West Barnes and Grand Drive
by local historian Richard Milward
The West Barns of Merton Priory were part of a large farm that extended from Beverley Brook to Merton Common. At the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, they were sold, and seventy years later the land was split between two brothers.
The original “Moat Farm” on the Pyl Brook (opposite where the West Barnes level crossing is today) continued to exist until 1925, even though the railway from Wimbledon to Surbiton went straight across its fields. It was ruined, however, by the building of the Kingston Bypass and the Merton Spur in the early ’20s.
The second, “Park House Farm”, flourished especially under Edward Rayne who managed it from 1822 to 1847. He divided the land into three “parks” – for pasturing sheep and cows, growing peas, turnips and swedes, and producing hay for local horses. After his sudden death, his widow continued to run the farm until, crippled with arthritis, she was forced in 1866 to sell it to the lord of the manor of Morden, Richard Garth.
Garth hoped to develop the area into a high-class suburb, so he laid out a “Grand Drive” from his lands in Morden to the railway, where he persuaded the company to build Raynes Park station. But he was then made Chief Justice of Bengal, and by the time he returned home ten years later, the housing market had slumped and he found few investors. So he had to lease large parts of the land for sport – to the Playing Fields Association and a Golf Club.
By the early 1920s, there was still plenty of undeveloped land. It was bought up by George Blay, an enterprising builder. He laid out the roads off Grand Drive in the 1920s and then the Cannon Hill area in the 1930s – though he carefully left the Common as an open space.
Merton had been transformed. In Rayne’s time a few thousand people lived there. By 1939 there were well over 70,000.