Last week, I wrote about the rural delights of the countryside around Carshalton village during the Regency. This week, the focus will be on the village itself, and the various commercial and industrial activities which were ongoing in the surrounding area during our favorite period. Though much of the area was pastorally idyllic, a number of businesses were carried on in this village located just ten miles south west of London. Carshalton was a bustling place during the Regency.
Trade and industry in the village of Carshalton . . .
During the Regency, the village of Carshalton was rather over average size for a British village. The earliest known census for Carshalton parish was taken in 1821. At that time, it was recorded that there were one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five people living there, and that three hundred and seven houses were located in that parish. The numbers are likely to have been similar during the decade of the Regency. The village was certainly more than a wide place in the road, though it did not quality as town or city at that time. The high road from London ran through the Carshalton village centre and several side streets ran through the village, some of which intersected with the high street. During the Regency, Carshalton would have been an active, lively area, with many people coming and going, seeing the sights, running errands, doing business or just taking some time to chat with friends and neighbors.
One of the most distinctive features of Carshalton was the large pond near the original village center. That pond was created by the flow of several small streams, all of which then ran into the River Wandle, a tributary of the Thames River. Carshalton’s early associations with water, particularly the River Wandle, continued through the Regency and even into modern times. The single, large pond at the centre of the village was divided into two smaller ponds in the latter decades of the nineteenth century. However, during the Regency, there was still just the one large Carshalton Pond, from which the River Wandle flowed north to the Thames. Several guidebooks of the time mentioned that not only was the pond quite large, the water it contained was remarkably clear. A number of stately oaks, ash, beech and elm trees grew along the banks of the pond, giving the impression of a small lake in a wooded grove. It was noted that, in the warmer months, this pond gave the village centre a particularly pleasing and attractive appearance.
Unlike many smaller villages, there were two very good inns situated in Carshalton. The Greyhound Inn was thought to be one of the best and most pleasant inns in England during the Regency. It was kept by a Mr. Hoystrop, who provided very good service to all his guests. However, he made it a special point to cater to sporting gentlemen, many of whom frequented the area for the hunting, fishing, coursing and other sports which were available nearby. Unlike most country inns, the Greyhound offered stabling for more than forty horses, as well as accommodations for their grooms and space for the horses’ tack and other gear. Mr. Hoystrop had also made arrangements with several of the local property owners to allow guests of the Greyhound Inn to fish in their streams without each guest having to get the specific permission of each land owner. Therefore, those who chose to stay at the Greyhound Inn were free to fish in the best streams in the area without having to make their own arrangements with the land owners of the properties where they want to fish.
The other Carshalton inn, the King’s Arms, was kept by a Mr. Brown during the Regency. The King’s Arms was considered to be nearly as nice as The Greyhound, though it did not offer such large stable facilities or immediate permission to fish the best streams in the area. However, the King’s Arms seems to have been more popular with tourists who had come to see the sights than with ardent sportsmen. Apparently, the King’s Arms was also noted for putting up elegant and delicious picnic meals for their guests who had hiking, riding or boating excursions planned. Regardless of their specific types of visitors, both inns were well above the average village inn and were capable of catering to the very best clientele who came to Carshalton.
Carshalton was easily accessible from London and points north. There were daily stage coaches which ran between London and Carshalton, dropping their passengers near the Greyhound Inn near the centre of the village. Stage coaches left London at eight o’clock each morning on weekdays, and at seven o’clock on Sunday mornings, to enable day-trippers to spend more time in the village. The trip from London took about an hour and a half. There was also a stage coach which traveled back to London each day, departing from the Greyhound Inn at half past six o’clock in the evening, arriving in London at about eight o’clock. The stage coach fares for this journey was three shillings, six pence for an inside seat and two shillings for an outside seat.
One of Carshalton’s oldest buildings was known as Strawberry Lodge. It was erected in 1685, by a man named Josiah Dewey. In his will, which was probated in 1698, Dewey was listed as a cloth worker and a citizen of London. In the mid-1680s, Dewey had decided to build a water-powered gunpowder mill on the River Wandle. Dewey owned a substantial home called Bacons, which was located on one side of Strawberry Lane. In 1685, Dewey built a smaller, but very elegant house just across the lane from his own home. This new house was called Strawberry Lodge, "lodge" being a common term for a small house at that time. It is assumed the Dewey built Strawberry Lodge to rent out as an investment, since he continued to live in Bacons. Strawberry Lodge was expanded and remodeled in the early eighteenth century, with a facade consisting of five window bays. Therefore, it would have had the appearance of a small Georgian manor house in the early nineteenth century. At that time, Strawberry Lodge was a small but elegant country house which was situated on about forty-four acres of land. It was almost certainly still a private home at that time, though the residents of Strawberry Lodge during that decade are unknown. In the late nineteenth century, the land was taken for the railroad. The lodge was renovated and restored in the 1990s and is now used as the local Baptist Church.
