TOOTING BEC walk to MORDEN
2 1/2 hours
This section of the Northern line opened in 1926. Originally, plans included a connection with an existing railway line in order to continue the line all the way to Sutton, but an other railway company blocked the proposal because it feared it would lose clients to the more convenient Underground line. Heavy investment in infrastructure was possible in the late 1920s because Parliament guaranteed some loans in order to encourage construction activity.
Routing note: This walk connects in Tooting Bec with Northern line walk 13. The walking time does not include time spent at Abbey Mills, where several craft shops and occasional fairs on weekends might tempt you.
This walk does not visit Morden Hall Park but I will mention in the text the place where you can switch to my Tramlink walk 1 that passes through the park and continues across a series of pleasant green spaces along the river Wandle.
The station opened in 1926 on the new line extension.
The station building is a design by Charles Holden and seems to be identical with the design in Balham. This young architect had been chosen by the Underground company because they felt their existing design had fallen out of fashion.
There are actually two buildings, one on a corner with two sides and one on the other corner with three sides. The same arrangement with two full-size buildings exists in Balham although the second building is not fully identical.
Exit the station on Upper Tooting Road and start southwards
R Beechcroft Road
Opposite Beechcroft Road, you might notice the very large brick building that fills a full block. As is helpfully written over the door, it is a telephone exchange and it is typical for exchanges built in the 1920s in London. Telephone were still a rather upmarket novelty and conspicuous buildings were supposed to encourage more citizens to order a connection. As you will be aware, the main content of such an exchange is a maze of electrical wires that certainly don’t need to be displayed on high street behind tall windows. The explanation is that many telephone girls were needed at the time as all connections had to be ordered individually. In many films of the time, characters ask to be connected to “the 72 in Park Lane, if you please”. The many windows made the monotonous work more palatable and also assuaged the fears that the young women who worked inside might fall victim to inappropriate seduction , an all too justified fear when young women worked in shops.
There is a large church at 7 Beechcroft Road. As you can see on my picture, it was painted in typically Edwardian colours until a few years ago. I don’t think that the building is so old because it has not much ornamentation. In addition, neo-romanesque arches combined with small neo-gothic turrets don’t look very Edwardian. The church is now home to an evangelical congregation catering primarily to immigrants from Western and Central Africa.
L Fishponds Road
You will find a very different style of historical building at the corner with Broadwater Road. The tall building with the two copper domes is a school. The interesting point about it is that we would not normally build such a school nowadays. Most modern buildings have one or at most two upper floors; I think the reason is that it is the acceptable limit if you need to evacuate quickly such a building in case of fire. An other reason might be that it would not be considered acceptable to have such tall buildings without a lift nowadays, and you don’t want to have children doing stupid pranks in lifts.
L Gatton Road
You pass a very nice mosque in this street. Mosques come in many different shapes, just as churches do, and this one belongs clearly to a well established congregation. The onion-shaped domes remind me of mosques in India and Pakistan.
R Tooting High Street
There are several large markets in this road but you cannot guess how large they actually are (several hundred stalls together) because they are hidden behind high street shops. One good example is the juxtaposition of the nearly invisible Broadway Market behind a sizeable Art Déco building that was probably a department store branch originally. The unadorned concrete front was very popular in the 1930s, as was the decorative design at the top of the columns. This stepped pyramid called a ziggurat was the fad of the day due to archeological diggings in Iraq. The fad replaced to some extent a previous fad for Egyptian details brought about in the 1920s by the discovery of Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s grave.
The station opened in 1926 on the new line extension.
The station building is again by Charles Holden and is a listed monument. The overall design is very similar but the sweeping curve of the station is a rather grand gesture. Holden’s later designs for the Piccadilly line were to be ever grander and ever more impressive. You might notice the statue of King Edward VII in front of the station – it looks quite small and lost in front of the concrete curve behind it.
In front of the station, you might also note the delightfully ornate cast iron chandelier on the central island. The particularly noteworthy item is the set of direction signs. They are very high up and very small, so that they would be useless to a car driver. I guess they were more useful for people on horse that could afford to manœuvre closer and read the small signs.
L Mitcham Road
You will certainly notice in this road the blocky shapes of a building trying to imitate a Greek temple. This is what I call the Imperial style, involving massive geometric shapes and neo-classical columns. It was very fashionable in the 1920s and I call it Imperial because the best known proponent of the style was Sir Lutyens who designed the government buildings of Delhi in what was then the Empire of India. This particular building was obviously a film theatre and being converted to a bingo hall is quite a common decadence for such buildings. Other film theatres end up being bought by ambitious evangelical preachers, but there are sometimes problems later on because of listed monument status.
Nearly opposite the former film theatre, you will find the very comely borough library. The building has just the right proportions for a suburban highway and is unusually fitted with a clock. Borough authorities often preferred setting up a larger clock on a pedestal on a main crossroads as more people would be likely to pass it. Public clocks were very useful at a time when it had become customary to take a train running on a schedule while only affluent people carried watches. The library building looks late Victorian with its subdued bicolour decoration and the moulded decoration above the ground floor window.
