Leafy Sutton is one of the southernmost boroughs in the capital and can sometimes feel like countryside at ample parks and golf courses.
Sutton High Street bucks this trend as one of Greater London’s shopping honeypots, with every big retailer, cuisines from all ends of the earth and a pub where the Rolling Stones got their first break in 1963. The River Wandle meanders through the borough on its way to the Thames at Wandsworth and gave life to Medieval settlements and industry when Sutton was nothing but countryside.
The Wandle Trail stays with the river all the way to the Thames.
If you come on a weekend Carshalton is an antiquarian’s idea of a perfect day out, at the Honeywood Museum, the Georgian Carshalton Water and Grove Park, which is laid out on a Medieval manor.
1. Beddington Park & The Grange
Valued as one of the most archaeologically significant places in London, Beddington Park’s history begins well before the Carew family established their deer park here in the 14th century.
There are signs of settlements going back 5,000 years to the Bronze Age, while a Roman sarcophagus brought to light in 1930 suggests that there was a Roman domus and baths on this land.
Commanding the east side of the park is the Tudor Carew Manor, occupied by Carew Manor School and council offices, while the Church of Mary the Virgin holds memorial monuments to the Carews.
The Pavilion Cafe in the park is open seven days a week, and there’s no lack of facilities, from football pitches, to six tennis courts, a half pipe, kids’ playground, an outdoor gym and barbecue stands.
2. Nonsuch Park
In the 1530s Henry VIII embarked on what is said to be the grandest of all of his vanity projects.
The village of Cuddington was totally dismantled and its place came Nonsuch Palace, a symbol for the power of the Tudor dynasty.
The name alone is a brag, claiming that there is no place like it on earth.
Henry VIII wouldn’t live to see the palace completed, and Elizabeth I sold it off.
The palace was demolished in the 17th century, and although no trace survives in the parkland, interiors have ended up at the British Museum and Loseley Hall in Guildford.
In the middle of the 18th century the separate Nonsuch Mansion went up on the east side of the park.
Borrowing from the design of the Palace, the mansion is now used for events and weddings, and has an adjoining cafe, the Nonsuch Pantry.
In the mansion’s north porch there’s a block from the palace with a Latin inscription meaning, “1543 Henry VIII in the 35th year of His reign”.
3. Honeywood Museum
The main museum for the London Borough of Sutton is in a sumptuous house at Carshalton Ponds.
Honeywood House went up in the 17th century and has Victorian and Edwardian extensions.
At the museum you can ponder the drawing room, billiards room and Victorian scullery.
You can brush up on the history of Sutton and industry on the River Wandle, and learn about Carshalton’s steady evolution from the hamlet of Aultone, as mentioned in the Domesday Book, to a 21st-century suburban town.
There’s also in-depth information about the property and the many people who have lived here, while the Childhood Room has a large inventory of toys from the Edwardian period.
You can linger a while longer at the tearoom and museum shop and return for one of the many talks and seasonal events.
4. Whitehall, Cheam
Right in the middle of Cheam Village is a gorgeous weatherboard house that has a history going back to the turn of the 16th century.
The first Whitehall was most likely a yeoman farmer’s house composed of wattle and daub on a timber frame.
That Tudor house was extended in the 17th and then the 19th century, while the distinctive white weatherboarding was installed in the 1700s.
As well as the basic Tudor framework, the house has details from the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods.
Whitehall is a museum open for free on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Exhibitions go into the history of the house and its occupants, among them the 17th-century merchant and philosopher James Boevey and the Killick family, who were here from 1741 to 1963. You can learn more about Nonsuch Palace, stop by the highly-rated tearoom and take a turn in the garden which has a Medieval well left over from an earlier property.
5. Mayfield Lavender Farm
If you associate lavender fields with the South of France you may be surprised to learn that Mayfield in Sutton was once dubbed the Lavender Capital of the World.
Benefitting from the chalky soil, there was a burgeoning lavender industry here from the 1700s up to the 1900s, and the tradition was revived in the early 2000s when a 25-hectare plot was replanted with two varieties.
The exact dates can change by the year, but the field at Mayfield Lavender is in flower from mid to late-June until the beginning of September.
You can visit to look out on the pastel-tinted sea of blooms, and then browse the nursery and gift shop, followed up with tea and cake at the cafe.
6. Wandle Trail
The River Wandle is a chalk stream that rises in Croydon, Carshalton and Beddington and travels through Sutton, Merton and finally Wandsworth where it joins the Thames.
You can follow the course of the river from Croydon to the mouth on the 12.5-mile Wandle Trail, which enters an inordinate amount of parks as it twists through South West London.
In the Borough of Sutton alone the Wandle flows through seven different parks and wilderness areas, two of which, Beddington Park and Grove Park are mentioned above or below.
The path is on the National Cycle Network and has long stretches suitable for wheelchair users.
The way is maintained by a group constituting the three main boroughs that the river courses through, and this has published a map and description online.
7. Church of St Mary the Virgin, Beddington
A landmark on the east side of Beddington Park, the Church of St Mary is Grade II* listed and was rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Its history is intertwined with the Carew family, whose residence now the Carew School is next door.
Along the path through the churchyard you’ll be taken by the unusually large west window in the Perpendicular Gothic style.
If you can get inside there’s much to enjoy, like a Purbeck marble font from around 1200, and 14th-century carved misericords with heads, shields and foliage in nine of the choir stalls.
Also from the 14th century is the beautiful screen to the Carew chapel, which holds sublime 15th and 16th-century monuments for Carew family members.
