One of the joys of wandering around cities is finding hidden histories behind the roads, the modern developments, the retail parks and the housing developments.
The 20th century was not kind to Colliers Wood. One indeed there was a wood here, but it was gradually cleared from the late 19th century and today the area is dominated by large electrical pylons marching across the landscape, by retail parks and by the busy traffic at this major road intersection, plus Colliers Wood Tower which won an award in 2006 as the most ugly building in London – the best that can be said of its recent refurbishment with new cladding is that the architects have tried to merge it with the sky…. It is a pity that the opportunity was not taken to demolish it at the time and provide a more sympathetic urban solution that could heal the scars of the urban landscape.
The River Wandle still runs through Colliers Wood, through Wandle Park, along the side of the retail parks and down to Abbey Mills, once a centre of the design world, with William Morris’s and Liberty’s workshops and showrooms whose buildings are now occupied by specialist shops, studios, a theatre, bars and restaurants, alongside remnants of the mill.
Other interesting buildings nearby include Christ Church opened in 1874 having cost the sum of £4,283, funded primarily by a Mr and Mrs Harris, of Gorringe Park, Mitcham, who also paid for the adjacent parsonage and mission-room, and Singledate Primary School of 1897, designed by the architect H.P Burke-Downing (1865 – 1947), best known for his church architecture.
What is most surprising, and unknown to many people driving through the area, is that they are driving over the ruins of one the most important religious centres in medieval London, Merton Priory, an English Augustinian priory founded in 1114. Demolished after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, the remains of the Chapter House still exist, with a discreet entrance under the busy traffic on the Murantum Way.
The local authority have been busy with projects to improve the public realm around the area. It would be good if something major could be done to celebrate the ancient history of the area, rather than hiding it away.