Wandsworth Society Celebrates Its 50 Year Anniversary

Reminiscing on its achievements and ongoing challenges

The stretch of houses at 33-39 Heathfield Road saved from the bulldozer. Picture: Google Streetview

2021 was particularly significant for one of Wandsworth’s strongest advocates. At the end of the year The Wandsworth Society celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Half a century ago the Society started out with the all-encompassing premise that it would “stimulate the interest of the public in the geography, history, natural and social history, architecture of the area”. Fifty years later there’s been plenty of fascinating reminiscing of its achievements throughout the decades.

As far back as January 1975 one of the Society’s earliest newsletters reported on an issue which has concerned its members ever since - the height of local buildings. Then, in 1976, there was the infamous “Battersea smell” – a vicious odour emanating from Garton’s Glucose Factory which one resident described at the time as the stench of “rotting animal feet”. In the early 1980s the loss of loos on Wandsworth Common was an issue facing The Wandsworth Society, as well as the Arndale Centre (now Southside) Slipper Baths, a form of public bath which looked like a slipper because towels were draped across them to protect public modesty.

The Society looked back on issues “that never seem to change” including traffic on the High Street. As early as 1986 a burst water main in Wandsworth High Street was causing traffic delays and a comment in the newsletter read that the Society could see what would happen if “proposals to free the high street of traffic went ahead” adding “watch this space”. A space that is still being watched.

The Wandsworth Society was originally formed as an offspring to The Putney Society, in response to local issues facing post war London and the rebuilding of a city ravaged by bombing “to try to provide for those in power an understanding and recognition of the qualities of our built environment and open spaces and, of particular concern to Wandsworth, the need to stop senseless clearances”.

From the beginning the Society has endeavoured to ensure that its concerns should be raised in a positive and non-critical manner. It is an attitude that won the respect of Wandsworth Council’s Planning Department and resulted in the Society’s very early successes in saving some of the buildings which still stand today. One particularly notable success came in 1976 when members campaigned on appeal against the demolition of four substantial houses at 33-39 Heathfield Road which were to be replaced with a block of flats (see image above). Around this time the Society also saw to conservation areas being set in place in the borough.

The Wandsworth Society has remained committed to local issues over the last half a century. There has been an ongoing special relationship with Wandsworth Common and The Friends of Wandsworth Common with campaigns including the ongoing debate of the future of the derelict Neal’s Lodge. In recent years The Wandsworth Society also ensured the future of The Wandsworth Museum and its artefacts.

For half a century, if the Society objects to a scheme or part of the scheme, letters are written, meetings are held and lobbying takes place with council officers, developers and sometimes the Council Leader. 21st century hurdles include increasing issues with guideline adherence and constant reviewing of new building legislation.

Much of the Society’s work is done in cooperation with other local groups, such as the Wandsworth Historical Society or the Wandle Valley Forum as well as neighbouring Societies in Putney and Battersea. Very rarely are issues handled “just on our own” and at all times members are prepared to take issues “to the top”, which can mean as far as the London Mayor’s Office or even “challenging the most bulldog QCs at public enquiry”.

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January 5, 2022