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Local Walk: Wandsworth Common

Playground, café, ponds, games, and cycling on the common; interesting old buildings, acres of open space, Northcote Road shops

Distance 4¼ miles.
Time 2½ hours.
Terrain Mostly level pavements with some minor slopes.
Food and drink Old York Road, Wandsworth Common, Bellevue Terrace, Northcote Road.
Toilets Wandsworth Common, Clapham Junction station.
Start Wandsworth Town station. Trains to Clapham Junction, Putney, etc. Buses 28, 44.
Finish Clapham Junction. Trains to all parts, Buses 35, 37, 39, 49, 77, 87, 156, 170, 219, 295, 337, G1, 319, 344, 345, C3.

From Wandsworth Town station cross Old York Road towards the green-tiled Alma pub, then turn left along Podmore Road.

The tempting attractions of Old York Road include the popular real-ale Alma, Brady’s fish restaurant, two or three inviting cafés and several independent shops. This combination creates an appealing ‘village’, well away from the hurtling traffic on Wandsworth’s hectic one-way system.

Pass the Royal Standard and then turn right to follow Dalby Road. Turn left along Dighton Road, continuing around a right-hand bend to follow Birdhurst Road on a tree-lined path. Cross East Hill at the lights and turn right, then after 40 yards, passing St Mary Magdalen Catholic church, turn left along a footpath through the Huguenot burial ground.

In the 17th and 18th centuries thousands of Huguenots (French Protestants) arrived in England, escaping religious persecution. Many settled in Wandsworth, bringing with them their skills in hat making, dyeing, and metal working, with the River Wandle as their source of power. This cemetery, known as Mount Nod, was the final resting place for many of them, their names inscribed on a plaque (pictured below) on the northern side of the plot.

Turn right at the end of the path to walk alongside railings to Book House, a handsome red-brick building of 1888. Cross with great care to the central island, then use the lights on the left to continue downhill on the left-hand pavement of East Hill. Turn left into Geraldine Road, where the United Reformed church sits on the corner. Take the first right turn, Eglantine Road, and continue to the end. Turn left into Aspley Road, then left again along St Ann’s Crescent, passing St Anne’s church (with the added ‘e’).

Built in 1822 by Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum, St Anne’s was one of the ‘Waterloo churches’ erected in celebration of England’s victory over Napoleon. Badly damaged in WWII, and then losing its roof in a fire in 1950, the restored church with its ‘pepper pot’ tower stands as a distinctive local landmark.

At the end of this road turn left to follow Allfarthing Lane, continuing straight on at a mini-roundabout. You are now on Heathfield Road, beside a fragment of Wandsworth Common. At a set of traffic lights continue straight ahead, after crossing to the right-hand pavement.

At this junction with Windmill Road you may wish to make a ¼ mile detour to see the windmill, minus its sails. If so, turn left, cross Trinity Road, and you will find it half-hidden amongst trees above the railway line. Of a type known as a smock mill, it was built in the 1830s to pump water from the newly-built London and South Western Railway cutting into the ‘Black Sea’, a lake situated nearby.

Carry on over the railway bridge and keep on ahead towards the grim outlines of Wandsworth Prison.

Originally opened as the Surrey House of Correction in 1851, Wandsworth is the largest prison in the London area and can house over 1600 prisoners. Famous past inmates include train robber Ronnie Biggs, East End gangster Reginald Kray, and in the 1890s playwright Oscar Wilde.

At the end of the prison buildings cross to the left-hand side of the road and then turn left along Alma Terrace, past a pleasing collection of rustic cottages, to the County Arms pub. Go across Trinity Road to Dorlcote Road, then after a very few yards leave the road and fork left down a gravel slope to a wide tree-lined tarmac path which you follow, accompanied by breezy acres of grass and sports fields to your left. Shortly you will come to a junction where you go half-right on a shared cycle track. To the left is the popular Common Ground café (and public toilets, behind the bowling green), making this an excellent refreshment stop.

Wandsworth Common’s 175 acres were originally part of the manor of Battersea and Wandsworth, but passed to the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1887. A few years before this, the Rev John Craig chose this spot to build an enormous telescope, apparently powerful enough to enable letters ¼ of an inch high to be read from half a mile away. It lasted less than twenty years, a victim of poor visibility due to pollution.

At the next junction do not cross the railway bridge, but instead bear right alongside the railway fence, passing a succession of reed-fringed ponds. Give yourself a moment to trace the paths around this watery corner of the common, the perfect place for a picnic. This path ends at Bellevue Road, with Wandsworth Common station opposite. There are one or two pubs and cafés here. Turn left over the railway bridge, then straightaway go left again to walk alongside the other side of the railway tracks. Eventually you will come to the footbridge that you met earlier; at this point fork right on a shared cycle path to Bolingbroke Grove, which you follow left to arrive at the Stock Pond. Cross at the refuge and continue on the right-hand pavement, then take the first right, Bramfield Road. Now you drop down to the shops and cafés of Northcote Road, where a left turn will lead you into the heart of this fascinating street.

Popular café Crumpet, with children’s play area, cakes, and organic food from local suppliers is one of Northcote Road’s many attractions, which also include Dove butchers, here since the 1880s, the well-stocked Bolingbroke Bookshop, and market stalls offering everything from crafts to cabbages. Originally clustered around the newly-built Clapham Junction station in the 1860s, all the stalls moved here in 1910 when St John’s Road was developed. When you come to Battersea Rise glance to the right to see two interesting old buildings: the Thomas Memorial church of the Nazarene, and the former Temperance billiard hall, with tiled fascia and tower, now a pub.

At the traffic lights at Battersea Rise keep ahead along St John’s Road, past all the well-known high street shops, to Lavender Hill and the unmistakeable grandeur of Debenhams store, formerly Arding & Hobbs. Cross over and turn left for a few yards on St John’s Hill to the end of your walk at ‘Britain’s busiest railway station’, Clapham Junction, or catch one of the numerous buses from here, serving a wide choice of destinations.

South West London WalksExcerpted from South-West London Walks: 30 Enjoyable Walks for the Whole Family

Related Links

The Common Ground CaféMount NodSt Annes ChurchOne of Wandsworth Common’s tranquil pondsRoute map