Hiding in plain sight on Clapham Common are a series of fairly dull-looking brown posts. Anonymous and overlooked, these posts mark a dark bit of the Common’s history. The Common, as the name suggests, was common land, people could graze their sheep, collect firewood and get water.
Now there has always been a bit of tension between Clapham and neighbour Battersea about the rights to these freedoms. This tension was only heightened when during the English Civil War the lord of Battersea supported King Charles I while the lord of Clapham went with Cromwell and his Parliament.
In 1716 the Battersea parishioners went and dug a ditch across the Common to stop the Clapham commoners accessing the grazing. This ditch followed the ancient and possibly Saxon boundary between the two parishes. The tension rapidly degraded into regular fist-fights between the good people of Battersea and Clapham and eventually it went to court. Clapham won and the ditch was filled in.
These little brown posts mark the boundary between Clapham and Battersea parish. Starting at the bottom of Wix Lane, by Wandsworth Road, you can trace the line of posts, which run just south of the wonderful bandstand and end up at Clapham South Tube. Wix Lane is named after Charles Wix, a Georgian period bricklayer, but the path is most likely Saxon or at the very least medieval in origin. In 1877 the Metropolitan Board of Works acquired Clapham Common, granting it as open space for public use for ever, and in 1965 it became part of the London Borough of Lambeth. Now the good citizens of SW11 and SW4 are on the best of terms and South London, regardless of what taxi drivers of old may have said is a peaceful, prosperous place – just do not try and graze your sheep on my part of the Common!
My first virtual tour of Clapham Common is coming in March! Designed for everyone from long-term locals to those new to the area, the tour will uncover the famous people associated with the common from Samuel Pepys and Benjamin Franklin to Noel Coward and Dennis Waterman, as well as looking at the fascinating history of this uncommon common.