The Ultimate Guide to Putney
INTRODUCTION TO PUTNEY
First referred to as Putelei in the Doomsday Book of 1086, the etymology of Putney isn’t entirely clear. However, it is known the district has been referred to by a number of names over the previous millennia, including Puttenheth, before being known by the moniker Londoners are familiar with today.
Although the Doomsday Book marks the first official recognition of such a settlement on the banks of the Thames, archaeological findings suggest the banks that Putney, and perhaps more so the adjacent Fulham, sit on were utilised for centuries, possibly millennia previous. The carbon dating of a fish trap discovered in the Thames just off Putney was dated to the early Saxon period, suggesting the existence of a more permanent settlement on a nearby bank. Meanwhile, excavations of Fulham Palace, situated in Bishops Park directly opposite Putney, have uncovered objects dating to the Neolithic period, meaning local history spans more than 6,000 years.
Detailed, recorded history of Putney is scarce for many centuries following the compilation of the official records of the Doomsday Book. However, Joan Tucker’s Ferries of the Lower Thames notes some thirteenth century activity with a reference to Robert the Ferryman of Putney, as noted in treasury records. Tucker records that Robert was described as, ‘conveying the household and servants of the King’s hospice with two barges across the Thames during two days in March’. The exact date of the journey made isn’t clear, although it is known it would have occurred in the early thirteenth century, showing there was activity and the permanent residence of highly trusted individuals from this time.
The district is now known, most importantly, as the site of the Putney Debates. Headed by Oliver Cromwell, the debates intended to bring about social reform following the first civil war. Ideas including an end to censorship, religious freedom, interest rate limits and tax breaks for low earners were discussed. These were all radical, forward thinking ideologies in seventeenth century England, and the debates ultimately changed the nation in ways we still recognise today.
Some areas of Putney were particularly damaged during the blitz of WW2. The Castle, a public house situated next to the river banks, suffered a terrible bomb hit causing more than 40 fatalities. Other sites were badly hit during the war with many locals losing their lives or loved ones. Similarly to other areas of London, unexploded bombs are occasionally found, with one being discovered the day before the 2017 boat race near Putney Bridge.
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St Mary’s Church
A site of Christian worship for more than 700 years, the church of St Mary the Virgin, to give it its full name, still plays a massive part in the lives of many within the parish. Elements of the medieval structure are still intact, including the tower, which dates back to the fifteenth century. The church holds most significance in relation to the Putney Debates, which were held there in the autumn of 1647. The church is a constant hub of activity, with frequent services and community events welcoming those near and far, many of which are centred around the bustling cafe and events spaces attached to the original church.
The bridge has had a number of incarnations over the centuries. The first timber bridge opened on 29 November 1729, and had tolls on each side; being the only bridge near the central London areas besides London Bridge, it began to take over in popularity from the ferry crossings Londoners were so used to. A partial reconstruction was necessary following damage sustained by a barge crashing into the bridge in 1870 – although the bridge was soon demolished in favour of the bridge visible today. 1886 saw the completion of the modern Putney Bridge, with an opening ceremony led by the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Situated ideally between the business hubs of central London and the green expanses of smaller south west London and Surrey towns, Putney has more than enough to occupy families, whether local or visiting. Theatres, cinemas, parks and shopping opportunities are never more than a short amble away – and those looking for even more options are never disappointed, with the excellent transport networks meaning everything else the capital has to offer is just a simple train or bus journey away. Here is our guide to playing in Putney.
Putney Arts Theatre is the hub of community arts and culture events and productions. Now located in the Old Union Chapel on Upper Richmond Road, the theatre company’s earliest form was the brainchild of Maurice Copus, a teacher at the nearby Southfields School. Recognising the absence of a local theatre group where young creatives could delve into the world of drama, an after-school club was established. Increasing popularity prompted a change of premises and the group moved to Wandsworth Town Hall with mayoral assistance in 1964, and was subsequently renamed Group 64. The Old Union Chapel has been the group’s home since 1968, and witnessed expansions and improvements as the company has gone from strength to strength.
