Due to its gradient the River Wandle had long had industrial usage and along its banks were numerous water mills for use such as grinding corn, copper and leather working; it was also notable for its trout and water-cress beds. The Domesday Book of 1086 records 13 water mills along the Wandle and the river's economic use grew in ensuing centuries, with commercial use at its height in the C19th when there were some 90 mills. Wetland areas were created as a result of the high water levels needed and Watermeads is a remnant of these. The site extends along the west bank of the river; it was shown on the Tithe Map of 1837 as 'long meadow'. Within the site is a fish pond and Paper Mill Cut, one of the Wandle's many channels and branches dug for milling. Near this is the remains of a stone seat in memory of Octavia Hill, founder of the National Trust, whose efforts inspired the River Wandle Open Spaces Committee to acquire Watermeads for the Trust in 1913.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/02/2005
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The Watermeads are maintained as a nature reserve, open to keyholders only or on application to the Head Warden. Just inside the entrance on Bishopsford Road is a small mown field called 'Morden Meadow', which was donated by Merton and Morden Urban District Council in 1965. Near this was once the site of an old snuff mill, demolished in the 1920s but traces of which are visible: the end support to the waterwheel in the form of a brick pier and wall set on the edge of the island formed between the old control weir and the mill and a millstone on the river bank. The riverside industries included those of William Halfhide, who set up business beside the Wandle in 1742; in 1881 William Morris set up his workshops with Philip Webb, William de Morgan and Edward Burne Jones, and from 1904-1972 Liberty's had mills and workshops here. However, from the mid-C19th the milling industries had been declining as steam and electric power overtook water power and of the numerous mills hereabouts, only nearby Grove Mill remains today.
A Saunders, ‘The Art and Architecture of London’, Oxford, 1984; 'The Wandle Trail' produced by The Wandle Industrial Museum, LB Merton, 1992; Ian Yarham, Dave Dawson, Martin Boyle, Rebecca Holliday 'Nature Conservation in Merton, Ecology Handbook 29', London Ecology Unit, 1998.