June 2023 – Bulletin 226
Some ‘Memories of Mitcham’ by Benjamin Slater – Rosemary Turner
Cannon Hill Common Pavilion
Dorset Hall’s Secrets (1): Militant Suffragettes – Hugh Morgan
The New Merton Board Mills Site – Norma Cox
‘Merton Abbey’ Photograph Album –
and much more
CHAIR: Peter Hopkins
BULLETIN No. 226
The former pavilion, Cannon Hill Common. (see p.8)
Programme June – December 2023 2
Hot off the press! – A History of Fry’s Metal Foundries and the Tandem Works
and Motspur Park and West Barnes Memories 1920 to 1947 2
‘London’s Thames Bridges’
‘Breakspear: The English Pope’
Local History Workshop – 24 March 2023: Ben Slater’s memories; Colliers Wood remembers
De Morgan; lifebuoys on the Pickle; model Scotsman Pacific by Fry’s Diecastings Ltd; discoveries
at The Canons; Arthur Coles & Co at Wandle Calico Print Works, Merton Abbey; wartime telegram 6
Some ‘Memories of Mitcham’ by Benjamin Slater
– Rosemary Turner 7
Cannon Hill Common Pavilion
Dorset Hall’s Secrets (1): Militant Suffragettes – Hugh Morgan 9
The New Merton Board Mills Site – Norma Cox 12
‘Merton Abbey’ Photograph Album
MANYAPOLOGiES for advertising the wrong date for ourApril meeting in the last Bulletin.
if you didn’t receive an email with the correct date, please contact
email@example.com so we can correct your contact details.
PrOGrAMME JUNE – DECEMBEr 2023
Please book beforehand at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday 21 June at 11am The Canons and Grounds
A behind-the-scenes tour of the recently refurbished house and grounds,
Madeira Road, Mitcham, led by Amy Keen, Community Engagement Officer
Thursday 13 July 11am-12 noon
St Mary the Virgin, Church Path, Merton
A self-guided tour of this historic church and churchyard
Thursday 10 August 11am
A themed walk on Wimbledon Common:
‘Ladies of significance who have lived in the area
from the world of Theatre, Literature and Politics’
about 1¼ hour walk, led by Michael Norman-Smith
Meet at the Rushmore Pub, Ridgeway. £5 per person
Friday 15 September 11am
Wimbledon Society Museum
A private visit to the newly-reopened museum with its new exhibits
22 Ridgeway, SW19 4QN
Saturday 14 October at 2.30pm
‘The Wandle Portrayed’
A talk by Alison Cousins of the Wandle Industrial Museum & MHS member
Saturday 11 November at 2.30pm
followed by short talks by members
Saturday 9 December at 2.30pm
‘The History of Wandsworth Prison’
A talk by Stewart McLaughlin, historian and curator of the prison museum
Meetings are held in St James’s Church Hall in Martin Way, next to the church.
Buses 164 and 413 stop in Martin Way (in both directions) immediately outside.
Parking in adjacent streets is free.
Local History Workshops: Fridays 23 June, 25 August and 29 September from 2.30pm
at the Wandle industrial Museum, next door to the Vestry Hall, Mitcham.
Do join us. You don’t have to share any research unless you wish to.
Visitors are very welcome to attend any of our events.
HOT OFFTHE PrESS!
Two new publications from MHS:
A History of Fry’s Metal Foundries and the Tandem Works
Studies in Merton History 12: by Michael J Finch – £5, members £4
Motspur Park and West Barnes Memories 1920 to 1947:
Local History Notes – 37: by Bruce S Bendell and friends
£3, members £2.40. Both titles available at talks or from
MErTON HiSTOriCAL SOCiETYLOCAL HiSTOrY NOTES – 37Motspur Park and West Barnes
Memories 1920 to 1947:
Collections & recollectionsby Bruce S Bendellwith further memories by his friends
Douglas Headley and Fred Gilden
In all sincerity this collection of childhood and boyhood
memories is not intended to try to be a masterpiece of literature;
it is purely genuine memories of a small district which suddenly
became dramatically changed by a man who had the foresight
and drive to get things done quickly and efficiently. It needs
to be read by those who wish to know what the area was like.
Additional memories and notes have been supplied by Eric
MacFarlane, Douglas Vincent Headley, and Fred Gilden. In
addition my thanks also go to Mr John Wallace RIBA for the
interest and help given, and to the Hudnotts for their interest
and help. Read with the correct object in view, it may give
some historian in years to come a very truthful and honest
picture of a pleasant little district and how it quickly changed.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 2
‘LONDON’S THAMES BriDGES’
On 10 December 2022, our speaker, Roger Squires, began by mentioning that there was no bridge over the Thames
in the London area before the wooden Roman one, built in AD64. (Previously the locals had had to use one of the
two fords.) This was replaced by various wooden bridges until about 1176, when the medieval stone bridge was
built. This had narrow arches and, initially, water wheels for mills in the tidal waters. It lasted until 1832, when
the Victorians rebuilt it with wider spans. That version was sold to the USA, before the latest re-building in 1972
by the Corporation of London, characterised by its wide spans and narrow piers. Each of these versions crossed
the Thames at much the same point. Old London Bridge was the only Thames bridge downstream of Kingstonupon-
Thames until 1750.
However, this was not a historical survey, but a geographical one of the tidal reaches of the river, illustrated with
many photographs. Roger started with Tower Bridge and proceeded upstream to Richmond, looking briefly at
each of the (in theory) 29 rail, road and foot bridges across the Thames within London. The list below (all are
road bridges unless otherwise stated) is complete, but only selected points from Roger’s talk are mentioned here.
Tower Bridge itself was opened in 1894. Its rising bascules make it unique along the river: the strength of their
metal girders imposes a weight limit on crossing traffic. Next upstream is London Bridge, discussed above. Then
comes the railway bridge into Cannon Street Station (1866), Southwark Bridge (1819, designed by John Rennie
and replaced 1921), and the wobbly Millennium Bridge (2000), a footbridge notorious for having been designed
and built without dampers, subsequently corrected (2002).
Next are the support columns of the first railway bridge (1894, demolished 1985) into Blackfriars Station
(originally known as Shoreditch bridge), which thrill-seekers can now speed through, ‘paying to get wet’ as
Roger said. The second Blackfriars railway bridge (1886) (St Paul’s bridge until renamed in 1937), has the
station platforms extended onto both sides of the structure, and a pedestrian walkway on the upstream side.
Blackfriars road bridge (1769) was demolished in 1860 due to faulty workmanship; its replacement was opened
in 1869 by Queen Victoria. Waterloo Bridge (1817), designed by John Rennie, was undermined by scour, and
replaced in 1942. Next is the site of the proposed ‘Garden Bridge’, joining gardens on both banks, but never built:
‘costs up, willingness down` (Roger).
