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Putney station building.JPG
Grid reference: TQ235755
Location: 51°27’54"N, 0°13’16"W
Post town: London
Postcode: SW15
Dialling code: 020
Local Government
Council: Wandsworth

Putney is a town in northern Surrey, sitting on the River Thames and all absorbed within the metropolitan conurbation.

In a 2005 New Economics Foundation survey of 27 London high streets, Putney's was deemed the fifth most "cloned", offering identikit shopping with little local character.[1]

In the London Plan, the Greater London Authority identifies Putney as one of 35 major centres in its area.[2]


River crossing

Putney appears in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Putelei. It was noted that it was not a manor, but obtained 20 shillings from the ferry or market toll at Putney belonging to Mortlake.[3]

The ferry was mentioned in the household accounts of Edward I (1272–1307): Robert the Ferryman of Putney and other sailors received 3/6d for carrying a great part of the royal family across the Thames and also for taking the king and his family to Westminster.

One famous crossing at Putney was that of Cardinal Wolsey in 1529 upon his first falling out of favour with Henry VIII and being removed as the holder of the Great Seal of England. As he was riding up Putney Hill he was overtaken by one of the royal chamberlains who presented him with a ring as a token of the continuance of his majesty's favour. The legend says that when Wolsey had heard these good words of the king, he quickly lighted from his mule and kneeled down in the dirt upon both knees, holding up his hands for joy, and said:

"When I consider the joyful news that you have brought to me, I could do no less than greatly rejoice. Every word pierces so my heart, that the sudden joy surmounted my memory, having no regard or respect to the place; but I thought it my duty, that in the same place where I received this comfort, to laud and praise God upon my knees, and most humbly to render unto my sovereign lord my most hearty thanks for the same."[4]

The next year, Wolsey fell to the headsman's axe.

The first bridge of any kind between the two parishes of Fulham and Putney was built during the Civil War: after the Battle of Brentford in 1642, the Parliamentary forces built a bridge of boats between Fulham and Putney. According to an account from the period:

The Lord General hath caused a bridge to be built upon barges and lighters over the Thames between Fulham and Putney, to convey his army and artillery over into Surrey, to follow the king's forces; and he hath ordered that forts shall be erected at each end thereof to guard it; but for the present the seamen, with long boats and shallops full of ordnance and musketeers, lie there upon the river to secure it.[5]

The first permanent bridge between Fulham and Putney was completed in 1729, and was the second bridge to be built across the Thames in London (after London Bridge).

One story runs that "in 1720 Sir Robert Walpole was returning from seeing George I at Kingston and being in a hurry to get to the House of Commons rode together with his servant to Putney to take the ferry across to Fulham. The ferry boat was on the opposite side, however and the waterman, who was drinking in the Swan, ignored the calls of Sir Robert and his servant and they were obliged to take another route. Walpole vowed that a bridge would replace the ferry."[6]

The Prince of Wales apparently "was often inconvenienced by the ferry when returning from hunting in Richmond Park and asked Walpole to use his influence by supporting the bridge."[6]

The first bridge was a wooden structure and lasted for 150 years, when in 1886 it was replaced by the stone bridge that stands today.

The Putney Debates

In 1647 towards the end of the English Civil War, the parish church of St Mary The Virgin was the site of the 1647 Putney Debates. With the Roundheads looking victorious, Oliver Cromwell soldiers' held a minor mutiny, amid fears that a monarchy would be replaced by a new dictatorship. A number, known as the Levellers complained "We were not a mere mercenary army hired to serve any arbitrary power of a state, but called forth … to the defence of the people's just right and liberties". A manifesto was proposed entitled the Agreement of the People and at an open meeting in Putney, the officers of the Army Council heard the argument from private soldiers for a transparent, democratic state, without corruption. This included sovereignty for English citizens, Parliamentary seats distributed according to population rather than property ownership, religion made a free choice, equality before the law, conscription abolished and parliamentary elections held every year. While greatly influential, including inspiring much of the language of the United States Declaration of Independence, Oliver Cromwell would later have the Leveller leaders executed.


The Secretary to the Admiralty and famous diarist Samuel Pepys visited St Mary's Church on several occasions. During one visit on 28 April 1667, he recorded,

and then back to Putney Church, where I saw the girls of the schools, few of which pretty; and there I come into a pew, and met with little James Pierce, which I was much pleased at, the little rogue being very glad to see me: his master, Reader to the Church. Here was a good sermon and much company, but I sleepy, and a little out of order, for my hat falling down through a hole underneath the pulpit, which, however, after sermon, by a stick, and the help of the clerke, I got up again, and then walked out of the church."[7]

Open spaces and clean air

For centuries, Putney was a place where Londoners came for leisure, to enjoy the open spaces and clean air. Londoners came to Putney to play games. According to John Locke, who writes, in 1679:

"The sports of England for a curious stranger to see are horse-racing, hawking, hunting, and bowling; at Putney he may see several persons of quality bowling two or three times a week."

