A few years ago an article was published in which a refined elderly lady described how she had managed to afford a Knightsbridge1 address by buying a short leasehold flat. 'Otherwise,' she concluded, 'I'd have ended up in some godforsaken place like Putney.' What's more, Putney is part of what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle referred to as 'the cultural desert of south London'. But it's not that bad...
This entry concentrates on a slim triangle of Putney that starts at Putney Bridge and travels along the river and the Lower Richmond Road to the towpath and the Common. This area used to be called Thamesfield, but was swallowed by Putney, which in turn was swallowed by Wandsworth.
Famous People in Putney
Thomas Cromwell (1485 - 1540), the statesman who negotiated Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon and drafted the laws that led to the establishment of the Church of England, was born in Putney. You may remember him as the main villain in the film A Man for All Seasons.
Edward Gibbon (1737 - 1794), author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was also born in Putney.
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 - 1797), early feminist, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women and mother of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein. She threw herself off Putney Bridge, but was rescued by a passing boat.
William Pitt the Younger (1759 - 1806) got into an altercation with an MP named George Tierney during a particularly heated Prime Minister's Question Time back in 1798, and the two men fought a duel in Putney. The duellists were evenly matched: Pitt was a terrible shot, but Tierney compensated by being a better target as he was much fatter. In any case, all the bullets missed.
Putney Common belongs to the Spencer family, as in the late Lady Diana Spencer, who became Diana, Princess of Wales. The Spencers wanted to turn it into Executive Housing, but the doughty Putney residents wouldn't let them. The only vestige of the family in Putney is the Spencer Arms pub on the verge of the Common.
On the edge of Putney Common in Queen's Ride is the tree Marc Bolan 2 smashed into when he died, which fans have turned into an informal shrine.
David Mellor3 used to be MP for Putney until he lost the constituency spectacularly in the 1997 General Election.
Will Carling, ex-England rugby captain, used to live in Putney.
Putneywood - Putney as a Film Location
Many films and TV dramas have been shot in Putney. Though there is plenty of filming, the only people you actually see are clapper loaders, grips, gaffers and executive producers talking into mobile phones. You often see a white stretched limo, but you can't see who is inside.
Five or six times a year there are film crews working on Putney Embankment. If you ask nicely they'll give you a bacon sandwich from their butty wagon - film crews like to keep the locals happy to discourage them from talking loudly or wandering into frame at crucial moments during the filming.
Films and TV series that have been shot in Putney include:
The Omen - There are two identical churches at either end of Putney Bridge, one of which was used in the film The Omen. Even stranger than the plot of that movie is the fact that there are identical Modernist office blocks at either end of the bridge, too.
True Blue - If you stand on Putney Bridge and look west, upstream, you'll see a red-painted stone to your left. This marks the start of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race and makes this a major location of the film True Blue and, of course, the BBC's live broadcast of the Boat Race every year.
The Sweeney - Looking towards the Putney side of the river, you can see a brand new gourmet restaurant called Putney Bridge. There used to be a dingy café on this site which was immortalised as a rendezvous for villains in at least one episode of The Sweeney, the 1970s cop show starring John Thaw and Dennis Waterman. The original café was far too cheap and scruffy to actually eat in, while the new restaurant is far too expensive and flashy to actually eat in. So no change there.
101 Dalmatians - A little further on, and inland from the Embankment, is Putney Hospital, on the edge of the Common. For several weeks in the winter of 1999 the car park of this mysterious building was crowded with film vehicles - gossip has it they were shooting 101 Dalmatians.
TFI Friday - Further up the river, towards Hammersmith and on the northern side of the Thames, is Riverside Studios. This was once a busy venue for film lectures, but later became well-known as the venue for Chris Evans's TFI Friday show.
Drinking in Putney
Putney has several bars and public houses.
The Half Moon pub in the Lower Richmond Road is quite famous and offers live music. It was the venue for U2's first London gig.
But by far the most remarkable pub in Putney is the Putney Brick at the end of Waterman Street, which was formerly known as the Bricklayers Arms. Go there any time of day, any day of the week and you'll notice that all the customers are 27 years old.
The other major watering hole is the Star and Garter, a large old pub which stands between Lower Richmond Road and Putney Embankment and overlooks the river, and is therefore very useful for summertime al fresco drinking.
Eating in Putney
Putney is so well-supplied with Indian restaurants it earned a mention on the topical UK TV quiz Have I Got News for You.
Strangely, many Indian restaurants in Putney specialise in those brightly-coloured, milder Bengali dishes. Top Indian restaurant tips are The Ganges, and The Shapla, which is a take-away rather than a proper restaurant. If you don't like the Bengali style, The Bombay Bicycle, which serves excellent north and south Indian dishes, comes highly recommended.
Equally strangely, there are hardly any Chinese restaurants. However, the balance is redressed four miles away in Richmond, which has many excellent Chinese restaurants and curiously few Indian ones. The free market is supposed to be efficient, but what about the fuel used up by diners whizzing backwards and forwards along the South Circular Road?
Shopping in Putney
Putney High Street leads due south from Putney Bridge. This is a very ordinary shopping area, but does boast an excellent dentist.
