A brief history of Earslfield
In the medieval times, Earlsfield was the northern part of the manor and hamlet of Garrat (also spelt Garratt, Garrett or Garret) in the parish of Wandsworth. The early history of Earlsfield showed an uninhabited stretch of open country, mainly farmland, market gardens, parkland of the grand estates and the open heathland of Wimbledon and Wandsworth Commons.
The River Wandle, which is a tributary of the River Thames in South London, lends its name to the borough of Wandsworth of which Earlsfield is a part. The river has a total length of about 9 miles (14 km) and passes through the London boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Merton, to meet the Thames at Wandsworth. The name Wandle is thought to derive from a back-formation of Wandsworth (Old English “Wendlesworth” meaning “Wendle’s Settlement”). Worth, in the Saxon language, signifies either a village, or a shore. In Doomsday-book, the name of this place is spelt Wandesorde, and Wendlesorde; in other ancient records, Wandlesworth, and Wendlesworth.
One of the most historical parts of Earlsfield is Summerstown which in present days links Plough Lane with Garratt Lane. ‘Dutchmen’ are recorded as manufacturing brass plates for kettles and frying pans in this area around 1631 and there is also evidence of Huguenot silk weaving and wig making here. In the 18th and early 19th centuries the hamlet provided labour for the Wandle’s mills.
From the late Middle Ages there were mills beside the river Wandle, which frequently flooded the area, and by the 18th century the Earlsfield area was heavily industrialised. In the early 19th century London’s first railway, the horse-drawn Surrey Iron Railway, ran along Garratt Lane.
The hamlet of Garratt to the south was famous in the 18th century for the bizarre political burlesque of the Election of the Mayor of Garratt which took place near the Leather Bottle, a Grade II listed building built in the early 18th century. The elections were conducted in such a frivolous manner as to attract crowds of tens of thousands. The ‘mayor’ was really the chairman of an association of villagers formed in the 1740s to resist encroachments on Wandsworth Common.
Milestones in the history of Earlsfield
A major event was the opening of the London and South Western Railway in 1838 which originally passed through Earlsfield without stopping.
South of Garratt Lane’s junction with Wimbledon Road, in the Summerstown area, St Clement Danes almshouses were built on a six-acre site, previously farmland, in 1848–9. Also, between 1853 and 1864, the area was the site of the Copenhagen Running Grounds, a major venue for pedestrianism.
Later in the century, suburban development began to creep across from Wandsworth Common but it wasn’t until Earlsfield Station opened in 1884 when new shops began to open and houses began to be built and spread across the fields towards Wandsworth Common and Burntwood Lane.
Old Earlsfield bridge
It is from an old mansion called ‘Earlsfield’ just south of Allfarthing Lane that the area gets its current name. The house belonged to the Lord of the Manor’s wife’s family who were called Earl, as most of the area was still open fields, the two together became Earlsfield. The Lord of the Manor himself was called Davis and he was the founder of the first housing development that began the growth of the area. In 1884 the mansion was sold and knocked down to build the railway station. One condition of the sale was that the station was named after the house and the modern Earlsfield still has the station at its heart. The opening of the Earlsfield railway station transformed this sleepy village into a bustling modern town 10 minutes (by train) from Waterloo. Present-day Earlsfield is a vibrant and growing community which still has the train station at its heart.
The development of Earlsfield as a district began back in 1877 through to the 1930’s. Garratt Lane itself is an ancient road with unknown origins, which had always been an access route through the fields and common land that it once was. Garratt Lane, interestingly, follows the route of the river Wandle that provided communication between the many mills and farmland along its way. The large mills at Duntshill were used for a variety of purposes including the manufacture of Parchments, Quill pens, the printing of Paisley Shawls, making dyes and fireworks. At the time, the only houses around were the small worker’s cottages.
In 1885 a vast workhouse was established on Swaffield Road. By 1900 developers had covered practically the whole area north of the station with terraced housing. In the years just after the First World War, Wandsworth Borough Council created the Magdalen Park Estate between Swaby Road and Openview.
Summerstown’s Romanesque parish church of St Mary was completed in 1920 and is now grade II listed.
Major local historical landmarks:
As part of this bustle, cultural spaces were not forgotten. In addition to the variety of pubs and eel shops along Garratt Lane, there was London’s first electric cinema house.
The Premier Electric Theatre, at nearby 467-468 Garratt Lane, opened on Saturday 18 June 1910. It had an auditorium with 800 seats. An advertisement on 28 October 1910 listed 10 films, but added “other novel and interesting pictures”. It mentioned that afternoon tea was served free of charge at matinees and that the Vivaphone was to play the music Bandolero and Now I have to call him Father.
The Picture Palace Cinema
The cinema was renamed after the Second World War as “The Rex”. The last film was shown in April 1960 and it then became The Rex Bingo Club. The building was demolished around 1987/88.
Haldane Place, near the Wandle, was the site of the main manufacturing base for Airfix between 1939 and 1981.
The current Voltaire building near The Wandle pub comprises a main block that used to be the Wandle Primary School. The remaining blocks occupy what were presumably courtyard and playground areas. Plaques on the front of the building are dated 1905, London County Council. The school closed in 2004 at which point it was redeveloped by Barratts, the housing developers. At some point during the redevelopment, the building was renamed Voltaire, presumably in homage to the French writer Francois-Marie Arouet who wrote under the name. In 1726, Voltaire was exiled from France and came to the UK to stay with his friend Everard Fawkener in Wandsworth. The exact location of Fawkener’s property is unknown since records were destroyed in the Second World War, but all of the best suggestions are that it was within Wandsworth Town rather than Earlsfield.
Old Wandle School
Wandsworth Museum and Earlsfield Library have a range of historic photographs and more information on the history of Earlsfield and the surrounding area.
MORE IMAGES OF OLD EARLSFIELD
Old Grosvenor Arms Pub