Cannon Hill Common did not exist until 1925 when the Merton and Morden Urban District Council purchased 53.5 acres (21.45 hectares) of the original Cannon Hill Park. The name is a little misleading, as there has never been any "common land" on this open space! It was simply a park that was established in the 1800s and was renamed by the new owner in the 1920s.
In the 1500s the Augustinian Canons of Merton Priory owned what was then called "CannondownhyII". The unproven change of name is loosely associated with the Parliamentarian forces (Cromwell's mob) that occupied the hill in the 17th century during the English Civil War and had the benefit of being armed with a cannon. Being the fourth highest hill on this side of London it could have provided a form of advance warning of King's Cavaliers coming to attack the Roundheads. At one time a row of cottages in Cannon Hill Lane was called Cromwell Villas.
In 1763 William Taylor acquired the freehold of the site and built Cannon Hill House. At that time this area was adjoined to Merton Common. The 1932 Ordinance Survey map for this area shows that Cannon Hill House was located near to the London Wildlife Trust reserve and in the area known as the Orchard. The house was built from local bricks that were probably made from the black clay taken from the depression that we now know as the lake. Sadly, with no one to inherit, the house fell into disrepair and was demolished sometime during the 1930 – 1940s.
There have been a variety of owners and associations with families whose names have become familiar throughout this area as road or place names – Garth, Whatley, Bushey and Raynes. George Blay called his first row of completed houses Firstway. Those were the days – 3 bedroom house for £675.00 and a three monthly season ticket between Raynes Park and Waterloo on the new "Southern Railway" cost £4.87 1/2p!)
The re-titled Cannon Hill Common had its first Park Ranger, Mr GEB Humphrey, appointed in 1928. His wage was £2.25p per week plus a rent-free cottage and uniform. It was the year before that the area around the lake was designated a bird sanctuary. In 1998 the enclosure behind the pavilion was declared a nature reserve under the management of the London Wildlife Trust.
In 1974 angling on the lake was banned in order to protect the wildlife using this area. Angling was re-introduced to the lake in 2001 by the Leisure Services Department under the auspices of and control of the Merton and Cheam Junior Angling Club. This is the only fishery within the whole of the London Borough of Merton. Also, its management is totally reliant upon voluntary bailiff support and any investment or controls on the lake is dependent upon the goodwill of agencies external to Merton.
Finally, a quote from Southern Railway's promotional booklet "The Country at London's Door" (1926-27) to show how things were then:
"Purchased by Merton and Morden Urban District council from George Blay. The property is nearer to Merton, has remained wholly rural, consisting of pastureland, pleasantly interspersed with elms, rising gently to the ground of Cannon Hill House, of which a considerable area had been absorbed by the Raynes Park Golf Club" (Now moved to Coombe Lane and the "proported" original golf club boundary markers can be seen along the pavement edge of the house on the Raynes Park side of the Bushey Road and Grand Drive cross roads.)
A local resident has taken the time to produce an informative video history of the area, please click the following links to view it:
Leisure and Culture Services
Merton Civic Centre
Telephone: 020 8545 3678 or 020 8545 3930
Fax: 020 8545 3237