Vauxhall (continued) and Battersea

Old and New London: Volume 6. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

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'Vauxhall (continued) and Battersea', in Old and New London: Volume 6, (London, 1878) pp. 467-479. British History Online [accessed 11 April 2024]

In this section



"Transtiberina patent longe loca."—Tibullus.

Boat-racing at Vauxhall—Fortifications erected here in 1642—A Proposed Boulevard—The Marquis of Worcester, Author of the "Century of Inventions"—The Works of the London Gas Company—Nine Elms—Messrs. Price's Candle Factory—Inns and Taverns—Origin of the Name of Battersea—Descent of the Manor of Battersea—Bolingbroke House—A Curious Air-mill—Reminiscences of Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke—Sir William Batten—York House—The Parish Church of Battersea—Christ Church—St. Mark's Church—St. George's Church—The National School—St. John's College—The Royal Freemasons' Girls' School—The "Falcon" Tavern—The Victoria Bridge—Albert Bridge—The Old Ferry—Building of Battersea Bridge—Battersea Fields—The "Red House"—Cæsar's Ford—Battersea Park and Gardens—Model Dwellings for Artisans and Labourers—Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks—Market Gardens—Battersea Enamelled Ware—How Battersea became the Cradle of Bottled Ale.

Vauxhall, it may here be stated, has other interesting associations besides those connected with its defunct Gardens; for, like the Nore, it appears or old to have been the end of the course for small sailing and racing matches on the Thames. Thus Strutt writes, in his "Sports and Pastimes," published in 1800:—"A society, generally known by the appellation of the Cumberland Society, consisting of gentlemen partial to this pastime, gives yearly a silver cup to be sailed for in the vicinity of London. The boats usually start from the bridge at Blackfriars, go up to Putney, and return to Vauxhall, where a vessel is moored at a distance from the stairs, and the sailing-boat that first passes this mark on her return obtains the victory." It would seem natural that while the chief access to the Gardens was by the "silent highway" of the Thames and by the "stairs," the owners of Vauxhall and of Astley's should have shown some regard for the river and aquatic amusements; accordingly we learn from the same authority that the proprietors of those places used to give annually a wherry to be rowed for by the "jolly young watermen," or Thames apprentices, much like Doggett's coat and badge are now the objects of an annual aquatic contest.

We have, at different points of our perambulations round London, spoken of the fortifications which were erected during the Civil Wars; we may mention here that "a quadrant fort, with four halfbulwarks at Vauxhall," occurs among the defences of London which were ordered to be set up by the Parliament in 1642.

The late Mr. Loudon, as already stated by us, (fn. 1) proposed to make a series of boulevards round London. His line, if carried out, would have come down from Hyde Park to Vauxhall Bridge, and thence have passed through the heart of Vauxhall to Kennington, and so on through Camberwell to Greenwich.

The Tradescants and Morlands, of whom we have already spoken, were not the only distinguished inhabitants of this locality in former times, for among its residents was the celebrated man of science, the Marquis of Worcester, so well known as the author of the "Century of Inventions," if not as the inventor of the steam-engine. He lived at Vauxhall for some years after the Restoration, from 1663 down to his death in 1667, probably holding the post of superintendent of some works under the Government connected with the army and navy. Here he set up his "water-commanding engine," which was naturally a great curiosity in those days, when science was at a low ebb. On this he spent nearly £60,000, and had to pay the penalty of obloquy and calumny, which always attach to great minds in advance of their age. His thanksgiving to Almighty God for "vouchsafing him an insight into so great a secret of nature beneficial to all mankind as this my watercommanding engine," is one of the most touching evidences at once of his humility and his confidence in the wonder-working power of time. To show how little the marquis was known or appreciated in his day, it may be added that, though he died in 1667, it is not certain whether he died here or at the residence of his family, Beaufort House, in the Strand. (fn. 2)

Near Vauxhall Bridge are the large works of the London Gas Company, established in 1833. Though situated on the south of the Thames, the company is not wrongly names, for its mains are carried across Vauxhall Bridge, and extend over a considerable distance of Pimlico, which they supply.

Close by the gas-works is the Nine Elms pier, so called from some lofty trees which formerly grew there, but were cut down before the South-Western Railway marked the spot for its own. As stated by us in a previous chapter, the South-Western Railway originally had its London terminus here, the line not being allowed to be brought direct into London; (fn. 3) but upon the extension of the line to the Waterloo Road, in the year 1848, the old station was converted into a goods depôt. The railway works here cover a vast extent of ground on either side of the main line, and give employment to a large number of hands. Mr. T. Miller, in his "Picturesque Sketches of London" (1852), writes:—"Wandsworth had set out in good earnest to reach Lambeth, and would soon have been near the Nine Elms Station had not Government stopped its career by stepping in between them at Battersea Fields."

OLD BATTERSEA MILL, ABOUT 1800. (From a Contemporary Drawing.)

