Wimbledon has several ponds on the Common but only one really sizeable lake, the one in Wimbledon Park.
Yet old maps of the area up to the 1950s show not just that but another one closer to Parkside and the Village.
So where is it now?
For nearly 200 years from the 1770s onwards, a lake of several acres existed in what was originally the parkland of Wimbledon House, one of the big estates beside Wimbledon Village.
The entire estate covered 100 acres and the lake was fed by Rushmere on the Common and two springs. Its clear waters cascaded down to a smaller pond off what is now Calonne Road.
The lake was used for boating, bathing, fishing and occasionally skating in severe winters. A chapel existed on an island and a grotto with classical columns adorned a bank. It was one of Wimbledon’s leading attractions.
After the Wimbledon House estate was divided up for development in 1899 (see Heritage story 16 November 2012), the lake was included in what became the grounds of a big new property, Margin House, covering eight acres in Marryat Road.
Margin Lake being used for boating
At the time it was confidently believed that ‘the picturesque lake had been secured for the perpetual adornment of the estate.’ Visitors to Margin House and neighbouring properties could continue to enjoy what was now called Margin Lake.
Moving ahead some 40 years, during the Second World War, Margin House was one of three large properties vacated by their owners and requisitioned for the war effort. The others were Windyridge, also in Marryat Road (see Heritage story 14 February 2014), and Deepdale in Calonne Road.
They were used variously by the army for offices, temporary housing and as a hospital, and the grand interiors of all three fell into disrepair.
The three houses were eventually released in the early 1950s and the owners faced with substantial repair bills. The three houses and their gardens were now too large and expensive to run. While Margin House was the biggest, Deepdale had six acres of its own and Windyridge nearly another two.
1953 Ordnance Survey map showing the lake up to 800 feet wide
A schoolgirls’ picnic by the lake early in the 20th century
By 1953 all three were empty and local builder M. Howard of Mitcham bought the entire 16 acres for development. His plan was to provide new housing by dividing the mansions into smaller dwellings and building more than 40 low-rise houses. The lake would be drained.
He faced three obstacles. Covenants dating from 1899 restricted development, there was major local opposition in defence of the lake, and the drainage was a technical challenge.
When he applied to the Lands Tribunal for the covenants to be varied, there were no fewer than 87 objectors at the 1954 hearing. However, after several days, agreements were reached in all but three cases.
The judge gave weight to the fact that the three mansions were un-saleable and un-lettable in their deteriorating condition.
But, much more significantly, he also said the lake was in a dangerous state through erosion and seepage and likely to be permanently emptied for safety reasons.
The covenants were modified but stringent conditions were imposed on design, retention of trees and construction works.
The work began but the task of draining the lake nearly bankrupted the firm. Bricks being in short supply, modest houses with generous gardens were built on plots laid out on the extended Parkside Avenue and new roads named Margin Drive, Windy Ridge Close and Deepdale were created.
The lake was gone by 1956. More recently the post-war houses have largely been replaced by larger homes with smaller gardens. But although the lake has vanished, great cedars which once graced its shoreline remain.
Moreover, one small section of water has survived - in what are now the grounds of the Buddhapadipa Temple. Ponds off what became Calonne Road used to receive the cascade of water from the upper lake in the days of the old Wimbledon House.
For some 50 years from the 1920s, they lay within the grounds of a large house called Barrowgill. In the early 1970s that was bought by the London Buddhist Temple Foundation with support from the Thai Government and a Thai style building was erected in the grounds for monastic ceremonies.
The temple now overlooks the ponds – all that remains of Wimbledon’s second lake.
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