diamond geezer

 Thursday, June 07, 2012

I recently declared Sutton the most boring borough in London, based on having visited every London borough in search of interesting things to visit. So with news that Sutton has just opened a new museum, I thought I'd best pay an inquistive visit. What could it possibly contain, and would it be worth the trip? And I'm still not changing my mind about Sutton's overall interestingness. But I can reassure you that Honeywood Museum is lovely.

Location: Honeywood Walk, Carshalton SM5 3NX [map]
Open: 11am - 5pm (from 10am weekends) (closed Mon, Tue)
Admission: free
Website: www.friendsofhoneywood.co.uk

You'll find Honeywood beside Carshalton Ponds, which are a splendid water feature near the source of the Wandle. One of the springs rises behind the house and flows underneath into Upper Pond - an ornamental feature that's thought to have been created for a local Jacobean nobleman. Honeywood itself is an architectural hotchpotch, mostly well-to-do Victorian weatherboard, but with a flint and chalk chequer wall embedded in the interior that's definitely 17th century. A variety of owners have passed through, from a slave trader to a photographic rep, until eventually it fell into the hands of the council. They made it a Heritage Centre, fairly low-key, but a recent Lottery grant enabled an upgrade verging on full transformation. Look for the ducks at the water's edge, and you'll not go far wrong.

"You looking for the toilet?" asked the nice lady at reception. She was pleased to discover I was a genuine visitor - I think me being under 60 threw her - apparently they get a lot of throughflow from the new Honeywood cafe nextdoor. She recommended I start in the Carshalton Village room, where I learnt a lot about Carshalton Village, whilst standing uncomfortably close to the next cafe patron availing themselves of the adjacent facilities. The billiard room has been sympathetically restored, with bright green baize and balls surrounded by brown leather sofas. Opposite in the drawing room I learnt about Suttonites at play, including the nugget that sausage'n'icecream magnate Thomas Wall lived locally and donated the football ground that's now home to Sutton United. One cabinet contained an endearing copy of Sky-Lark magazine, an Edwardian family production complete with handwritten articles and stuck-in photos. Only one copy was ever made, in a feint-lined book, then handed around from house to house for everyone to read.

Upstairs, up twisty carpeted suburban treads, further display spaces tucked away in the many bedrooms. The River Wandle provides the greatest amount of local history, beautifully depicted on two interactive maps, and plenty of detail of old mills and industry and the like. There aren't many actual exhibits - Honeywood's displays are mostly text-based - although there is a trout, and a chunk of William Morris printing block. I liked the Childhood Room, as did a three year old girl visiting with her dad, but for different reasons. She liked playing with all the newer stuff on the floor, whereas I liked the collection of vintage games in the display cases. Victorian children playing the board game Fairyland - Through The Enchanted Forest faced hazards such as "Savage Two-headed Cat" and "Ask me for a cabbage". As for "Flying Caps", where hand-shaped flippers fired paper dunce's caps towards a grid of holes, I'd be amazed if anybody ever managed to score any points.

The largest room, looking out over the pond, contains a striking cartographical record of the growth of Sutton. The borough was once a string of minor villages surrounded by fields, until the railways came, and all those fields were gradually, inexorably, completely covered by houses. That'll explain why there's not much actual long-term history in the borough, which is why they're making the most of Honeywood. Its displays will mean most to folk who live nearby, but that's not to say more distant lovers of heritage won't enjoy the place too. As Ian wrote on the board on the landing... "Best coffee and panini I've had in ages. Great refurb! Well done".

Also in the immediate area...
  • Knitted ducks: They may not be here for long, but yarnbombers tied two long lines of red white and blue waterfowl to the railings on the bridge across the Carshalton Ponds especially for the Diamond Jubilee. Simple, but hugely effective. [photo] [photo]
  • Sutton Ecology Centre: Just across from Honeywood, in the grounds of The Lodge, this tightly-packed acre contains woodland, a pond, walled garden, composting area and other ecologically sound features. Grab a map leaflet on the way in to explore fully. It's all very nicely done, not too scrubbed up, and was being much enjoyed by several families on my visit.
  • Carshalton Water Tower: Grade II listed pumping station for the gardens of Carshalton House. It's not often open, now being part of a school, but you can visit on summer Sunday afternoons, and this weekend for Open Garden Squares.
  • The Grove Park: The upper Wandle flows through, via an ornamental cascade, past a restored water mill.
  • Carshalton: Much nicer than Wallington.

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