The Watermeads at Morden Hall Park

A couple and their dog walk along a tree lined riverside path in Watermeads

The Watermeads sit just a short walk from Morden Hall Park. They have recently been reopened to the public following significant work which has enhanced their appeal to visitors as well as local wildlife and improved the safety of access.

The History of the Watermeads

Historically, the Watermeads, or "water meadows" were of great significance to the local population. During the Middle Ages, the area belonged to the powerful De La Mare family and was carefully managed to ensure the provision of winter fodder and summer pasture for cattle. In winter the land was allowed to flood and the rich Wandle silt increased the fertility of the soil. In spring, when the waters receded, the resulting grass crop was cut for hay. Cattle were then free to graze, or the sluices were opened and the land was flooded again to encourage a second batch of fodder.

Situated on the Morden side of the Wandle, an extremely productive milling river, the Watermeads became the site of a snuff mill and a paper mill built by mill owner Richard Glover in about 1800. The mills had fallen into disuse some time before the Trust purchased the land.

Acquisition by the National Trust

This area was one of the first sites acquired by the National Trust. In 1913, an active campaign of fundraising, led by National Trust founder, Octavia Hill, raised £1,050 to purchase the property from Sir Frederick Fowkes. Ms. Hill had been greatly inspired by the sight of families and young children enjoying their visits to this riverside location. Sadly she died the year before it was finally signed over to the National Trust. A stone seat overlooking the mill-cut commemorates her sister, Miranda, a local teacher who also contributed to the improvement of living conditions for the poor.

Bench dedicated to Miranda Hill, sister of founder of the National Trust Octavia Hill
Bench dedicated to Miranda Hill, sister of founder of the National Trust Octavia Hill
Bench dedicated to Miranda Hill, sister of founder of the National Trust Octavia Hill

During the interwar era, the River Wandle Open Spaces Committee joined forces with the Trust and funded a major planting initiative. A wide range of ornamental trees and shrubs were added both for autumn colour and as potential nesting sites for birds. It was later planted as an osier bed (a fast-growing willow used for basket-weaving) and there were also two plantations of cricket bat willow established between the wars.  

This initiative continued during and immediately after the Second World War under the supervision of a dedicated member of the Open Spaces Committee, Tom Francis.  In 1946 he encouraged boys from the local schools to plant new trees in the Watermeads saying "after 6 years of destruction it was a good thing to add a little beauty to the world." Unfortunately, the addition of non-native trees has had mixed results, altering the appearance of the Watermeads and clogging parts of the wetland habitat.

Since the Second World War, the National Trust has concentrated on developing it as a nature reserve, working hard to open up the space, creating a more natural environment for indigenous plants and wildlife.  It has been closed to the public in order to protect its fragile eco-system and also allow for repairs to be made to the internal infrastructure.

Restoration work at the Watermeads
Restoration work at the Watermeads
Restoration work at the Watermeads

Recent improvements

The progress on rehabilitating the Watermeads has come on apace since 2015 when significant grants were received, notably from the Big Green Fund, to help to improve access to the area. Woodland management cycles have started with trees being pollarded and coppiced. Non native aquatic invasive species, such as Japanese knotweed and floating pennywort, are being eradicated in environmentally friendly ways. The grassland is being managed with regular cutting and wildflower meadows are being planted in an effort to encourage indigenous wildlife such as butterflies and mammals.

Now work to fortify the fragile wooden bridges has been completed, the area is secure and the Watermeads are once again open to the general public. You will be able to enjoy the pleasures of this haven of peace, such as sitting by the Jack Pond, named after the male pike that can be fished from its banks, the site of many a picnic or party. You can watch the members of the Morden Hall Park angling club, who benefit from having a fishing permit for the pond, try their luck at catching the elusive fish.