In the same way that the chalky soil has made Carshalton perfect for growing Lavender, the abundance of spring water also made the area particularly suited to growing watercress. Yes, this simple plant was once grown extensively across the chalky basin of the north downs.
People couldn’t get enough of it. Watercress was popular because of its peppery and tangy flavour. The ghostly image above is of a Carshalton watercress seller painted in the late 1800s. She may well have walked over the causeway between Carshalton Ponds. The causeway having been built in 1820.
Income for the poorest
Watercress sellers were the very poorest residents and relied on the working classes as their principal customers and sold to people such as bricklayers, carpenters, smiths, and plumbers. Sellers were usually female and either young, old, or with some infirmity.
The last remaining watercress bed
It’s fascinating to note that the watercress seller in the top image, is facing the hidden site of Carshalton’s last remaining watercress bed. It’s oblong in shape with curved corners. It’s tucked behind the wall in the distance. This is the small woody area between the car park and the path that runs along the side of the ponds (that leads from Grove Lodge to The Grove itself). It’s now overgrown and filled in.
Why is watercress so good for you?
Watercress contains more vitamin c than oranges, more iron than spinach and more calcium than milk. It was cultivated in the 1800s, and grown commercially in Carshalton in fields all along the side of Mill Lane, amongst other places.
The end of an era
The Carshalton industry declined because of industrial pollution along the river. Plus, an outbreak of typhoid in Croydon in the 1930s spoiled the reputation of the area. Also, the value of the land was increasing due to house building. However, there is cress still growing along the Wandle today.
Kersaulton – it’s all in the name
Watercress has been growing in the area since at least the middle ages (1066 to 1485). Many believe the name Carshalton is derived from the word ‘cress’ and ‘spring’. It was first described as Kersaulton in 1218. Aulton is the old English word for a Spring. Kers is an old name for Cress. There have been at least 29 different spellings for the area of Carshalton since 880.
Words and collating research © Secret Watercress. Seller by local artist William Tatton Winter © Sutton Heritage and Archive services.
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