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Carshalton: A brief history

Carshalton was known for its springs and these gave the place its name Car - Aul - ton. 'Aul' means well. A 'ton' is a farm which was in some way enclosed. The meaning of the 'Car' element is uncertain.

When the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 the manor of Carshalton belonged to Geoffrey de Mandeville. This manor was a new creation as the settlement had been divided into five separate holdings before 1066. We do not know the location of the five estates but it is possible that they survived as sub-holdings and became the sites of large early modern houses and farms. Some likely candidates are Stone Court (now in The Grove), Carshalton House (now St Philomena's), Carshalton Park House, Samuel Long's House (where Rochester Road is now) and perhaps Westcroft. However, the discovery of part of the foundations of a large 12th - 13th century house on the new Grove car park to the east of Carshalton Ponds has shown that not all local mediaeval buildings had successors on the same site. Stone buildings are rare at this date and the Grove car park building must have been the manor house of a wealthy landowner with much land outside Carshalton. It is possible that the building was a predecessor of Stone Court but at present this cannot be proved. Domesday Carshalton had a church and a water mill and was almost certainly several scattered hamlets rather than one compact village.

In the middle ages most of the land in the village was farmed as several large open fields which were divided into strips. Each land owner would have several strips more or less according to his wealth. There was open downland at the south end of the parish which could be used for grazing sheep but there was no common at the north end. Carshalton was unusual in this respect.

Archaeological work suggests that the settlements expanded in the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1259 the de Colvilles, who were the lords of the manor, obtained a charter form the king allowing them to hold a weekly market and an annual fair from 1st - 3rd July. The medieval court rolls suggest that the market cross stood at the junction of what is now The Square and the High Street. The open area on the south side of the High Street in front of Park Lane Chemist existed in the early 17th century and may have been the fair ground. The creation of the market was perhaps the high water mark of Carshalton's mediaeval prosperity. A period of wet weather at the beginning of the 14th century would have made the clay lands to the north of the village harder to farm and the black death would have reduced the population. Archaeological work has suggested that the village declined considerably in the late middle ages.

In the 17th century two trends emerge which changed the character of the village. The first was the development of the water mills along the Wandle. In the early 17th century there were only three mills along the river. One was Upper Mill in Grove Park, there was another at Butter Hill and third at the junction of the Carshalton and Beddington arms of the river above Hackbridge. All three were flour mills and no doubt served the needs of the local farmers. In the course of the 17th and early 18th centuries a whole series of new industries developed along the river and new mill sites were created to use every scrap of water power. At one time or another the mills worked leather, copper, gunpowder, snuff, paper and linseed oil. In the 18th century the Wandle was also used for textile bleaching. Before the invention of chemical bleaches in the early 19th century cloth was whitened by leaving it in the sun for weeks or months. It needed to be dampened and the clean water of the Wandle was ideal for the purpose. There was a large bleaching ground at Culvers Island to the north of Hackbridge.

The second trend was the multiplication of large country houses. At first sight this seems to be at odds with the increasingly 'industrial' character of the river but the two were not in conflict as new mill sites were often developed by landowners to increase their rent income. The largest scheme of this sort was in Carshalton Park where a grotto and ornamental canal were created as part of an elaborate landscape garden which was never completed. The water from the canal was lead to Butter Hill in a specially engineered channel where it was used to drive a large, newly created mill.

Many of the large houses were erected for wealthy London merchants and financiers. Competition for land meant that the grounds tended to be quite small but both houses and gardens could be elaborate work by fashionable designers.

Sir John Fellows, a financier, and sub-governor (managing director), of the notorious South Sea Company employed Charles Bridgeman to landscape the grounds of Carshalton House. Thomas Scawen (the nephew and heir of another financier) employed the Italian architect Leoni to design a palatial house for Carshalton Park which was never completed.

Thomas Scawen also constructed a garden in the grounds of Stone Court (now The Grove). In order do this he canalised this part of the river and created the Lower Pond from an area of wet ground. The Portland stone bridge where the Wandle flows from the pond may well have been designed by his architect Leoni.

By the mid-19th century Carshalton had a population of 2,411 and was by far the largest village in what is now the London Borough of Sutton. It had a remarkably diverse character with rich houses at one extreme and squalid tenements in the back yards of some of the houses. Swan Yard in West Street and Wandle Mount between the Grove and the High Street were particularly notorious. The buildings in the village were equally varied. There were timber framed houses from the end of the middle ages, and brick and wooden weather boarded houses from the from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

In 1847 a railway line was laid from Croydon to Epsom through Carshalton. The owner of the Carshalton Park estate objected to having a station on his property so Carshalton's first railway station had to be built in the fields south of Wallington. This was thoroughly inconvenient and the lack of good railway connections stunted Carshalton's growth. A station was built in the village when the Sutton to Mitcham Line was constructed in 1868 but this did not have a goods yard so freight still had to be carted from Sutton or Wallington. By 1900 Carshalton had been overtaken by Sutton which was economically detrimental but allowed it to keep some of its village character.

The suburban development of Carshalton began in earnest in the early 1890s when the Carshalton Park Estate was sold for development. Many late Victorian and Edwardian houses were built on the land between the village and the railway. There was an isolated Victorian development at Carshalton on the Hill and a small amount of building took place along Beeches Avenue before the first word war. In the 1920s and 1930s the greater part of the parish was overrun by suburban development and most of the large house were demolished as their grounds were sold. The biggest single development was the St Helier Estate which was built for the London County Council between 1928 and 1936.