The first Hungerford footbridge (1845, Brunel) was replaced in 1864 by a railway bridge, now flanked on either
side by the Golden Jubilee Bridges for pedestrians. Westminster Bridge (1750) became the second Thames bridge
in London, replaced some way to its west in 1862. Next is Lambeth Bridge (1851-2), redeveloped in 1932, but
not heavily used. Vauxhall Bridge (1816), the first iron bridge across the Thames, opened as a toll bridge, and was
replaced in 1906. The New Railway Bridge (nowadays the Grosvenor) (1850) serves Victoria Station. The original
narrow Chelsea Bridge (1858) was replaced in 1937 by the first self-anchored suspension bridge in Britain. The
cable-stayed Albert Bridge (1873) proved structurally unsound, so in 1884-7 Sir Joseph Bazalgette added some
features of a suspension bridge, and it was further modified in 1973. However, like Tower Bridge, it has never
been replaced. Its original toll-booths survive, uniquely in London. The first Battersea Bridge (1771) became the
last wooden bridge on the Thames in London, until in 1885 its replacement was built to another design of Sir
Joseph Bazalgette. There was a recent proposal for a Jubilee footbridge further upstream, but ‘nobody wanted to
pay’ said Roger. [He forgot to mention Battersea Reach Bridge, which carries a stage of suburban railway line,
between Clapham and Earl’s Court.]
Next is Wandsworth Bridge (1873) which was replaced by a graceful successor in 1940, next Fulham railway
bridge (1889) which carries the Underground District Line between East Putney and Putney Bridge stations, and
only then, confusingly, comes Putney Bridge (built in timber in 1779, replaced 1882). Hammersmith Bridge (1827)
was the first suspension bridge over the Thames. Its replacement (1887), again designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette,
has frequently been damaged by heavy traffic (and IRAbombs) and as frequently closed for repairs. The cast iron
Barnes railway bridge (1849) was supplemented in 1895 by a wrought iron bridge built immediately alongside.
Chiswick Bridge (1933) was part of a scheme to relieve traffic congestion west of London. The Underground
District Line railway bridge at Kew (1859) is more or less original, while Kew Bridge (1759) was timber until
rebuilt in stone (1798), and then replaced entirely in 1903. On a sharp bend in the river, it requires careful boat-
steering. After a two-mile stretch of open water, Twickenham Bridge (1933) appears, also part of the traffic
scheme, and finally we reach the stone-built Richmond Bridge (1777), the oldest surviving bridge in London.
Then there is a long haul, of about four miles, upstream to Kingston railway and road bridges, but that is another
story. It is pleasant to record that Roger Squires asked that the fee for his talk be donated to the Canal Museum
Trust. The London Canal Museum is at 12/13 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RT, open 10.00-16.30, each day
except Monday. Dave Haunton
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 3
It has been suggested that Nicholas Breakspear, the only English Pope so far, had spent some time at Merton
Priory. On 14 January we welcomed Adrian Waddingham, author of a new book about Breakspear. I was
clearly not the only person keen to hear more, as we had a good turnout, including several visitors – and we
were not disappointed.
Our own Lionel Green mentioned in his book A Priory Revealed that the Oxford archivist and historian, R L
Poole, had argued in 1934 that Breakspear had been a pupil at Merton Priory. The suggestion was based on
a phrase in a letter to Breakspear, after he had become Pope, by his friend John of Salisbury, whose brother
became a canon at Merton. The letter refers to the Pope’s knowledge of the canons at Merton, and Katie Hawks
has since explained that Poole had misread the letter, which was merely reminding the Pope that he had heard
of the canons’ ‘good odour’ while himself a canon at St Ruf, another Augustinian priory.
Nicholas Breakspear was born in the hamlet of Bedmond in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, in about 1105. His
father was at some point a clerk at St Albans Abbey, though it is not clear if this was before or after the birth
of his two sons. Although officially disapproved of by the Church authorities, it was not unusual at this time
for minor clerics to marry or even to father children outside marriage, but it was also common for widowers to
enter a monastery, especially in old age.
The St Albans chronicler, Matthew Paris, a century or more later, reported that young Nicholas wished to
become a monk at St Albans but was rejected by the abbot until he had acquired more learning, though Adrian
pointed out that the usual place to acquire learning at that period was in a monastery. Another chronicler
claimed that Nicholas’s father became so embarrassed by his son’s frequent visits to the abbey for financial
support that he sent him away. It was at this stage that a stay at Merton has been posited, but all that is recorded
is that he travelled to Paris, the greatest university of the age, and studied there for two years. He then moved
south to Arles, in Lower Burgundy, another centre of learning, before being accepted as an Augustinian canon
at the monastery of St Ruf at Avignon.
Within a few years Nicholas was appointed prior of St Ruf and, a few years later still, was elected as abbot.
But the rôle was not always a happy one, and his fellow-canons soon found him to be too strict for them.
(Our own Guy of Merton had a similar problem when appointed prior of Taunton.) The canons of St Ruf
complained to the Pope, Eugenius III, who managed to reconcile the two parties for a while but, a couple of
years later, after a further complaint from the canons, he is reported to have told them to ‘elect yourselves a
father with whom you will be able to have peace, or one who is more pleasing to you, for this man will no
longer be a burden to you.’ But this was not a criticism of Nicholas, for the Pope added the rejected abbot to
his own entourage.
Nicholas was in Reims in 1148 for a council summoned by the Pope to consider a number of Church regulations,
and was then sent by Eugenius to join the crusade against the Moors in Catalonia, one of three campaigns that
formed the Second Crusade. The other two, against Damascus and in the Baltic, both ended in failure for the
crusaders, but the Catalonia expedition was counted a success. Nicholas did not bear arms, but worked tirelessly
to encourage the Church’s coalition, literally waving the papal flag. On his return, Eugenius promoted him to
cardinal-bishop of Albano in 1149. Adrian commented on the coincidence that a boy from St Albans became
cardinal-bishop of Albano, a small village outside Rome that provided the cardinal with his title.
But this was to be no comfortable sinecure in Italy. In 1152 he was chosen to head a delegation to Scandinavia
to introduce reforms in the church in that region. It was thanks to earlier Scandinavian rulers that their lands
had accepted Christianity 150 years or so earlier, but their successors had maintained a firm control over
the church and its clergy. One of Nicholas’s tasks was to disentangle church from state, but another was a
direct response to an appeal from the local clergy. The original Christian missions to Scandinavia had been
led by missionaries from the German diocese of Hamburg, later merged with Bremen, and the Scandinavian
churches had remained under the ecclesiastical authority of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen. In 1103,
a new diocese had been established at Lund, then part of Denmark though in modern-day Sweden, as a new
centre for the Scandinavian church, but the Norwegian and Swedish clergy petitioned the Pope to establish
independent archbishoprics for each nation. Nicholas appointed an archbishop at Nidaros in Norway, but was
unable to persuade the Swedish church to agree the location of their new archbishopric, though he did appoint
an Englishman as bishop of Uppsala, under the Danish Archbishop of Lund. Other reforms went ahead, and
Nicholas was remembered throughout Scandinavia as ‘Breakspear the good cardinal, and now considered a
saint’, though he was never canonised by the Church.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 4
Nicholas returned to Italy in November 1154 to find that Eugenius had died and that an 80-year old cardinal
had been elected Pope Anastasius IV. Our speaker speculated that the choice was intended as a stopgap during
Nicholas’s absence, and this seems to be confirmed by the fact that the cardinals unanimously elected him as
Pope when Anastasius died of old age a month later. He took the papal name Adrian IV, possibly in recognition
of Pope Adrian I who had first endowed St Albans Abbey with its privileges in the eighth century.
