Todays walk for exercise during the pandemic was through the first phase of the Ram Quarter development on the site of the old Young’s Brewery where beer has been brewed since at least 1533, continuing after the closure of the brewery in 2006 with a micro-brewery on site. The brewery and pub was located on a prime site at the time, near a source of water from the River Wandle, which flows to the Thames from Surrey and adjacent to what became the main road from London down to the Royal Navy’s primary base and docks in Portsmouth, the A3.
The Ram Quarter development designed by EPR Architects for the Greenland Group sets a standard for Wandsworth to maintain as it tries to regenerate and give identity to the town centre, with new buildings, mainly of brick construction, connecting into the old brewery buildings, creating public spaces and alleys and opening up this part of the River Wandle. It was good to see that the coffee shop has reopened for take-away, the nursery is now again open, and building contractors were at work in some of the other units, now that the lockdown is easing. When complete the new development will also include the micro-brewery and a visitor centre incorporating some of the old brewery equipment that still existed on the site.
The development does highlight how awful many of the 20th century buildings around it are – in particular the Southside shopping centre, under which the Wandle runs in a culvert. Hopefully no-one would allow that today! While the A3 may have been an economic generator in centuries gone past, it – and its one way system – now blights the centre of Wandsworth. Plans are under development to alter and improve the road system, linked to the Ram Quarter scheme. Perhaps in due course there may be opportunities to radically rethink the shopping centre which has lost its Debenhams and other retailers, move the retail southwards and reduce its size to allow redevelopment with new uses at the north end to connect into what has been achieved on the other side of the road, including rediscovering the River Wandle. There must also be the potential for the low-key site, currently a nightclub and bar, across the other side of the Wandle to come forward for redevelopment and thus reclaim this bank of the river for public use
Tucked away in Wandsworth are other historic buildings including (as you might expect) several pubs including the Ram Inn itself, rebuilt in 1883, but with its history going back to 1533. Other buildings including a surprisingly intact brick Georgian terrace from around 1723 with the central sundial proclaiming ‘Vigilate et Orate’ (Watch and Pray) opposite All Saint’s Church which dates back to 1630, though largely rebuilt in 1779, the mid-19th century Court House (now the Library) and the National Opera Studio’s Clore Building which provides a piece of history of which few people are aware. The building was formerly a Congregational Church, though the site has a much longer history, being first used for worship in 1573 by ‘Pioneer Nonconformists’, and later by Huguenot Refugees.
The National Opera Studio itself was founded in 1977 as a link between music colleges and the six main UK opera companies, training 12 singers and 4 piano répétiteurs each academic year – a hidden gem in Wandsworth.
Before it closed, Young’s brewery was famous for its shire horses pulling drays taking barrels of beer to nearby pubs.