Friday, April 8th 2014
Today is Good Friday and Tigger has the day off from work. We have an out-of-town expedition planned for tomorrow so we thought we should choose an in-town trip today. For no particular reason, we chose Sutton. It is easy to reach by railway from St Pancras. We had taken a look at the town in November 2009 (see From St Pancras to Sutton) so this would be a return visit.
Down underneath the station concourse at St Pancras are the platforms for the Thameslink route. This goes north to Bedford and south to Brighton with various other destinations including Gatwick Airport. Here were caught a train to Sutton.
While waiting for the train I took a few photos, including the above self-portrait. These are the cctv screens on the platform provided for the train driver to see all along the train while passengers are embarking and disembarking.
After a short journey we arrived at Sutton. This town was once located in the county of Surrey until 1965 when the ever expanding monster, Greater London, finally reached and absorbed it. Sutton is now a London Borough.
Looking around you in Sutton today, it is hard to imagine that there was ever anything here but streets, buildings and traffic. The truth is, though, that it started as a small 6th or 7th century settlement and was an agricultural village throughout the Middle Ages. It appears in Domesday Book as Sudtone, a name that derives from Anglo-Saxon suth and tun, meaning ‘south’ and ‘farmstead’, respectively. The turnpike road from London to Brighton was built through Sutton in 1755 but the Sutton’s modern expansion began in the second half of the 19th century after the railway reached in it 1847 and it became a Victorian commuter town.
Almost the first thing we saw on leaving the station was this unusual sight: a monk. The brown robes suggest a Franciscan but, apart from that, I haven’t a clue as to who this monk is or where he is going. The staff and the determined gait suggest that he is on a journey. With his cloak billowing in the wind, he looked like a figure from a medieval tapestry. (See Update below.)
Here follow some of the other things we saw as we wandered around Sutton.
A large painting on the end wall of a row of houses caught our attention. The line of sight to it was somewhat obscured by an enclosure with a wooden fence. The portrait (I imagine it is taken from life) is competently done but I could see no indication of the artist. Was it “guerrilla art” a la Banksy or was it commissioned? I don’t know. Update September 11th 2014: The picture is a commissioned portrait of Erykah Badu (see comment below).
We found our way to the High Street, which is quite long and pedestrianized along much of its length. On a corner of the High Street with Sutton Court Road stands a pub with the allusive name of The Cock and Bull. I don’t know whether there is any particular reason for it being given this name which has proverbial and historical resonances.
Above the pub door is this rather fetching relief and below it, the number 26. That is slightly odd, because the pub advertises its address as number 30 High Street and according to English Heritage listings, numbers 26 and 28 belong to other premises. More interesting, though, is the appearance of the caduceus, the staff with two entwined serpents. This is the staff of the Greek god Hermes, the messenger of the gods but also sometimes regarded as a the god of medicine. In modern times, the caduceus is generally taken as the symbol of medicine. Originally, the staff with one or more entwined serpents was known as the Rod of Asclepios, after its owner, the god Asclepios, associated with medicine and healing. Hermes seems to have inherited or stolen the staff from Asclepios. That, however, does not answer the question as to why a caduceus has been used to decorate a pub.
In Grove Road is the massive bulk of a matched set: the Post Office and the Telephone Exchange. I don’t know when they were built and the façades provide no clues (unless I missed them). I would guess a date in the first half of the 20th century.
Next to the Post Office and Telephone Exchange is a neat little building whose discreet brass plate on the door declares it to be a member of the Sutton & District Masonic Lodges Association. Its own Web site names it as the Sutton Masonic Hall. What I know about the Masons could be written on a postage stamp so I don’t know whether this counts as a lodge or not. If it is, then it’s about the smallest I have seen so far. It’s a pity the unsightly ventilator disfigures the doorway. I imagine that originally there would have been a rather pretty glass fanlight there.
What looks like a set of seven windows that have been boarded up and painted is called the Sutton Twin Towns Mural. There is an information panel near the mural that explains each of the elements but I did not study it closely. An article in the Sutton Guardian gives some information on this.
This sign stands where the High Street is crossed by a thoroughfare comprising two major roads, the Cheam Road (to the left) and the Carshalton Road (to the right). It represents the location of the ancient Cock Inn which once stood here. What now appears to be an ordinary urban junction is the place where in 1755, the new turnpike road from London met the turnpike road from Carshalton. Each had a toll booth here. The inn and the toll booths are long gone and only the sign remains to as witness to their erstwhile existence.
What many would consider Sutton’s “jewel in the crown” (appropriately enough) is Trinity Church or, rather, its tower with the crown spire. Built of Kentish rag stone with Bath stone dressings, the church was opened in 1907 and since then has been Sutton’s perhaps best known landmark.
The High Street end of Hill Road has been closed to traffic, forming a pedestrian area or small square. There I photographed the above wooden sculpted animals, a cock who seems to be spying on a pair of pigeons and a snail sailing serenely along. I am not sure whether they are intended as seats (they’d be a bit lumpy) or as art, but they add something to the setting.
On a wall here is displayed the Sutton Heritage Mosaic. It was installed in 1994 and comprises 19 panels, each representing an element in Sutton’s heritage. Near it is a plate explaining the meanings of the panels. This was erected only in 2011, so the inhabitants of Sutton had presumably had to go by guesswork for the previous 17 years. The name is significant because I think it fair to say that Sutton has heritage rather than history.
The armillary sphere was erected by the Rotary Club, partly to celebrate the Millennium and partly to celebrate its own achievements. The armillary apparently replaced a sundial that was there previously and it too tells the time, if you are knowledgeable enough to be able to read it. Of course, it works only when the sun is shining and is therefore useless at night or in dull weather – the most likely state of affairs in the UK. Still, I suppose it is quite decorative and may stimulate some to take an interest in astronomy and horology.
Nearby is a store run by a company that used to be called Wilkinson but these days seems to prefer to use its popular nickname, Wilko. Part of its façade is covered with greenery. I am not sure whether this serves any useful purpose other than the pleasure of novelty but I saw that this vertical lawn also included a nesting box. I could not see whether it had attracted any residents. Nice if it did.
These days, every town centre, even on week days, hosts one or several balloon sellers. This surprises me somewhat as I cannot imagine that they sell enough to make it worth their while. Maybe I am wrong or maybe they are just earning pin money. They do at least add colour to the surroundings. This one saw I was taking his photo and gave me the hard stare.
Feeling in need of refreshment, we stopped at a handy branch of Costa. It occupies the ground floor of what I assume was once a house and the upper storeys still seem to be residential.
By the time we stopped for coffee, I admit I was feeling rather jaded. To be honest, Sutton, for all its “heritage”, is a pretty dull place. I was looking forward to leaving.
My last photo in Sutton before stepping gratefully onto a bus was the above that seems to symbolize the “Sutton experience”. We will not be hurrying back.
The bus took us to Morden and although we knew that there places of interest to visit here, we decided to call it a day. To my surprise, Tigger suggested taking the tube – something she normally avoids – and soon we were jolting and bouncing northwards to the Angel and home.
Update May 1st 2014
It appears that my “monk” is a well known local figure and not a monk at all, at least, not in the accepted sense.
He is known as the “Wizard Man of Sutton” and this newspaper article is just one of the references to him on the Web.
Thanks to MichaelH for putting me on the right track. (See his comment below.)