His papacy was dominated by political events rather than spiritual matters. The city of Rome itself was in the
control of Republican insurgents; the German king, Frederick Barbarossa, was marching into the north of Italy
with his armies, intent on forcing the Pope to crown him Holy Roman Emperor; the south of Italy was under
threat from William, the Norman king of Sicily; while the Byzantine emperor was eager to regain a foothold
on Italy’s Adriatic coast. No wonder the new Pope described the Chair of St Peter as ‘a chair full of thorns’.
Nicholas took a firm stand, placing the city of Rome under an interdict on Palm Sunday 1155, effectively
closing the churches and preventing pilgrims from visiting the city, thus cutting off a major source of income.
Within three days the Republicans had caved in, expelling their leaders, and the new Pope was able to celebrate
his first Easter in the Lateran basilica. In May 1155 he moved to Sutri, some 30 miles north of Rome, in
preparation for a meeting with King Frederick. The custom was for a king to hold the Pope’s stirrup while
he dismounted from his horse, but Frederick considered this beneath his dignity. The Pope withdrew and
Frederick’s councillors persuaded him to maintain the tradition. Two days later the ceremony was restaged but
this time Frederick played his part and received the kiss of peace, followed a few weeks later by his coronation
as emperor in Rome.
Nicholas had expected Frederick to remain in Italy to deal with the threat from William of Sicily, but summer
in Rome is hot and was also unhealthy and Frederick’s barons persuaded him it was time to return to Germany.
Faced with renewed threats from the Byzantines, who had made a secret deal with Frederick, the Pope led an
army to deal with William. After initial papal victories at Capua and Benevento, William sought reconciliation,
but the Pope and cardinals rejected it, only to be roundly defeated by William’s troops at a second battle at
Benevento and becoming William’s prisoners. William was anxious to mend the quarrel with the papacy and,
under the Treaty of Benevento, William switched from being the enemy of the papacy to its defender.
While in Benevento, the Pope received a delegation from Henry II, king of England, which included the
current Abbot of St Albans. It was during this visit that the King sought the Pope’s approval for an English
conquest of Ireland. Gerald of Wales, writing in the 1180s, quoted a papal bull, Laudabiliter, granted by Adrian
IV to Henry II, though no copy of the bull has been found in the papal archives, and Henry didn’t claim papal
authority when he invaded Ireland in 1171. However, there seems no doubt that the Pope did grant Henry some
authority over Ireland at this time, though probably not the full rights that Henry had wanted. Nevertheless,
Adrian IV’s reputation has been tarnished as a result.
The Pope was involved in ongoing disputes with Frederick, particularly over the emperor’s renewed assault
on Lombardy. But before things reached the point of excommunication of Frederick, the Pope succumbed to
quinsy, an inflammation of the throat causing suffocation. He died on 1 September 1159 at his summer palace
at Agnani and was buried in the nave of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. When the basilica was rebuilt in 1607,
his sarcophagus was removedto the crypt where it remainsto this day. The coffin was opened at that time and
his body was found to be well preserved and dressed in a dark silk chasuble. He was then described as ‘an
undersized man, wearing Turkish slippers on his feet and, on his hand, a ring, with a large emerald’.
Our speaker lamented that the only memorial in England to our as yet only
English Pope is, fittingly, in St Albans cathedral, where a statue can be found in
the stone screen above the altar, restored in the 19th century, and an inscription
which unfortunately repeats Matthew Paris’s error in naming Nicholas’s father as
Robert rather than Richard. Although Nicholas was a contemporary of Thomas
Becket, whose story is well-known, Adrian Waddingham’s biography of his
namesake is the first full-length story of his life for 100 years. We are grateful
that he undertook this task, and that he shared this tale with us. Several copies
of his book, at a £5 discount, were sold after his talk, and I am sure it will prove
Breakspear: the English Pope is published by The History Press (2022), price £25.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 5
24 March 2023 Six present – Rosemary Turner in the Chair
♦ rosemary Turner had been researching Slater’s memories of Mitcham (see p.7) and was distracted by
looking for archaeological excavations near Heatherdene Close in the Ravensbury Park area.
♦ Christine Pittman had been working on a display for the Society, to be exhibited in Coffee in the Wood
in Colliers Wood High Street. The subject was William De Morgan’s ‘Merton Abbey’ pottery, which was
located right across the road, 1882-1888. The theme was ‘Made in Colliers Wood’, and research included
visits to the British Museum, the V&A, the Wandle Industrial Museum and the Merton Heritage and Local
Studies Centre in Morden, as well as online sites such as The De Morgan Foundation, and the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York. Excitingly, the Met has a charger, designed by De Morgan and made at the
Merton Abbey site, that had belonged to William Morris. There was some discussion about the pair possibly
meeting in a coffee house in Colliers Wood.
♦ David Luff reported that, absurdly, lifebuoys had been placed between the Priory Retail carpark and the
Pickle, where the water depth is usually only between 18 and 32 in, although he notes that the Pickle also
acts as a storm drain when there is heavy rainfall.
David also mentioned a model of the Scotsman Pacific engine and tender (below), for which the body castings
were provided by Fry’s Diecastings Ltd in February 1954, and he wondered if this work had been done at
the Tandem Works in Merton or at one of their other sites.
Photo from Tony
History of TRIx
Railways in Britain
♦ PeterHopkins reported on meetings which he, Tony Scott, Irene Burroughs, Mick Taylor and Sarah Gould
had attended with Amy Keene, Community Engagement Officer at The Canons, to comment and advise on
plans for interpretation panels about the house and grounds and their history. Peter was loaned a copy of
an Historic Building Record report of Aug/Sep 2021, detailing discoveries made during renovation work
to the interior of the building, which revealed four distinct building phases, from which Peter was able to
reconstruct the floor plansand locate the variousroomslisted in the probate inventory of Rebecca Cranmer’s
property following her death in 1815. He showed us a 3D card model that he had made.
The original 1680 house was a three-bay structure, with the entrance hall and staircase in the central bay,
approached by the flight of stone steps. In the basement the northern bay was taken up by the kitchen (the large
fireplace is still there, though the area has now been sub-divided). The southern bay contained the servants’
hall, and is now converted into the toilet area. Blocked windows on the east wall of this hall show that this
had been an exterior wall, and the room behind it is a later extension, perhaps the wash house of 1815.
Immediately above, on the ground floor, evidence had been found under the floorboards that a matching
wall with a hearth had been removed and the fireplace repositioned against the new east wall of the extended
room. In 1815 it was described as ‘dining room front’ (probably in error for drawing room), suggesting that
the room did not yet extend to its present depth – or that the extension was a separate room, perhaps the
parlour mentioned in the inventory as containing books, but apparently nothing else belonging to Rebecca.