R Mellison Road
At the end of the road on the left hand side, you pass a terrace built in a highly unusual material. The rest of the road was definitely a good example for run-of-the-mill terrace construction in the 1930s, as is most of Tooting, and is built in bricks. The few houses here have flint walls with rows of white stones around the windows and main corners. Flint was more expensive as it was quarried instead of just baked and there is much more manpower involved in building the houses in this manner. I guess the developer designed a more exclusive set on this small piece of ground, taking advantage of the vicinity of Tooting station with its convenient connections into central London.
at the end R Trevelyan Road
L Tooting High Street
Just before the bridge over the tracks, you pass on the left-hand side one of the very few Georgian houses in this outer suburb. You realise how rural this area was in the early 19th century if you consider that the railway line through Tooting was not built before 1894.
Ahead across the railway tracks, the road is now called High Street Colliers Wood
L Robinson Road
R Park Road
At the end R Cavendish Road
L Merton High Street passing
The station opened in 1926 on the new line extension.
The station building is again by Charles Holden and is also a listed monument. The effect is less grand than in Tooting Broadway because the building has no neighbours of appropriate size and therefore looks a bit more like a concrete box. This shows that the same design will not work in the same way depending on the environment.
Just after the station, you walk past what has long been considered one of the most egregious eyesores in any London suburb, the Colliers Wood Tower. It was originally meant to attract office tenants and the main user was a real estate speculation company. The tower was not very successful because there was not much to attract serious companies in an ugly building in an isolated suburb. It ended up being boarded up for many years. In the end, it was rebuilt in the 2010s with a less dreary glass cladding and is now your average luxury flat estate.
R into Wandle Park, cross the park along the river Wandle and exit near the car park
Wandle Park was landscaped on the grounds of a mansion bought by the Borough in 1907 when the surrounding area began to be developed in earnest. The mansion itself was demolished in 1962 as derelict. Most of the park is just open grassland but there are a few reminders of the original formal garden in the shape of neo-classical urns.
The triangular fountain near the park entrance is less old, it is just a late 19th century memorial to the benefactor of a nearby parish church.
Apart from the stone implements, Wandle Park is interesting for efforts to recreate attractive natural environments for wildlife. This includes shallow river banks where thick reed grows, providing shelter to water birds. Actually, the brook you cross twice on picturesque wooden bridges is just a derivation from the main river created for nature conservation purposes.
L Byegrove Road crossing the river
Ahead South Road
L East Road
R All Saints Road
Just after the car barrier, walk R into the green space towards the blue steel sculpture
This kind of sculpture was quite popular in suburban developments for a time, I saw similar ideas in Cubitt Town for example. I do not know whether they are to be considered as open air works of art (as you would do for wall mosaics that became popular in the 2000s) or rather as a sort of identity marker for a neighbourhood.
When the path forks, take the left-hand path between two low estate buildings
At the end of the path, cross Haydons Road into Haccombe Road, the short access road for Haydons Road Recreation Ground
Walk along the perimeter path towards the SW corner (it is a bit shorter if you turn L first, a bit quieter if you turn R first)
This recreation ground is just what the name says, a plain green space covered in grass with just a modest line of trees along one of the sides.
Exit the open space
R Quicks Road
Soon L Hardy Road
At the end R Merton High Street
The station opened in 1926 on the new line extension. It was first called Merton Grove but this changed after only two years to “South Wimbledon (Merton)”. The present, shorter name has been in use since the 1950s.
The station building is very similar to that at Tooting Broadway. The curve is less strong because of the layout of the crossroads but it is still well integrated into the neighbouring buildings.
L (south) Morden Road
L High Path (a cycling route)
On the corner along High Path, there is a small green space called Nelson Garden. The planting is not exceptional but the garden does have an unusual feature, two short bronze cannons. As an inscription on the stone between the cannons tells you, the ground was given to the borough by a local landowner who descended from the admiral.
You will be pleased to learn that Lord Nelson “rendered splendid services to his country”, to use the wording from the 1900s. Actually, the garden was part of the grounds of a mansion he lived in when he was not at sea. He lived here with his mistress but also with the actual husband of the mistress. This was causing quite a lot of gossip but Sir Hamilton, the husband, was seriously ill and was more interested by then in having company rather than romantic involvement. Merton was actually the country house of the two gentlemen as both had a town house in Westminster as well.
The parish church for Merton, St John’s the Divine, overlooks directly the garden. Although it looks rather sturdy and ancient, it was not the original parish church (this was the priory of St Mary) and must have been built in late Victorian times. It is a rather good imitation of an actual medieval church.
Ahead Station Road
Just before the bridge over the river, turn R following the blue signs of the cycling route towards Abbey Mills. Cross the road at the traffic lights and continue ahead upstream along the river.
