Wandle Fortnight: a visit to the Wandle Industrial Museum

By - Wednesday 11th October, 2017

A great place to learn all about the history and heritage of the River Wandle

Photo author’s own.

Wandle Fortnight ran from 9th to 23rd September. Wandle Park was heavily involved in activities to celebrate the river’s past and present. There was river cleaning, pond dipping, watercolour painting with Turf Projects, and Wandle Park-inspired haiku poetry with George from the Friends group. Then, perhaps most interestingly, we went on a midweek visit to the Wandle Industrial Museum in Mitcham.

I’d been wanting to go for a while. So – why not make it part of the Wandle Fortnight’s activities and organise a group visit?

I wondered about the easiest way to get a group of people over to Mitcham for a visit? Uber? Black cab? Bus? Cycle? Of course: a mini-bus. Who’s got a mini-bus? Aha! Old Town Youth Club. It’s going to cost to hire it. How will it be paid for? Aha! Apply for a Wandle Fortnight grant to cover that. So Catherine Graham, chair of Wandle Park Friends group, applied on our behalf for a modest £50 and was granted it.

So a perfectly sized group of eight residents and one driver (me) set off for Mitcham. It was a long time since I’d driven a mini-bus, not since the days of Saturday football and driving the team bus. So I was a bit apprehensive getting behind the wheel of a vehicle that I’d had a brief test in just a few weeks before. But apart from an incident of not being able to select autodrive after being in neutral during heavy traffic, all went well. I found a lovely big space a short walk from the museum where we parked up, disembarked and made our way to the museum.

Photo author’s own.

James Graham, a member of the party, gave an excellent write up for the Wandle Park website. With his permission, and with grateful thanks, I’ve used an extract from his report on the visit:

The party from Wandle Park was grateful for funding from the Wandle Valley Forum, Living Wandle Landscape Partnership and the Heritage Lottery, that allowed us to enjoy the visit to the museum. For a few of the group’s members, this visit was a first.

At one time it’s believed there were 200 water mills along the Wandle. It is hard now to consider the scope and range of industry that used to lie on its banks. World famous names, such as Liberty silks and Victorian artist William Morris, located works along the river to power mills and printing presses.

Beer drinkers in the group were also excited to learn about the history of brewing in Croydon and Mitcham with the long-lived but now demolished Young’s brewery in Wandsworth. It was pleasing to see that brewing is returning to the river with the establishment of breweries such as Sambrook.

They turned to the cutting edge technology of railways

But given the scope of the industrial activity along its length, it comes as no surprise that the need for a railway was soon recognised. The need to service the many factories and mills led some to consider a canal in the late 1790s. However, it was feared that this would drain the Wandle. Instead, they turned to the then-cutting edge technology of railways.

The Surrey Iron Railway was given the go-ahead in 1802, becoming one of the world’s first railways. It is incredible to consider that at this time George III would remain on the throne for a further twenty years, and that Queen Victoria would not be born for another seventeen years. The Surrey Iron Railway ran from a quay at Wandsworth to Croydon and would turn out to be a financial failure, closing some forty years later. But whilst it was operating, it made Croydon was the only town in Britain connected by a road, railway and canal.

The landscape closely shaped the river and its settlements

The group also took time to look at the history of other products connected with the river, such as snuff, calico, lavender and stained glass, as well the many detailed and well-made models of various works and locations along the Wandle.

One interesting display that caught our attention was a topographical model that showed the Wandle and its connecting river, the Graveney, and how they ran from their sources down to the river Thames. It was interesting to see how the landscape so closely shaped the river and its settlements.

Once back at Wandle Park our day ended with a cup of tea and a natter in the park cafe. All in all it was a pleasant way to spend a few hours on a dreary Wednesday afternoon.

Thanks to Catherine Graham for doing the administration and to Old Town Youth Club for the hire of the van.

The Wandle Industrial Museum is just over the Merton border in Mitcham. It’s well worth an hour of your time.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

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