The History of Battersea Square

Square in 18th CenturyUntil the nineteenth century Battersea was largely a market garden area. Much of the area adjoining the River Thames was marshland and not built upon. Rocque's map of 1741 clearly shows the village of Battersea centred on Battersea Square. Battersea High Street, Battersea Church Street, Vicarage Crescent and Westbridge Road are clearly much in evidence. By this time the Sir Walter St. John School had been founded.

In 1763 the manor was sold by the St. John family to Lord Spencer who opened up the isolated village by building a bridge across the Thames in 1772. The village remained a small but thriving community. The Raven Public House (see above right) was built around the end of the seventeenth century. It was used as a meeting place to discuss the rebuilding of St. Mary's Church which was completed in 1777.

The construction of railways in the Victorian period hastened the suburbanisation of London and the population of Battersea increased from 6,617 in 1841 to 168,907 in 1901, by which time it was a Metropolitan Borough. A railway station was built at Battersea High Street by 1863 for the West London Extension Railway.

Square in 1910

Battersea Square had been the focus of village life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and was a gathering place for water; the old pump is shown in historical photographs and on maps, though it has disappeared by the time of the above picture (around 1910). The Square lost much of its identity during the twentieth century when it was given over to the motor vehicle. A plan to bring a new orbital motorway through Battersea would have destroyed the Square and many other buildings in the area. Among those campaigning against the scheme (eventually dropped) was the newly formed Battersea Society. Prominent in that group were Christine Lewis and Peter Deakins, who took the photograph below in 1972 which gives a good idea of what the Square was like in those days.

Battersea Square 1972

Luckily, a scheme of preservation and enhancement was undertaken by Wandsworth Council in 1990 seeking to re-establish the "sense of place" of the village by allowing part of the public space to be used by pedestrians, and by reviving the name Battersea Square, which had disappeared from maps.

The scheme involved creating a new floorscape using traditional materials and appropriate street furniture, and using the public space for eating and drinking. It received a Civic Trust Commendation in 1991.

The Square today

Based on material from the Wandsworth Borough Council website