Until the stone bridge was built in 1886, replacing an earlier wooden structure, which had itself superseded a ferry, this was was called Wandsworth Lane, which meandered through market gardens. The importance of this crossing point cannot be overstated. Until the first bridge was built in 1729 connecting Putney with Fulham, the only bridge across the River Thames in the vicinity of London was the ancient London Bridge itself, the next nearest was at Kingston. Demand for a bridge had been mounting for sometime, not least because the ferries could be driven down as far as Wandsworth in bad weather. However, the decision to go ahead was accelerated by Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister, who in the 1720s, who returning to the House of Commons for a debate after visiting King George I in Kingston found his journey frustrated by the ferryman. He arrived to see him on the other side of the river drinking in the Swan Inn. Despite repeated efforts to grab his attention, Walpole went unnoticed (although there are suggestions the move was politically motivated) and eventually his party had to make the longer journey round to Parliament. Dorian Gerhold writing in Putney and Roehampton Past explains one possible reason: “Putney may have been chosen as the site rather than Westminster or Lambeth because it was less likely to arouse the City of London’s opposition.” The Act for Putney’s first bridge (known as Fulham Bridge) was passed in 1726. When it opened three years later it had 26 arches. It was built by a private company which charged tolls for crossing. The name Putney itself has Anglo-Saxon origins and comes from two words pyttel meaning hawk, and hȳth (landing place), which may be a literal description, from early times there was a fishery based here, that may have attracted hunting birds. Another suggestion however is that it may be named after a person called Putta based on a nickname. Caroline Taggart in The Book of London Place Names writes: “More likely… Putta or his father or grandfather was given this nickname because he kept hawks, looked after hawks for the local lord or, equally plausible, had a hawk-like nose.” Either way, it was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 written as Putelei. This spelling, says John Field in Place-Names of Greater London “exhibits a number of Norman peculiarities, including the confusion of l and n, and an insensitivity to certain other consonant sounds” but having taken the country by storm 20 years earlier the Normans were perhaps less interested in native sensitivities. The name featured again in 1279 written as Puttenhuthe and Putneth in 1474. The first time the contemporary spelling came about was in 1639 when it was recorded as Putney al. Puttenheath.
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