Saved from closure in 2010 when the Hintze Family Charitable Foundation intervened, the Wandsworth Museum tells the story of the local area through a series of displays and a handful of cabinets which occupy one room of the building. You’ll discover, for example, that Queen Elizabeth I ordered the repair of the Wandle Bridge in 1602 so that ‘she could travel to Putney and beyond by road‘, that the Hugenots first arrived in Wandsworth and established businesses along the River Wandle, and that in 1647 the area was at the heart of the Civil War when St Mary’s Church held meetings between Parliamentary leaders and political dissidents. You’ll also find information on Wandsworth’s major institutions, including Wandsworth Prison and the now defunct Young’s Brewery site which was a major employer in the area from the 1700s until quite recently (sadly the location sits unused even today, the company having moved to Bedford in 2006). Did you also know that Wandsworth was the site of the first mosque in London, which opened on Gressenhall Road in October 1926?
There’s another room in the museum which is currently hosting a very odd exhibition indeed – titled the ‘Contemporary Equine Art Fair’ there are paintings, photographs and sculptures of horses scattered around the room, as well as a video wall with straw bales in front of it where visitors can sit. The museum also has a cafe which arguably contains the museum’s most interesting exhibit – an apothecary transplanted from the 19th century occupies one corner. I have to say I found the Wandsworth Museum rather disappointing – it only occupies one room of the three-room space and is rather sparse for all that, in fact the cafe is in a larger room than the museum itself! Having visited a good percentage of all of the museums in London I can safely say this is the least worthy, and I take absolutely no pleasure in saying that…
Now I don’t want to put you off from visiting the building because what you’ll discover in the other half makes this place more than worthy of your time – the De Morgan Foundation Collection. Contemporaries of William Morris (the Wiiliam Morris gallery in Walthamstow reopened recently) William and Evelyn De Morgan were one of the most creative artistic teams of the Arts & Crafts movement, and the De Morgan Foundation Collection features a dizzying array of their best work. William De Morgan was a ceramicist – best known for the tiled murals commissioned by P&O for their cruise liners and for his elaborate decoration of plates and vases, the collection contains many, many fine examples in his signature colours of iridescent reds, oranges and rich blues. His wife Evelyn was a painter – her dream-like images of women in fantastical settings are one of the signature looks of this period in Britain’s art history – each is a marvel and a revelation. I can’t quite express how stunning her work is – you’ll have to see for yourself.
The Wandsworth Museum is currently free-of-charge to enter, however a fee will be charged for entry from September of this year. The De Morgan Foundation Collection costs £4 for adults, children go free.