Merton Priory



On the site where the Roman road from London to Chichester crosses the Wandle, Merton Priory was from 1117 - 1538 AD a major Augustinian house and the site of a church whose nave was longer than Westminster Abbey. Thomas a Becket was educated here c.1130-1140, and two royal coronations were held here - Elanor of Provence in 1236, and Henry VI in 1437. The superstructure of the church was dismantled in 1538 for the construction of Nonsuch Place.

Below ground, the foundations of the monastery complex remain largely intact. Since the Reformation, it become a place of industry with textile printing workshops owned by William Morris until the 1940s and Liberty of London until the 1980s. It is now the subject of a major development proposal by Countryside Properties. Part of the site has become a thriving market - the Merton Abbey Mills.

Merton Priory Public Workshops

Here are notes of the workshops held in June and July 2001. We examined the history and context of the site, and recorded ideas and suggestions from local stakeholders. As a result of the interest from local people, and our representations to the Borough and the developers, during 2002 new architects were selected for the Merton Abbey Mills development, who produced a much better and more sensitive design for this part of the site. The Civic Forum is participating in consultations over the new heritage/visitor centre, and closely monitoring the emerging design by the developers, keeping an eye on the long term future of the site, promoting its importance, and encouraging dialogue between all parties.

Merton Priory Site - the issues - 4 July 2001 at the Chapter House Merton Priory

Tonight’s meeting is primarily informative: to explore the history of the site, and the planning policies that affect development. We hope that this will assist those who are making representations and those who will decide on the current planning application on 11 July.

Roger Casale MP, president of the Wimbledon Civic Forum, gave an introductory message
It is crucial to
• recognise the importance of this site: historical, cultural and economic, and for the identity of Merton.
• involve local people and local communities creatively in shaping its development, because you are the real experts on the area, and your participation will affect the outcome and contribute to success.
In the 1960’s a great amount of development was unsuccessful. Over the last forty years lessons have been learned and it has been the intention of central government, through the Urban White Paper, and the objectives set for the Government of London and through Policy Planning guidance to apply these lessons so that future development can be more holistic and more successful. Development is not just about buildings, it involves wider cultural, social and economic issues as well. It is ultimately about people, and the way we choose to live together as a city.

Dennis Turner, Surrey Archaeological Society, began the history of the site with Merton Chapter House as a place of conference. King Henry III with 30 barons and their households, held at Merton because Westminster Palace was flooded and they were using boats in the Great Hall. The Statute of Merton. Then a chronological history of the site starting with the history of the Roman Road, named by the Saxons and still known as ‘Stane Street’, possibly the stones were used for the foundations of the Priory, its 400 year history as a priory, school, hospital, library: its 400 year history thereafter as a place of industry. In 1800 a copper mill on the east of the site was said to employ 1,000 people, yet Nelson and the Hamiltons were content to set up house half a mile away. The site was a calico works, and with a long history of industry - to the south west eventually Arthur Staurt Liberty which use continued until the 1960s, northwest William Morris, (founder of conservation movement).

Steve Clark director of planning London Borough of Merton picked up the history of the site from 1960s and listed the workshops then existing on the site. He described how they gradually became neglected and the efforts since 1969 of the planning authority to have the area brought back into productive use. There was a shift in policy from retail and leisure into housing. Colliers Wood tube station is 10 minutes walk. It is felt to be near a transport hub but is actually car dependent. Pedestrian and other permeability will need to be achieved as part of the new development.

Marcus Beale, of the Urban Design Task Force, explained that Wandle Valley is one of the 3 key regeneration areas identified in the Government of London’s ‘towards a spatial development plan.’ May 2001. The Wandle Valley is as yet probably the least explored regeneration area of the three. What is being looked for is exemplary sustainable development.

There were 45 minutes of questioning, : Issues included:

* survival of the market - Merton Abbey Mills is a key example 10 years ago of regeneration in the Wandle valley - LBM response - this is a matter for the developer - did not go down well - it is our city
* car dependence - November 1989 agreement included a requirement for 107 spaces at least 20 of which capable to accommodate vans
* if the development were primarily offices rather than residential car parking problem would go away
* scale of development next to a conservation area. How did the policy change from 3 storey to 5 storey? LBM response previous
* use was high density industrial use
* if the RENEW project is incorporated in the Heritage Centre - this would separate it from the water power, source of renewable energy
* consultation by Countryside Properties has been extensive but followed the old model (look what we have done), rather than the new one (what expertise can you bring to the equation)- people know about the project but don't own it
* planning decision could go either way
* dependence on a single approach road is a key weakness especially during construction period
* Is the UDTF report of November 2000 being given proper weight by the planning authority? It is important to keep in mind the 100 year plan for the site
* whatever we do now should not prevent the 100 year plan including re-siting the Merantun Way from happening
* found a new church on the site?
* spread the word, there is great opportunity for creative action here: performance, music culture
* green space to be provided

35 people were present plus the speakers.
The agenda and the aim of the meeting were agreed by the meeting.
Everyone had a chance to speak. The meeting finished at 8.05pm.