The dining room was in the northern bay, over the kitchen, and adjoined a china closet with a dumb waiter
on its south wall, extending into the central staircase bay – used as a store to this day.
On the first floor the ‘front chamber south’was similarly extended, but perhaps contained the dressing room
mentioned in 1815. Or was this in a sub-division of the north chamber? Between these two chambers was
the middle chamber, which still retains its built-in bookcases; a list of ‘books in chamber’ is given in the
inventory. The contents of the attic rooms and storerooms are also listed, including large items of furniture,
so the attic stairs, which were against the east wall of the north chamber, must have been quite wide.
There is no mention of the vaulted cellar which today occupies much of the north-western extension of the
basement, so it seems likely that this extension dates from after 1815 – unless Rebecca Cranmer only occupied
part of the house. The discovery of more blocked windows and doors in walls within this end of the house
reveal that these had been exterior walls and that the north-eastern extension was a yet later addition.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 6
During the recent renovation, a lift was installed in the rear sections of the original kitchen, dining room and
north chamber, obliterating the dimensions of these rooms. Toilets and kitchen areas occupy the remainder
of the eastern sections of this bay on ground and first floors. The attic is now a self-contained flat with access
via a staircase from a new door in the east wall at ground floor level.
A Community Archaeology Project in 2019 investigated the footprint of a possible medieval structure
identified on the East Lawn. Two small trenches revealed evidence of previous use, ranging from Prehistoric
and Roman, through to Medieval and Post-Medieval. Fragments of a thin wattle wall with mud plaster facing,
and a mud-puddled floor surface in trench 1, suggest a flimsy outbuilding from the late monastic period,
while a substantial pebbled surface in trench 2 could have been an interior floor or an outside area of yard.
♦ Mick Taylor
had found the name of Arthur Coles & Co, at Wandle Calico Print Works, Merton Abbey, in
the 1910/11 Kelly’s Directory. David Luff believed that the Coles Shop was given its name in the 1950s,
but the Directory showed that Arthur Coles may well have been in Merton Abbey before that date. Peter
McGow only mentions Arthur Coles in his research on Hackbridge mill, saying he ‘had previously worked at
premises at Merton Abbey’. Arthur’s real name was George Henry Bowman. His father Frederick James was
also a silk printer. As Bowman and Coles they had a business in Garrett Lane, Tooting, that was dissolved in
1900. In 1939 George was living in Cornwall, as a ‘retiredManaging Director -Calico Printing’.The firm
may well have used both methods of printing textiles.
♦ Dave Hauntonhad been sent a photo of a telegram, with a copy of an article from Bulletin 179, concerning a
V-1 bomb in June 1944, which fell south of Martin Way, Merton. The telegram was received by Sub Lieutenant
RN Gent, RNVR, on board HMS Octavia, a mine sweeper serving in the Mediterranean, reading ‘House
Destroyed. Can you get leave? Gwen.’ They lived at 24 Circle Gardens, 300 yards away from the bomb.
Next Workshops Fridays 23 June and 25 August at 2.30pm at Wandle industrial Museum. All welcome.
As mentioned in Bulletin 225, rOSEMArYTUrNEr selects
SOME ‘MEMOriES OF MiTCHAM’ by BENJAMiN SLATEr
I came across mention of this article in the Mitcham Memories group on Facebook, which said that it had been
written in 1911 and published in 1932 in the East Mitcham Ratepayers Association magazine. It had also been
published in Bidder’s Old Mitcham I in 1923 (https://mertonhistoricalsociety.org.uk/mitcham-digital-classics/
and transcript at https://mertonhistoricalsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Ben-Slater-MEMORIESOF-
Ben Slater was 71 in 1911 when he wrote the article, but starts it by saying ‘in the year 1848’ (when he would
have been eight) ‘the land now covered by the coal wharf and Harvey & Knight’s Floor Cloth Factory in
Morden Road, Mitcham, was a field of liquorice which is grown for its root – which penetrates the earth to a
depth of from 3 to 4 feet and has to be trenched out of the ground by men to that depth. In the work of getting
this crop out, the men came across a large quantity of human bones – some of the skeletons were found in stone
coffins.’In Colonel Bidder’s article in the Surrey Archaeological Society’s Collections (1959), which quotes
from Mr Slater’s article, Bidder says that the coffins were actually slabs of stone that formed a cist. Colonel
Bidder says in his Surrey Archaeology Collections Vol xxI (1908) that he only found out by accident that his
workmen on the Ravensbury Estate had been finding bones but had not said anything. Anumber of swords,
spears, bronze and silver coins were uncovered, and pottery which was referred to by Mr Slater as ‘cups shaped
like a beer glass with a foot to it’. Some things were kept by the workmen (including cups and even teeth) but a
man came down each week to buy things. (This seems to have been common – in Croydon antiquarians would
buy things from the workmen doing building work on the Saxon burial site there. The Victorian workmen there
had dug cellars through burials and at one side of the site a stone coffin was disappearing into the foundations
of a house.) Mr Slater says that ‘all the swords – and most of the spears were taken to Major Moore’s house
at Figs Marsh, where he lived at Manor House by the Swan Hotel’. During the time the men were working in
the field ‘the bones were taken to a barn which stood where John’s Place now stands called Angel’s Farm, and
there taken care of until the trenching work was over – and then carted back to the field and buried in a deep
trench’. (A few years ago MHS had an inquiry from the USA about the burial ground.)
The author then goes on to describe Mitcham as it was in 1911. ‘At this time nearly all the land in Mitcham
was cultivated in herbs, there
were about fifty acres of liquorice grown in Mitcham by Major Moore and Mr
James Arthur and one or two other growers. There were also about 100 acres of peppermint grown annually;
this crop was distilled for its oil. The oil of peppermint is very valuable, a certain cure for cholera, gripes and
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 7
pains in the stomach. It is very cleansing. I have many times when cutting the crop cut my finger badly, but
took no notice of it; it would bleed freely at first but would soon stop and in twenty-four hours would be healed
up.’ The plants would be mixed with stable manure and used to manure the land.
I always think of Mitcham as being a place for lavender or mint, but Mr Slater continues his article by listing
the large variety of herbs, which were grown in Mitcham, as well as those previously mentioned, including: ’50
acres of camomile grown annually’. There were several farmers who grew the crop. A large number of people
were employed to gather the flowers. The schools used to close for two months in the camomile season which
started in July (our present school holidays). As many as 200 women and children worked in a 10-acre field.
