Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Mitcham Obelisk

The Faded London eye has been a bit busy over the last few weeks so things have been rather quiet on the posting front. However a recent stroll through Mitcham did reveal one of those intriguing items that are so big you never notice them. Or rather you notice them but totally misinterpret what they are.

Side view of the Obelisk
In this case it was a large, dark and rather foreboding obelisk at the far end of the Cricket Green. I've driven past it many times and had always assumed that it was a war memorial of some sort and not paid it a great deal of attention.  This time I was on foot and as I approached could make out two distinct plaques - One recorded the date of 25 September1822 whilst the other seemed to be a few biblical verses. Intriguing stuff!
 The inscription and verses - as best I can make out - were these
????? to the goodness of GOD through whose bounty water has been provided for this neighbourhood
God opened the rock and the waters gushed out. They ran in dry places like a river  Psalms C105 V41
He turneth dry ground into water springs Psalms CVII V
For everything that hath breath praise the lord Psalms CL
A fountain shall water the valley ?????
The dedication and biblical inscriptions
Well there's obviously a strong water theme going on here and the date reminded me of the recent post I did on the Tooting artesian well a few weeks back which had a date of 1823 upon it.

Quite imposing but a bit on the austere side
My suspicion was that with the boring for water in Tooting such a success, there must have been a temptation for other local villages to get in on the act whilst the borers were still in the area. This seems to be confirmed by an article in Journal of the Society of Arts of 1877 which noted
"The Wandle valley presents a probably unique feature in the number of overflowing wells it contains. The oldest of these the public well near Tooting Church, was bored in 1822. Owing to the success of this boring another was bored by Mr Cranmer at a house called 'The Cannons' in September of the same year."
 Mr Cranmer wasn't just Mr Cranmer but actually the local Reverend and descendant of the famous Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury for Henry VIII and leading light in the foundation of the Church of England. No great surprise that that the inscription was so biblical then!

If this letter to The Mechanics Magazine of 1825 is to be believed it seems that not only was the well still flowing but that the Rev Cranmer actually had more than one well sunk. This account notes there were three, presumably separate, wells bored on his land.
To instance a few wells thus bored, - there is one on the coach road side at Tooting, five miles from Westminster Bridge, bored at the expense of the parish; and another at the same place on the premises of Mr Rolason, nurseryman, both abundant springs; there are three wells on the estate of the Rev. R. Cranmer, Mitcham Surrey and one on the premises of Messers. Holden, Coach proprietors, Mitcham.
The Mechanics Magazine 1825
It might well have been flowing in 1825 but it seems that the joy of Mitcham with its new water supply was short-lived
It's starting to feel its age a bit
"Erected 1822 by the Rev. Mr Cranmer then rector, who lived here, in order to commemorate the happy discovery of water by the sinking of an artesian well. It bears an inscription of thanks to Almighty God for the discovery which really was a boon to the poor at that time, the village not being well supplied. Shortly after the erection of the monument however, the supply of water failed [and]  the inscription has been allowed to become illegible."
Greater London: A Narrative of its History, its People and its Places by Edward Walford

So that seems that a very religious local worthy took advantage of Tootings success with the artesian well, hired the borer, hit water amidst general rejoicing and then commissioned an expensive monument only to have the well go dry soon after. The obelisk must have been a bit of an embarrassment for the Rev. Cranmer and was gently shunted off to a corner of the Cannons estate before finally being rescued and placed on a street corner. Still, if nothing else it does emphasise the importance of fresh clean water to the communities of the time and the lengths to which they'd go to obtain it.


Trevor said...

Hi, very amusing story, well done for working it out! Suprising that the Rev Cranmer didn't get it removed as it must have been an embarrasment to him! Keep up the good work!

Kay Richardson said...

I used to have a friend whose nickname was the Mitcham Obelisk. The reason why has nothing to do with your interesting story, however.

Jon said...


I just found your page and it is fascinating. I have always been intrigued by these phantom fingerprints of the past that still haunt our cities.

Great blog!

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