Wandle 'missing link' comes closer
Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2020
The completion of the ‘missing link’ in the Wandle Riverside Walk has come a step closer.
This means people can have unbroken access and walk all the way along the Wandle from its sources in Croydon and Carshalton to where it meets the Thames at Wandsworth.
The Wandle has always been central to the borough of Wandsworth and its people. Originally known as the Hidebourne, it has provided the power for mills since Roman times – originally corn and then later industries including copperworking, papermaking and textile printing. The textile mills attracted the Huguenots in the 17th century who turned Wandsworth into a textile powerhouse and in Victorian times it boasted 90 mills, including the Liberty print works. The world’s first public railway, the Surrey Iron Railway, ferried raw materials to the mills and factories that lines the river and transported the finished goods away.
Watney's Mill on the Wandle 1826
The river was known for its cleanliness and purity and was full of trout. It featured in Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler and was a favourite fishing spot of Lord Nelson. But by the 1960s the river was officially declared a sewer and people living in an estate of prefabs in King George’s Park complained bitterly about the terrible smell. In Wandsworth much of it was built over when the Arndale (now Southside) shopping centre was built in the 1970s.
The Wandle in 1958 behind Wandsworth Greyhound Stadium
Eventually the different local authorities and local and national groups decided to work together to clean the river up, protect it for future generations, set up a regional park and celebrate its history and culture. In 2005 the Wandle Valley Forum was created supported by more than 140 community groups, voluntary organisations and businesses, and in 2011 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £78,000 to a consortium of four boroughs, led by Wandsworth, with the aim of revitalising the Wandle Valley.
As a result the Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust has spent almost ten years creating the park and engaging with local people. Now the trust will work with partners and The Collective to work to complete the Earlsfield ‘missing link’.
These days the river is clean enough to support trout again, and in 2017 the council created a nature reserve at the Wandle Delta, removing layers of contaminated sediment and removing a tidal weir to provide a major new aquatic habitat.
Looking to the future, Wandsworth Council is preparing a Wandle Delta Masterplan to guide the development of the area between the river and Wandsworth Town Centre so the river is once again at the heart of the town.
Cabinet member for community services and open spaces Cllr Steffi Sutters said: “For years Wandsworth has been committed to bringing the river back to life and working with partners to make it a valuable open space for our residents. The Coronavirus pandemic has shown us that our parks and open spaces are really needed, and continuing to develop the Wandle Valley Regional Park and the riverside walk is just one of the ongoing projects to improve existing parks and create new ones.”