They were paid a penny per pound for gathering the flowers. The next important crop after this was lavender, at
least 50 acres was grown yearly and was distilled for its scent. 20 acres of the Old Cabbage or Provence roses
were grown and distilled for their scent and rosewater, which was good for weak eyes. Then 20 to 30 acres of
the Damask rose was grown and gathered in bud, the petals were then dried. Caraway seeds were distilled or
used to make Carraway cake. Belladonna, largely used for plasters for bad backs, Henbane and Marshmallow,
grown for its roots used chiefly for poultices for bad legs or bruises. Rosemary, boiled in water, strained and
left to cool, made a good hair-wash. Saffron, a limited amount was grown because it was a rather dangerous
plant. (Ben did not mention worrying about the belladonna and henbane.) Pennyroyal and Horehound mixed
with the juice of liquorice was good for colds, coughs, asthma and bronchitis, and Feverfew, used for fevers.
Wormwood, which was extremely bitter, was once used in place of hops in brewing but forbidden now. Rue
used for rue gin. Lavender cotton, a white-green foliage plant which has the appearance of lavender, is very
poisonous. Lovage, the root of this plant is very much like celery and smells like it. Angelica which is similar to
lovage. Squirting cucumber, a plant like a melon in its foliage growing close to the ground, bearing white-green
cucumbers about as large as your thumb. This plant had to be handled by a man who was thoroughly acquainted
with its nature, It was so dangerous the man had to have his mouth and nose covered when gathering the fruit.
These had to be grown in an isolated place where no one would be likely to interfere with them. Poppy, 2 to 3
acres were grown. They had heads as large as your fist. They were left in the ground until they had dried.
Monkshood Aconite a very deadly poisonous plant grown for its roots and top. Tansy, this herb was found in
most cottage’s gardens, they called it the ginger plant because it smelt like ginger.’Mr Slater finishes the list by
saying that he had seen these herbs grown in Mitcham and had a hand in their cultivation.
He goes on to say ‘years back there used to be an old woman in Mitcham who got her living by gathering wild
herbs …The Coltsfoot, Devil’s Bit, Yarrow, Thyme, Orris, Biteny, Egremony, Red Poppy flowers, Yellow Bay,
Adder’s Spear, Dandelion, Ground Ivy, Celandine. These are only a few.’
His next subject is the larger farm owners. ‘First of all Major Moor’s farm on Fig’s Marsh, a very large farm,
several hundred acres, employing a great number of hands both men and women. Three-fourths of this farm
was cultivated in Herbs; there was a large distillery adjoining the farm house containing 5 large stills for
distilling the herbs … There was a building stood in the farm yard … with a tower with a clock in it; this clock
chimed the quarters and struck the hour. When the Vestry Hall was built the bells of this clock were given to the
Vestry Hall. Mr James Arthur’s farm … is at the top of the Common, now Mr Daniel Watney’s … The distillery
belonging to this farm is still standing in the Croydon Road, now belonging to a French firm named Jakeson.’
According to Eric Montague this firm continued distilling until 1949. There were several farmers, including
John Bunce and Mr Weston, who kept cows which were grazed on Figs Marsh or the Common. Boys were
employed to stop them straying into the fields.
Ben Slater’s article continues, first describing the factories in the area, and then to relate his experiences at
Mitcham Fair and Epsom races, plus other events linked to religious celebrations. He ends with mention of
the trams, not those of the present days but the horse-drawn ones dating back to 1840 where the article started.
CANNON HiLL COMMON PAViLiON
In the same Workshop Report as the Ben Slater note (see above), we mentioned the lack of pictures of the
Pavilion. Member Marian Heath
offers us the photograph on page 1, that she took during a walk across the
Common in August 2005. She talked to a local couple who were walking their dog, and they told her that the
Pavilion had recently been advertised to be re-opened by the Council if anyone was prepared to run it. Sheila
Harris adds that, according to the Newsletter of the Friends of Cannon Hill Common for Winter 2005/2006,
the building burned down on 14 Feb 2006. [Thank you, ladies. Just the sort of feedback, full of dates and
sources, that an Editor appreciates!]
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 8
HUGH MOrGAN of the Dorset Hall Group writes on
DOrSET HALL’S SECrETS (1): MiLiTANT SUFFrAGETTES
Dorset Hall’s best kept secret remains the role that its occupants played in influencing one of the landmark
events in British political history. When Emmeline Pankhurst, with her daughters Christabel, Sylvia and Adele,
founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903, it was clear that mere words had brought no
constitutional change, so to the Pankhursts it seemed necessary that the WPSU should be militant in creating
public nuisance if their half of the population were to achieve the right to vote.
Some members of the WSPU, when imprisoned for public nuisance, contemplated the ultimate sacrifice1 through
hunger striking, but this led to force feeding. When this treatment brought one to her death and others near to
death, the authorities took to releasing any severely weakened women, who were then re-arrested when suitably
revived. This inhumane legislation became known as the Cat and Mouse Act; it was particularly effective with
the eminent leadership of the WSPU, whose Edwardian grandeur made prison authorities reluctant to force feed
them. On release under the Cat and Mouse Act these figureheads would take time out to recuperate and then would
find it necessary to go ‘underground’ to avoid re-arrest. The result was disarray in the leadership of the WSPU.
By the late spring of 1913 Emmeline Pankhurst was on the run, there was a warrant out for the arrest of Grace Roe,
WSPU’s head of operations, and Christabel Pankhurst was in exile in Paris. By that time, frustrated by the lack of
even a glimpse of constitutional change, the acts of public nuisance had escalated to become more extreme. The
leadership of the WSPU had taken to ejecting activists who might be at risk of harming people rather than just
property, one of those being Sylvia Pankhurst. Furthermore by 1913 the effect on the health of the most ardent re-
offenders was severe. Even for the most determined, who had sustained a series of imprisonments accompanied
by hunger strikes and force feeding, it was enough to break the hardiest body and spirit. With its leadership in
disarray and its membership disheartened, a question-mark hung over the continuing effectiveness of the WSPU.
An Act of defiance from Wimbledon
A’leader in the wings’of the WSPU was the suffragette Rose Lamartine Yates of Dorset Hall, Merton. She was
not grandiose, but she was ardent, a fierce debater and great orator and she led the Wimbledon WSPU from the
front with an engaging charm. Consistently on Sunday afternoons, beginning in 1908, she would speak for the
rights of women to potentially unruly crowds on Wimbledon Common, skilfully knocking back the inevitable
hecklers. But she also knew her limitations; during her education when things had got on top of her she would
drop out with break-downs. Once married she seemed to have gained control of these mental interruptions. Her
husband Tom was 30 years older and, as a friend of her parents, had been a close witness to her childhood and so
knew her frailty. With his support Dorset Hall entered a period of great influence both locally and further afield.
The couple’s common attribute, apart from being keen cyclists, was that they were notably discreet. Tom was
a self-taught practicing solicitor, who would act on behalf of the women’s movement, often to the detriment of
his practice. He in turn taught Rose the law to the level of taking articles, although to her annoyance, being a
woman, she was unable to practice. Dorset Hall became a trusted support, refuge and the south-west London hub
of the Women’s movement, discreet to the extent that the police were refused entry when searching for Christabel
Pankhurst, where her sister Sylvia, among others, would come for legal advice.