The pulpit was carved with linenfold panels in 1611, while the organ screen (1869) is the work of the studio of the Arts and Crafts master, William Morris.
8. The Grove Park
Around the corner from Carshalton Station is a restful urban park on a manor bought by the council in 1924. Sutton Borough still uses the 19th-century Grove House and its outbuildings for offices.
There’s a cafe, children’s playground, ball court, bowls green and miniature golf course.
An absorbing detail from the old manor is a millrace that has probably been here since Anglo-Saxon times.
In the 1960s this was reworked into a cascade and feeds the watermill known as the Upper Mill.
This was last renovated in the 2000s following a fire, but has probably been here in some form for more than 1,000 years.
At the south end, where the park becomes Carshalton Ponds there’s an 18th-century bridge made from Portland stone and thought to have been designed by Italian architect Giacomo Leoni.
9. Carshalton Water Tower
West of The Grove Park, Carshalton House dates to the early 18th century and is now occupied by St Philomena’s Catholic High School for Girls.
The house’s second owner, a sub-governor at the short-lived South Sea Company laid out the grounds in the 1710s, and with them came this remarkable late-Baroque monument.
The Water Tower contained a cistern supplying water to the house, but also accommodated a luxurious tile-clad plunge bath, a palatial suite of rooms and an orangery.
In the surrounding garden there are little details from house’s former grounds, like a folly bridge and hermitage.
You can check out the Water Tower on Sunday afternoons in summer.
10. Sutton High Street
The sixth busiest retail zone in London, Sutton High Street is pedestrianised and runs north to south through Sutton proper.
This thoroughfare existed even when Sutton was just a rural village, and was a stop for coach traffic on the London to Brighton Turnpike.
An old milestone in the High Street shows the distance to Whitehall (11 miles) and the Royal Exchange (12 miles). The High Street has been packing in shoppers since Victorian times, and along with all the brands you’d demand from an urban commercial area.
There’s a cosmopolitan choice of patisseries, restaurants, bars and cafes, and every cuisine from Malaysian to Mexican.
Many of the shops are in two covered centres, Times Square and the St Nicholas Centre.
And at No. 265 the Winning Post pub (formerly Red Lion) is a piece of rock music heritage.
It was here that Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman played their first gigs with the Rolling Stones in 1963, while the impresario Giorgio Gomelsky spotted the band at this pub and booked them for his Crawdaddy Club.
11. Sutton Heritage Mosaic
On the southern end of the High Street at Trinity Square is one of the largest piece of wall art in the UK.
Nine metres high and five metres wide, the Sutton Heritage Mosaic (1994) is by Rob Turner and Gary Drostle and has 19 panels representing different aspects of Sutton’s local history.
The mosaic comprises some 100,000 vitreous ceramic tiles, showing Henry VIII’s palace at Nonsuch Park, the Carew family coat of arms, a mill on the River Wandle, the early railway and Whitehall in Cheam.
Of course, many of the images will probably be alien to all but local historians, but in 2011 a plaque was fixed to the wall below, labelling all of the panels for the first time.
12. Little Holland House
At the turn of the 20th century the artist and designer Frank Dickinson (1874–1961) built himself this house in Carshalton, blending Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau.
The outside is rather understated save for the gate and its foliate patterned capitals, but this belies the amazing workmanship that greets you inside.
Dickinson took inspiration from Arts and Crafts luminaries like William Morris and John Ruskin, and what’s staggering about this project is how much he did himself.
Over two years Dickinson crafted the furniture, but also painted the art on the walls, wove the fabrics, carved the beams and panelling and forged the house’s metalwork.
Opening times are limited to the first Sunday of the month and bank holidays.
13. Charles Cryer Theatre
After the recent closure of the Secombe Theatre in Sutton town centre, Carshalton’s Charles Cryer Theatre has taken over as the borough’s main stage for live performing arts.
Formerly a highly-regarded producing venue with a studio-sized stage, the Charles Cryer Theatre has had its own difficulties, going dark in 2014 after budget cuts by the council.
Its future was uncertain up to the end of 2018 when a 25-year lease was granted for a community arts venue.
At the time of writing in early 2019, no programme had been published, but before long the venue will start hosting plays, movie screenings, live music, talks and workshops.
14. Wilderness Island
In a residential patch of Carshalton there’s an island on the River Wandle at the confluence with the Wythe stream.
Wilderness Island is a reserve owned by Sutton Borough and composed of the island itself and the riverbanks to the south.
In the 1600s there were copper mills on the water, and the island later became pleasure gardens.
There’s a surprising diversity of habitats like wildflower meadow, wetland and woodland, growing oaks, willows and mature horse chestnuts at Wilderness Island.
Barbels, chubs and sticklebacks can be spotted in the Wandle, while this little oasis teems with birds like kingfishers, reed warblers, three woodpecker species, little grebes and even tawny owls.
The further south you go the more rural the borough becomes.
It is in this peaceful and hillier part of Sutton that you’ll find all four of the borough’s golf courses, in one long line on the Surrey boundary.
Three are private, welcoming visitors, while one, The Oaks Golf Centre is a public facility.
Unlike a lot of private courses, The Oaks invites players of all ages and abilities to take on its 18-hole and 9-hole courses, and also has a 16-bay driving range and a well-stocked pro shop.
In a mix of hilly downland and parkland, Woodcote Park Golf Club, Banstead Downs and Cuddington Park are all well-regarded.
Green fees at Banstead Downs are £45 for 18 holes (Monday to Friday only), while Woodcote Park and Cuddington Park cost between £60 and £90, with tee-off times limited on weekends.