Putney Arts Theatre now hosts touring productions, as well as productions put on by members of resident and local drama groups, notably Group 64 and the Putney Theatre Company. Group 64 welcomes young individuals interested in drama with popular, weekly classes nurturing theatrical talent. Older members of the group combined with the Putney Players in 1999, collectively renaming themselves the Putney Theatre Company, providing a space for members to continue working on, and sharing, their art.
Nearby theatres include Barnes’ OSO Arts Centre, which has a similar community feel to the Putney Arts Centre, and the New Wimbledon Theatre, particularly renowned for the quality of its pantomimes.
Putney is home to a cinema complex located towards the lower end of the high street. Formerly the Putney Hippodrome, there has been a movie theatre on this site since the early twentieth century, having changed hands numerous times; Gaumont British Cinemas and United Picture Theatres were also involved in the cinema until Odeon took over in 1940.
Similarly to many other dated London cinemas, the Putney branch of Odeon underwent a three month refurbishment in the latter half of 2017, transforming it into an Odeon Luxe. Updated décor, tasty snacks and spacious, fully reclining seats now await those looking to enjoy one of the latest blockbusters.
Parks & green spaces
One thing Putney residents certainly aren’t short of is green, open spaces to enjoy the fresh air and occasional British sunshine. Collectively, the connected expanses of Putney Heath and the Putney and Wimbledon Commons make up the largest green space. Beginning with Putney Heath at the top of Putney Hill, visitors may enter the heath opposite the seventeenth century pub The Green Man. Now divided by the A3, it is possible to move from Putney Heath to the commons via an underpass (Tibbit’s Corner).
Putney Heath in particular was a favourite hideout of the infamous highwaymen. With its thick forestry, the criminals were able to pounce on the wealthy passers-by as they headed for London, before retreating to nearby public houses. The heath has also witnessed a number of duels over the centuries, some more bloody than others – May 1652 saw George Brydges kill Colonel Henry Compton in a particularly harrowing duel. From its usage by Charles II to review his forces to its literary history having been referred to by Charles Dickens as a, ‘wild and desolate place’, along with Richmond Green, Putney Heath has certainly played a big part in local and national history.
Another popular green space with Putney residents is Bishop’s Park. Although technically positioned in Fulham, it is accessible within a few minutes from the Putney riverside via a staircase on the Fulham end of Putney Bridge and gates by All Saints Church. Officially opened in 1893, the park takes its name from Fulham Palace, a grand house that was home to the Bishops of London for many centuries. The café, playground, tennis courts, palace and nearby home of Fulham Football Club mean Bishops Park is always teeming with activity.
Those looking for a more purposeful stroll are catered for with the path leading from Putney riverside round to Barnes. Mostly enclosed in a continuous arch of trees, walkers can shelter from the summer sun and enjoy river views as members of local rowing clubs exercise on the water.
With several stylish, modern fitness centres in the area, Putney residents are never more than a short walk away from their next fitness session.
One of the largest, and oldest, is Putney Leisure Centre. With a six-lane, 33 meter main pool and adjoining 12.5 meter teaching pool, it is where many locals would have taken their first dip or learnt to swim. The centre also offers other facilities including a sauna, steam room and Jacuzzi. A state of the art gym and a wide selection of classes have made this a primary site for local fitness fans for decades.
A PureGym and a newer Énergie Fitness are alternative gymnasium offerings, with the latter being the latest addition to the local fitness scene. With bootcamp style fitness classes taking place in local parks, a string of rowing clubs and the nearby tennis courts of Bishops Park, there is always something guaranteed to get the blood pumping. Paddleboarding on the Thames is another great way to get fit locally.
Putney High Street provides ample shopping opportunities, whether you’re after high street fashion chains or special gifts from boutique stores. As of March 2020, popular high street stores include H&M, TK Maxx, Poundland, Ryman Stationary, Boots, Holland & Barrett, Jigsaw, Robert Dyas, Mountain Warehouse, Three, EE, and Paperchase.
