How Putney started life

The first reference to Putney is in the Domesday Book of 1086 and is known as Putelei.

Its early history is with that of fishing and ferries with some rare but fine salmon to be caught in the Thames at Putney along with Sturgeon and Porpoise! Evidence of this can be found in the timbers from an Anglo-Saxon fish trap, radio carbon dated to be approximately 500AD, and can be seen at low tide near the District Railway Line.

Putney has been home to boat building sheds, boat clubs and boat houses, and has a long history in aquatic matches and regattas on the river Thames. Putney is also the starting point of the University boat race with Mortlake as the finish line.

The Cromwell’s, the debates and Putney

Before Oliver Cromwell came Thomas Cromwell, favoured by Henry VIII, was born (1485) in Putney, believed to be in the Putney Heath area, in the old Manor of Wimbledon, which is  the site of the current public house “The Green Man”.

Although the Cromwell’s were not directly related, there is a family link. Thomas Cromwell’s older sister Katharine married Morgan Williams a welsh lawyer and they had a son Richard who later served in Thomas’s household and changed his name to Cromwell as he admired Thomas power and standing. Oliver Cromwell was Richard’s great grandson.

Thomas Cromwell was earl of Essex, Vicar General of the Spiritualties and Baron of Oakham in Rutlandshire to name but a handful of titles bestowed on him. He fell out of favour and was executed at the command of the King in 1540.

In 1647, Oliver Cromwell, jealous of parliament and the King who resided at Hampton Court, chose Putney as the base for his army to monitor their respective movements. During his time in Putney, the Putney debates took place and on the 28th October 1647 the leaders of Parliamentary Army, representatives of rank and file and London radicals, converged on St Mary’s Church, Putney. Charles I was imprisoned, and part of the debates focus on what to do with the King and the future of the conduct of Parliament.

When King Charles II, having refused to accept the concept of a constitutional monarchy escaped from Hampton Court, Cromwell wanted to pursue him into Surrey and the quickest way was to cross the river but with no bridge at the time he instructed a bridge of long boats and vessels to straddle the river between Fulham and Putney to allow passage for his army and artillery

The debates herald and are the basis of modern democracy, forming the basis of our voting system with a constitutional monarch. One argument was that the vote should only be afforded to owners of property worth more than 40 shillings. The other argument, led by Colonel Thomas Rainsborough “I think the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he”. The vote was taken to extend the right to vote to the majority except servants and beggars (not women) until 1916.

According to folklore, Oliver Cromwell spent his time trying to beautify Putney by planting Mulberry trees everywhere.

Putney Hospital for Incurables founded in 1854 by Dr Andrew Reed situated on the summit of West Hill and the largest employer in Putney was established to “cherish and relieve persons above the pauper class suffering from incurable maladies and thereby disqualify them from the duties of life”. This is now the Royal Hospital of Neuro-Disability and the largest employer in Putney dependant on charitable donations.

The Waterman School in Putney was founded in 1684 by a London merchant, as a token of his gratitude, for being saved from drowning by a Putney Waterman

Noted private duels

Putney Heath saw many “affairs of honour” duels. In 1652, a duel between George third Lord Chandos & Colonel Henry Compton resulted in the death of the latter. Mr William Pitt (Prime Minister) and Mr George Tierney (MP) exchanged shots. Thankfully, it ended without bloodshed.

According to writer Samuel Pepys, Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York, used to run their horses across Putney Heath. Putney church near the bridge is dedicated to St Mary built originally as a chapel of ease to Wimbledon. Its precise date is unknown but records refer to an ordination in 1302.



In 1671, a Bill for the building of a bridge was brought to the Houses of Parliament. Many members objected stating that “the city of London would be irretrievably damaged by its construction”. An Act of Parliament was passed due to the efforts of Sir Robert Walpole and a timber bridge was eventually built in 1729. The Bridge was designed by Sir Jacob Ackworth, famous for the design of Kingston, Chertsey, Steans (Staines), Datchet and Windsor bridges.

A sum of £62 was collected and divided between the widows and children of poor watermen families of Fulham and Putney as recompense to their fraternity post the building of the bridge and the loss of the ferrymen.

The Bishop of London reserved the right to pass over the bridge, toll free, while the king had to pay a sum of £100 per annum for himself and his household to cross. The Bishop of London still reserves such rights today!!

According to folklore, two sisters built the identical churches, St Mary’s at Putney and All Saints at the Fulham side of the river.

They were in the habit of visiting each other and lived on opposite sides of the river in the churches they resided in. One would call the ferry and declare “Full Home!”

While the other would say “Put Nigh!”, hence how Fulham and Putney took their names.

There are bells on both sides of the river and they were erected to warn of trouble at the tolls when serious affray used to break out at having to payto cross the bridge. The bells are still there today (erected in 1730).