In William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book, Carshalton appears as just “Aultone”. The first bit of its name wasn’t added till the thirteenth century.
There seems to be some disagreement about what Aultone means: Wikipedia reckon it’s from aul, meaning a well or spring, and ton, which originally just meant an enclosure or field. But the eighteenth-century antiquarian Daniel Lysons says that it just means “old town”. Neither source claims to know the meaning of the prefix Kers-, Cars-, Cash- or Carsh- (among the assorted variants), which was apparently added at the beginning of the thirteenth century, during the reign of King John. One possibility is that it referred to a standing cross, another that it meant cress, for the watercress beds that once flourished near Old Watercress Walk. Either way, be it cross or cress, it seems it was added to distinguish it from Croydon old town. The name was still being hyphenated in the 1660s when historian Thomas Fuller observed that, “in Cash-Haulton especially, there be excellent trouts: so are there plenty of the best wall-nuts in the same place”. Evidently then, back in the day, you could have a fine supper locally of trout with walnuts and watercress.
The Domesday Book also says that, in before the Norman conquest, there were five manors in Carshalton, belonging to five different people, but that all of it was now held by the super-rich Norman land magnate Geoffrey de Mandeville, a big crony of William the Conqueror. Local residents however complained that they never saw any legal document authorizing Geoffrey to seize the land. Apparently it was worth £20 in Edward the Confessor’s time, £5 when Geoffrey grabbed it, and £10 when the Domesday book was written in 1086.
Later, Carshalton Manor became the property of the counts of Boulogne, and that’s probably the origin of a garbled story about a spring just outside the church, known locally as “Anne Boleyn’s Well”. Supposedly, it was discovered by Anne Boleyn’s horse, which kicked over a stone to reveal it while she and Henry VIII (not her eighth old man named ‘Enery) were riding to Beddington Park from Nonsuch Palace near Cheam. One small problem with the story is that construction of Nonsuch Palace began in 1538, two years after Henry had got tired of Anne and had her executed. More likely the Anne was originally St Anne, and the Boleyn was originally Boulogne, as in the counts of.
As for the church itself, dedicated to All Saints, it has stood there since Anglo-Saxon times, but was rebuilt under the Normans in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and nothing of the older Anglo-Saxon church is known to survive. The oldest part of the church today is the tower, which probably dates back to the eleventh century, but a lot of the building is twelfth-century anyway, so it’s no spring chicken, although it was partly rebuilt in 1891. Carshalton also has an eighteenth-century water tower, and Arts & Crafts artist Frank Dickinson’s Edwardian home, Little Holland House at 40 Beeches Avenue. Some of his paintings can be seen in the local Honeywood Museum.
Carshalton Ponds were originally just one big pond, till it was sliced into two some time in the fifteenth century. At one time a family of swans used to live on the ponds, but they seem to have flown, and maintaining the water level hasn’t always been easy. The ponds are one of the sources of the River Wandle, or more precisely, of its tributary the Wrythe. Although “Wrythe” was really just Anglo-Saxon for a stream, it’s become the name not only of the river, but also of the former hamlet to its west, around Wrythe Green.
The river powered a large number of water mills, grinding grain, and making paper, oil or even snuff. The biggest, Hackbridge Mills (now Watermill House), located at the confluence where the Wrythe meets the main part of the Wandle, was used for fulling wool. The other big industry around here, back in Victorian times was lavender, and the area was lined with fields of it. The industry has seen something of a revival, and lavender is now again being grown in the area.
Old maps show Carshalton Park was once ten times bigger than it now is. The park has a grotto, originally installed in 1724 as a water feature. In 2012, a forgotten World War Two air-raid shelter was discovered under the park after a member of the public complained to the council about a hole in the ground. The shelter held 1,000 people, and was certainly needed, as Carshalton suffered various bomb attacks during the Blitz, as well as twenty-seven V1 rocket strikes later in the war, one of which hit Erskine Road at the corner of Orchard Way, where the Butterchurn pub now stands.
One place to take a hit from several Nazi bombs was St Helier Hospital, which opened in 1941. During the Second World War it was hit by parachute mines, ordinary bombs and V1 rockets. The hospital was built to serve the St Helier Estate, one of the biggest council estates in the country, which stretches all the way up to Morden, largely on what had previously been lavender fields. Low-rise, suburban and spacious, the estate was created to house Londoners displaced by slum clearance in town. For many, it must have been a huge step up in terms of amenities, space, air cleanliness, and housing quality. The hospital’s most famous son was former UK prime minister John Major, who later campaigned (successfully) to save it from closure.
Carshalton set up a parish council in 1883, which was upgraded eleven years later to an urban district of the county of Surrey. It never became a fully-fledged borough, but in 1933, it swapped territory with adjoining districts – Sutton & Cheam, Beddington & Wallington, Merton & Morden – as it gobbled up bits of the rural district of Epsom, which was abolished that year and split among its neighbours. When Greater London was created in 1965, Carshalton joined forces with Sutton & Cheam and Beddington & Wallington to create the London Borough of Sutton. Carshalton’s 1908 town hall, a modest building on The Square, then became a public library, but that moved out into a leisure centre in 2013, and the building is now a day nursery.