DSC 0905fi - Young's brewery canal

This is a follow up to the post I did the other day on Young’s Ram brewery at Wandsworth. The reason this is being done is because I discovered some further stuff related to the former waterway (known as McMurrays canal) which once served the town and its brewery. Since there’s very little written on this largely forgotten aspect of the area, it seemed a good idea to do this as a follow up.

The canal was originally built as part of the Surrey Iron Railway itself and was in fact owned by the railway company. It made sense to have a proper trans-shipment facility that was inland and well away from the tidal Thames and the land used for this gave ample opportunity for a large goods yard to be established here with storage and crane facilities.

Much stuff covering the Surrey Iron railway fails to mention the canal’s connection (and dont even mention it either) such as the Wikipedia entry. What is even more interesting is the Surrey Iron railway connected to canals at both ends of its line! At the London end it was the Wandsworth canal. At the southern end of the railway end it was the Croydon canal.

The Surrey Iron railway itself opened in 1803 (the same time as the canal) and finally shut in 1846.

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A lift bridge guarded the section of canal into the Ram brewery. This bridge was sited where Armoury Way is now. The only building left from this 1930’s scene is St. Ann’s church tower – faintly seen at far left.

The top most section of the canal (from the lifting bridge to the brewery) was built a little later in order to give Young’s brewery direct access to the waterways network, thus the canal acquired another important role besides serving the iron railway.

Because of its importance the canal outlasted the iron railway by another ninety years.

The feature image at the top of the page shows the canal buildings at left – these were still in use right up to the brewery’s closure in 2006.

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An aerial picture of the brewery circa 1930. The full length of the canal can be seen. Source: Zythophile

The photograph shown above is of historic importance because it shows the warehouses that were once used by the Surrey Iron Railway! This is the pair of barrel roofed buildings opposite where the two barges can be seen moored. From other views it is clear these buildings originally came with the traditional pointed roofs. It seems perhaps in the late 19th century four of the buildings on the site were given barrel roofs instead with one being built from new.

The lift bridge too can be seen. Its discernible where the canal has a short dog leg section adjacent to the largest barrel roofed building just north of the brewery’s clock tower.

It does look from this picture as though the final remains of the Surrey Iron Railway were at that moment being swept away, not only that the remains of the wharves are too being demolished. The wharf cranes have gone and one of the boats is sunk. If we look at the other aerial view shown below and taken circa 1940s, we can see substantial redevelopment occurring where the canal once was.

Although there is no definite date when the canal closed or was filled in, it is generally thought this took place around 1936-37. Part of it from the Thames to the railway bridge remained in use a few more years to give access to the gas works but that section soon fell out of use and by the mid fifties was being filled in.

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The brewery site in 2015 after most of the intended demolition had taken place. Source: Twitter

Its clear from the above aerial view that any trace of the canal within the site is now negligible. The only structures within the brewery itself were the historic canal basin buildings. These sadly have been demolished as part of the new development! Although I cant get to the site because of the lockdown to get updated photographs, the Google Streets view shown below clearly depicts a modern block of flats has been built where the canal wharves once were – these can be seen at the bottom of this new passageway off Ram Street.

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View looking down passageway to where the canal wharf buildings were. Google Streets.

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Similar viewpoint (as the modern one shown above) along the side of the current building towards what would have been the wharf buildings at the Ram brewery.

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Image I created years ago to show the remaining wharf buildings at the brewery. The windows are all the same set on the same buildings in these different views.

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The brewery wharf buildings seen in 2012 on Google Streets. One of the wharf buildings’ windows is marked.

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The canal’s route based on OS map 1890s. The Surrey Iron railway’s approximate course is marked red. At right is the Thames (& north.)

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The canal’s former course (part can still be seen circa early 1940s.) Wandsworth High Street at left. Source: Britain from Above.

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A view of the brewery in the early part of the 20th Century. What a lot of people don’t realise is the masts belonging to a pair of barges can be seen above the roofs of the buildings! Not only that a peep through the trusses of the rounded corrugated iron roof at right reveals a part of the canal just north of the terminus basin. Source: Twitter

I am not sure why the sails have been tethered together. Perhaps it was a means of making both vessels (there clearly are two) more stable while goods were transferred (wheelbarrowed possibly) across planks from one to the other. The clock tower stables can be seen in the distance.

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View of the brewery from Garratt Lane, c1910. The trams followed the former Surrey Iron Railway’s route down Ram Street. Source: Twitter

The only structure I can think of which was built when the canal was in use (and in fact the only canal related structure that’s left these days) is the LSWR railway bridge just to the north. Its a short distance west of Wandsworth Town station. Its just not easy to see because the bridge has been considerably widened with steel structures either side and there is a high wall/fence preventing any good view of this. However if one can get a glimpse of any sort the original brick arched bridge across the canal can just be made out.

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The brick arch that once crossed the canal. Despite a very bright day about ten years ago I managed to get a shot of this.

Archive images from Wandsworth borough

I discovered these the other day and although the borough’s archives contain a number of pictures of the Wandsworth or McMurrays’ canal, they are mistakenly labelled as the River Wandle, which it wasn’t even that. The short bit of the Wandle that is partially navigable can only be used at high tide but it never served the brewery at all. There was no need for it to do that because the canal was the better route. I have provided the links to these images where one can examine them fully and purchase any of these if they so wish.

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Allegedly the ‘River Wandle’ lock c 1956 but really the entrance lock to McMurrays canal. Source: Wandsworth Borough Photos

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The swing bridge on McMurrays canal. This was where this lane is just off Smugglers Way as seen in this Google Streets view. The railway bridge can be seen in the background. Source: Wandsworth Borough Photos

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Although this says ‘On the River Wandle’ its actually the Surrey Iron Railway basin (otherwise known officially as Railway Wharf.) The barrel roofed building in the background is actually one that belongs to the brewery! The reason the clock tower cant be seen is probably because this image was shot on a misty day. The various traffic on the barges seen here is amazing! Piles of hay on one barge, aggregates in another, gravel in one more. Source: Wandsworth Borough Photos

These and more (including in filling of the canal) can be seen at Wandsworth Borough Photos

Blog post from February 2018 on the Wandsworth canal & rail remnants.