Bedford Hill, SW16

Place Name

The land on which this road was laid over was once owned by the dukes of Bedford. The Bedford family certainly knew how to marry well. Through judicious unions and canny purchases throughout the 16th to 18th centuries they expanded their estates to own vast swathes of land across the modern capital and beyond. And so it was with Wriothesley Russell, later second Duke of Bedford (November 1, 1680 – May 26, 1711) , whose marriage to the heiress Elizabeth Howland secured, among much else, Streatham Manor. The couple tied the knot on May 23, 1695 and in so doing a dowry of some 150 acres of prime farmland known as Charringtons, but better known to us today as Balham, came with the bride. The marriage was short-lived, but evidently happy, the couple had six children, although the eldest two, both boys both named William Russell died in infancy. But marital duties aside Lord Russell, who was styled the Marquess of Tavistock until he took over the dukedom on his grandfather’s death (his father having been executed for high treason) in 1700, was kept busy with affairs of state. He had matriculated at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1696, and soon afterwards began improving the land in Rotherhithe that had been given to him by his new father-in-law, creating Howland Wet Dock (today’s Greenland Dock in the Docklands). His father’s involvement in the Rye House to ambush Charles II and his brother James near Hoddesdon,  did not stop Wriothesley entering into court service following the Glorious Revolution which put William III on the throne. He became a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, a role that gave him great power in influencing the newly installed king. And when the king died, served as Lord High Constable of England for the coronation of Queen Anne. He also held the offices of Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Middlesex between 1701 and 1711. But then he died from smallpox, aged 30. While the Bedford name went down through the male line, it also belonged to their wives and mothers, in this case Elizabeth Howland (1682 – July 29, 1724), the Duchess, without whom, the Bedfords would not have had an association with the area in the first place. And so, if one individual were to be credited with the street name it should go to her. Elizabeth, was exceptionally wealthy in her own right. She was the only daughter of John Howland, and granddaughter of Sir Josiah Child – the powerful chairman of the East India Company. Elizabeth’s marriage at the age of 13 to the 14-year-old Marquess of Tavistock only cemented the family’s privilege. The marriage was all the more important for the Howland family on account that her younger and only sibling, a boy named John, had died aged three months. The Duchess made Tooting her principle home and papers show that she took a keen interest in the day-to-day running of the estate, along with her mother. Edward Theobald was steward of the Duke of Bedford’s Streatham estates from 1711 to his death in 1738. His papers, which survive, show the Howland family kept a close eye on expenditure. They insisted, and frequently got, favourable rates from regular tradesmen “At any rate, those consistently deprived of the odd penny or even shilling continue to supply the household over long periods. The Duchess sometimes initialled bills, but less frequently than her mother. Nevertheless, she still kept a close watch on household affairs as her letters to Theobald about re-tinning the kitchen pans and killing hogs show. It is tempting to speculate that the 3rd Duke’s extravagance was a reaction to this careful scrutiny of every item of expenditure…One of the men made regular shopping trips to London and his expenses often include a few pence to the poor, given on Mrs Howland’s orders. She also paid for ‘church bread’ to be distributed to the poor of the parish at the church. (There used to be pigeon holes in St Leonard’s in which this bread was placed). The bundles also include many receipts for the payment of teachers for the school founded by Mrs Howland, although judging by their writing the teachers cannot have been of very high quality. The revenues of Tooting Bec Manor also contributed to an exhibition at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge. Prisoners received a regular bounty.” Like her husband Elizabeth contracted smallpox and died. A century later, with farming in decline, the Bedford family sold the land to Richardson Borradaile, a merchant and MP, who built Bedford Hill House (a back formation, it being named after the hill)  – said to be a beautiful ivy-clad mansion situated where Veronica Road is now, roughly between Nos 12 and 18 with Bedford Hill as its private drive. In 1843 the house and its estate were sold to William Cubitt, brother of the builder Thomas Cubitt. Together they improved the house and grounds, adding an ornamental lake which lay by Elmbourne Road. The family enjoyed uninterrupted views towards Balham until 1855 when a railway embankment was built along Balham High Road and Bedford Hill. A year later Balham Station opened and landowners were put under pressure to release land for much-needed homes. Alfred Heaver bought the now empty house and parkland. Ritherdon Road was the first to be laid out in 1888 and was to be the main access to the estate. That same year Heaver applied to construct Streathbourne, Drakefield and Louisville Roads across the grounds of Elms Farm and the nearby mansion Streatham Elms, and by the time they were completed in 1892, he was already building more roads running north off Ritherdon Road. With around twelve different styles of property, the Heaver Estate had now reached the neglected gardens around Bedford Hill House and when Veronica Road was built in 1897, it was demolished.


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