Wandsworth Gas Company, based by the river on what is now the site of the recycling centre, owned a coal ship named the Wandle, which was the centre of much celebration in Wandsworth this week in 1916. A few days earlier the ship had left Newcastle with a shipment of coal, heading for London, when she was fired upon by a submarine. The decision was made to return fire, and shots were exchanged for about half an hour before the submarine vanished. It was believed that the submarine was sunk by the Wandle, although this is difficult to prove (see here), and the arrival of the crew back in London was greeted with much celebration.
We have a series of scrapbooks called “Wandsworth Notes”, which contain newspaper clippings, magazine articles and photographs about Wandsworth events and history, put together (we think) by one of the early borough librarians of Wandsworth Cecil T Davis. Davis certainly wrote a lot about Wandsworth history, so it seems reasonable to assume that Wandsworth Notes is his work. Seven pages are dedicated to the reception of the Wandle as she returned to Wandsworth, including pictures.
As the Wandle came up the Thames, there were crowds on the riverbanks and bridges to cheer her – the captain was from Greenwich and according to the South Western Star “all Greenwich cheered as his ship as she passed”. The Daily Chronicle reported a huge cheer from Tower Bridge, and thousands of people at Blackfriars and all along Victoria and Albert Embankments. MPs paid their respects from the Westminster terraces, and nurses and patients at St Thomas’s Hospital waved little flags. Wandsworth Bridge was “almost dangerously crowded” as the Wandle reached home territory, flags flew from the gasometers and the crowds were singing, when the Captain actually reached shore he was carried shoulder high by the crowds. The photographs show the gunner being carried in as well, although the papers give more credit to the Captain, and the Mayor announced his intention to grant the Captain a silver medal on behalf of the borough. There is a photograph of the presentation of the medal in Wandsworth Notes – although it isn’t dated and the Council minutes for 1916 do not refer to it, so we can’t be sure when it was taken.
Wandsworth Notes, v4
South Western Star available on microfilm