Aside from the stores on the open high street, the Putney Exchange, opened in 1990, also provides shopping opportunities, sheltered from the elements. Fashion brands such as GAP and H&M, luxury beauty store L’Occitane, and a large Waitrose sit alongside bookshop Waterstones, a Costa outlet and much more. There is also an independent florist to the right of the pillared entrance.
More boutique offerings come from Blåbär – Nordic Living, a Nordic café and design concept store selling unique homeware, gifts and accessories. Affordable fashion brand JAKI also has its flagship store on the high street, with sales advisors always keen to share their fashion advice with women in need of a wardrobe update.
With plenty of restaurants, there is always variety to be had when it comes to eating out in Putney. Local pubs are particularly food-centric, with booking a necessity, particularly on Sundays when local residents choose to enjoy multi-generational roasts in cosy pubs such as the Dukes Head or the Coat & Badge.
Oriental, riverside dining is provided by Thai Square’s large restaurant, whilst warming dishes and excellent hospitality are always on offer at newer addition Yum Sa, located opposite East Putney station. Small-chain Italian restaurant Franco Manca serves a selection of fresh, sourdough pizzas to order, with the adjacent Mascalzone offering an extensive menu of tasty Italian fare, washed down with carefully selected wines.
Catering for diners throughout the day from light breakfasts to set menu dinners, Bill’s sits in the centre of the high street, a short walk from convenience food stores Greggs and Pret a Manger. Particularly family-friendly dining is available on the Upper Richmond Road, approaching East Putney Station, with popular chains Nandos and Pizza Express joined by the Taj Mahal, which has been serving up delectable curries to Putney residents for decades.
Those looking for a light bite with a sprinkle of local history will find solace in the Putney Pantry, an independent café offering dine in and takeaway options, with all day breakfasts particularly popular. Grab a coffee before checking out the historical St Mary’s Church, attached. Authentic tapas dishes are to be enjoyed with conversation and a glass of red at Casa Manolo, with classic British fare in the vaults at Putney Pies and fresh sushi at Kokoro – all rounding up a considerably multicultural food scene for somewhere of Putney’s size.
Putney certainly isn’t short of pubs, and historical ones at that. The Green Man, located opposite Putney Heath, was used as a post-duel watering hole and a hideout for notorious highwaymen in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The criminals would pray on the drunk revellers as they left the public house, before following and robbing them – it is rumoured the infamous Dick Turpin hid his pistols in a room upstairs, although there is little solid proof to back up the story. The nearby Telegraph, nestled amongst the trees of the heath, also has a history of criminal activity – but now, thankfully, it is a city pub with a village feel, popular with locals in the summer. Something of a hidden gem, Putney’s oldest pub, (The Green man and The Telegraph have undergone renovations and building modifications over the centuries), is nestled at the end of Waterman Street, just off the Lower Richmond Road. Dating back to 1826, the public house sits on the site of an old coaching house and blacksmith’s forge, and pumped builders working on the rail extensions full of warming ale at the end of the eighteenth century.
Despite the variety of pubs, bars and clubs in the area, there are certainly a few Putney favourites. One of Putney’s many Youngs pubs, the riverside Duke’s Head is a summertime favourite with locals and visitors alike. With an upstairs pub-feel restaurant and the cellar bar, revellers in need of a cooling pint or two often spill out onto the street and opposite pavement, leaning against the railings of the Thames. Its neighbour, The Star and Garter, is a stylish pub with a number of event spaces available for private hire. Both pubs do come into trouble on occasion with their proximity to the Thames, as the tide can occasionally get higher than the bottom of the river’s railings and spill across the road. Other favourites include The Spotted Horse, with its hidden roof terrace, and The Coat & Badge, with its not-so-hidden terrace that is often as full in the winter as it is in the summer, with long benches and heaters scattered between tables.