We have already spoken of the glass-works, which formed one of the centres of industry for which Vauxhall was formerly celebrated; another scene of industry in our own time was Messrs. Price's candle factory, which was for many years one of the most interesting sights in London. There were formerly two establishments in connection with the firm, known as Belmont, at Vauxhall, and Sherwood, in York Road, Battersea; the latter, however, which was by far the largest, alone remains, and the large corrugated iron roofs of the buildings are doubtless well known to the reader who is in the habit of passing frequently up the river. The works cover upwards of thirteen acres of ground, six of which are under cover, and they give employment to about one thousand hands. It may be added that this factory covers the site of old York House, of which we shall have more to say presently. The neighbourhood would appear to have been, at the early part of the present century, pretty well supplied with inns and taverns; at all events, a manuscript list, dated about 1810, enumerates "The Bull," "The Elephant and Castle," "The Bridge House," "The Vauxhall Tap," "The White Lion," "The King's Arms," "The Lion and Lamb," "The White Bear," "The Fox," "The Three Merry Boys," "The Red Cow," "The Bull's Head," "The Coach and Horses," "The Henry VIII.," "The Crown," "The Ship," "The Red Lion," "The Nag's Head," and "The Wine Vaults."

Battersea, or Patrick's-eye, is said to have taken its name from St. Patrick or St. Peter, because in ancient days it belonged to the Abbey of St. Peter at Westminster. In Domesday Book, A.D. 1078, it is recorded that "S. Peter of Westminster holds Patricesy." The manor, with the advowson, was granted by King Stephen to the abbot and convent of Westminster; but at the Dissolution they again reverted into the hands of the Crown. Charles I., however, granted them to Sir Oliver St. John, ancestor of Lord Bolingbroke, from whose family they passed by sale to that of Lord Spencer. By the ancient custom of this manor lands were to descend to younger sons; but if there are no sons, they are divided equally among the daughters.

YORK HOUSE (1790). (From a Contemporary Print.)

Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke and Lord St. John of Battersea, died here in 1751. Hughson, in his "Circuit of London," writes:—"The family seat was a venerable structure, which contained forty rooms on a floor; the greatest part of the house was pulled down in 1778. On the site of the demolished part are erected a horizontal airmill and malt distillery. The part left standing forms a dwelling-house; one of the parlours, fronting the Thames, is lined with cedar, beautifully inlaid, and was the favourite study of Pope, the scene of many a literary conversation between him and his friend Bolingbroke. The mill, now [1808] used for grinding malt for the distillery, was built for the grinding of linseed. The design was taken from that of another, on a smaller scale, constructed at Margate. Its height, from the foundation, is one hundred and forty feet, the diameter of the conical part fifty-four feet at the base and fortyfive at the top. The outer part consists of ninetysix shutters, eighty feet high and nine inches broad, which, by the pulling of a rope, open and shut in the manner of Venetian blinds. In the inside, the main shaft of the mill is the centre of a large circle formed by the sails, which consist of ninety-six double planks, placed perpendicularly, and of the same height as the planks that form the shutters. The wind rushing through the openings of these shutters acts with great power upon the sails, and, when it blows fresh, turns the mill with prodigious rapidity; but this may be moderated in an instant, by lessening the apertures between the shutters, which is effected, like the entire stopping of the mill, as before observed, by the pulling of a rope. In this mill are six pairs of stones, to which two pairs more may be added. On the site of the garden and terrace have been erected extensive bullock houses, capable of holding 650 bullocks, fed with the grains from the distillery mixed with meal." The above-mentioned mill (see page 468) has long been removed, or, at any rate, considerably altered, and a flour-mill now occupies the site. John Timbs, in his "Curiosities of London," tells us that the mill resembled a gigantic packing-case, which gave rise to an odd story, that "when the Emperor of Russia was in England he took a fancy to Battersea Church, and determined to carry it off to Russia, and had this large packing-case made for it; but as the inhabitants refused to let the church be carried away, the case remained on the spot where it was deposited."

When Sir Richard Phillips took, in 1816, his "Morning Walk from London to Kew," he found still standing a small portion of the family mansion in which Lord Bolingbroke had been born, and, like Hughson before him, he tells us that it had been converted into a mill and distillery, though a small oak parlour had been carefully preserved. In this room Pope is said to have written his "Essay on Man;" and in Bolingbroke's time the house was the constant resort of Swift, Arbuthnot, Thomson, and David Mallet, and all the cotemporary literati of English society. The oak room was always called "Pope's Parlour," and doubtless was the very identical room which was assigned to the poet whenever he came from London, or from Twickenham, as a guest to Battersea.

Happening to inquire for some ancient inhabitant of the place, Sir Richard was introduced to a chatty and intelligent old woman, a Mrs. Gillard, who told him that she well remembered Lord Bolingbroke's face; that he used to ride out every day in his chariot, and had a black patch on his cheek, with a large wart over one of his eyebrows. She was then but a child, but she was taught always to regard him as a great man. As, however, he spent but little in the place, and gave little away, he was not much regarded by the people of Battersea. Sir Richard mentioned to the old dame the names of many of Bolingbroke's friends and associates; but she could remember nothing of any of them except Mallet, whom she used often to see walking about the village, wrapped up in his own thoughts, whilst he was a visitor at "the great house." The cedarpanelled room in Bolingbroke House is still very scrupulously preserved; its windows still overlook the Thames, from which the house is separated by a lawn. In three of the chambers up-stairs the ceilings are ornamented with stucco-work, and have in their centres oval-shaped oil-paintings on allegorical subjects.

