It is thought the name of Battersea (in medieval times Batricheseie, Batricesege or variants) is likely to refer to the gravel ‘island’ adjacent to the Thames where the church, manor house and arable field lay. The manor of Battersea belonged to the crown in 1066, but William the Conqueror gave it to Westminster Abbey after the conquest. It was then one of the principal manors supporting monks in the area.
In 1540, when the dissolution of the monasteries took place, the manor reverted to crown ownership and was eventually purchased by the St John family. Towards the end of the eighteenth century it became property of the Spencer family, and remains their property to this day.
From the seventeenth to nineteenth century, Battersea was well known for supplying vegetables, fruit and flowers to the London markets, and also plants to colonies in America. The village itself was next to the river, near the church, with some industry along the riverside.
The construction of railways in Victorian England resulted in a population increase from 6,617 in 1841 to 168,907 in 1901, at which time it was a Metropolitan Borough. A lot of open land was taken by four railway companies, and riverside areas were replaced by new industries, including Prices Candles, Morgan’s Crucible works, Garton’s Glucose factory, flour mills, breweries and the Nine Elms Gas Works. It was then decided that Battersea Park should be created just in time to save Thames-side Battersea from being totally overwhelmed by industry.
Better quality suburban housing was built along Battersea Rise and beyond after 1870. Nevertheless, conditions in the north of the parish remained impoverished. Until the Second World War bombing which destroyed much of the riverside property, Battersea remained relatively unchanged for more than 50 years.
After the Second World War, much of the area was re-developed in a very large scale municipal rebuilding plan. Simultaneously, industries on the riverside, west of Albert Bridge began to relocate or close down, with housing taking its place, including high rise apartment blocks, such as the Trade Tower on Plantation Wharf, with the intention of appealing to young professionals.
The Royal College of Arts expansion in Battersea has attracted media and fashion based industries to the area, as well as the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station, in addition to the reinvention of Nine Elms, where the new United States embassy will be located. Consequently, property prices in Battersea have started to compete with those across the river in Kensington and Chelsea.
Deprivation still exists in a number of estates such as Winstanley, Doddington and Patmore, along with an increasing demand for cheaper social housing, especially for families. However, there is little indication that this demand will be fulfilled any time soon. With the opening of the over ground line from Clapham Junction to Surrey Quays, transport links have improved, and the station is gradually being refurbished. There remains a great deal to do, although there are many signs that positive change is forthcoming in the future.