A Wider History of Earlsfield & Wandsworth

A Wider History of Earlsfield & Wandsworth


The River Wandle, which runs just behind Tara Theatre, lends its name to the borough of Wandsworth in south west London.

Worth, in the Saxon language, signifies either a village, or a shore. In Doomsday-book, the name of this place is spelt Wandesorde, and Wendlesorde; in other ancient records, Wandlesworth, and Wendlesworth.

The village of Wandsworth became a seat of several important manufactures introduced by Huguenots – French refugees fleeing religious persecution after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

Although there had always been some industries by the Thames and old mills along the Wandle, up to the middle of the 19th century Wandsworth consisted mainly of farmland, market gardens, parkland of the grand estates and the open heathland of Wimbledon and Wandsworth Commons.

The opening of Earlsfield railway station in 1884 transformed this sleepy village into the bustling modern town 10 minutes (by train) from Waterloo.

As part of this bustle, cultural spaces were not forgotten. In addition to the variety of pubs and eel shops along Garratt Lane, there was London’s first electric cinema house.

The Premier Electric Theatre, at nearby 467-468 Garratt Lane, opened on Saturday 18 June 1910. It had an auditorium with 800 seats. An advertisement on 28 October 1910 listed 10 films, but added “other novel and interesting pictures”. It mentioned that afternoon tea was served free of charge at matinees and that the Vivaphone was to play the music Bandolero and Now I have to call him Father.

Two performances were given at 7pm and 9pm with the matinee at 3pm.

The cinema was renamed after the Second World War as “The Rex”. The last film was shown in April 1960 and it then became The Rex Bingo Club. The building was demolished around 1987/88.

Key Figures in Earlsfield & Wandsworth

Earlsfield and Wandsworth more widely has a rich heritage, with a wide collection of literary, political and industrial figures, some of whom can be discovered and found in Wandsworth through English Heritage Blue Plaques which populate the Borough.


William Wilberforce (1759-1833) - successful parliamentary campaigner for the abolition of slavery and philanthropist lived at 111 Broomwood Road, Battersea, which stood until 1904.

George Elliot (1819-1880) – The famous novelist (whose real name was Mary Ann Evans) moved to Wimbledon Park Road, Southfields with her lover in 1859. Her reasons for choosing Southfields included “glorious breezy walks, wide horizons...and an abundance of water”. Elliot wrote The Mill on the Floss whilst living in Southfields.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1926) - poet and novelist lived in Wandsworth from 1878 to 1881. Writer of The Mayor of Casterbridge among other popular classics set in rural Wessex.

Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ (1844-1889) lived and studied with the Jesuits at in Manresa House near Roehampton in Wandsworth before he became a Priest and poet.

Sean O'Casey (1880-1964) - Irish playwright, poet and film writer of international repute lived in Battersea at flat No 49 Overstrand Mansions, Prince of Wales Drive.

H.G. Wells (1866-1946) – Author of The Time Machine and War of the Worlds. Wells moved to Haldon Road in 1891 and married his cousin Isabel Mary Wells in All Saints Church that same year.

David Lloyd George (1863-1945) – British Prime Minister during the First World War. Moved to Trinity Road in 1899 whilst still a backbencher.

Charles Pearson (1793-1862) – Largely responsible for the building of the London Underground, the first underground railway in the world. Sadly he died in his home on West Hill Road a few months before the Metropolitan Line opened in 1863.

George Dixon Longstaff (1799-1892) – Doctor and campaigner for lifelong learning, Longstaff was the first teacher of practical chemistry to medical students. He was a founding fellow of the Chemical Society of London and was very active locally, sitting on the Wandsworth District Board of Works and commissioning the Longstaff Reading Room, which today houses the De Morgan Centre.

Charlotte Despard (1844-1939) – Despard is most famous for her activities as a campaigner for women’s suffrage. She moved to Wandsworth upon her husband’s death in 1890 and devoted her life to improving conditions for the working classes there, particularly in Nine Elms. She opened a health clinic, a soup kitchen for the local unemployed, and several working men’s clubs.

Voltaire (1634-1778) – Around 1776, French Enlightenment philosopher, wit and revolutionary stayed in Wandsworth.

Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819 - 1891) – Engineer that pioneered London’s sewage system in response to the Great Stink of 1858. His work was instrumental in the cleaning up of the River Thames and the reduction of cholera epidemics in the city. He lived in Wandsworth and is buried in St Mark’s Church in Wimbledon. During his career, Joseph Bazalgette also designed Putney and Battersea Bridges, and worked on strengthening Albert Bridge. He lived in Wimbledon for the last 18 years of his life and is buried in a large mausoleum at St Mary’s Church, Wimbledon. A memorial to him is sited on Victoria Embankment in central London.

Louis De Berniere (1954 to date) - author of the multi-million selling Captain Coreli’s Mandolin was born in Earlsfield. He wrote his poetic drama Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World which echo’s Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood as a nostalgic homage to his youth and the characters he loved growing up along Garratt Lane. In 2012 Tara Arts presented his delightful verse play, Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World.


With thanks to the Wandsworth Museum



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