it… I was totally alone. And a lot of sad things happened.” Clearly life back then was ‘All alone without a telephone’ – yet today perceptions have changed and few places in the world exist in isolation. Modern technology is our “Ride (on) a White Swan” and the future beckons for the millions of us who are now gurus.

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Young Bolan (at right) in the sixties band John’s Children (from the cover of Go-Go Girl.)

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Bolan: The Rise and Fall of a 20th Century Superstar. Aged 14, Bolan lived in Summerstown (extract from Mark Paytress’ book)

Prior to Summerstown the family lived in North East London where Bolan was known as the ‘King of Three Streets in Hackney.’ The move south was made in 1962, but Bolan didnt like it much and preferred to spend his time doing gigs at the clubs in Soho, Central London. Bolan, then known as Mark Feld, lived with his family nearby in the Sun Cottages near the Wimbledon stadium. These cottages were an unusual design of pre-fab accomodation, and as the account above relates, “like an oversized caravan with a pointed roof.”

The Mead

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Summerstown by the now closed Hare & Hounds pub looking across Plough Lane to the entrance to The Mead path.

Back to the route of the SiR. The shop at the top of The Mead (‘Tile Giant’) this building used to be the Plough. This inn (in its older construction) was probably a popular stopping place for the men who led the horses along the iron railway. Tile Giant is a large company with many stores around the UK. However most of its London stores are south of the river. The path known as ‘The Mead’ passed through a marshland formerly known as Beggery, or Byegrove Mead. Part now forms Lambeth Cemetery but still remains marshy as can be seen after heavy rainfall.

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A far cry from the country lane it once was! This is The Mead, nowadays a linear rubbish tip alongside the Lambeth Cemetery.

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Near Waterside Way The Mead has been now relegated to a narrow access path in order to make way for a new car park.

Where the old SiR route runs alongside Waterside Way for around a hundred yards or so, it is clear that the derelict land between the road and Lambeth Cemetery is that of the SiR’s alignment. Sadly like so many other things its just used for tipping rubbish. Just before it leaves Waterside Way to pass behind the Arriva bus depot, there is a seating area that clearly shows us the SiR’s alignment and the generous width it must have once had – e.g. a pair of tracks and a footpath in tandem.

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Further on are clear remains of the SiR’s route. Alas its now a linear rubbish tip.

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A cleared area with seating, but still quite neglected. The SiR’s alignment is pretty obvious anyway.

The SiR continuned on the east side of the boundary past the Arriva bus depot southwards. It appears at first that this is a dead end and one must retrace their tracks. Nevertheless if one carries on, there is a side path to the right that links to the Wandle Way nearby to enable continuation towards Collier’s Wood.

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Waterside Way looks like a dead end – but its not for those on foot.

the Wandle Trail past some concrete channels (these were once waste water overflow holding tanks) and then under the railway line into Wandle Meadow Nature park where the SiR alignment is met once again.

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The very end of Waterside Way where one can access the Wandle Trail behind the parked vehicles.

This is yet another section where the direction of the line differs between sources. Bayliss, Lee and McGow all offer variations on the route especially at the point where the alignment meets the Wimbledon-Streatham line. Of course there is no trace hereabouts to properly determine the former route of the SiR.

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The railway bridge and the Wandle Trail en route to Collier’s Wood.

It does appear that the path from the railway bridge to Chaucer way is on the SiR’s route. Beyond this the alignment was to the eastern side of the road. This continuned across North Road before cutting through the Thames Water treatment works, over Byegrove Road and into Wandle Park.

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Arriving at Chaucer Way from the direction of The Mead, the huge Collier’s Wood tower becomes a prominent landmark!

The part of the world to the west on the slopes of the Wandle Valley was once called New Wimbledon. It consisted of an isolated early Victorian settlement and North, South, East and Haydons Road (then a country road) formed its boundary. Clearly it had aspirations of becoming a bigger place. By the 1890’s housing expanded so greatly that South Wimbledon encroached upon the much smaller settlement. Despite this New Wimbledon’s name struggled a bit longer and was shown on maps until at least 1904, then consigned to history. Soon after the new sewage works (discussed later) was built in the valley to cope with the huge expansion in housing.

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View through the railings of the Wandle Valley Station at Boundary Road. The red ‘x’s mark the approximate course of the SiR.

It is said the elevation above sea level here at Wandle Valley is forty feet. This means the SiR has ascended perhaps a mere thirty feet since Wandsworth. This low elevation made the area a prime spot for sewage works. Beginning in the late 19th Century, the Wandle Valley works eventually stretched all the way northwards almost as far as Lambeth cemetery. In the 1970’s works were undertaken to transfer to job to Wimbledon’s sewage works and by the late 1970’s most of the Wandle works closed, save for a bit near of Byegrove Road. Merton Council reclaimed the land left vacant by the works at North Road and this became the Wandle Meadow Nature Park. This was formally opened in April 1994.

John Rennie woz here…

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Sales handbill for James Perry’s Wandle Bank and its mills in 1822 – note the judicious reference to John Rennie!

Near here there was a branch of the SiR to Perry’s Wandle Bank (or Merton) Mills on the Wandle. It left the SiR north of the Byegrove Road junction and ran alongside that road to the mills. This branch is not documented in dedicated SiR literature but shown on a somewhat dodgy surveyor’s map. The Merton Historical Society however concur the branch did exist and says stabling was provided for nine horses to work the SiR.

The Wandle Bank mills were said to be some of the finest in England. They were built around 1796 by John Rennie, who is of course one of Britain’s most famed canal and road engineers. His main career as an engineer began with a stint at the Albion Mills in Southwark and the Merton Mills, just a few hours walk away, were one of the earliest ever commissions undertaken by the great engineer.

E. Montague of Merton Historical Society says that James Perry, the wealthy owner of Wandle Bank and the mills, was an avid promoter and supporter of the SiR. On this basis, its tracks were made available for use immediately they were laid to this point hence it is possible SiR was fully operational from here to Wandsworth. No definitive date is available for this but it appears it could have been in the early part of 1803.

Next section: Collier’s Wood

Surrey Iron Railway pages:

McMurrays Canal / Surrey Iron Railway / Through Wandsworth / Wandsworth to Earlsfield / Summerstown to New Wimbledon / Colliers Wood to Church Lane / Hallowfield Way to Mitcham Jct / Mitcham to Wandle Park / Cornwall Road to Croydon

 

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