Henry St. John was born at Battersea in 1678, and was educated at Eton, where he became acquainted with Sir Robert Walpole, and where a rivalship was commenced which lasted through life. At an early age he was distinguished for his talents, fascinating manners, and remarkable personal beauty; and he left college only to continue a course of the wildest profligacy. On his elevation to the peerage, in 1712, his father's congratulation on his new honours was something of the oddest:—"Ah, Harry!" said he, "I ever said you would be hanged; but now I find you will be beheaded!" Three years later, having been impeached for high treason, Bolingbroke fled to Calais; and shortly afterwards, by invitation of Charles Stuart, he visited him at Lorraine, and accepted the post of his Secretary of State, which caused his impeachment and attainder. In 1723 he was permitted to return home, and his estates were restored to him; but the House of Lords was still closed against him. In 1736 he again visited France, and resided there until the death of his father, when he retired to the family seat here for the rest of his life. He died of a cancer in the face in 1751.

Lord Bolingbroke wrote several works which have handed his name down to posterity. During his life there appeared a "Letter to Swift," the "Representation," "His Case," "Dissertations upon Parties," "Remarks on the History of England," "Letters on the Spirit of Patriotism," "On the Idea of a Patriot King," and "On the State of Parties at the Accession of George I." His correspondence, state papers, essays, &c., were subsequently published in a collected form by David Mallet, his lordship's literary legatee.

Lord Marchmont was living with Lord Bolingbroke, at Battersea, when he discovered that Mr. Allen, of Bath, had printed 500 copies of the "Essay on a Patriot King" from the copy which Bolingbroke had presented to Pope—six copies only were printed. Thereupon, we are told, Lord Marchmont sent a man for the whole cargo, and they were brought out in a wagon, and the books burned on the lawn in the presence of Lord Bolingbroke.

The history of Lord Bolingbroke may be read in his epitaph in the parish church close by, which is as follows:—"Here lies Henry St. John, in the reign of Queen Anne Secretary of War, Secretary of State, and Viscount Bolingbroke; in the days of King George I. and King George II. something more and better. His attachment to Queen Anne exposed him to a long and severe persecution; he bore it with firmness of mind. He passed the latter part of his life at home, the enemy of no national party, the friend of no faction; distinguished under the cloud of proscription, which had not been entirely taken off, by zeal to maintain the liberty and to restore the ancient prosperity of Great Britain."

"In this manner," says Oliver Goldsmith, in his life of this distinguished man, "lived and died Lord Bolingbroke; ever active, never depressed; ever pursuing Fortune, and as constantly disappointed by her. In whatever light we view his character, we shall find him an object rather more proper for our wonder than our imitation; more to be feared than esteemed, and gaining our admiration without our love. His ambition ever aimed at the summit of power, and nothing seemed capable of satisfying his immoderate desires but the liberty of governing all things without a rival."

Of Lord Bolingbroke's genius as a philosopher, the same author observes that "his aims were equally great and extensive. Unwilling to submit to any authority, he entered the fields of science with a thorough contempt of all that had been established before him, and seemed willing to think everything wrong that he might show his faculty in the reformation. It might have been better for his quiet as a man if he had been content to act a subordinate character in the State; and it had certainly been better for his memory as a writer if he had aimed at doing less than he attempted. As a novelist, therefore, Lord Bolingbroke, by having endeavoured at too much, seems to have done nothing; but as a political writer, few can equal and none can exceed him."

Tindal, the historian, confesses that St. John was occasionally, perhaps, the best political writer that ever appeared in England; whilst Lord Chesterfield tells us that, until he read Bolingbroke's "Letters on Patriotism," and his "Idea of a Patriot King," he "did not know all the extent and powers of the English language. Whatever subject," continues his lordship, "Lord Bolingbroke speaks or writes upon, he adorns with the most splendid eloquence; not a studied or laboured eloquence, but such a flowing happiness of diction, which (from care, perhaps, at first) is become so familiar to him that even his most familiar conversations, if taken down in writing, would bear the press, without the least correction either as to method or style."

Among the residents of this village was Sir William Batten, the friend of Pepys, who records in his "Diary," January 30th, 1660–1, how Lady Batten and his own wife went hence to see the bodies of Cromwell, Ireton, and Bradshaw hanged and buried at Tyburn.

York House, which stood near the water-side, on the spot now occupied by Price's Candle Factory, and is kept in remembrance by York Road, is supposed to have been built about the year 1475 by Lawrence Booth, Bishop of Durham, and by him annexed to the see of York, of which he was afterwards archbishop, as a residence for himself and his successors when they had occasion to be near the Court.

Lysons speaks of the house as standing in his time (the end of the last century), and states that it was formerly an occasional residence of the archbishops; but that for more than a century it had been occupied only by tenants. "Tradition, with its usual fondness for appropriation," he adds, "speaks of Wolsey's residence there; and the room is yet shown in which he entertained Anne Boleyn; but besides the improbability that Wolsey—who, when he was Archbishop of York, lived in as great and sometimes in greater state than the king himself, and was owner of two most magnificent palaces—should reside in a house which would not have contained half his retinue, it is well known that these entertainments were given at York House, Whitehall."

When Archbishop Holgate was committed to the Tower by Queen Mary, in 1553, the officers who were employed to apprehend him rifled his house at Battersea, and took away from thence "£300 of gold coin, 1,600 ounces of plate, a mitre of fine gold, with two pendants set round about the sides and midst with very fine-pointed diamonds, sapphires, and balists; and all the plain, with other good stones and pearls; and the pendants in like manner, weighing 125 ounces; some very valuable rings; a serpent's tongue set in a standard of silver gilt, and graven; the archbishop's seal in silver; and his signet, an antique in gold." Holgate was afterwards deprived of the archbishopric of York, to which he was never restored.