Rose’s greatest test of character was in the spring of 1913, when the WSPU had been banned from all public
speaking. Rose had successfully argued that the Wimbledon branch of the WSPU was independent – which
was correct, in that under her leadership the Wimbledon WSPU had never received a penny from central office.
Undeterred and in an extraordinary act of defiance Rose continued with a Sunday address to a crowd of over five
thousand on the Common, with massed ranks of police, some mounted, for her protection. After this 200 police,
50 of them mounted, escorted her the mile to Dorset Hall, restraining the pursuing crowd, and finally put a cordon
across Kingston Road so that she could safely enter her house.
It was at this time, when Rose’s act of steadfastness was a lone spark in an otherwise dampened Women’s
movement, that Emily Wilding Davison, Rose’s long-term friend, colleague and frequent visitor to Dorset Hall,
who Rose knew as ‘Pem’, planned her own extreme and ultimately fatal gesture of defiance. After her first hunger
strike in September 1909 at Strangeways prison, Emily had returned to her local town of Morpeth to a heroine’s
welcome and a parade through the streets. The Morpeth Herald at the time opined ‘No power will be long able
to withstand an agitation persistently carried on by a body of such able enthusiasts’. This was an optimistic
beginning but in the subsequent four years to 1913 Emily’s suffering at the hands of the authorities had taken its
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 9
toll. She had gone on hunger strike seven times in prison and been force fed 49 times. She had also been expelled
from the WSPU for more and more extreme campaigning strategies. At the start of her campaign she had railed
against a government ‘whose obstinacy would not read the signs of the times’ but the signs looked to be fading,
and the WSPU leadership were known to be in confusion. This campaigning malaise almost certainly fuelled her
determination to make a protest that would be her most spectacular.
After practicing with mounted suffragette colleagues on the abandoned racecourse on the remote Common above
Morpeth, she headed south. There she deliberately disrupted the Epsom Derby by bringing down a racehorse that
belonged to the King. The police declaration of her possessions2 that day showed that she had come prepared with
two suffragette flags pinned to the lining of her coat, a purse, various papers and a handkerchief. For someone whose
previous escapades required deliberate planning it might be imagined that she would have about her a ‘Votes for
Women’ article more easily accessible. The ‘Votes for Women’ silk sash3 found on the racecourse almost certainly
answers this question, with her presumed intention being to drape it over the racehorse. The 24 hours it took to
ascertain who was responsible for the incident did not diminish the sense of a strike at the heart of the kingdom.
Epsom: From disgrace to validation and triumph
This scandalous dismounting of the King’s horse during the most important race in the sporting calendar was
greeted with revulsion by the royal family, the public and the press. When it became apparent a suffragette was
responsible there was real outrage. The fact that she did not immediately die from her resultant injuries, but was
left in a coma, allowed the press to vent its wrath for four days. There was every indication that hers would be an
ignominious departure – and so it might have been had not the occupants of Dorset Hall rallied round.
From ‘waiting in the wings’ Rose Lamartine Yates now took leadership into her own hands, almost as if the
household had been prepared. There were only two days between Emily’s death and the inquest – the Derby was
on 4 June 1913, she died on the 8th and her inquest was on the 10th. The immediate need to proceed with the legal
action taken by Tom Lamartine Yates (he represented the family at the inquest) suggests he had been briefed –
Emily’s eldest brother came immediately to stay at Dorset Hall. Rose would reveal, over 20 years after the event,
that Emily had visited Dorset Hall the afternoon before the Derby, preparing the way ‘in case of accidents’.
A unique martyrdom came about despite an inquest that concluded death by ‘misadventure’. The formal grandeur
of the funeral procession in London, just four days after the inquest, where thousands of women paid tribute,
turned disgrace into a triumph and a political landmark unlike anything seen before or since. The funeral
arrangements were masterminded from Dorset Hall by Rose and the supreme activist Mary Leigh, drum major of
the Suffragette Fife and Drum Band, and close friend of both Emily and Rose. In fact the three of them had met
on 1 June at the Suffragette flower festival in Kensington, organised by Rose.
Mourners at the massive funeral procession were regimented into four abreast cohorts, each holding a single
flower. Band leader Mary Leigh would have known that four abreast suited London streets, while the flowers
suggest Rose’s influence, a Madonna Lily for cohorts in white, a purple Iris for those in black and a Peony for
those in purple. The route of the procession was an inspired gift of circumstance. The family’s wish was for a
burial in the family plot at St Mary’s Church, Morpeth. The coffin would arrive from Epsom at Victoria Station
and would need then to get to King’s Cross Station for the train to Morpeth. The most direct route was along
the garden wall of Buckingham Palace, through Hyde Park Corner, down Piccadilly, through Piccadilly Circus,
along Shaftesbury Avenue to a service at St George’s Church in Bloomsbury Way and then on to Southampton
Row and Kings Cross Station. Such a key route through London drew huge crowds. It had been organised in
less than a week, during which the Suffragette Magazine
was published and distributed, providing full details.
It demonstrated the underlying organisational potential of the Women’s Movement. It reinforced the perception
that womanhood’s imperative for a right to vote was not going away and that through Emily Wilding Davison’s
martyrdom the campaign would potentially be more potent than ever. Indeed, the funeral procession contained no
recognisable suffragette dignitaries, but women from all walks of life – it was a dignified rank and file show of
strength, even though their leaders had absconded or been arrested.
Grace Roe was later critical of the funeral arrangements; possibly she felt side-lined, but being under threat of
arrest and in disguise she did well to take on the task of finding a supportive priest for the service in the short time
available, given that many priests were reluctant due to the circumstances of Emily’s death.
While now acclaimed as a landmark in British political history it was not in the interest of those at Dorset Hall
to be trumpeting their part in engineering events following Emily’s death. There was a risk of thus devaluing it,
while suggesting any involvement at all might have jeopardized the ‘misadventure’ verdict. For Emily’s family
it was important that her act was never seen as ‘self-murder’: the law was such that reparations could fall on the
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 10
family. Thus the question of whether Emily Wilding Davison’s death
was intended will always be argued over and never fully answered. It
remains Dorset Hall’s greatest secret.
It is perhaps no surprise that following the event Rose had a breakdown,
the first since she married. An intriguing detail of the story revolves
around Emily’s return ticket stub from Epsom, which became
important at the inquest as demonstrating Emily’s intent to return
from the Derby and contributed to the argument for a ‘misadventure’
verdict. Rose, 20 years after the event, would recount that Emily had
handed her the Return stub on the day before the Derby. Was this
because Emily did not want anything to deter her resolve not to need a
train to come back from the Derby? If Rose had the ticket stub, did she
manage to slip it into Emily’s purse when she lay in the hospital bed in
a coma? This is a possibility, because the police list of her possessions
was only made on the day of the inquest (right, note date).