One regular visitor was Queen Elizabeth I who frequently visited Putney from 1579–1603, often visiting Mr John Lacy. She was said to "honour Lacy with her company more frequently than any of her subjects", often staying for two to three days.[4]

Putney Heath

Charles II is said to have reviewed his forces on Putney Heath; and in May, 1767, George III reviewed the Guards at the same place. On this occasion upwards of £63 was taken at the bridge, being the largest amount ever known in one day.

According to Samuel Pepys, Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York used to run horses here.

Putney Heath was for many years a noted rendezvous for highwaymen. In 1795, the notorious highwayman Jerry Avershaw was caught in the Green Man pub on the Heath and after execution his body was hung in chains at Putney Heath.[8]

From time to time, duels have been fought at the heath, both bloodless and otherwise, private, and also political. In 1652 an encounter took place here, between George, third Lord Chandos, and Colonel Henry Compton, which resulted in the latter being killed. It was also on the Heath that William Pitt, when Prime Minister exchanged shots on a Sunday in May 1798 with George Tierney MP. The exchange ending without bloodshed.

In 1809 the Cabinet ministers George Canning and Lord Castlereagh fought a duel on Putney Heath. Canning, who had never before fired a pistol, missed, but Castlereagh succeeded in wounding Canning in the thigh. The resulting scandal forced both men to resign from office, and formed a rivalry between them that lasted until Castlereagh's suicide in 1822.

Rowing and the Boat Race

Putney Bridge at night

Since the second half of the 19th century, Putney has been one of the most significant centres for rowing in the United Kingdom.

Leisure rowing on the Thames in central London became unpleasant if not impossible in the 19th century due to the increasing numbers of steam-powered boats on the Thames and growing levels of sewage being discharged into the river. However at Putney there was much less commercial traffic on the river at Putney (not least because the many buttresses of the original Putney Bridge restricted the transit of large river boats) and thus there was more suitable water for rowing. The river was also cleaner at Putney.

The construction of the London and South Western Railway from Waterloo Station to Putney and the Metropolitan District Railway to Putney Bridge station allowed easy commuting, bring visitors and rowers.

Putney Bridge

More than twenty rowing clubs are based on the Thames at Putney Embankment; among the largest are London Rowing Club, Thames Rowing Club, Imperial College Boat Club and Vesta Rowing Club. Leander Club owned a boathouse in Putney from 1867 to 1961. The Putney clubs have produced many Olympic medallists and winners of the Henley Royal Regatta. Putney Town Rowing Club, although retaining Putney's name, has now moved to Kew upriver.

The Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race, first contested in 1829 in Henley-on-Thames, has had Putney as its starting point since 1845. Since 1856, it has been an annual event, beginning at the University Stone, just upstream from Putney Bridge.

Several other important rowing races over the Championship Course also either start or finish at the stone, notably the Head of the River Race.

Putney Sculpture Trail

Alan Thornhill lived and worked in Putney for many years and his studio still remains. The sculpture Load[9] was presented to Putney[10] on Fools Day and occupies a permanent position near the south west end of Putney Bridge on Lower Richmond Road. A film, launched at Appledore[11] and Chichester Film Festivals in 2008 documents these celebrations. The acquisition of 8 further large works formed a permanent new riverside Putney Sculpture Trail in London's Borough of Wandsworth, officially unveiled in September 2008.

Historic links to sculpture and sculptors

Sir Jacob Epstein was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery on 24 August 1959.[12]

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska had a studio in Putney in the last year of his life after moving from 454A Fulham Road. Sydney Schiff went to visit Gaudier there in 1914 to purchase the 'Dancer' which was later presented to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Gaudier-Brzeska was killed in France in June 1915.[13]


Nearest tube stations

  • East Putney tube station
  • Putney Bridge tube station

Nearest railway station

  • Putney railway station

Outside links


("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Putney)
  1. Elliot, Valerie (6 June 2005). "Its so wonderful to be here in Exeter Or is this Clapham". The Times (London). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article530337.ece. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  2. Mayor of London (February 2008). "London Plan (Consolidated with Alterations since 2004)". Greater London Authority. http://www.london.gov.uk/thelondonplan/docs/londonplan08.pdf. 
  3. gwp.enta.net, Surrey Domesday Book
  4. 4.0 4.1 british-history.ac.uk, Putney, British History Online
  5. familytreemaker.geneaology.com
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Predecessor of Putney Bridge - Fulham Bridge 1729-1886 by George & Michael Dewe (1986)
  7. Diary of Samuel Pepys, April 1667, April
  8. ""Lewis Jeremiah 'Jerry' Abershaw at Findagrave"". http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=52240471. 
  9. alanthornhill.co.uk
  10. Spirit in Mass: Journey into Sculpture - Alan Thornhill (2007) UK Documentary film (PG)
  11. Appledore Arts - Film
  12. Epstein; Stephen Gardiner (1993) Flamingo Books ISBN 000654598X
  13. Savage Messiah; H.S. Ede (1979) Gordon Frazer Gallery London SBN 900406151 first published Heinemann 1931