Of the structural details of the ancient parish church of Battersea, dedicated to St. Mary, little or nothing is now known, further than that it is said to have been a "twin sister" church to that of Chelsea on the opposite side of the river, which it much resembled. The edifice was rebuilt with brick in the middle of the last century, and in a style quite worthy of that era. It is an utterly unecclesiastical and unsightly structure, without aisles or chancel, and almost defies description. A church had stood on the same site for centuries; but the present edifice dates only from 1777, when it was erected at a cost of £5,000. The tower is surmounted by a low, heavy-looking octagonal spire, and contains a clock and eight bells. At the east end is a recess for the communion-table, above which is a central window in three divisions. The painted glass in this window, which was replaced from the old church, contains portraits of Henry VII., his grandmother, Margaret Beauchamp, and Queen Elizabeth, together with many enrichments and several coats-of-arms. Most of the old monuments were replaced against the walls of the side galleries. Against the south wall is a monument to an heroic person, Sir Edward Wynter, who seems to have outstripped the boldest knights of chivalry by his exploits, if we may take the epitaph literally:—
"Alone, unarm'd, a tyger he oppressed,
And crushed to death the monster of a beast;
Twice twenty Moors he also overthrew,
Singly on foot; some wounded; some he slew;
Dispersed the rest. What more could Sampson do?"

Among the memorials of the St. Johns is that of Lord Bolingbroke, already mentioned, and of his second wife, Mary Clara des Champs de Marcilly, Marchioness de Villette. This monument, which is of grey and white marble, was executed by Roubiliac. The upper part displays an urn with drapery, surmounted by the viscount's arms, and the lower portion records the characters of the deceased, flanked by their medallions in profile, in bas-relief. Another monument commemorates the descent and preferments of Oliver St. John, Viscount Grandison, who was the first of his family that settled at Battersea. He died in 1630. Sir George Wombwell, of Sherwood Lodge, in this parish, who died in 1846; and Sir John Fleet, Lord Mayor of London in 1693, who died in 1712, are also commemorated by marble tablets. In the churchyard are buried Arthur Collins, editor of the "Peerage" which bears his name, and William Curtis, the botanist, author of the "Flora Londinensis."

The parish register dates from the year 1559. In 1877–8 the interior of the church underwent a partial restoration, being re-paved and re-seated with open benches, in place of the old-fashioned pews.

Of late years several other churches and chapels have been erected in the parish. Christ Church, at South Battersea, is an elegant Decorated structure; it was built by subscription, and opened in 1849. St. Mark's, Battersea Rise, is of the Geometric Middle-pointed style of architecture; it was built from the designs of Mr. W. White, and was consecrated in 1874. Around the apse is an ambulatory, with steps leading to it from a crypt.

St. George's Church, in Lower Wandsworth Road, dates its erection from 1827; it is a large edifice of the Pointed style of architecture in vogue in the thirteenth century, and was built from the designs of Mr. Blore. It was enlarged and repaired in 1874.

There are National and British and Foreign Schools for boys, girls, and infants. The National School, in High Street, was founded and endowed for twenty boys in 1700, by Sir Walter St. John, Bart.; it was rebuilt and enlarged in 1859, and now affords instruction to about 300 boys. Christ Church Schools are neat buildings in the Grove Road, and were erected at a cost of £4,800.

The Normal School of the National Society, known as St. John's College—for the training of young men who are intended to become schoolmasters in schools connected with the Church of England—owes its origin to Dr. J. P. Kay and Mr. E. C. Tufnell, assistant Poor-law Commissioners. These gentlemen, with a view of making an effort for the production of a better description of schoolmasters than had hitherto generally been met with, visited Holland, Prussia, Switzerland, Paris, and other places, for the purpose of examining the operations of the establishments projected by Pestalozzi, De Fellenberg, and other enlightened promoters of the education of the poor; and the result of their observations was a desire and hope to establish in this country a Normal School, "for imparting to young men that due amount of knowledge, and training them in those habits of simplicity and earnestness, which might render them useful instructors to the poor." With this view, they were led to select " a spacious manor-house close to the Thames at Battersea, chiefly on account of the very frank and cordial welcome with which the suggestion of their plan was received by the vicar, the Hon. and Rev. R. Eden." That gentleman offered the use of his village schools in aid of the training schools, as the sphere in which the "normal" students might obtain practice and direction in the art of teaching. Boys were at first obtained from the School of Industry at Norwood, and were intended to remain three years in training. With these were subsequently associated some young men whose period of residence was necessarily limited to one year. The institution was first put in operation at the commencement of 1840; and it continued under the direction of Dr. Kay and Mr. Tufnell, supported by their private means, and conducted in its various departments of instruction and industrial labour by tutors and superintendents appointed by them, until the close of the year 1843, when the establishment was put on a foundation of permanency by the directors transferring it into the hands of the National Society. Several Continental modes of instruction had been adopted by Dr. Kay and Mr. Tufnell, such as Mulhauser's method of writing, Wilhelm's method of singing, Dupuis' method of drawing, &c.; and the results of their benevolent experiment were so satisfactory, that a grant of £2,200 for the extension and improvement of the premises was made to them by the Committee of Council on Education, which grant was transferred to the National Society, and forthwith expended in the requisite alterations. New dormitories, a dininghall, lavatories, &c., were then built; and in the early part of 1846 a large new class-room was erected, and filled with every kind of apparatus for the use of the students. The institution is supported by the National Society's special fund for providing schoolmasters for the manufacturing and mining districts. Only young men are now received as students; and the usual term of training is generally one year and a half. The general number of scholars is from eighty to one hundred.

