One of the worst environmental problems in the West Barnes-Raynes Park area was that of flooding. Even in the early 19th century, Edward Rayne had been constantly occupied with it in wet seasons, employing a considerable labour force to throw water off his heavy clay fields and to dig ditches and drains. In 1895 a letter from the Clerk of Wimbledon Borough Council and a report from their Surveyor, C. H. Cooper, were received by the District Council on the flooding of Merton and Wimbledon near Raynes Park recently, and representatives met to consider the matter but in vain. House building later aggravated the problem in modern times by preventing much natural surface drainage. Writing in The News on 16.11.1979, Mr. Gordon Stone recalled how "in the early days of Raynes Park Station, drainage was so bad that rainwater collected under the ... tunnel. On bad days in winter, the rainwater was so deep, men took off their shoes and socks, rolled up their trousers and paddled." A deep drainage scheme here later alleviated the situation.
In 1927, the Raynes Park and West Barnes Residents' Association was formed largely to deal with the local flooding problem. Mr. T. Coleman, writing in The News of 31.1.1969 had said, "on and off during the years the road (Bushey Road) has been awash during heavy rain but not until August (1968) did it assume disastrous proportions". Then thunder storms during which two inches of rain fell, led to flooding throughout the Borough. Plough Lane Stadium was flooded and the Wandle overflowed. Mr Coleman wrote, "Water seeped into the houses backing onto the Alliance Sports Ground (between Bushey Road and Linkway) ... up to a depth of twelve inches. Floor coverings were saturated, wall papers ruined and floor boards soaked." The News reported that at Meadbrook, the Old People's Home in Grand Drive, the ground floor with its thirty three bedrooms there were flooded. 3,000 gallons of water had to be pumped out. There were two feet of water at Kingston Road, Wimbledon Chase. Raynes Park Bridge was blocked by five feet of water, the works car parks at Decca and Bradbury Wilkinson were under water. Clifton Park Avenue was impassable. Shops and houses were flooded at Motspur Park. The Borough Council laid on two service to help the stricken - drying carpets for them at Latimer Road Baths, Wimbledon and the loan of large commercial heaters with blowers, powered by propane gas and capable of drying out a room in two hours. Over two hundred houses in the Borough were affected and 4,000 telephone faults caused.
In 1969, the Borough Council appointed Messrs. Mouchel and Palmer, consulting engineers, to investigate and make reports on the flooding problems, including the West Barnes pumping station drainage area and the housing site there, the capacity of the pumping station and the surface water drainage system. By 1971 the Merton Council had decided to spend £1 million on sewers and drainage in the Raynes Park-West Barnes area, beginning with the foul sewer and the surface water system. The trunk foul sewer ran from the Beverley area through Raynes Park to the Wandle Valley Sewage Works and surface water connections to it were removed, and the West Barnes pumping station renewed. Additional storage and sewer enlargements were to be made to improve the surface water system, which ran from Green Lane, Morden to the Beverley Brook at Coombe Lane. The care of the brooks, Beverley and Pyl, were the responsibility of the Greater London Council and the Thames Water Authority.
Grids were fitted in the brooks to check the build up of rubbish blocking them, but warnings had to be sent out to the residents and others not to dump things in the streams. On 8.1.1971, The News reported that the regular patrols of the streams by the Greater London Council had revealed grids blocked with hedge clippings, old mattresses etc. By 1972 the Greater London Council was planning to put another culvert at Coombe Lane to take extra water there. Still there were floods with two inches of water in houses. In 1982 the Greater London Council decided to carry out bank raising and the creation of flood plains in the area. Thames Water, responsible for sewers, was planning to put three more pumping stations and a new wall round the brooks' banks. In 1986 The News still reported floods, in times of heavy rain, but the problem has been much eased.
Miss Jowett may have spoken too soon ! See our collection of photographs of the flooding in October 2000.
Text reproduced, with the permission of the publishers, from "Raynes Park with West Barnes and Cannon Hill - A Social History" by Evelyn M. Jowett M.A. (Oxon), published by the Merton Historical Society, 1987 (ISBN 0 950 1488 5 7). This book is currently out of print, though available from local libraries. For details of a more recent publication about the history of the area, see the Chairman's Notes for December 2000.