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Since 1996, they have been wholly within the London Borough of Wandsworth, which has administered both commons since 1971. Between 1965 and 1995, the eastern part of Tooting Bec Common was within the adjacent London Borough of Lambeth. Wandsworth's Parks Department erroneously described the two historically separate spaces as Tooting Common for many years, but recent signage uses the plural title.
Tooting Bec Common and Tooting Graveney Common, are the remains of common land that once stretched as far as Mitcham.
Tooting Bec Common — the northern and eastern part of the commons — was within the historic parish of Streatham, and takes its name from the area's links to Bec Abbey at Le Bec-Hellouin in Normandy. At various points in history this common has been called Streatham Common, which causes some confusion with the open space a mile to the east of that name. The common is not immediately adjacent to the area now generally known as Tooting Bec.
Tooting Graveney Common - the southern and western part of the commons - was in Tooting parish and a thin line of other common land ran further south down Church Lane towards the River Graveney.
During the 19th century, the commons at Tooting were divided by building of roads and railways — starting with the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway line in 1855, and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway line running north — south which opened in 1861 and was further widened in 1901 after this had become the main line to Brighton. The common today continues to be divided into multiple parcels by these busy transport links.
Tooting Bec Common, comprising nearly 152 acres (62 ha), was one of the first commons which the Metropolitan Board of Works took action to preserve following the Metropolitan Commons Act of 1866 when in 1873 it acquired the manorial rights for £13,798. In 1875 the MBW acquired Tooting Graveney Common of 66 acres (27 ha) for £3,000.
The road marking the boundary between the two commons (and the historic parish boundary between Streatham and Tooting) is called Doctor Johnson's Avenue. This was originally a country path leading from Streatham Place, and Doctor Johnson is reputed to have regularly walked here when visiting Hester Thrale.
Tooting Bec Common includes a number of formal avenues of trees — the first such avenue to be recorded was a line of oaks to commemorate a visit by Elizabeth I in 1600. With the loss of elms along Tooting Bec Road to Dutch Elm Disease, most visitors are now immediately aware of late Victorian era plantings of horse chestnuts on the boundaries, but there are some much older trees — notably the oaks parallel to Garrad's Road which are the successors to an avenue first recorded in the 17th century.
In the 1990s the junction of Tooting Bec Road and Church Lane was widened, encroaching on the common. A few metres of grass behind the railings of the former Tooting Bec Mental Hospital (redeveloped as the Heritage Park residential development) are now part of the common in exchange for the lost land.
Wildlife and ecology
The two commons are recognised as being of Site of Metropolitan importance for Greater London because they include a number of rare wildlife habitats. Although the woodland areas are the most obvious, the unimproved areas of acid grassland are actually far rarer.
In Popular Culture
The two commons were the location for the award winning British Independent Film, Common People (2013), written/directed by and starring Kerry Skinner and Stewart Alexander. The plot concerns the escape of a pet Parrot, Princess Parroty escaping the confines of her cage and flying with parakeets in the south London skies,soaring into the lives of the Common People. COMMON PEOPLE weaves together six stories and over thirty characters to present a dramatic, humorous and sometimes magical tale of romance, crisis and adventure on one of London’s luscious commons.