Monday, 24 April 2017


Most days I go for a run. The weather has been particularly good recently. Its been a warm Spring. The local parks are looking green and the shrubberies are flowering. All the local front gardens are blooming with every type of perennial, biennial and annual. Its a gardeners paradise around here I can tell you.

When I go for a run I choose from a variety of routes which I try out depending on distance but often just for a change of scenery. For the last few days I have been running up on to Cannon Hill Park, about half a mile from my front door. It is close to Raynes Park and South Wimbledon.

Cannon Hill today.

It has its own unique character and has a natural, managed aspect about it, similar to some of the Capability Brown landscapes from the 18th century although it was not designed by Capability Brown. I should think some other landscape gardener at the time probably had an input.

Records of Cannon Hill go back to the Normans.The Augustinian Canons of Merton Priory (1117-1538) owned ,"Cannondownhyll,". Merton Priory is particularly famous because Nicholas Breakspeare was a monk at the priory in 1125 ,he became Adrian IV,  the first English Pope, in 1154, and Thomas Becket was educated there by the monks in 1130.The Abbott,Walter de Merton, Lord Chancellor and Bishop of Rochester, was founder of Merton College Oxford. He took his name from the priory.
 Parliamentarian forces occupied the hill  during the English Civil War (1642- 1651). They mounted cannons on the hill to help protect London.  At one time a row of cottages in Cannon Hill Lane was called Cromwell Villas.

A sketch of Cannon Hill Place.
In 1763 William Taylor acquired the freehold of the site and built Cannon Hill House. William Taylor was an officer in the 32nd Regiment of foot and later became a Major General in the 14th Regiment.At that time this area was adjoined to Merton Common. The house was built from local bricks that were probably made from the black clay taken from the depression that is the lake situated at the bottom of the slope in front of where the house was positioned.
In 1832 Richard Thornton bought Cannon Hill House and he remained in it until his death in 1865. Thornton made his fortune trading in the Baltic.The Baltic trade with Britain at the time was mostly in timber but he must had strong links with the Hanseatic league, a powerful trading group of states on the edge of The Baltic, primarily German. When William Thornton died in 1865 he was worth £3 million pounds which in todays money is about £140 million. At his death it was judged to be the greatest Victorian fortune. He had no children. The house was hardly used for many years after his death and 1880 it was abandoned. It was probably demolished by 1900 but it still appeared on Ordnance Survey maps up to 1930.

An 1825 portrait of Richard Thornton.
James Edwards, wrote the guide book, " Companion from London to Brighthelmston," (1789- 1801). Brighthelmston, was the name of the small fishing village that Brighton was developed from in the 1780s  when the Prince Regent began to visit.
He stated,
" half a mile south of the Kingston Road, adjoining Merton Common, is Cannon Hill. It is a white house situated on an eminence commanding a pleasnat and extensive prospect to the east over a small park or lawn. On the west are suitable gardens, shrubberies etc and the soil is a stiff black clay." 

An 1825 view of the house that is displayed on an information board in the park.
The black clay is still evident. One path I ran along, through some trees, was bare and there was dry cracked mud  underfoot. The park is a wildlife reserve nowadays taken care of by Merton Council. It is a small oasis of flaura and fauna away from the hustle and bustle of South London. I may well run there again tomorrow.


  1. What a beautiful park, Tony! And how kind of all those people to keep their front gardens in good shape in order to provide lovely scenery for your runs! I know there are runners who use tracks, even indoor tracks, but that would be too humdrum for me. I only walk, not run, but the time and the miles slip by much more quickly when there's something nice to look at.

    1. It is a lovely park, Jean. You and Mr Delightful would enjoy walking there. There are many parks, green oasis, all over the greater London area many with interesting histories. All the best, Tony