Merton Priory - Managing Change - 25th July 2001
at the Long Shop, Merton Abbey Mills

This is a different kind of meeting working with facilitators in groups to come up with positive suggestions. The aim of this meeting is to assess the implications of the planning decision - the agenda from here - and to arrive at issues of importance in the development of the detailed designs which will be fed through to the decision makers for future monitoring in working up the detailed plans.

Marcus Beale - (chair) WCF UDTF
Olawale Duyile - planning officer - LB Merton)
Heather West - WCF UDTF
Sir Jack Zunz - WCF UDTF

Marcus Beale introduced the meeting and described the context of this important site in the Wandle Valley regeneration area, identified in the Government of London's 'Towards a London' plan. (See meeting notes of 4 July 2001 or Government of London web site for further details). He explained that the Wimbledon Urban Design Task Force have been following this development since last year and have looked at the long term future of the site. They have also been in discussion with the developer (Countryside properties) who are supportive of the aims of this meeting and are willing to participate in future meetings, and to meet with the UDTF to discuss issues of detailed design. The purpose is to bring the expertise of local people who know and understand the site well, to bear upon he scheme. Countryside are in the process of interviewing new architects for the scheme,

Olawale Duyile explained the planning situation, referring to Countryside's master plan. On 11 July outline consent was granted for the majority of the site (outside the conservation area), and conservation area consent was granted for the removal of temporary buildings within the Merton Abbey Mills Conservation Area, but planning permission was refused for the proposed development within the conservation area. A new planning application is expected for the Conservation Area, and a detailed application for the main part of the scheme, in due course.

It was clarified that the outline consent establishes the quantum of housing, car parking, and other facilities on the site: detailed consent will go into issues of design, materials, landscape, and so forth.

Sir Jack Zunz emphasised the importance of grounding the discussion in the realities of the situation - we must make the best of what is a less than ideal world.

There followed a question and answer session, and participants offered issues and concerns from here. It was agreed to group the issues into two areas: 'sustainability', and 'arts and crafts tradition'. Arts and Crafts will be discussed at a future meeting in September.

Sustainability Design/Arts and crafts
design for longevity - so that buildings do not have to be knocked down in 30 years time - however remember that some buildings are and should be temporary Is architectural design a planning issue - yes. UDTF think it should not be - urban design only.
Should be exemplary sustainable development The William Morris factor - his approach should be part of the design approach to the project
Sustainability includes (Rio protocol) meeting the needs of today whilst allowing for the needs of tomorrow- does the scheme meet the needs of today?
Are we creating a community, does the community gain?
Is it short term accommodation? Who is the target market?
Merton Abbey Mills is a potential centre for the community - should link to , spring from the existing centre. General:
Affordable housing - is there enough for local needs? Is LB Merton going to issue a revised planning brief for the next stage?
Does the planning brief itself meet sustainable criteria?
Can the power lines be buried? Costed at £3.5million in 1989 - so expensive but not completely out of the question despite archaeology Restaurants are shown under power lines - health issue.
The north one is on the site of the monastic kitchen
Morden Road is already very congested
Existing surrounding roads are already highly controlled, with 1 lane of car and another of buses
Is the development going to generate more traffic? Planning submission included traffic analysis - although note that these do not always look at the full picture
Are people going to change easily to public transport - even when it is improved?
Tramlink extension welcomed by everybody - when is it going to happen?
Concern over single access point: servicing, fire engines, potential grid lock at busy times

Pedestrian permeability - how enclosed will the site be?: Need to avoid splitting the site into industrial park at one end and private housing at the other - need to connect the two
Stagger building operations - so that there is more space for access until public transport improves
Green spaces
Bennets ditch proposal: improvements and a 30m wide strip: this recommendation from GLA welcomed
Green areas - trees, scented garden, memorial garden for the Priory - very important to acknowledge the past in this way and to provide a place for reflection and contemplation - an 'oasis'
Heritage centre
Countryside have offered £250,00 toward the centre - lottery funding might add substantially more
Will lottery funding be forthcoming? Jack Zunz thought a scheme such as this would have a very good chance
Need to do a professional bid - maybe Countryside's money could fund the bidding procedure
A community project would be very appropriate here. Perhaps detach part of the site from the developer and bring it under the control of the community.
Establish a church on the site - even a little one - ecumenical
If further funding available could excavate properly and expose foundations to a greater area than at present
Celebrate the Nelson touch - Royal marines beating the retreat in an open space?
Build a new multi storey car park, mocked up to look like the Abbey?

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