There is a lot of talk at the moment about redevelopment and it is likely that in the next few years the site of Wimbledon Dog Track and the area bounding it will be altered beyond all recognition. The winds of change will once again blow through Summerstown. But it will be nothing to those that have aleady whistled through this extraordinary historical artery, the original main road of the hamlet of Summerstown, the backbone of the settlement which established itself on the fertile plain at the edge of the Wandle and which rightly bears its name. Look at a map from 1870 to see how significant this road was. The original St Mary’s Church paid for by Joshua Stanger stood at its northerly end on the ground behind the strip of stores which includes the Wimbledon Kitchen chinese takeaway. Wending its way south of here, it was originally known as Church Street. Not long before that the horse-drawn Surrey Iron Railway would have passed across it. This ran from Wandsworth to Croydon from 1801 to 1846 crossing Garratt Lane where Tesco now stands and running down along the back of where Lambeth Cemetery would be built. On the side of what is now the dog stadium car-park were extensive watercress beds and on the 1870 map a winding river twists its way through. But as the redevelopers will well be aware, it was all built on shaky ground, prone to flooding. After the clay foundations shrank in a very dry summer in 1893, the church was declared unsafe and had to be demolished. It took ten years before a new one was built. At the north end of this road, next to the Corner Pin pub, behind a small white tumbledown picket fence and sheltered beneath an enormous conifer tree are two small cottages which date from 1820, pre-dating when the first church was built. They are very likely the oldest dwelling in this area and with one other building at the southern end of the road near what used to be the White Lion pub, the only surviving constructions from the 1914 period. The one on the right with its dark green wooden shutters and a front door on the end has a quaint charm, at odds with the neglect all around it. No6 was once the home of the incredible Robert Sadler who founded the Copenhagen Running Ground at the end of Burmester Road. In the 1841 census he was squeezed into this tiny cottage with nine other people; his parents, two sisters, two brothers, his wife, his son and an aunt. It was also once the home of Henry James Wright one of the Summerstown182 and befitting his name, a man with flying connectons. His baptism record indicates he was very likely born at the address on 19th August 1890. An only child, his father, Henry Richard Wright was a cabinet maker. His mother, Francis Elizabeth was 39 when Henry was born. In the 1911 census Henry was twenty years old and working as a tinsmith. Three years later, and now a sheet metal worker, on Christmas Day 1914, in St Anne’s Church, he married a girl from Wandsworth called Ethel Marks. The absent voters list of 1918 shows the couple were still living at 6 Summerstown with Henry’s parents. After his death Ethel moved in to live with her mother at 10 Vanderbilt Road on the other side of Earlsfield Station. It would appear that Henry joined the Royal Navy on 7th March 1917 but on 1st April 1918 he transfered to the Royal Naval Air Service and was based in Redcar as an Air Mechanic. A Royal Navy Air Station had been established at Ramshaw’s Farm here between 1915 and 1919. Thankfully Henry missed the zeppelin raid of 1916 but he was killed on 29th June 1918 and is buried at nearby Christ Church in Coatham. He is one of 21 war graves in a dramatic location on the edge of the North Sea, not far from the mouth of the Tees. In the August issue of the St Mary’s parish magazine, Reverend Robinson wrote that ‘we have heard this month that Henry James Wright, RNAS was killed in an accident at Redcar on June 29th’. In the same short paragraph he announced the death of 14 other members of the Summerstown182, the grim toll was mounting as the war drew to its climax.
With thanks to Marion Gower and Kevin Kelly whose research has helped put this item together. Like to know more about Robert Sadler? Hear Kevin Kelly’s talk about the history of the Copenhagen Running Ground at The Streatham Society, Monday, 7th July at 8pm. http://www.streathamsociety.org.uk/