Morden Hall Park and Merton Park - 2017

As Network Rail had once again chosen the Bank Holiday weekend to re-arrange its train set, our Sponsored Walk this year was destined to be a local affair.

  Early Morning Spider Web by the River

Beginning by the river outside Sainsbury’s we walked past the site of William Morris’s Merton Abbey Works which he had purchased in 1881 to enable him to carry out all his processes under one roof.  Previously the area had been a calico printing works, established by the Welch family in 1752, and Morris refused to pull down any of the existing buildings which, apart from some minor alterations remained unchanged until the works closed in 1940.

The Wandle River was once a winding waterway, but since Anglo-Saxon times has been used to drive mills.

   By Merton Abbey Mills                                                  

It was heavily industrialised in the 18th and 19th centuries, powering 68 waterwheels, which resulted in alterations to the channel in several locations.  The stretch of the river running between Windsor Avenue and Colliers Wood High Street was diverted during the 18th century. The original course of the river still runs underground beneath Liberty Avenue, surfacing at Runnymede as the Pickle Ditch and rejoining the modern river outside Sainsbury's, while the stretch of the river running past Merton Abbey Mills craft village and in front of Sainsbury's is man-made.

We walked on past the Pickle Ditch and Deen City Farm, crossing the Tramline and entering Morden Hall Park. 

     By the Tram Crossing 

The Tramline utilises the trackbed of the West Croydon to Wimbledon Line - built by the Wimbledon and Croydon Railway (W&CR) over part of the trackbed of the Surrey Iron Railway. It opened on 22 October 1855 connecting the South West Main Line of the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) to the London Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR). The last National Rail train ran on 31st May 1997 and the Tramlink network eventually rolled into passenger service in May 2000.

Morden Hall Park is a National Trust park covering over 125 acres of parkland with the River Wandle meandering through it - spanned by numerous foot bridges. The estate contains Morden Hall itself, Morden Cottage, an old Snuff Mill, as well as many old farm buildings. 

    The rose garden has over 2000 roses. The estate land was originally owned by Westminster Abbey and the Hall dates back to the 1770’s. It was owned and occupied by the Garth family for generations. About 1840 it was occupied, as a school, for young gentlemen, until it was sold in the 1870’s to Gilliat Hatfeild - a tobacco merchant. During the First World War the Hall functioned as a military hospital. Gilliat Hatfeild's son, Gilliat Edward Hatfeild, left the core of the estate (including the house) to the National Trust when he died, and The Hall is now an exclusive Wedding Venue, offering a beautiful location together with fine foods and drink.

  Ravensbury Park

In the glorious sunshine of late summer, we ambled through the parkland, before crossing the road and entering Ravensbury Park.  Part of this area is designated as a nature reserve and the park itself once formed part of the medieval Ravensbury Manor dating back to the 13th Century.  The Manor House stood on the north bank of the river and if one looks closely, the foundations can still be seen.  In later years it became a site for the calico industry and pleasure gardens.  It was formally opened to the public in 1930.

    We had hoped to visit the Watermeads, opened to the public in May 2015, having been hidden behind locked gates for 100 years. However, due to a recent bridge collapse the area is at present closed. Thus we retraced our steps – by a slightly different route – to Morden Hall Park where we stopped for lunch.

Suitable refreshed we journeyed on into Morden for the second part of our walk, which took us via Kendor Gardens to the Merton Park Conservation Area. Many people ask why Kendor Gardens exist in a predominantly built-up area. Apparently it was originally designated as a station site, but the money ran out and they simply ran the trains underneath making the site unsuitable for housing.  It was also the site of a fatal stabbing on the morning of January 19th 2016.

Arriving safely in Dorset Road, we made our way through the Glebe Fields of St. Mary’s Church and into John Innes Park.

John Innes Park

The Park is named after the wealthy property developer and philanthropist John Innes, who is often credited with the original development of Merton Park as an attractive Victorian suburb in the 19th Century. He came from a prosperous London family which traded in wine and property and in 1864 formed the City of London Real Property Company.  John Innes acquired a large amount of land in Merton, intending to develop housing with an easy rail link to the City. He never married and by 1871 was living at the Manor House on Watery Lane, Merton (now part of the Rutlish School).

Innes played an active role in the life of Merton and controlled the development of housing in Merton with great care. John Innes died in 1904 and was buried at St Mary the Virgin in Merton Park where his tomb and memorial window can be seen. The bell he provided in 1897 is still rung.

He bequeathed the John Innes Park to the people of Merton, and his will created the John Innes Horticultural Institute. This world-renowned research organisation developed the John Innes range of composts in the 1930s. It later moved from Merton to Bayfordbury in Hertfordshire and is now at Colney near Norwich.

The park created from the former garden of the Manor House contains many varieties of holly, which was a favourite plant of John Innes. These can still be appreciated today, as can facilities for tennis, croquet and bowls. The park is in the care of Merton Council.

The final part of our walk took us back to St Mary’s Church, unfortunately closed, but still affording us a chance to look around its attractive surroundings.  A church has stood on this site since before the Domesday Book and it was founded by the Augustinian Canons who also founded Merton Priory.

    Norman Gateway - S. Mary's Church 

Parts of the present building date back to 1115 and there is an interesting Norman arch from Merton Priory in the churchyard. The roof of the nave is nearly 900 years old and that of the chancel dates from 1400. The two aisles were built in the last century to accommodate the population explosion.

We finished our walk by following the trackbed of the old railway line from Merton Park to Tooting.  Merton Park station boasted a unique wide span footbridge across the tracks and this has been preserved at the Swanage Railway in Dorset, spanning the tracks at Corfe Castle station.  The old line to Tooting passed through a station at Abbey Mills before joining the main line at Tooting Junction.  The line closed to passengers in 1929, but survived as a freight only line until 1975.

Our thanks go to Roger for not only organising the walk, but for providing us with lots of history to accompany it. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day out.

All Saints' Sponsored Walk 2017