SOUTH WIMBLEDON Northern Line (Morden*)
LONDON TUBE RAMBLES WALK (about 2 miles)
John Innes, Admiral Lord Nelson, an embroiderer to Charles II and a treasurer to Queen Elizabeth - a lot of memories in one church.
This is a surprisingly peaceful potter considering that the immediate surroundings of South Wimbledon Tube are somewhat noisy and battered. From the station, turn left down busy Morden Road. At the lights cross over and take The Path and head for a broad alleyway. At the end walk down Melbourne Road, a tree-lined road where some of the late nineteenth-century houses retain their original names in the glazing above the elaborate front doors. At the bottom of the road go past some garages. Soon you will come to a wild green area. Take the track through this, passing a gate leading to the Merton Green Walks, of which more later. However, right now our way is straight ahead, so continue until you come to the tram lines. Please be careful here. Follow a fenced path for a few yards, then cross over Dorset Road into Sheridan Road. After a short distance turn left into Church Lane. This pleasant area is known as Merton Park. It was developed towards the end of the nineteenth century along the lines of a garden suburb by John Innes, local property developer and philanthropist. Gardeners may be interested to learn that the compost still widely used was developed in the 1930's at the horticultural institute founded in his name. Many of the houses in the area have wonderful old holly hedges - the Innes clan emblem. Near the end of Church Lane you will pass an ancient wall and a recreation ground.
In front of you is the church of St.Mary the Virgin, with an old primary school opposite. St. Mary has quite a few interesting things to discover, though the Victorians did not improve the exterior of what was originally a tiny twelfth-century country church by adding a couple of aisles and refacing the walls with flint. Happily, a little fifteenth-century timber porch remains on the North side. The nave is Norman and the chancel has an early thirteenth-century hammerbeam roof. The way in to the church is via the west door,** opposite which is the twelfth-century archway rescued from the ruins of Merton Priory.
The church has strong associations with Admiral Lord Nelson, as he worshipped here while living at Merton Place. A national hero after his death at the
battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Nelson lay in state in Greenwich and was buried with great pomp in the crypt of St. Paul’s cathedral. After his funeral the hatchment that had hung over his coffin during the mourning period was returned to his parish church, where it hangs to this day in the North aisle. The simple wooden bench on which he sat when attending services is also preserved at the front of the church.
On the south side of the chancel is a good example of a ‘weeper’ monument. It is dedicated to Sir Gregory Lovell (d.1597), Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth. Opposite his image are his two wives, while the row of kneeling figures below represents his nine children from the two marriages. The large and leafy churchyard has several graves of interest. Visible from the road, on the north side of the church is a chest tomb with a fascinating inscription commemorating William Rutlish (d. 1687) an embroiderer to Charles II. The tomb itself has been rebuilt and the epitaph copied out for all to read. At the east end, just by the church, is a simple gravestone with some delightful lines. Sadly not all of them are completely decipherable, but it begins:
Dorcas, wife of J.Lackington, Bookseller,
Finsbury Square [love the advert!]
died January 27th 1795 aged 45 years:
Ladies who chance to frisk this way
With honest hearts and spirits gay
A serious moment give to one
Who sleeps beneath this earth and stone. . . . .
If you follow the path to the right of the west door, you will find the last resting place of John Innes. His large tomb, adorned with cherubs, is near a pine tree. When you have finished exploring the church, turn left and continue down Church Path, passing the Vicarage of c1800. On the right you can see a handsome wrought-iron gate in an old wall that marks the boundary of a now-vanished seventeenth-century house.
5 minutes away is the house where John Innes lived. to get to it, follow the old wall to the left. I’m afraid you will come upon some modern building which is not at all in keeping with the lovely surroundings and the simple nineteenth-century cottages a little further. However, press on and cross Mostyn Road. At the corner is the entrance to John Innes Park. These small gardens boast a wooden bandstand and a 'Tudor' Public Convenience. On leaving the park, turn left and walk down Watery Lane (unmarked), which is a broad path with an unusual house (c1908), aptly named Steep Roof, at the end of it. Turn left past the cul-de-sac sign and soon you will see the rambling Victorian house where John Innes lived. It is now part of Rutlish School originally funded from a charity set up in 1687 from the estate of William Rutlish (the royal embroiderer whose tomb you saw earlier).
Retrace your steps as far as Church Lane but this time go straight ahead to Melrose Road which has an amazing number of holly trees and hedges (the Innes connection, mentioned above). At Dorset Road turn left, then cross into the alley you used previously, (almost opposite Sheridan Road.) Carry on to the green space with the tramway running through it. Just before Melbourne Road there's an information board. Proceed past this, taking the right hand path. This is a pleasant wander which will take you to within five minutes of South Wimbledon Tube station. The route follows the site of the railway that used to run between Merton and Tooting. The line opened in 1869 but closed to passengers in 1929, remaining open for goods trains until 1968. At first there is a recreation ground on the right and a tall hedge on the left, then things change and there is some light industry on the left and trees on the right. At this point you will see Merton Road ahead. Turn left when you get to this and shortly you will see The Path again. To reach the station, go over the main road at the lights as before.
*If you are travelling south outside peak hours you will have to change at Kennington to pick up a Morden train - usually a very quick and easy connection. Please note South Wimbledon is NOT on the District line to Wimbledon.
**Athough the church is usually open during the week from 9am to noon, it is best to check before making a special journey.
South Wimbledon is just one route from the many to be found at London Tube Rambles. There are architectural gems, beautiful country views, historic places and quirky buildings to be found, in the area covered by the Greater London Underground stations. Usually the discoveries are within a mile of the Tube - often only five minutes walk away. If you reached this as an individual page via a search engine, you might like to click on the link above and see the other destinations explored. You'll be amazed at what's out there!