Those looking to extend their evening will find a number of live music and dancing options in Putney. Having played host to the likes of Kate Bush, U2 and the Rolling Stones, The Half Moon is an iconic venue and heart of the area’s live music and stand-up scene. Side by side along the high street, Be at One, The Toy Shop and Tequila Mockingbird are popular bars amongst the younger local crowds for a cocktail and a dance – expect R&B, pop and hip-hop classics. With hidden terraces on the Thames, you can’t get closer to the river over a drink at Putney Pies or Boma Bridge. Tasty food by day and dancing by night is the order at these two bars, with live music or DJs entertaining crowds under the vaults until late on Fridays and Saturdays.
There are many schooling options for new parents to consider in Putney. A number of state schools have been awarded Outstanding during Ofsted inspections. Catering to the educational desires of Putney’s affluent, middle classes, there there are several independent schools in the area for both primary and secondary teaching. Putney High Girls School repeatedly reports some of the best GCSE and A Level grades of any independent London school, with notable alumni including Melanie Phillips and Sophie Kinsella.
As a borough, Wandsworth repeatedly features in the top ten boroughs with the highest house prices. Ideally located within Wandsworth, Putney also benefits from great transport links and a riverside position, meaning property in the area doesn’t come cheap. Views of the Thames come with the greatest premium, like those offered from complexes such as Putney Wharf.
Putney is particularly well serviced with links into London, or out into the suburban districts of more distant south west London and Surrey. Two tube stations, an overground station, plenty of handy bus routes and a boat pier all make the area a popular spot for professionals and families.
Overground: Frequent services to Waterloo that pass through changeover hotspot Clapham Junction reach the city in under 20 minutes. Services also run towards the leafy suburbs of Richmond and beyond.
Underground: With East Putney on the south side of the river and Putney Bridge on the north, District line trains transport Londoners into the city centre on the lengthy service to Upminster, passing through stations such as Westminster and Embankment. Trains to Edgware Road also run, with all District Line services passing through Earls Court – allowing seemless changeovers for those wishing to continue towards Covent Garden, Kings Cross / St Pancras International or Heathrow Airport. The line also benefits from airy, wider, single carriage trains allowing more room for commuters and tourists – something Central line users can only dream of.
Buses: Putney benefits from a number of bus routes, with many stopping off at Putney Bridge station and stops littered up the Putney High Street. Kingston (85 route), Richmond (N33 route) and Sutton (93 route) are all easily reachable for those looking to escape the city, while the British Museum (14 route) and Oxford Circus (22 route) are just some of the popular destinations accessible from the stations and high street via reliable bus services.
Boat: River bus services pass through Putney Pier, at a comparatively much lesser rate than piers in more central locations. Look at the latest TFL information when planning to travel on the Thames.
Health & Beauty
There are several places in Putney for a spot of pampering, with more than 20 beauty salons at the ready for those needing a little TLC. From chain salons offering hair help such as RUSH, to small businesses offering spa treatments like Lanna Spa, there is something to help anyone relax and refocus.
A large doctor’s surgery sits on the Upper Richmond road, providing GP appointments for residents and other services such as vaccinations for travel. Wellness enthusiasts are also catered for with a small number of alternative medicine practices in the area – rethink your skeletal health with the Putney Chiropractic Clinic or experiment with acupuncture and oriental medicine at Yan Clinic.
Events & Festivals
Putney is internationally known as the home of the annual Oxford v Cambridge boat race. Now taking place with a starting point at Putney Bridge, the first race took place in 1829 at Henley-on-Thames. The race took place irregularly for a number of decades, before becoming a more permanent fixture in the calendars of the two universities. The event now draws in thousands of spectators, eager to cheer on their chosen team from the banks of the Thames as the rowers battle it out for the trophy in a race to the finish line at Chiswick Bridge.
Showcasing the best talent with alternative and intimate performances, workshops and stand-up sessions, the Wandsworth Arts Fringe Festival stretches into Putney, typically during the latter half of May, marking the arrival of summer in the borough. With St Mary’s Church and Putney Library among the venues, and all other venues easily accessible with local public transport links, there is always something to open minds and eyes during the festival.