Wandsworth means “The village by the Wandle”. The Wandle is a river which runs from Croydon and joins the Thames just west of Wandsworth Bridge.
There were several mills on the Wandle in the 16th century, and the area was relatively industrial. It was particularly an area for hatters and dyers. Wandsworth supplied hats to the cardinals in Rome and became famous for its hats throughout Europe. When Huguenot refugees arrived in the 18th century, they established brass manufacture in the area. Brewing was also a local industry, and Young’s Brewery was based there. Voltaire lived in Wandsworth from 1726-9.
In the 18th century, rich merchants began to build large houses around the common, which they tried to enclose for private use, but the local people successfully opposed it. The Surrey Iron Railway was one of the first of the railways to be constructed and ran through the area in 1803. This precipitated large-scale residential development of the area. The first Wandsworth Bridge was constructed in 1870. It was replaced by the present bridge in 1936. Wandsworth prison was built in 1849. Oscar Wilde spent the first six months of his sentence there in 1895. Ronnie Biggs, one of the great train robbers, escaped from the prison in 1965.
Wandsworth as a residential area is a quite small part of the London Borough which takes its name. The area between Wandsworth Park and Battersea along the river front, down to Armoury Way, has seen extensive redevelopment in recent years. Battersea Reach contains nearly 700 flats in 10 tower blocks. Riverside West is an equally large development towards Wandsworth Bridge. Near the mouth of the Wandle River there are over 400 flats in the Riverside Quarter. Near Putney inland, more estates, large and small, have been created.
There are still early Georgian houses in Church Row and Victorian cottages in Sudlow Road. Just south of Wandsworth Town Station and east of Fairfield Street there are small Victorian cottages in various streets named Tonsley – Road, Street, Place, Hill – and surrounding roads. Smaller attractive properties are to be found in the north part of this area, such as Dalby Road, with larger houses in the south, such as Dempster and Birdhurst Roads.
South of East Hill is St Ann’s Hill area, which contains terraces of late Victorian and Edwardian properties, which are generally larger than the houses to the north. Sought-after roads include Geraldine Road and Eglantine Road.
Wandsworth Common Road which skirts the Common on the west of Trinity Road contains large Victorian houses. Heathfield Gardens, adjoining the Common, has Regency cottages. There are attractive properties on either side of Wandsworth Common. Elsynge Road and Spencer Road to the north contain large Victorian properties with considerable gardens, as well as more cottage sized properties. On the south side is Spencer Park with large detached and semi-detached houses from Victorian times through to post-war houses, lining the Common, but with their own communal garden.
“The Toast Rack” is the name for a group of streets nestling in Wandsworth Common, and they are the streets between Trinity Road and Baskerville Road. They are large detached and semi-detached Victorian houses with considerable gardens. On the other side of Trinity Road is the Magdalen Estate, with large houses in streets running off Magdalen Road, just south of Wandsworth prison. Houses between Routh Road and Lyford Road back onto an extension of Wandsworth Common.
At the foot of the Common, near Wandsworth Common station, is “Bellevue Village” taking in streets to the south of Bellevue Road. St James’s Drive contains terraces of large Victorian houses, and there are smaller houses in neighbouring streets. More large Victorian houses are found in the streets, like Wandle and Hensham Roads, on the other side of Trinity Road.
Back in the centre there are mainly Victorian houses to be found in the West Hill area, but also some 1930s and post-war houses, and council flats. Wimbledon Park Road contains Victorian houses, as does West Hill Road. On the east of Merton Road, Broomhill Road contains small houses, but there are progressively larger Victorian houses in the streets back towards Buckhold Road. There is a council-built estate of small houses off Longstaff Crescent which backs on to King George’s Park.