A Brief History of the Woodfield Estate and Woodfield Recreation Ground

 Throughout its history, most of the Woodfield recreation ground (WRG) has remained in existence as open land. No permanent substantial buildings, except for a small brick pavilion, which remains today, and three other small buildings, have ever been built on the site. The site lies adjacent to the eastern side of Tooting (Bec) Common within the London Borough of Lambeth, but is owned by the London Borough of Wandsworth. Historically, it has always been in the parish of Streatham. Land ownership and occupancy can be traced through such records as rate books, court directories and census returns. A study of the Woodfield recreation ground is intimately linked to that of the Woodfield estate (including the house) within which the WRG is found, and thus the two are, as far as possible, dealt with together in this brief history. Prior to the establishment of the more formal estate, the land, like most of Streatham, was farmed. In the medieval period, the area, known as Tile Kiln farm, was held by the Lords of the Manor of Streatham (and Tooting), such as the Howland family, and later by the Dukes of Bedford. From 1729 the area of study was separated from Tile Kiln farm to form a smaller farm called Mount Ephraim farm. This farm eventually was enlarged to 67 acres and was centered on the present Woodfield Avenue. At the end of the 18th century, the Heath family farmed on the site for many years, while by 1801 the ownership was in the hands of John Kymer.

Milne’s land usage map of c1800 appears to show that there was a small farm house on the site of the later Woodfield house and that it was surrounded by meadow land, while the site of the WRG, slightly to the north, was described as arable land. From the parish survey of 1803, we learn that John Kymer not only owned the land but was also the occupant. It seems that, at this time, John Kymer converted the farm into a grander mansion, as his holding is described in the survey: - House, Offices. Court, Stables, Billiards Room, Outbuildings, Walled Gardens, Pleasure Grounds and Paddock. The term “Offices” refers to servants’ quarters and buildings needed for the running of the household. There is some evidence that the house was rebuilt in 1806 but, by 1810, it is clear that the Heath family had ceased to farm this part of Mount Ephraim farm.

The next phase of the history of the site is that of a grand country house. After John Kymer died c1816, his widow, Mary Ann, continued to live in the house until at least 1830. The name Woodfield House, occasionally referred as Woodfield Lodge, first appears on maps from about 1823, but it could have been used earlier.
From 1834 until 1852 Robert Garrard, a goldsmith, and his family, occupied the house. The tithe map and records of 1840 show the layout of the 22 acres of the Woodfield Estate. Although occupied by the Garrard family it was still owned by Mary Ann Kymer. The site of the WRG, within the estate, is described as meadow. During his period of occupancy Robert Garrard became head of the firm of Garrards, who were awarded the title of Royal Jewellers in 1844. Standford’s map of 1862, and the first OS map of a similar date, show the more detailed layout of the Woodfield estate; its outbuilding and surrounding pleasure lands.

This period of opulence continues with the estate being occupied between 1854 and 1875 by the Soanes family: first George Soanes, then George B. W. Soanes (who may be the same person) and then Temple H. H. Soanes. The family were Russia brokers and merchants.

From 1876 until 1895 Charles Mortimer, a stockbroker and business man in the city, and his family lived on the Woodfield estate. The house was rebuilt, or remodelled, in 1878 to the designs of the architect Richard William Drew. R.W.Drew was the son of George Drew, who in partnership with his brother Beriah Drew began the development of Leigham Manor from about 1840. George Drew left the partnership in 1853 when he moved to Caterham. The land was then owned and developed by Beriah Drew and his descendants.

The size of the Mortimer household can be seen from the entry in the 1891 census:

Charles Mortimer head married 53 magistrate Croydon Surrey
Bessie Mortimer Wife Married 46   Streatham, Surrey
Leonard Mortimer Son Single 21   Redhill, Surrey
Charles Mortimer Son Single 21   Capel, Surrey
Ernest Mortimer Son Single 15   Richmond, Surrey
Reginald Mortimer Son Single 13   Richmond, Surrey
Sydney Mortimer Son Single 13   Richmond, Surrey
Evelyn Mortimer Daughter Single 10   Reigate, Su
Elsie Mortimer Daughter Single 9   St Leonards, Sussex

Also present in the household were a governess, butler, footman, cook, kitchen maid and four other servants. Two grooms and five other servants occupied other buildings on the Woodfield estate.

Charles Mortimer held many positions:
    Director of Great Western, Northern and Eastern and Princetown Railway Company
    Deputy Chairman of Union Assurance Company
    Committee of Railway Clearing House
    Chair of Female Orphan Asylum, Beddington
    Committee of Blind School at St George’s Southwark
    Justice of Peace for Surrey and London
In 1892 Elizabeth (Bessie) Mortimer, Charles’s wife, inherited, on the death of her mother, a large land holding in Streatham which was half of the land, including the Manor of Leigham previously developed by her father, Beriah Drew, when Lord of the Manor of Leigham. In about 1900, all this property, including the Woodfield Estate, was combined in the family company under the title of the “Mortimer Estates”. Four (possibly five) of Charles’s sons are the later directors of the company, presumably after their mother’s death. The company was still in existence in 1927 at the breakup of the Woodfield estate.