Very soon, you will reach a footbridge giving access to the low brick buildings of Merton Abbey Mills, one of the main attractions in the borough. It was originally the location of the production workshops of the nearby priory and was converted into a textile factory in 1667, the river being essential for cleaning, dyeing and providing mechanical power. The factory became famous when it was bought in 1881 by star designer William Morris. Morris opened different workshops in the many buildings and did not rebuild them, finding them well built.
As a result, the Abbey Mills are one of the very few locations in London where you can get a feeling for the size and aspect of a major early 19th century factory. It actually feels quaint and picturesque nowadays. If you can save the time, there are several shops selling fancy trinkets and there is also a popular pub. The courtyard of the factory is used regularly on weekends for events and fairs catering to families (with reservations where the yearly wrestling show is concerned !). There is also a children theatre in one of the sheds.
If you see that the pottery craft shop is open, it is definitely worth having a look as the artists are well known, produce beautiful and unusual goods and are also very welcoming. At the back of the shop, you will find the access to the big wooden wheel that powers the machinery. The wheel is so popular that the Borough decided to use it in its official logo.
Continue on the marked Wandle Trail along the river. On the other side of the river, you walk past the grounds of the Georgian villa where the owner of the textile works lived. You cannot see the villa from the riverside but you get a view of a lovely cottage with pointed windows and crenellations. The building is painted cream, as was typical when it was built in the 1820s. Interestingly, it was just the gatehouse for the mansion. Mock medieval was the height of fashion at the time in music, literature but also architecture.
The next house along the river is a strange cottage built so as to remind you of a half ruined Welsh castle. It was built by the owner of the textile works for a rather practical reason, the new ruin-tower-cottage would help stabilise the houses of his workers further down the street as they were threatened by subsidence. If you do need to prop up the cottages, why not do it in a fancy manner ?
The houses along the dead end road overlook the river and are clearly desirable properties in a quiet location with a nice view and reasonable access to the Underground. But they are much cheaper than you might expect because of the vicinity of one of the most notorious estates in London, Phipps Bridge. It is one of the few council estates that have proven really difficult to improve with crime issues still propping up occasionally in the press nowadays.
Continue along the Wandle trail passing through the Deer City Farm (a pedagogical institution for school groups) until you reach tram tracks
Cross the tracks, then R along the tracks until you can climb up to the main road (Morden Road)
The landscape changes here and you get really the feeling that you are entering the countryside. This is because the river has been allowed to run quite free through the grounds of Morden Hall, a sizeable National Trust property.
Routing note: If you are not interested in the last section of the walk to Morden station, you can switch after crossing the tracks to my Croydon Tramlink walk 1 in order to visit Morden Hall Park and additional sections of the Wandle River valley.
Cross Morden Road (Caution ! No traffic lights available nearby)
Soon R Dorset Road parallel to the tram tracks
L into Kendor Gardens, a narrow strip of greenery
If you look at a map, you will wonder why it was deemed appropriate to keep this narrow strip of land as an open space while Morden Hall Park is so close. The garden is actually quite well kept with rose bushes in circular beds and a variety of trees. Actually, the garden is just a thin covering of ground over the Underground tunnel. It made sense to put the tracks in a tunnel rather than in a cheaper cutting because they need to cross soon afterwards waterlogged ground and several busy roads.
At the end of the gardens R on Kenley Road
Soon after the car park L on the public footpath to the station
This footpath shows you why we should be happy about the somewhat surprising Kendor Gardens. Such a footpath would be decidedly less pleasant for residents.
Before going to the station, you can have a look at a peculiar remnant from the 1960s, now the Morden Civic Centre. It was built by a developer in 1960 as a commercial object but was taken over by the Borough in 1985. The flattish structure behind the building is a supermarket added by the developer while the official looking structure in more noble stone overlooking the roundabout was added in order to provide rooms for official purposes. The building is likely to have reached the end of its usefulness as it is probably a mess to heat or cool but it does have an interesting curved shape that few developers bothered about. It is actually a modest follower of the celebrated style used for major 20th century icons of architecture such as the official buildings in Brasilia or the Unesco headquarters in Paris.
The station opened as the terminus of the new line extension in 1926.
The station building is not fully original. The concrete cube in the middle is the typical design by Charles Holden and was originally standing free in the middle of a shopping parade, as was often done with suburban terminus stations. Behind the cubic entrance, Holden designed an octagonal ticket hall with a glassed dome providing light. This proved so pleasing that it gave him many ideas for later designs in the 1930s.
Holden had been asked to ensure that the Underground company would be able to build offices above the station, taking advantage of the rising value of such premises when the suburb would develop. Because of World War II, the office building was only added in the 1960s and is an appallingly ugly example of cheap design during this period. You actually wonder why this eyesore was not demolished and replaced by flashier premises as it is probably quite ill suited to modern business conditions 50 years into its life.