Another invaluable institution in Battersea is the Royal Freemasons' Girls' School. This institution was founded in 1788, and was originally located in St. George's Fields; (fn. 4) but was a few years ago removed to its present site on St. John's Hill, Battersea Rise. It was established for the purpose of educating and maintaining the daughters of poor or deceased Freemasons. The school, which stands near Clapham Junction Station, and close by the side of the railway, is a red-brick building, of Gothic architecture, and was erected in 1852, from the designs of Mr. Philip Hardwicke; it is chiefly noticeable for its great central clocktower, and watch-towers at the corners.

At Battersea Rise, which forms the north-western extremity of Clapham Common, many pleasant villas and superior houses have been built; this being "a most desirable situation and respectable neighbourhood." Here the first Lord Auckland had a suburban villa, where he used to entertain his political friends, Pitt, Wilberforce, and others.

"In the last quarter of the eighteenth century," writes Robert Chambers, in his "Book of Days," "there flourished at the corner of the lane leading from the Wandsworth Road to Battersea Bridge a tavern yclept 'The Falcon,' kept by one Robert Death—a man whose figure is said to have ill comported with his name, seeing that it displayed the highest appearance of jollity and good condition. A merry-hearted artist, named John Nixon, passing this house one day, found an undertaker's company regaling themselves at 'Death's door.' Having just discharged their duty to a rich nabob in a neighbouring churchyard, they had . . . found an opportunity for refreshing exhausted nature; and well did they ply the joyful work before them. The artist, tickled at a festivity among such characters in such a place, sketched them on the spot. This sketch was soon after published, accompanied by a cantata from another hand of no great merit, in which the foreman of the company, Mr. Sable, is represented as singing as follows, to the tune of 'I've kissed, and I've prattled with fifty fair maids:'—
"'Dukes, lords, have I buried, and squires of fame,
And people of every degree;
But of all the fine jobs that ere came in my way,
A funeral like this for me.
This, this is the job
That fills the fob;
Oh! the burying a Nabob for me!
Unfeather the hearse, put the pall in the bag,
Give the horses some oats and some hay;
Drink our next merry meeting and quackery's increase,
With three times three and hurra!'"

Mr. Death has long since submitted to his mighty namesake; the "Falcon" is gone, and the very place where the merry undertakers regaled themselves can scarcely be distinguished among the spreading streets which now occupy this part of the environs of the metropolis.

Three bridges communicate across the river with Chelsea: the first is a handsome structure, built on the suspension principle, and called the Victoria Bridge. It connects the Victoria Road, on the east side of Battersea Park, with Chelsea Bridge Road and Grosvenor Road, and has been already described by us. (fn. 5) The next is also a suspension bridge, known as the Albert, built about 1873, and uniting the roadway, on the west side of the park, with Chelsea Embankment and Cheyne Walk, close by Cadogan Pier. The third bridge is the venerable wooden structure known as Battersea Bridge, which connects the older portion of the parish with the oldest part of Chelsea. For more than a century prior to 1874—when certain altera tions were effected upon it by its new proprietors, the Albert Bridge Company—this ancient timber obstruction, by custom and courtesy called a bridge, had been an object almost of dread to all who were in the habit of navigating the abovebridge portion of the "silent highway." The history of the bridge stretches away considerably into the past, and taken in connection with the ferry which it was built to supersede, and which belonged to the original proprietors of the bridge, it is directly traceable to the commencement of the seventeenth century. As a rule, river bridges have generally been preceded by ferries, and to this rule Battersea Bridge forms no exception. A ferry which preceded it was in full operation when James I. came to the throne, and presumably belonged to the Crown, inasmuch as by royal letters patent, and for the sum of £40, the king gave "his dear relation Thomas, Earl of Lincoln, and John Eldred and Robert Henley, Esquires, all that ferry across the River Thames called Chelchehith Ferry, or Chelsey Ferry." Some adjacent lands were included in the grants, and the grantees had the power to convey their rights to "our very illustrious subject, William Blake." The Earl of Lincoln was the owner of Sir Thomas More's house in Chelsea, (fn. 6) he having purchased it from Sir Robert Cecil. In 1618 the earl sold the ferry to William Blake, who also had a local interest in Chelsea, inasmuch as he owned Chelsea Park, which had once belonged to Sir Thomas More, and was at one time known as the Sand Hills. This park was sold by Blake to the Earl of Middlesex in 1620.


