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River Wandle (Croydon End)The word Wandle is derived from the Saxon 'Wendleswurth' meaning 'Wendel's settlement' established on the Thames by 693 and known today as Wandsworth. The name, or its variants Wandal and Wandell was in use by the 16th century.
In prehistoric times, the river probably flowed from the Surrey Weald northward across the North Downs through the Merstham Gap. In more recent times, rainwater falling on the Down percolates through the chalk and reappears as springs in central Croydon, Beddington, and Carshalton. The occasional stream, known as the Bourne, which runs through the Caterham and Smitham Bottom (Coulsdon) valleys is a source of the River Wandle but only surfaces after heavy rainfall. A series of ditches and culverts channels the water from Purley to Croydon.
For many centuries the Wandle proper rose from a spring near the present Swan & Sugarloaf and flowed through the Haling area. It then ran northwards along Southbridge Road and by the time it reached Old Town it was 20 feet wide and began to divide into smaller channels. The grounds of the Old Palace and Scarbrook Hill had several springs, ponds, streams and canals where fish swam, especially trout.
As a small child in the 1820s, John Ruskin (one of the most famous writers of the 19th century) used to visit his aunt who lived at Croydon, and he wrote of that time:
...under the low red roofs of Croydon, and by the cress-set rivulets in which the sand danced and minnows darted above the Springs of Wandel (Praeterita p.40).
Calico printing was carried on in the early 19th century using the river's very pure water to bleach the cloth spread out along its banks. These rivulets rejoined the main stream north of the Parish Church where a corn mill stood from Norman times until 1849.
As Croydon's population grew, the Old Town streams became little better than open sewers and were filled in or culverted from 1840 after outbreaks of typhoid and cholera.
The river then flowed through Pitlake (meaning 'stream in a hollow') and on through two marshy fields - Froggs Mead and Stubbs Mead, which became Wandle Park in 1890. Local springs were used to form a boating lake in the Park, but frequent drying up problems led to the lake being filled in. The Wandle now continues underground, through where the Gas Works used to stand, under the Purley Way and into Waddon Ponds.
Waddon Mill stood northwest of Mill Lane and was a manorial corn mill from the Norman period, until the area was redeveloped in 1928. Originally there was one huge millpond, bisected by Mill Lane, until 1964 when the northern part was filled in. Admiral Nelson is supposed to have fished in the southern portion. This southern millpond survives as a lake in an 8-acre park called Waddon Ponds. The river here is the first view we have today of the Wandle in Croydon, and it is culverted through an industrial estate westwards towards Beddington.
Sunday, 19 May, 2013