From farmland to country estate, then a Common for the people.
Cannon Hill Common is the last point in a spur of London Clay hills extending
north-west from Rose Hill. It offers good views across London, with Tower 42 (previously known as the NatWest Tower) and Canary Wharf being visible on clear days. Local landmarks such as Crown House and the Wimbledon ridge with Kings College School can also be seen.
Cannon Hill Common was originally part of the lands belonging to Merton Priory and subsequently passed through several owners.
When the estate was sold in 1613 it was described as “a wood called Cannondowne Hill containing 60 acres”. Historical records show that the land had been farmed for centuries before the mansion of the estate Cannon Hill House was build in about 1773 for William Taylor - a military man who served many years in the 32nd regiment and later became a Major-General of the 14th Regiment.
Cannon Hill House has been described as “an impressive stuccoed mansion with surrounding parkland adjoining Cannon Hill Farm” whilst James Edwards in his “Companion from London to Brighthelmston” in 1789/1801 described the house as follows: “half a mile south of the Kingston Road adjoining Merton Common is Cannon Hill. It is a white house situated on an eminence commanding a pleasant and extensive prospect to the east, over a small park or lawn. On the west are suitable gardens, shrubberies etc. and the soil is a stiff black clay”.
The house was sold several times until it was bought in 1832 by Richard Thornton, who made his riches trading in the Baltic and who, when he died in 1865, left nearly three million pounds - the greatest Victorian fortune – worth about £140 million pounds today. After his death the house was little used and in 1880 was described as being empty. It was probably pulled down before the end of the century though the buildings appear on maps into to the 1930s.
In 1924 the estate was bought by George Blay for housing development. A year later, following public pressure against the loss of all public land in the vicinity, he offered the site of the former parkland belonging to Cannon Hill House to Merton and Morden Urban District Council and, after initial doubts; they agreed to purchase 531⁄2 acres for £17,610. It was named Cannon Hill Common though it had never been part of the common land of the manor.
The site of the old Cannon Hill House was declared a bird sanctuary in 1929 and is still a fenced nature reserve which has Open Days once or twice a year.
Today the Common consists of amenity grassland with old oaks, some around 200 years old, allotments, two meadows, woodland and an ornamental lake. The two meadows are allowed to grow long with just one hay-cut taken in July. The South Meadow, bordered on two sides by Cannon Hill Lane and Parkway has been managed in this way since 1976; the North Meadow since 1990. This considerably enhances their ecological value and interest.
Cannon Hill Common is owned and managed by Merton Council and is categorised as a site of borough importance Grade 1. It was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1998.