The High Street houses the usual collection of Marks and Spencer, BHS, Next, Waitrose, Sainsbury's, Gap, Thorntons and Argos.
However, there are three specialist shops worthy of mention:
Beggars Banquet is an excellent independently-owned music shop. The staff are very knowledgeable, prepared to chat, and happy to order anything for you.
Butterfly is a second-hand clothes shop which sells cast-off designer gear.
Farrago, is a terrific gift and gadget emporium near the corner entrance of the Putney Exchange shopping centre.
Other Pastimes in Putney
Football in Putney
Putney has no professional football team, but there is a primitive pitch lost among the trees on the Common. When the wind is in the right direction and Fulham is playing at home at Craven Cottage, you might be able to watch amateurs hacking about in the mud and listen to the cheers of Fulham's crowd from the other side of the river, but that's as close as you can get to enjoying the thrills of a first-class game without leaving the district.
Gambling in Putney
Places to buy lottery tickets in the Lower Richmond Road: 3.
Places to buy winning lottery tickets in the Lower Richmond Road: 0.
Having your Hair Cut in Putney
There are lots of unisex hairdressing establishments, but most are part of large hairdressing chains with no atmosphere. A good place for a haircut is Bridge Cutters, which is independently-owned. If you like to chat about good music, ask for Kevin.
Walking in and Around Putney
Putney Common is a pleasant place for walking, if you like dogs and don't mind wandering through Barnes Graveyard, a disused cemetery (if 'disused' is the right word; all cemeteries are to some extent disused, but this one is very old, has no walls round it and is lost among the trees).
Jilly Cooper4 has written extensively about walking on Putney Common, but perhaps the best walk is along the river bank to Barnes, which follows the route of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. There are trees to shade you on sunny days; there are cyclists, rowers, joggers, swans, ducks and even cormorants to keep you occasional company. There's also a choice of pubs half-way, in the vicinity of Hammersmith Bridge.
Mysteries of Putney
The Mystery of Putney Hospital - Lots of hospitals have no casualty departments these days, but Putney Hospital doesn't appear to have any nurses. You never see anyone in a nurse's uniform at the bus stop or taking a stroll on the common. You never see anyone who looks as if she might be a nurse in ordinary clothes...
The Mystery of Putney Benches - Quite close to Putney Hospital is another weird phenomenon. There are three benches on Putney Common, one on the left side of the Lower Richmond Road and two on the right. The Common is fairly extensive (40 acres) and judging by the queues at the check-outs of Waitrose and Sainsburys on Saturday morning there are quite a lot of Putney residents. However, against all expectations, these three benches are more than sufficient, as you never see anybody sitting on them.
The Mystery of The Disappearing Horse Show - Speaking of the Common, they used to hold something called the Putney Weekend and Horse Show here in late summer, complete with marching bands, farm animals and a bouncy castle. Then it became the Putney Show. Last year they didn't hold it at all. Londoners will recognise a pattern here. There used to be a London department store called Bourne and Hollingsworth. Then it became Bournes. Then it closed down altogether.
Finally, a Couple of Warnings
Warning One - Putney residents have already paid an extortionate fee for a parking permit. Anyone else will find it very hard to find a meter. The Putney Exchange Shopping Centre has a car park, and that is probably your safest bet.
You may notice there is unrestricted parking alongside the river, but you'll also notice walls and banks of earth to protect the residents from flooding. This dates back to 1928, when quite a few Putney people died in basement flats. There's no risk of drowning any more, but the Thames here is tidal, and drivers taking advantage of the lack of parking meters along the river can find their cars axle-deep, or even steering wheel deep, in the Thames5. Always check which direction the river is running before leaving your car. Left to right means the tide's going out, right to left means it's coming in and you'll have to find somewhere else to leave the car.
Warning Two - If you ever come to this part of Putney, particularly if you're visiting someone and have to find an address, be sure to bring a map with you. This is because Putney residents cannot give directions.
They know where they live, obviously, and they know how to get to the pub or the library, but they don't know the names of any of the streets in between, because they all look the same. If you don't know what London suburbs look like, imagine a huge location shoot for Monty Python. The house next to this Researcher's house looks a bit like the one Michael Palin went into dressed as a milkman. And so do all the others.
Getting to Putney
Putney is very well-served by buses, tubes6 and the rail network. When the tubes are on strike you can use the buses. If the buses are on strike too, you can use the rail network. And if they all go on strike together, you can always walk into work.
Having said that, most Putney residents insist on taking their cars into town, and end up queuing7 to get over Putney Bridge - utter madness.
Many bus routes go through Putney. Here are a few useful ones:
From Hyde Park Corner to Putney High Street, take a number 14 (also Routemasters).
From Oxford Street to Putney High Street, take a number 74.
Take the District Line to Putney Bridge station on the Wimbledon branch, and then a brisk walk over the bridge, or take a number 265 hopper-type bus to Putney Common.
Very frequent trains from London Waterloo, via Clapham Junction, to Putney Rail station.
From Putney Rail station there are fairly frequent trains to Richmond, Hounslow and out towards Windsor.