The gunpowder mill built by Josiah Dewey was just one of many small mill operations which had been constructed along the brisk flowing River Wandle in the area surrounding Carshalton. During the Regency, a calico-printing factory, owned by a Mr. Bailey, who lived nearby in Bedington Corner, was situated on the river. Further downstream were two more water-powered mills, Mr. Heath’s snuff mill and Mr. Gray’s flour mill. After than, on the property of the brothers Ansell, stood both another snuff mill and a paper mill. On an adjacent property, owned by a Mr. Shipley, stood oil mills, which extracted oil from linseed or other oil-bearing seeds. The last of the water-powered mills in Carshalton parish at this time was a hide and leather-dressing mill, owned and operated by Mr. Savignac. It must be noted that though there were several mills operating along the banks of the River Wandle in Carshalton, none of them employed a large number of people during the Regency. These were relatively small businesses which required only a few workers to keep them running.
On property set a little back from the river was the bleaching grounds owned by Mr. Reynolds. Though the process is seldom used today, during the Regency, as had been the case for centuries before, large open areas of land were usually located near mill towns. Lengths of cloth were spread out on these usually grassy fields in order to bleach the fabric by exposure to the sun and the elements. Such bleaching grounds were an essential component of the textile manufacturing process until the latter part of the nineteenth century. It is likely that Mr. Bailey, who ran the calico-printing mill, may have had his cloth bleached at Mr. Reynold’s bleaching grounds before it was brought to his mill for printing.
A number of other fields in Carshalton were put to commercial use, besides Mr. Reynolds’ bleaching grounds. The land around the village was better suited to farming than pasture. Some farmers did graze a few cows or small flocks of sheep, but much more of the land was under cultivation for standard crops of the period. One of the most important cash crops in the area, right through the end of the nineteenth century, was lavender. From at least the eighteenth century, lavender had a wide range of uses in Britain, for medicinal, cosmetic and culinary purposes. In addition to regularly being in high demand, lavender was a sturdy crop which flourished in best in well-drained, sandy soil in fields which get a lot of sun. It required little fertilizer, which reduced the amount of human effort necessary to grow it successfully. Though lavender had to be harvested by hand during the Regency, the harvest times would vary based upon the purpose to which the lavender would be put and how much was needed at the time. Therefore, it was not necessary to harvest an entire field at one time. This also reduced the number of people needed to cultivate a lavender crop, since harvesting could be done when farmers were not dealing with other, more pressing chores.
As with many villages, commerce was very important to the economy of Regency Carshalton. Records show there were no fairs held in the village, which is not surprising, since fairs for the selling of goods and livestock were typically held in market towns. However, there were a number of shops on, or just off, the high street which offered a wide array of goods for both locals and travellers. In addition to the usual range of shops to be found in most English villages, there were also several shops which purveyed sporting equipment, travellers’ sundries, local goods and souvenirs which served the needs of both visiting sportsmen and tourists. Carshalton could boast public houses and taverns in the village which were patronized by both residents and visitors alike. Carshalton was not a sleepy village during the Regency, it was full of activity, with local people running their shops, going about their business or meeting friends at the local pub, and visitors strolling through the streets, taking in the sights and exploring the shops.
Dear Regency Authors, Carshalton offers a plethora of setting options for a Regency romance, all within a fairly compact area and within easy reach of London. There is the lively and charming village centre, the local country estates and parklands, the open country, the mills along the river and the farmland, especially all those fragrant purple fields of lavender. Of course, Carshalton would not make an ideal place for someone trying to hide, since there is a lot of traffic through the village, particularly from London. However, if a plot should call for two characters to encounter each other somewhere neither expected to see the other, Carshalton might be just the place. Perhaps they run into each other in one of the inns, or maybe in one of the village shops. On the other hand, might one or more of your characters be in business in Carshalton? Will they be the owner or manager of one of the water-powered mills situated on the River Wandle or one of the shops in the village centre? Or mayhap, a gentleman farmer growing lavender and other valuable crops? How else might the commercial and industrial enterprises in the Carshalton area support the plot of a Regency romance?