In fact, a ticket from Victoria Station for the 1913 Derby, as purchased
by Emily, could only be acquired as a Return Ticket. If Emily was
intent on achieving martyrdom for the cause she might have handed
this to her solicitor, prior to the event, to emphasize intent. If the ticket stub was in Rose and Tom’s hands prior to
the Derby, then they, against all the odds, managed to deliver the best outcome possible for their deceased client
and her family, while also enabling a triumph for Rose and Emily’s shared cause. That statues to Emily Wilding
Davison now stand both in Epsom and Morpeth demonstrates society’s acceptance of a martyrdom to a worthy
cause, her ‘outrage’town and her ‘home’town both giving full justification for what took place at Dorset Hall in
the Spring of 1913.
John Wallace Dorset Hall at Merton (nd. booklet for the John Innes Society)
Judy Goodman Dorset Hall 1906-1935: A house, A family, A cause (nd. booklet for the John Innes Society)
Paul Lamartine Yates [son of Rose and Tom] Autobiography, by kind permission of Yolande Yates (ms. in the
Rose Lamartine Yates Collection of the John Innes Society)
Craig Armstrong Struggle and Suffrage in Morpeth and Northumberland (2020, Pen & Sword History)
Kathleen Fisher Sun and Shadows: Holidays in Hitler’s Reich, ed. Eileen V Smith (1982, Arthur H Stockwell Ltd)
Alexandra Hughes-Johnson Rose Lamartine-Yates and the Wimbledon WSPU: Reconfiguring Suffragette History
from the Local to the National (2017, PhD thesis, submitted to Royal Holloway, University of London)
1 (Editor’s note) A claim of intent to commit suicide, propounded by Hughes-Johnson in her PhD thesis, is by no means
generally accepted. A more conventional explanation for the hunger strikes is that the women were protesting their
detainment status (as criminals rather than political prisoners), not aiming to die. See for example the standard history
expressed by the UK Parliament’s heritage site https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/
2 (Editor) The police statement of her possessions, and the return ticket itself, may be seen at The National Archives in
Metropolitan Police file MEPO 2/1551.
3 (Author) The sash is owned by Barbara Gorna, joint chair of the Dorset Hall Group. On loan to the Palace of Westminster
since 2008, it is currently the centrepiece of the Suffragette exhibition.
THE DOrSET HALL GrOUP
This group is campaigning to save Dorset Hall, a Grade II listed Georgian house on Kingston Road, Wimbledon. In the
1930s the house had extensive grounds and was sold at a discount to Merton Council; Rose Lamartine Yates, the owner,
had stipulated that local people should be free to use the gardens ‘forever’, but the grounds have been built on. Some
gardens are left, and the house is still standing. It is owned by Clarion, the social housing provider, whose intention now
is to dispose of the house and the site. The house had been neglected in recent years, was latterly bedsits until about
2016, when it was found no longer fit for purpose, abandoned and then lived in by squatters. The Group got in touch with
Clarion, who have agreed a stay on the sale whilst the future of the building is discussed. Clarion agreed to make the
building watertight. The Group persuaded the Architectural Heritage Trust to give them a grant and Oliver Brodrick-Ward
of AHT came on board. They have managed to assemble a total of over £700,000 to date, spent on bringing the building
to a weatherproof state and on conducting an Options Appraisal, managed by the National Trust. This came up with viable
solutions which inevitably depend on serious fund-raising. The Group is working closely with the National Trust, Clarion
and Merton Council and will have a stall at Merton Heritage Day on 20 August so that people can meet and talk with them.
A website discussing Aims and Progress is on Dorsethall.org.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 11
NOrMA COX tracks the varying fortunes of
THE NEW MErTON BOArD MiLLS SiTE
As I waited at the bus-stop in Martin Way after the recent AGM and members talks, I met a fellow lady-
member of Merton Historical Society. She asked me if I knew anything about the cardboard mill that was
on the Sainsbury’s SavaCentre site in Merton, as I had just given a short talk at the AGM about the Stanton
Redcroft factory of Copper Mill Lane. However, I did not know much about the cardboard mill she mentioned,
so I have now researched the New Merton Board Mills, with the following results.
In a chapter of Evelyn Jowett’s book A History of Merton and Morden, Elgin Wells wrote that the Merton
Board Mills were erected in 1923 and that it was one of the largest cardboard-making firms in England.1 In
the previous year, 1922, Kelly’s Directory for Wimbledon had the site listed as Stevenson, Hugh & Sons
Ltd (Paper Manufactures) at Merton Abbey Mills, no.1 High Street, Merton.2 In Eric Montague’s Mitcham
Histories series I found more history of the Merton Board Mills, later to be called the New Merton Board
Mills.3 Montague said that there were ‘… copper workings at the Merton Abbey site up until 1870. The
Copper Mill was succeeded by a flock mill and finally the site was occupied by the Merton Board Mills’.
Montague also noted that the Copper Mill was just over the Mitcham Parish boundary, outside Colliers Wood,
but this mill and its successor, the Merton Board Mills, were very much part of the local scene and history of
Merton Singlegate (Colliers Wood).4 In 1895 there was an entry in the Paper Mills Directory recording that the
Metropolitan Paper Co had taken over the Merton Abbey Mills premises. Paper had been made in Merton from
the eighteenth century, with a mill owned by a Mr Higgins, but the precise location of this one is unknown;
it ceased operation after it burned down. A second paper-mill was implied by the allocation of the excise
number to James Bagshaw in 1832, but this was short-lived, as the number was re-allocated to someone else
in 1845. Between these two dates a Charles Daniel Nichols, a former paper-maker of Merton, was declared an
insolvent debtor in 1840, and may have been an associate of Bagshaw; but again his mill site is unknown.5 In
July 1895 there
was a fire at Merton Abbey Mills, when a large storage shed containing 250 tonnes of waste
paper was destroyed, amounting to £1,000 of damage. By 1897 the Metropolitan Paper Company’s mills were
producing 30-40 tons of paper per week and the output included newspaper and card for railway tickets. The
business used both steam and water power. In 1898 the paper-mills were taken over by Albert E Reed and Co
(founder of Reed International) who owned paper-mills at Godalming and in Kent. Reed left Merton in 1917.
In 1923 the buildings of the Metropolitan Paper Co were replaced by the Merton Board Mills, but this concern
became bankrupt in 1925. The company was reborn in 1927 as
the New Merton Board Mills and became very successful, but
the buildings were destroyed by German bombers in WW2.
In 1945 the New Merton Board Mills were rebuilt to include
the William Morris & Co land. The New Merton Board Mill
was a massive structure with three large chimneys serving
a bank of coal-fired marine boilers (right, photo courtesy of
Wandle Industrial Museum). The business operated for over
There are two reports on the internet of industrial accidents which took place at the New Merton Board Mills.