When the ferry changed hands is not quite certain, but in 1695 it belonged to one Bartholomew Nutt. The ferry appears to have been rated in the parish books in 1710 at £8 per annum. It afterwards came into the possession of Sir Walter St. John, who, as we have seen, owned the manor of Battersea and other estates in Surrey. He died in 1708, and the ferry, with the rest of the property, went to his son Henry, who died in 1742, having left it to his son, Henry, the famous Viscount Bolingbroke, who died childless in 1751, bequeathing his estates to his nephew, Frederick. In the year 1762 the nephew obtained an Act of Parliament, under which he sold the manorial property to the trustees of John, Earl Spencer. In 1766 Earl Spencer obtained an Act of Parliament which empowered him to build the present bridge at his own expense at the ferry, and to secure land for the approaches. The tolls named in the Act are one halfpenny for footpassengers, as at the present time, and fourpence for a cart drawn by one horse, or double the toll now charged. The framers of the Act appear to have contemplated the possibility of the bridge being only a fragile structure, as special powers are granted to the earl to sue watermen injuring it by boat or vessel. Provision is also made on behalf of the public by a clause which enacts that in the event of a tempest or unforeseen accident rendering the bridge "dangerous or impracticable," the earl shall provide a convenient ferry, charging the same tolls as on the bridge. The bridge, however, was not constructed until several years after the Act of Parliament had been obtained, and between the years 1765 and 1771 it is on record that the ferry produced an average rental of £42 per annum. In the latter year Lord Spencer associated with himself seventeen gentlemen, each of whom was to pay £100 as a consideration for the fifteenth share in the ferry, and all the advantages conferred on the earl by the Act of 1766. They were also made responsible for a further payment of £900 each towards the construction of a bridge. A contract was entered into with Messrs. Phillips and Holland to build the bridge for £10,500. The works were at once commenced, and by the end of 1771 it was opened for foot passengers, and in the following year it was available for carriage traffic. Money had to be laid out in the formation of approach roads, so that at the end of 1773 the total amount expended was £15,662.


For many years the proprietors realised only a small return upon their capital, repairs and improvements absorbing nearly all the receipts. In the severe winter of 1795 considerable damage was done to the bridge by reason of the accumulated ice becoming attached to the piles, and drawing them on the rise of the tide; and in the last three years of the eighteenth century no dividends were distributed. In 1799 one side of the bridge was lighted with oil lamps, and it was the only wooden bridge across the Thames which at that time possessed such accommodation. In 1821 the dangerous wooden railing was replaced by a handrail of iron; and in 1824 the bridge was lighted with gas, the pipes being brought over from Chelsea, although Battersea remained unlighted by gas for several years afterwards.

Further structural improvements were made from time to time, one of which consisted of laying the bridge with a flooring of cast-iron plates, on which the metal of the roadway rests. At various times, too, the proprietors have expended considerable sums of money in making a road on Wandsworth Common, and, in conjunction with Battersea parish, in improving ways of approach to the bridge. The proprietors, moreover, have often expressed their willingness to contribute towards some alteration of the water-way of the bridge for the benefit of the public. In this, however, it was but reasonable that they should expect to be joined by the Conservators of the Thames, or others interested in the improvement. This expectation not being realised, they declined to bear the whole cost. Until 1873 the bridge remained in the hands of the descendants or friends of the original proprietors. In that year, however, the bridge came into the possession of the Albert Bridge Company, under their Act of Incorporation; and it was by this company, as stated above, that the recent improvements were carried out, the same being made obligatory by that Act.

The extreme length of the bridge is 726 feet, and its width twenty-four feet, including the two pathways. It originally consisted of nineteen openings, varying from thirty-one feet in the centre to sixteen feet at the ends, the piers being formed of groups of timber piles. There is a clear headway of fifteen feet under the centre span at Trinity highwater. The bridge does not cross the river in a direct line, but is built upon a slight curve in plan—the convexity being on the upper or western side. The alterations above mentioned comprise the widening of the water-way at two points in the bridge, for which purpose four of the spans have been converted into two. The centre opening is now seventy-five feet wide, with the same headway as before. The other widening of the water-way is at a point near the northern or Chelsea end. By these alterations greater facilities for river traffic have been afforded, while the old bridge has been considerably strengthened by means of the iron girders and extra piles which have been added to it.

A quarter of a century ago the locality then known as Battersea Fields was one of the darkest and dreariest spots in the suburbs of London. A flat and unbroken wilderness of some 300 acres, it was the resort of costermongers and "roughs," and those prowling vagabonds who call themselves "gipsies." The week-day scenes here were bad enough; but on Sundays they were positively disgraceful, and to a great extent the police were powerless, for the place was a sort of "no man's land," on which ruffianism claimed to riot uncontrolled by any other authority than its own will. Pugilistic encounters, dog-fights, and the rabble coarseness of a country fair in its worst aspect were "as common as blackberries in the autumn." But at length the "strong arm of the law" interfered, and the weekly "fair"—if such it might be called—was abolished by the magistrates in May, 1852.

Duels have sometimes been fought in Battersea Fields, the lonely character of the neighbourhood causing it to be selected for this special purpose. One of the most noted of these "affairs of honour" took place in 1829. In that year the Duke of Wellington got into "hot water" for the part he had taken in the passing of the Catholic Relief Bill. Abuse fell upon him fast and furious; and the young Earl of Winchilsea—one of the leaders of the anti-Catholic party—went so far as to publish a violent attack on his personal character. The duke having vainly endeavoured to induce the earl to retract his charges, sent him a challenge, and the combatants met in Battersea Fields on the 21st of March, but fortunately separated without injury to either. Lord Winchilsea, after escaping the duke's shot, fired in the air, and then tendered the apology which ought to have been made at the outset.

On the river-side the monotony of blackguardism was somewhat relieved by a glaring tavern, known as the "Red House"—but more frequently called by cockneys the "Red-'us," as every reader of "Sketches by Boz" will remember—in the grounds of which pigeon-shooting was carried on by the cream of society till superseded by the more fashionable Hurlingham. In Colburn's "Kalendar of Amusements" (1840), we read that "pigeonshooting is carried on to a great extent in the neighbourhood of London; but the 'Red House' at Battersea appears to take the lead in the quantity and quality of this sport, inasmuch as the crack shots about London assemble there to determine matches of importance, and it not unfrequently occurs that not a single bird escapes the shooter."