After the Mortimers moved out of the house in 1895, it became a home for the care, instruction and training of backward children, but by 1904 it was described as a general nursing home, continuing as such until just before the house was demolished in 1935. A brochure advertising the home, dating to about 1915, describes it as a Sanatorium for Gentlewomen set in grounds of 22 acres.

In 1927 the estate was split into four separate parcels of land. Abbotswood Road was laid down in 1927, which sliced off the eastern side of the estate for housing development. The area around the house was also developed for housing in 1937. The central section of the estate was described in documents in 1927 as a site for a school and playing fields. In 1936 Battersea Grammar School moved into a new building on this site, designed by the architect J E K Harrison.  This site was occupied by a succession of educational establishments until 1994, when the senior department of Streatham and Clapham High School moved in and remains there today (2011).

The remaining parcel of land, the future recreation ground, was sold in 1927 by the Mortimer Estates to the London County Council as land for playing fields. The price of £2250 was offset by a donation of £600 by Alderman Samuel Cresswell of the Metropolitan Borough of Wandsworth, in whose area the site was until 1965. A covenant of the sale was that an entrance from Abbotswood Road should be permanent. The Woodfield Recreation Ground, as it was now called, opened in June 1932 and was dedicated for the benefit of young people and school children of the locality, Alderman S Cresswell then opened a fund with the object of providing a sports pavilion for the site. After receiving subscriptions and promises of sums amounting to £270 and also obtaining a further sum of £500 from local charities (which was over half of the sum of £1500 needed), he persuaded the LCC to proceed with its construction. Councilor Sanders provided a clock for the pavilion turret through his firm of James Walker and Co. In May 1933 at the opening ceremony of the pavilion, Alderman Cresswell said, “here in this enclosure our young people will be safe from traffic and molestation from ‘roughs’ ”. The pavilion had dressing accommodation, water supply, sanitary conveniences and fittings. The conveniences were so arranged so that they could be available to the users of Tooting Bec Common. The responsibility for the site passed first to the Greater London Council in 1965 and then was transferred to the London Borough of Wandsworth in 1976, although it lay within the boundary of the London Borough of Lambeth which now has planning control for the site. In the new Lambeth Local Development plan the site is designated as a site of metropolitan open land. 

A portion of the recreation ground was leased, in 1986, to the Waldorf School of South West London; a Steiner based school, which could accommodate 100 children. The school erected a wood clad building on the site which was damaged by fire in 2004. The school continued on the site, using two prefabricated portacabins, until 2009 when its lease was terminated and it vacated Woodfields.in September 2010. Only the brick pavilion remains on the site.

After the Waldorf School of South West London ceased operating at Woodfields, this left the pavilion vacant and the grounds and the pavilion potentially available for other uses. Local authority officers have subsequently met with representatives of four local groups: the Tooting Common Management Advisory Committee (TCMAC), the Abbotswood Road Residents Association (ARRA), the Friends of Woodfields (FOW) and the Woodfields Community Association (WCA). These groups have provided written submissions setting out their ideas for future uses for the pavilion and the grounds.

Further Reading (obtainable from the Streatham Society)
A History of Suburban Streatham - Graham Gower
The Tile and Brickmakers of Streatham - Graham Gower
A Brief History of Streatham - Graham Gower
Streatham Farms - Graham Gower

Appendix – Archaeological Report
In 1992 the Museum of London’s archaeological service carried out a small scale investigation of a site at the junction of Abbotswoods Road and Mount Ephraim Lane (59 -63 Abbotswood Road). Evidence of the waste material from a tile making kiln was found. Overlying natural was a large dump of broken tiles, burnt clay, ash, charcoal and a possible puddling pit associated with the Kiln Farm tile-making complex on the site.The material dated from the medieval period to the 20th Century. Due to its proximity to this site any activity on the Recreation ground should be undertaken with care, and any archaeological remains should be recorded by the proper authorities. The site remains as a small parcel of open land with a rich heritage,
Abbotswood Road, Streatham SE16 (1992-05). National Grid Ref.TQ29627227. Bruce, Penny (Site Code: ABT92 , archive report). Published by Museum of London. See Also: 'London Archaeologist Magazine Round-up 1992(2)'.


I would like to thank the following for help in the preparation of this short history:-

Judy Harris, Graham Gower and John Brown of the Streatham Society

Phil Mills - Deeds Clerk of Wandsworth Council (deeds)

Jerry Birtles - Chief Parks Officer – Wandsworth Council

Wandsworth Archives Staff

Waldorf School Staff

London Topographical Society (maps)

Ordinance Survey (map)

Stephen Lacey for first suggesting the project



 Brian Bloice

31st December 2011

Chair - Streatham Society

Chair – Lambeth Local History Forum

President - Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Society

[email protected]