The first involved a worker named James Gibson Davie who in 1953 lost his sight and his left eye when using
a drift to separate certain parts in the production of paper at the mill. The drift, here a 12-inch-long tapered bar,
was used by placing the pointed end against the junction between two metal parts which were to be separated
and then the drift would be hit with a hammer to apply force to bring about the separation. As this drift was
struck by the hammer it had splintered. This was because the metal of the drift had been made too hard in
its manufacture, giving rise to a flaw. The drift had been made by one manufacturer and sold on to another
company, who was the Mills’supplier, but the flaw due to faulty manufacturing had not been discovered. The
manufacturer of the drift was found guilty.6 The second accident involved an 18-year-old workman working
with a machine for cutting cardboard, the machine having revolving sharp knives. While collecting the shavings
from the cutting process the machine operator had his fingers cut off. The cutting machine should have been
fenced off and therefore the employer had contravened the Factory Working Act of 1901, even though the
employee was aware that he could have stopped the machine by using a lever before he collected the shavings.
The New Merton Board Mills factory owners were found guilty.7
Paper-mills produced pollution to the air and the surroundings.8 Montague wrote that the New Merton Board
Mills ran efficiently and air pollution was reported to have been kept to a minimum but the vast size of the business
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 12
with its coal wharves and railway yards
(right, 1933 map from Lines Around
Wimbledon Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith
(1996, Middleton Press)) had meant
that the surrounding industrialisation
had polluted the environment and
consequently the site was unpleasant.9 A
Merton resident named only as Michael
recorded in his memories that the New
Merton Board Mills stood on land beside
the River Wandle opposite Merton Bus
Garage. The Wandle passed under the
mills and the river-water smelt. He said
that there was a pipe positioned over the
river which had taps, but Michael didn’t
know if the taps let out factory effluent or
if the taps allowed plain water out onto
the River Wandle to disperse the large
‘ice-bergs’ of foam that travelled down
the river.10 Foam was produced at paper-
mills because of the processes involved;
it could be dispersed by chemical or
mechanical means. The chemical defoaming
did not require a large amount
of equipment investment or maintenance
costs or any changes to the original process and was widely used.11 There is a photograph showing the foam
produced at the New Merton Board Mills on the Wandle in 1976 in the River Wandle Companion by Steel
and Coleman.12 Later in 1980 the board-mills became the Merton Packaging Works, part of the Dickenson
Robinson Group.13 The New Merton Board Mills was the last of the Surrey paper-mills and it kept abreast of
modern paper technology. About £4 million was invested by the owners to modernise the mills, which could
process 60,000 tonnes of recycled paper annually to make laminated fibre-board for packing-cases, used in the
meat, fish and horticultural industries. However, by 1985 the New Merton Board Mills had become redundant
and they were demolished.
The site was bought by Sainsbury’s for its SavaCentre supermarket, part of the
Priory Park retail development scheme. Sainsbury’s allowed the archaeological
investigation of the site, which ran for over four years, exploring the remains
of Merton Priory including the Chapter House.14 Today the frontage of the
Sainsbury’s building shows that the site (no longer the SavaCentre) is now co-
owned with Marks and Spencer (left, photo Norma Cox, 1 December 2022). The
retail building has a tall frontage, a reminder perhaps of the tall chimneys of the
New Merton Board Mill. The Wandle flows in front and a small arched bridge
gives access to the site from Merton High Street. It is now rather a rustic scene.
1 Elgin S Wells ‘Industrial Merton and Morden’ in An
illustrated history of Merton and Morden, Evelyn Jowett
(1951, Merton and Morden Festival of Britain Local
2 Kelly’s Directory of Wimbledon 1922
3 E N Montague Mitcham Histories:9. Colliers Wood or
Singlegate, p.132 (2007, Merton Historical Society in
association with Merton Library & Heritage Service)
4 As Note 3 p.71
5 As Note 3 pp.131-2, for the rest of this paragraph
9 As Note 3 p.132
10 Michael’s memories in www.soundcloud.com/
12 Bob Steel with Derek Coleman River Wandle Companion
and Wandle Trail Guide p.24 (2012, Culverhouse Books)
13 As Note 3 pp.132-3 for the rest of this paragraph
14 John Hawks, lecture on Chapter House of Merton Priory
given to West Wimbledon Society in November 2022.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 13
‘MErTON ABBEY’ PHOTOGrAPH ALBUM
We were delighted when Christine Guest offered us these scans of a photo album of ‘Merton Abbey’. On the
1861 Census William Henry Clark (Christine’s husband’s great-great-grandfather), was a hotelier living at 78
York Road, Lambeth, but in 1871 he is listed as a wine merchant aged 36 living in ‘Abbey House, Merton’. In
1875 and 1878 the electoral roll shows him living at Merton Abbey. This is clearly the ‘Abbey House’ marked
on the map, often referred to as ‘Abbey Gate House’. In 1871 the Littler family were at the other ‘Abbey
House’ (‘Merton Abbey’ on the map). William Morris’s works adjoined to the east, beyond our added dotted
line. By 1881 the house address was given as High Street, Merton, and in December 1884 a lease on ‘Gate
House’ was taken by Colonel Frederick Wellesley. By 1901 Mr Clark was a widowed, retired wine merchant at
13 Blenheim Road, Merton. He died in 1903. Interestingly he is not identifiable in the censuses of 1881, 1891
or 1901; perhaps he was abroad, tasting and negotiating for his business.
Clearly all the photographs were taken on a single sunny day, probably by family and friends (all well-to-do)
experimenting with a new top-of-the-range camera. The stiff poses and the lack of blurring indicate a stand
was used. The date should be between 1875 (when lawn tennis was invented) and 1884 (when the house was
leased to a new tenant).
The originals views have been
cropped to draw attention to
features of particular interest.
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 14
Some notes on individual pictures: (1,
overleaf) is a coloured postcard from Lionel
Green’s collection which duplicates a photo in
the album showing the wide gravel pathway
for the family, parallel with the north wall of
the estate. (2) may well show Mr Clark (in his
40s ?) with his wife. The positions of the two
garden ornaments do not appear on the map,
so presumably were recent purchases. (3) is a
view of the interior, the rear hall, taken through
the south-facing back door and using natural
light. (4) note the carriage with its solid tyres
– pneumatic ones did not arrive until 1888. (5)
the hut has no bolt or handle on the door, only
a lock-plate, so presumably is to store valuable
items. Note the low-grade cinder path beside
it, for staff use. (8) note the angler and the
outside staff posed in the background. (9) has
a boat and two more anglers, one in kilt and
Tam o’Shanter. (11) shows a different boat, and
another angler, with the tennis match beyond.
These garden ornaments are marked on the
map. (12) beyond the wide tennis net, note
the seated line judge, the cannon, at least four
agave plants in pots, and threeindoor staff (two
maids and a house-keeper ?).
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 15
1 7 1 7
We have attempted to plot each viewpoint onto the 1870s 25-in OS map. The views along the central canal (6,
9, 11) seem fairly obvious and those facing towards the rear of the house (1, 11, 12) can be distinguished from
those pointing towards the back gate to Station Road (7, 9, 10). For some the location is only approximate;
alternative suggestions would be welcomed.
12 >11 >
< 2 ?
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of the contributors concerned and not necessarily those of the Society or its Officers.
website: www.mertonhistoricalsociety.org.uk email: email@example.com
Printed by Peter Hopkins
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY – BULLETIN 226 – JUNE 2023 – PAGE 16