7 January 2015

A fascinating talk on The History of Ham Riverside Lands

Ham Amenities Group (HAG) organised some talks about the area by locals for locals which I found appealing, and so did many others.

The talk on The History of Ham Riverside Lands was given by Sir David Williams, former leader of Richmond Council and a long-time local councillor. It soon became apparent in the talk that he was involved in many of the effort to protect Ham Lands and so was well placed to talk about it.

He started with a brief history of the area that had had various names, including Ham Fields and Ham Pits, before becoming Ham Lands. This started a short discussion among the audience several of whom remembered when it was market gardens or gravel pits.

The exploitation and the protection of the area has been the subject of many laws and the first one that David mentioned was the 1902 act which protected the view from Richmond Park but at the loss of some of the people's rights over the land.

The extraction of gravel started soon after and was the main use of the land for the next fifty years or so.

The last gravel pit closed in 1962. What is left is now is the little lake used by Thames Young Mariners.

As the gravel pits were closed the concrete barges that were used there were abandoned and covered up. These solid lumps of concrete now have a noticeable impact on the way that water moves through the area.

A border was established with Riverside Drive and the Wates Estate was built to the east of this. Being built on recently reclaimed land the estate has continued to suffer from subsidence problems.

The drawing above is from the promotional literature for the Wates Estate and is looking up Croft Way toward the church. The garage was still there when I moved to Ham twenty years ago but has since closed. The clean lines of the estate and the unusual shape of the church and, thankfully, unchanged.

Wates wanted to build to the west of the road too and this was the scene of the last great battle over Ham Lands. They wanted to build in three sections, shown on the map. The locals agreed to building of social housing on the first plot of 5 acres but the Council changed their mind and went for private housing instead in what is now the Locksmeade estate.

In 1979 a strong local campaign started to stop any further building. They were helped by the presence of rare orchids and birds (stone chats) on Ham Lands and eventually the campaign was successful and that section of Ham Lands has been protected.

The land to the south-east of there has housing much closer to the river as the precedence for this had been set by the Sopwith Factory.

I am not by nature a historian but I do care about Ham and this was a fascinating and very informative talk on how Ham Lands came to be and came to be protected.

The next HAG talk on Friday 20 February is Hidden Ham by Ham Photos Blogger Matthew Rees!

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