Barnes in Common
the magazine of Churches Together in Barnes
Saving the Leg o’ Mutton
Every time I walk round the 'Leg o' Mutton' or down the towpath to Hammersmith Bridge, I thank heaven and my old neighbours who, some 45 years ago, saved the whole stretch of land from Hammersmith Bridge to Small Profit Dock from an intensive development scheme.
Tucked away between the Thames and Lonsdale Road, the Leg o' Mutton reservoir is one of the secret delights of Barnes. Named after its odd shape, older and more compact than the Wetlands, its shimmering water reflects a fascinating, changing scene throughout the year.
Coltsfoot appears in February, with golden petals on its scaly stems. In a good year, the 'pussy willow' follows. After that there's an explosion of life and colour as all the trees, including the majestic Spanish poplars along the river side of the lake put out their buds, followed by a white cloud of cow parsley which frames the banks in May. All the time there are so many birds to watch – the swans emerging proudly with their cygnets, an array of wildfowl from noisy coots and ruddy ducks to great crested grebe. Blackbirds and blue-tits compete with the planes overhead; but look away from the aircraft and you may see an unblinking owl watching you, or, as I discovered one afternoon, 61 green parakeets in a sycamore tree.
When we moved to Lonsdale Road in 1953, the whole of the area between us and the river was filled with reservoirs belonging to the Metropolitan Water Board. By the late 50s they were surplus to requirements. The shock arrived in a brief note from Barnes Borough Council (these were pre-Richmond upon Thames days) informing us that unless we lodged an objection to the proposed plans for the MWB land within three weeks the new development would go ahead. The planned development was horrendous. The Leg o' Mutton would be filled with nine thirteen-storey blocks of flats; the site where St Paul's School is now would be a huge shopping centre with high-rise office blocks and more flats.
Without any experience of battling for land, local people formed the Barnes Riverside Residents’ Association. A protest meeting in Holy Trinity Church Hall was packed, with people even leaning in through the open windows. Many experts emerged from that meeting – including a top civil servant experienced in planning matters, and a barrister who would present our case, free of charge. Our milkman became a valued PRO, delivering pamphlets and posters with the 'pintas'.
On the day of the Inquiry the Inspector was faced with formidable opposition. Mercifully for Barnes, we won our case. The entire scheme was dismissed. We had to watch the site for the next twelve years and face two more Inquiries. St Paul's and the Swedish School arrived, leaving us with the final battle for the Leg o' Mutton. For that Inquiry, local artists Jan Pienkowski and David Walser produced a chart showing how the area might become a nature reserve. The scheme was accepted. The riverside was saved.
Barnes has always been, and still is, attractive to developers. It
is only by our constant vigilance and determination that we will keep
it as the 'village' we love.