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Stoneleigh, as a built-up residential area, dates only from the building boom of the 1920s and 30s. Nevertheless, the place has been here for a very long time, so it might be of interest to take a deeper look at it. Between the wars houses were being built all round London at a quite incredible rate, and within a very few years a great deal of countryside had disappeared forever.
In 1920, Greater London extended as far as Merton, South Wimbledon and Surbiton, with offshoots towards Tolworth. Outside this was farmland, comparatively unspoilt, apart from a certain amount of development in the Worcester Park area dating from the 1870s. The Kingston By-Pass, the first of its kind, was opened in 1925; this led to what was called “ribbon development”.
The Underground was extended to Morden in 1926, and the St. Helier Estate, the first large council estate, built by the LCC in the late 1920s. The building tide reached Stoneleigh in 1930; five years later, practically the whole area was built over, east of the railway first, the other side a year or so later. Stoneleigh Station was opened in July 1932, and the crowning glory, the Stoneleigh Hotel, about Christmas time 1935.
Most of the houses sold at £700-£900, and one could see until the mid-1980s on the end wall of the shop facing the station the outline of an advertisement for houses in River Way at £725, or 17/5d (i.e. 75p) per week; a measure of the debasement of the currency, as of much else, in post-war Britain.
The war years had their fair share of excitement, which I shall leave to others to describe, as I was travelling abroad at the time. Since the war there has been little change; new lamp posts, houses enlarged and modernised, trees cut down and planted, and so on, and, more important, a, a new generation has grown up.
Previously, the area was not called Stoneleigh. It consisted in the main of two farms, divided by the railway; Sparrow Farm to the east, Coldharbour Farm to the west. Both were the usual mixture of fields, woods and hedgerows. Sparrow Farm stood just inside the S. Clair Drive entrance to the Cuddington Recreation Ground, by the end of the house garden to the left Sparrow Farm Road marks the track to it, and part of the hedge and trees were still visible until a few years ago.
There was a wood, Railway Wood, alongside the railway, about 100 years wised, running northwards from where is now Stoneleigh Station for a quarter of a mile; another Bridge Wood, further north, a quarter of a mile south of the cattle arch and a hundred yards or so from the railway. A third, London Road Wood, covered the site of part of The Glade and the southern parts of Bradstock Road and Woodstone Avenue.
A stream, rising in Nonsuch Park, flowed where now is Briarwood Road, crossing the railway at the cattle arch south of the station, where it is still visible (now a storm sewer under Briarwood Road), going on to join the Hogsmill at Ewell Court.
West of the railway the countryside was much the same. Coldharbour Farm stood at the top of the hill between Amberley and Seaforth Gardens, just to the north of the footpath running between these two, and which was, indeed, the track to the farm. A large wood, Taylor’s Shrubbery, extended, by the 1920s, along the Kingston Road from Worcester Park Road to a point opposite Ruxley Lane, and covered the whole area as far as Cromwell Road, except for a small field in the angle of Cromwell Road and Worcester Park Road, with, on the other side of Cromwell Road, the grounds of Worcester Park House, a mansion built in 1797, of which more anon.
Another wood, Dancer Dick Wood, stood east of Cromwell Road, in the angle with Salisbury Road; remains of it are still visible.
There were one or two large houses standing in their own grounds: Chesterfield House, at the top of what are now Firswood Avenue, and Parkside at the end of Timbercroft, which was the avenue leading to it. Close by the railway, in the area between it and the present Vale Road shops, was a brickworks.