The "Red House" has been the winning-post of many a boat-race. In the "Good Fellows' Calendar" of 1826, we read that, on the 18th of August in the previous year, "Mr. Kean, the performer," gave a prize wherry, which was "rowed for by seven pairs of oars. The first heat was from Westminster Bridge round a boat moored near Lawn Cottage, and down to the 'Red House' at Battersea." The other heats, too, all ended here; and the Calendar adds that, though Westminster Bridge was crowded with spectators, the "Red House" was "the place where all the prime of life lads assembled," and describes the fun of the afternoon and evening in amusing terms.

It is said that about fifty yards west of this spot Caesar crossed the Thames, following the retreating Britons; but the fact is questioned. Nevertheless, Sir Richard Phillips, in his "Morning's Walk from London to Kew," tells us that he had more than once surveyed the ford, from the "Red House" to the opposite bank, near the site of Ranelagh. "At ordinary low water," he adds, "a shoal of gravel not three feet deep, and broad enough for ten men to walk abreast, extends across the river, except on the Surrey side, where it has been deepened by raising ballast. Indeed, the causeway from the south bank may yet be traced at low water, so that this was doubtless a ford to the peaceful Britons, across which the British army retreated before the Romans, and across which they were doubtless followed by Cæsar and the Roman legions. The event was pregnant with such consequences to the fortunes of these islands that the spot deserves the record of a monument, which ought to be preserved from age to age, as long as the veneration due to antiquity is cherished among us."

As lately as 1851 Battersea Fields formed, as we have said, a dreary waste of open country. A "Metropolitan Guide" of that year speaks of them as "destined to be shortly converted into a park, with an ornamental lake, walks, and parterres, for the recreation and enjoyment of the people." The fact is, the disgraceful scenes to be witnessed here had become such a glaring scandal that urgent measures had long been in contemplation for its suppression. Happily, just then the demand for open spaces in the outskirts of the metropolis had taken firm hold of public attention, and about this time these fields, instead of being handed over to speculative builders, were devoted to the purposes of a public park. The "Red House," with its shooting-grounds and adjacent premises, was purchased by the Government for £10,000; and, under the Metropolitan Board of Works, in the course of a few years, the wilderness was converted into a pleasant garden, and now Battersea Park ranks among the very first of those health and pleasure resorts which Londoners prize so highly and justly. It is now one of the prettiest of London parks, and every year adds charms to its many attractions, the choicest of which, perhaps, is the Acclimatisation Garden, which may be said to flourish here not far from the heart of the metropolis. In Battersea Park palm-trees actually grow in the open air—not under glass cases, as at Kew: indeed, this park is no mean or contemptible rival to Kew Gardens.

The park, which was opened to the public in 1858, contains about 185 acres ornamentally laid out with trees, shrubs, flower-plots, and a sheet of water. For the land £246,500 was paid, and the laying-out made the total cost amount to £312,000. The Avenue is one of the principal features, and forms the chief promenade of the park. The trees are English elms. "To rightly appreciate Battersea Park," observes a writer, "it must not be approached in a hurry. Its numerous beauties are worth much more than a bird's-eye view. And here we would parenthetically remark that a vast amount of good has been done towards the cultivation and encouragement of flowers in our parks within the last two decades. . . . But the palm-trees we would speak of do not flourish in the more aristocratic parks of the metropolis—they have found a home over the water in Battersea Park, the access to which is easy in all directions. Steamers ply to it at all hours of the day; but we prefer to approach it from quaint old Chelsea and on a bright Sunday in summer.

"Passing among a wealth of vegetation and pavilions which seem to be devoted to the accommodation of the cricket-playing fraternity, a short walk brings us, after deriving much necessary assistance from finger-posts, to the tropical garden; and a pleasanter sight we have not seen for many a long day. Here is the Acclimatisation Garden of London; and if we may believe our own eyes, we are certainly not far behind the brilliant city of Paris, as regards the flourishing condition of these out-of-door palms and rare flowering shrubs. Nearly all the books of travel we know are recalled by the charmingly varied character of the foliage and the quaint peculiarities of the plants. Here is a noble palm, here an aloe, here an enormous nettle-leaved shrub, here a plant with prickles starting up in an angry and porcupine manner all over the leaves, here rare specimens of Alpine flowers, and everywhere beds of brilliant colour artistically arranged.

"It certainly would appear that it is the fashion now-a-days to frame in flower-beds with the rare variations which now exist of the Sempervivum echeria and saxifrage plant. Many of these are best explained as an idealised version of the wellknown house-leek, and the compact little bosses of plants, though over-stiff, perhaps, to some tastes, make an excellent and compact bordering for flower-beds. They are, no doubt, extremely fashionable, as Kew testifies, and all the largest landscape gardens in the kingdom. No visitor to the Battersea Park Gardens will fail to notice what great attention is now paid to the foliage of plants in contradistinction to the bloom or flower. Plants with grey and brown leaves and sage-green leaves are preferred to bright blossoms; geraniums are encouraged with leaves painted as brilliantly as a chromatrope; variations of the Perilla nankinensis, or Chinese nettle, are everywhere seen. And, in order to increase the strange effect of these quaker-like beds, it is the fashion to intermix the plants with paths and mazes of very finely-powdered gravel or silver sand. . . . It is a charming sight, this tropical garden; and amateur or professional gardeners—to say nothing of general lovers of nature—may well study it."

