One of London’s old metropolitan boroughs, Battersea was originally an island.

Battersea Creek today
Battersea Creek today

The name Battersea is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon “Badrices Ieg” meaning Badric’s Isle (sadly, nobody now knows who Badric was). The island was formed by a channel called the Heathwall, which joined the Thames at both ends. It ran parallel with the Wandsworth Road and Lavender Hill from Vauxhall down to Falcon Road, where it met an old tributary of the Thames called the Falcon Brook. The course of the Heathwall is still part of the Wandsworth–Lambeth borough boundary today.

Like the Heathwall, the Falcon Brook is one of London’s lost rivers. It ran down Northcote Road, St John’s Road and Falcon Road, and it still runs underneath them. The Battersea we know today grew up around it. After joining with the Heathwall, it ran into the Thames at Battersea Creek, which was once the wharf for Price’s candle factory, and is now a little wildlife pond, just south of the heliport.

St Mary's Church in 1790

The original village of Battersea was further north, around St Mary’s Church (Battersea Church), which has been there since the eighth or ninth century, although today’s building dates back only to the 1770s. That decade also saw Battersea get a bridge to replace its old ferry. By then, new industries along the river were moving in to what was previously a farming area. Lavender Hill, for example, is so called because its north side had been given over to lavender fields, which made its air smell rather sweeter then than it does today. Oddly, it is not one of the locations featured in the famous Ealing comedy film The Lavender Hill Mob.

Clapham Junction around 1900

The nineteenth century saw the coming of the railway, but nobody seems to know why Battersea’s main station is called Clapham Junction, which still confuses people to this day. Battersea Park opened in 1858, and from 1951 to 1970 it had a famous funfair, but its pagoda only dates from 1985.

John Archer and Shapurji Saklatvala

In 1913 Battersea chose as its mayor the local leftwinger John Archer, a mixed-race Liverpudlian who was the first Black holder of mayoral office in London. Nor was he Battersea’s only prominent pre-WW2 radical BAME politician: in 1922 Battersea North elected to parliament Shapurji Saklatvala, a Parsi originally from Bombay, as one of the Communist Party’s very few ever British MPs; John Archer was his election agent.

The borough was merged with Wandsworth in 1965.