Past and future - Wandsworth Town Centre

Published: Monday, July 27, 2020

As the borough recovers from the Coronavirus pandemic, Wandsworth Council, through its Smart Growth plan, is seizing the opportunity to make profound changes that will make it a greener, better place to live. In a series of articles, we will look at the past and future of our borough.  

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Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Wandsworth High Street, 1897

Recently, Wandsworth councillors met to discuss an ambitious and far-reaching masterplan that could transform Wandsworth town centre.

Wandsworth has been through many changes before in its long history. It’s believed there has been a settlement at Wandsworth since Saxon times, and it appeared in the Domesday Book on 1086It was an important stop for coaches heading west and was known for its mills along the WandleAll Saint’s Church was begun in 1630. 

The town takes its name from the Wandle river which flows through the middle of the town and joins the Thames at the Wandle Delta. It was known for its flour, cloth and textile mills and after the industrial revolution for uses such as metal works, bleaching and gunpower-making. It became heavily polluted – although clean-ups in recent years mean fish now thrive again.  

Watney's Mill on the Wandle 1826

Planners believe the Delta is key to making the town more attractive and connected and a Strategic Planning Document for the area will go out to public consultation later this year. The aim is to create a network of streets and open spaces that are accessible and help link the area around Wandsworth Town station and the Tonsleys to the rest of the town centre.  

Wandsworth Town Centre is now dominated by Southside shopping centre, but some older residents may remember what was there before.  

The back of the Wandsworth Greyhound Stadium seen from the River Wandle in 1958.  The area next to King George's Park was also dominated by a large storm relief sewage aqueduct. 

Garratt Lane has been transformed in recent years. The large Sainsbury’s opened in 1987 on the site of a former council depot and more recently a large council building used as the housing department has been demolished to make way for new housing, a new public square and a library. 

The old housing department building and the new plans for this part of Garratt Lane

The Wandsworth Gas Works took up much of the riverside land, and when it closed in 1971 a large area was heavily contaminated. The GLC decided to build the Smugglers Way waste transfer section on much of it. The video below, courtesy of the Thames News You Tube channel, is a contemporary news report about a public consultation on the future of the site. 

The same year the Arndale Shopping Centre (now Southside) was built on the site of the former greyhound stadium and a large flour mill. The river Wandle was buried underneath, and the town was effectively cut in half by the one-way system. The side nearest the Thames was dominated by Young’s Ram Brewery, which ceased production in 2006. 

Woolworths in the Arndale in the 1980s (courtesy of the Woolworths Museum)

The Ram site has been transformed into a new shopping and residential area. This will become much more accessible and the two halves of the town will join up when the gyratory system is re-routed. Work on this could be completed by late 2024 

The town has strong links to brewing. The first breweries were operating by the 16th century and the Youngs Brewery developed in the early nineteenth century - many people will remember the Ram dray pulled by shire horses delivering beer to nearby pubs. These links will continue – the Ram development includes a heritage centre and brewers Sambrooks have moved their headquarters there.   

The Young's Dray

Wandsworth Town Hall was opened by Queen Mary in 1937, and the impressive frieze on its façade (below) features historical scenes, including the arrival of the Huguenot refugees from France, who found safety in the town and contributed so much to it.  

Wandsworth Council’s Smart Growth Recovery Plan is looking at a range of measures to help the borough recover from the pandemic, including more housing and changes to local roads. The Town Hall is seen as key to revitalising Wandsworth Town Centre and create better connections through it.  

Currently staff are spread across several buildings with much of the site dominated by a car park. The site is cut off by surrounding roads and has little pedestrian access. The aim will be to open it up, creating routes through the site and public spaces between the town hall and a pedestrian-friendly Ram Street. 

An artist's impression of a pedestrianised town centre following the removal of the one-way system

A new entrance will be built facing the town and new homes built in freed-up space. The council is setting up a team to develop proposals which will be discussed with Historic England. The public will also get a chance to have their say and all the plans will be developed in line with the council’s environmental policy and carbon-reduction pledge.  

Leader of the council Ravi Govindia said: “As part of our Smarth Growth plan we want to take a fresh look at our town centres and make better use of council buildings and land. In Wandsworth we want to create a series of urban spaces linking together the disparate elements of the town centre including an important tributary into the Thames, the new library and King George’s ParkThe town hall will be an important part of the plans and will bring back the civic heart of the town. 

*You can explore the Wandle Delta area on foot by following the Summerstown182’s Wandle Riverside walking route. 

    

 

The Town Hall area masterplan.