Here the visitor may see, on a small scale, the flora of the Alpine region as well as of the tropics. These and the other beauties of the park are thus described with minute accuracy in "Saturday Afternoon Rambles:"—"Here is the lake, with its fringe of aquatic plants and its beautifully-wooded island, and studded with water-fowl from various latitudes, from the sub-Arctic and sub-tropical regions. . . . Here are Japanese teal, Egyptian geese, South African and Buenos Ayres ducks. Here also are ducks from the far north of Europe, partial to a winter temperature, but still staying on the Battersea Park waters for the whole year round. Among the self-invited guests on this lake is a colony of moor-hens, who 'make themselves at home' along with widgeon, teal, and Muscovy, and pintail ducks. Here the moor-hen has forgotten the sound of the gun, and her behaviour before Saturday afternoon visitors is as tame as that of the familiar Dorking hen. . . . How beautiful is that island yonder, with pendulous trees drooping over its margin! The ground seems well clothed with tall grasses and low brushwood. It should afford a good home and abundant cover for the water-fowl. Doubtless, the swans have good landing-places, a plentiful supply of dead rushes, coarse grass twigs, and other nest-making materials. As we stand looking at the lake, there comes rowing up to us, past the water-lilies, a proud maternal white swan, with quite a flotilla of little mouse-coloured cygnets in her wake—
"'The swan, with arched neck,
Between her white wings soaring proudly, rows
Her state with oary feet.'
There are black swans from Australia here as well. Yonder goes a squadron of ducks, making an arrow-headed track in the water. They sail round the headland in beautiful order, and disappear, uttering strange shrieks. But our afternoon is waning. We must take our leave of the subtropical and sub-Arctic scenery at Battersea Park. To what other horticultural grounds, be they public or private, around London shall we go for such sights as these? Here in this park—not in any huge glass conservatory or 'Wardian' case, but under the open sky—are living side by side the Arctic saxifrage, the English rose, the tropical palm, and the desert cactus. . . . Then let no Londoner remain any longer unacquainted with this wonderful vegetation at Battersea. Let him give at least two afternoons of the summer to these sub-tropical and Alpine gardens. None the less will he enjoy the purely English landscape scenery. The more, too, will he delight in the vegetable life and scenery of the zone which lies between these sub-Arctic and sub-tropical regions at Battersea."

Close by the park are some blocks of houses, erected by the Victoria Dwellings' Association as homes for the working classes. The buildings, which were opened in 1877, were intended as models of the dwellings for artisans and labourers, to replace the habitations condemned in various parts of the metropolis under the Act of 1875.

At a short distance eastward of the park are the reservoirs and engine-house of the Southwark and Vauxhall Waterworks Company. The reservoirs cover nearly eighteen acres of ground; and the steam-engines have sufficient power to force the water through perpendicular iron tubes to the height of 175 feet, by which means it is raised sufficiently to supply the inhabitants of Brixton and other elevated places.

Some portion of the ground immediately contiguous to the park is still cultivated as marketgardens; but before the formation of the park, and the recent railway extensions near Clapham Junction Station, some hundreds of acres were devoted to that purpose. The gardens here were long noted for producing the earliest and best asparagus in the neighbourhood of London. Indeed, that this parish at one time enjoyed the reputation of being a place for early fruit and vegetables is shown by the following satirical lines on air-balloons, from the Spirit of the Times for 1802:—
"Gardeners in shoals from Battersea shall run
To raise their kindlier hot-beds in the sun."
The produce of these gardens was likewise referred to in the addresses of the candidates at the mock elections of the "Mayor of Garratt," in the neighbouring parish of Wandsworth, as we shall presently see.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, whilst its neighbour Vauxhall was acquiring fame in consequence of the glass manufactured there, Battersea was celebrated for its enamelled ware, which still fetches good prices, although the manufacture has died out.

But Battersea has other claims to immortality: in spite of the claims of Burton and Edinburgh, there can be little doubt, if Fuller is a trustworthy historian, that one of the ozier-beds of the riverside here was the cradle of bottled ale. The story is thus circumstantially told in "The Book of Anecdote:"—

"Alexander Nowell, Dean of St. Paul's and Master of Westminster School in the reign of Queen Mary, was a supporter of 'the new opinions,' and also an excellent angler. But, writes Fuller, while Nowell was catching of fishes, Bishop Bonner was after catching of Nowell, and would certainly have sent him to the Tower if he could have caught him, as doubtless he would have done had not a good merchant of London conveyed him away safely upon the seas. It so happened that Nowell had been fishing upon the banks of the Thames when he received the first intimation of his danger, which was so pressing that he dared not even go back to his house to make any preparation for his flight. Like an honest angler, he had taken with him on this expedition provisions for the day, in the shape of some bread and cheese and some beer in a bottle; and on his return to London and to his own haunts he remembered that he had left these stores in a safe place upon the bank, and there he resolved to look for them. The bread and the cheese, of course, were gone; but the bottle was still there—'yet no bottle, but rather a gun: such was the sound at the opening thereof.' And this trifling circumstance, quaintly observes Fuller, 'is believed to have been the origin of bottled ale in England, for casualty (i.e. accident) is mother of more inventions than is industry.'"


  • 1. See Vol. V., p. 257.
  • 2. See Vol. III., p. 101.
  • 3. This was the case also with the North-Western Railway, the London terminus of which was originally at Chalk Farm; see Vol. V., p. 350.
  • 4. See ante, p. 350.
  • 5. See Vol. V., p. 41.
  • 6. See Vol. V., p. 53.