Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Nelson Touch - Looking for a Hero in South West London

(Merton High Street Map Reference)

I was thinking the other day how odd it was that the particular patch of South Wimbledon I work in - a fairly undistinguished housing estate in an area of Victorian light industry - should have been described as 'Paradise Merton' two hundred years ago. That was when an attractive local house called Merton Place was purchased by Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson , hero of the hour and saviour of the nation. He lived there with his mistress, Lady Hamilton, from 1801 until 1805 when, after hearing the French armies were massing for invasion, he lost his life fighting the combined Spanish & French fleets at Trafalgar.

Of course the greatest monument to Nelson is the famous Nelson's Column at Trafalgar Square but I was intrigued to see how much evidence there was in the immediate area to commemorate his presence. Did Nelson still cast a spell over this patch of South London? Were there burger bars named after him? Statues or commemorative plaques? A 'Victory' wine bar possibly?

Well there was certainly evidence of his presence but it was mainly confined to the few streets that comprised the house and its grounds.

Nelson Trade Park
Just outside the boundaries of Merton Place on London Road is a small trade park. Nothing special really. The Plumbase is quite good and the Staples Stationary warehouse has it's own charm I suppose...
Nelson Gardens
Opposite the Trade Park is a narrow strip of land given to Merton by a Great-Nephew of Nelson on the 100th anniversary of his death. In fact quite a lot of the tributes seem to have dated from that particular occasion. No idea who the lady is stuck on the nameplate is though.In the garden are the best bits of Nelson memorabilia - a couple of 12pdr cannon that apparently used to sit on the lawn of Merton Place itself. The gardens themselves were in need of a bit of a trim and the weeds looked a little on the lively side.
And here's that dedicatory plaque in all its glory.

The Trafalgar
Carrying on down High Path to its junction with Pincott Road on the left you'll see the first of three local 'Nelson' pubs - The Trafalgar. This has to be one of the smallest pubs in London. It really is as wide as shown in the photo and has a very snug 'snug'. What it lacks in size though it makes up for in quality, having just been awarded the CAMRA Real Ale Pub of South West London. I believe the landlord might well be an AFC Wimbledon supporter as well, which is all the more reason for paying it a visit.
Mosaics - Pincott Road
In an effort to brighten up some typical '60's high rise flats, the ground floors of each block have been decorated with a range of Merton-specific scenes. In this case a sort of whimsical Nelson/Lady Hamilton sort of scenario with a sailing ship floating by. For some reason they've made Nelson look like a woman in drag with little cupid lips. Not only that they've given him an eye-patch (which he never had) and, as Nelson actually lost his right eye, they've put it over his good eye! Not that I want to criticise mind...Nelson Grove Road
Our first Nelson Road cuts accross Pincott Road - Nelson Grove Road pretty much runs outside the front door of what would have been Merton Place. I've no idea about Dowman but I think Stane Close got its name as Merton High Street is the old Roman Stane Street, a key route up from the coast to Londinium.
Merton Place
On the site of Nelsons villa is a modern block of flats. With a great sense of civic pride this too have been named Merton Place, to ensure the name lives on for evermore in the hearts of Merton-ites. (see also below details the plaque on the other end of the building facing Merton High Street)The Princess Royal
Situated at the end of Nelson Grove Road where it meets Abbey Road there's our second pub, the Princess Royal. This is another pub with low ceilings, small rooms and real sense of character and as you can see it continues with the naval theme, although this one is a bit more problematic. As far as I can see Nelson never served on a ship called the Pricess Royal, and although there was a ship so-named it wasn't at Trafalgar and doesn't seem to be significant in the Nelson story (I could be wrong on that though, not being a Nelson scholar). However, I did find out that HMS Britannia was at Trafalgar and that she was subsequently re-named HMS Princess Royal in 1810. Which is close enough for me...The Nelson Arms
Considering he had one amputated, I always feel this should be called the Nelson Arm, but anyway it's the crown jewel of local Nelson pubs. Although the new pub sign looks as though it's been knocked up on photoshop (at least it doesn't have an eye-patch!) the original tile-work is amazing and the company that produced them eventually went on to do a lot of the higher quality ceramics for the London UndergroundUp above the main entrance is a fine picture of HMS Victory which is still around in Portsmouth.Then fronting the High Street there's a very ornate portrait of the man himself...and another view of the Victory bobbing around in the middle of an elaborate laurel-wreath.
The 'Kiss Me Hardy' Pub
Well from the sublime to the, well frivolous I suppose. Walking a few minutes toward Colliers Wood tube and just past the Sainsbury's mega store there is a small retail park with its identikit retail park pub. This one goes full on with the 'Kiss me Hardy' theme, combining it with one of those play cages for lively children. For a while it was a lively new addition to the under 8's party circuit but the attraction seems to have waned of late. I took this picture from the passenger seat of a car as we were going past so you'll just have to imagine the view from up close...
Merton Place
Walking back along Merton High Street, retracing out steps, we go past the other end of Merton Place and about ten feet up is this plaque giving the curious passer-by some Nelson info...
The Roads
Crossing over Merton High Street there are a series of 'Nelson' roads. Poor Hardy's role in the myth seems to be solely around the 'kiss', but actually he was a friend of Nelson's who had already sacrificed his ship once to ensure Nelson escaped and was then the Captain of HMS Victory at Trafalgar when Nelson decided to make it his flag-ship.. Anyway, he gets a road named after him so that's better than nothing I suppose.
Nelson Wines - Merton High Street
The only shop on the high street that makes any reference to Nelson is Nelson Wines, a speciality off-licence that stocks and incredible range of bottled beers from around the world. The owner doesn't bother opening up during the day, which is why it's all locked up in the picture below. Thirty Five varieties of rum always in stock as well apparently...

Former site of the Nelson Hospital.
Just opposite South Wimbledon tube, on the road up to Wimbledon, is this little plaque on a house wall commemorating the original Nelson Hospital. The current Nelson Hospital still exists about a mile up the road and if you are going to have anything named after you then a hospital seems a good one to me.

There are other Nelson sites within the borough - the Emma Hamilton pub springs to mind- but they are all outside of the immediate vicinity of Nelson's old house. All in all I was surprised by the number of references really, which goes to show that he may be gone but there's a small corner of South West London that is forever Nelson.


Pridesale said...

Mosaics on Marsh Court, May Court (built c1964) and Hudson Court (c1970) I think designed by Wimbledon School of Art and on buildings from new. Merton Place (maisonette block) built approx 1959.

Pridesale said...

Pub omitted includes The Victory at Colliers Wood (currently named The Charles Holden after being called The Colliers' Tup)

The road names on the North Side of Merton High Street - Hamilton Road, Hardy Road, Nelson Road, Victory Road and Trafalgar Road all formed what was the original purchssed estate of Merton Place, although they were developed later than the acquired south lands that include Nelson Grove Road.