Wandsworth is the only metropolitan borough to have lost bits when it was transformed into a larger London borough of the same name in 1965.
Wandsworth existed as a local government district with its own Board of Works from 1855 until 1900. Battersea was then part of it, but broke away in 1900 to go its own way, leaving an oddly-shaped metropolitan borough, with Putney and Wandsworth on the west side, Balham and Tooting in the middle, and Clapham and Streatham semi-detached on the east side.
Wandsworth was originally Wendles Wurthe (Wendel’s Farmstead), Wendel (or Wændel) presumably having been an early Anglo-Saxon settler and farmer. The River Wandle, which trickles down from Croydon and Carshalton and enters the Thames here (with a walking or cycling trail along it), is either named after the same person, or just “back-formed” from “Wandle’s Worth”. If you drive round Wandsworth’s one-way system, you’ll cross it twice, on Wandsworth High Street and Armoury Way.
The Ram Brewery used the Wandle’s water to make its beer, and so did a bunch of Huguenot immigrants in the seventeenth century to dye silk and make hats – you can still see their cemetery, known as Mount Nod. The Wandle was once known for its trout, and Nelson used to fish in it. Driven out by industrial pollution, fish were just maklng a comeback in 2007 when Thames Water spilled a load of bleach into the river from their Beddington sewage works, killing thousands of them.
Putney was originally probably Puttan Hythe or Puttan Heath, meaning Putta’s landing place or Putta’s land. Putta was presumably an early Anglo-Saxon resident, possibly a contemporary of Wendel’s. Putney was the site of a ferry service going way back, until it was replaced by a bridge in the eighteenth century, as we have mentioned elsewhere.
In 1647, during the Civil War, St Mary’s Church was the venue for the Putney Debates. In those debates, held by the parliamentarian army, a left-wing party, known as the Levellers, represented a lot of the rank and file, and were calling for stuff like manhood suffrage and freedom of religion.
Although some of their number were women, full gender equality wasn’t really on the Levellers’ horizon, as evidenced by the language used in their spokesman Thomas Rainsborough’s famous dictum that “The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he.” Oliver Cromwell in any case quickly had them purged, even though his family were from Putney, and most notably his great-great-great uncle, Thomas Cromwell, who was Henry VIII’s chief minister.
Although its name is almost certainly Anglo-Saxon, Tooting may actually be older. Tooting High Street is part of Stane Street, the old Roman Road to Chichester, and Tooting may well have been a staging post on it. Known for its People’s Front, Tooting has become south London’s main centre for Indian cuisine. Travel guidebook firm Lonely Planet rated it one of the world’s ten coolest neighbourhoods, along with Brooklyn’s Sunset Park and Rio’s Botafogo – and try getting a decent masala dosa in either of those.
In 1965, Wandsworth was reunited with Battersea to form the London Borough of Wandsworth, but lost Clapham and Streatham to Lambeth in the process. That made Wandsworth the only metropolitan borough to have lost bits when it morphed into its larger namesake.
Although the new borough shockingly went Tory in 1978 and remained so until 2022, its parliamentary constituencies are all Labour: Tooting, held against predictions by Sadiq Khan when he was expected to lose it in 2010; Battersea, nabbed from the Tories by Marsha de Cordova in 2017, so unexpectedly that the Labour Party nationally had all but ignored it; and Putney, the only constituency in the whole country that Labour won from the Tories in the 2019 general election. Streatham meanwhile, lost to Wandsworth though it may now be, distinguished itself in the 2016 EU referendum, voting by 4:1 against Brexit, the biggest margin of any constituency in the UK.