Old Images of Merton, London

Categorised as Greater London
Old Photo of Suffragettes at a Garden Party at Dorset Hall Merton London

Glimpse history through old images of Merton, London.

A Surprising Hidden History

The A24 at Merton is the modern road along a route first created by the Roman army to connect London with Chichester. But it’s the religious history of the area which has kept archaeologists busy for many years.

The huge Sainsbury’s superstore is located on site which was, between the years 1117 and 1538, home to an impressively large church called Merton Priory. 

A hospital, school, watermill, farm and brewery were all contained within the Augustinian monastery’s estate and run by the monks with the help of local labourers, servants, and tenant farmers. Kings were visitors to the site, and King Henry VI had a crowning ceremony there.

The softer sandstone generally came from English quarries such as Reigate, the harder stone for the exterior came from Normandy, and the densest stone, which could be polished to a black colouring, was Purbeck Marble from Dorset.

All of this disappeared under Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The buildings were torn down, the material taken four miles away and reused to build Henry’s vast new palace at Nonesuch. Just foundations and a couple of stretches of wall was left. 

The Colour House Theatre at Merton Abbey Mills may possibly be the only building from the priory to have escaped demolition.


Hockey Match 1938

This is short, silent footage of a women’s hockey match played in 1938. At one point the players have to chase two dogs off the pitch. The shapes of houses in the background are indistinct, suggesting fog.

Merton (1938) – British Pathé on YouTube


Doll Making 1951

Although all the footage of this newsreel is inside a factory, it’s an interesting reminder of the type of work many people did in the area in the postwar period, and the types of good Britain used to export to the world.

The doll factory at Merton was once the largest in Europe. By 1951 the china dolls were long gone, replaced by plastic baby dolls with blinking eyes and nylon eyelashes.

Dolls (1951) – British Pathé on YouTube


1970s Travellers

Filmed at Merton Trading Park in the 1970s, this silent footage shows families living in small caravans surrounded by rubbish and debris. 

Gypsy Problem – Merton (1970-1979) – British Pathé on YouTube


Bus Problems 1984

In 1984, Merton’s buses were found to be the dirtiest in London. Graffiti and vandalism had significantly increased at the start of the school summer holidays.

Broadcast on 18th September 1984, this news item shows a bus interior, and glimpses of the streets as the bus drives along.

MERTON. BUSES. – Thames News on YouTube


History of Merton

Enjoy a fascinating look at the history of Merton, with brilliant graphics to show exactly where historic sites sat in the modern landscape. You’ll never see the Sainsbury’s store in the same way again!

Merton Priory – History Unearthed – Merton Priory Chapter House on YouTube

More about Greater London