The many domestic buildings erected in John Innes time and shortly after his death are of significant architectural merit - they are mainly two-storey detached and semi-detached houses, but with several rows of charming terraced cottages, all in a variety of styles. John Innes, and those that succeeded him in the Merton Park Estate Company, deliberately used one principal architect to give character to the area by providing individual designs to the houses whilst having regard to the need for harmony.
The first such architect of major importance appointed by John Innes was Henry Goodall Quartermain, who lived in Merton Park, and was largely responsible for the houses designed between 1873 and 1903. Much of his work was in the "Queen Anne" and "Domestic Revival" styles. Typical features are tile hanging, half timbering, canted and multi-storey bays, gables and bargeboards. Not long after the death of John Innes, and six months after the death of Quartermain, the Merton Park Estate appointed John Sydney Brocklesby as principal architect, and he continued to pursue John Innes' vision.
Brocklesby also lived in Merton Park, and was largely responsible for houses designed between 1905 and 1914, and continued to design some houses in the area up to 1926. He was much influenced by the "Arts and Crafts" movement, designing cottage-style houses, with steeply-pitched roofs, oriel and angled bays, and circular or semi-circular windows.
Those parts of Merton Park outside the Conservation Areas also have good examples of domestic architecture, although from a later time (e.g. 1920s and 30s), with large semi-detached houses in the typical style of the period, the architects being influenced to some extent by the fine designs of earlier houses in Merton Park. Not only the domestic architecture, but also the other buildings designed in John Innes' time or soon after by Quartermain (e.g. the public buildings in Kingston Road) and by Brocklesby (e.g. those in John Innes Park) have considerable architectural merit.
Street trees and holly hedges
The main unifying feature of the Merton Park Conservation Area is the mature landscape of tree-lined streets and holly hedges. Holly was largely planted in the 1870s and 1880s as hedges of front gardens in many of the roads in what are now the Merton Park and Wilton Crescent Conservation Areas. Some have grown into fine specimen bushes and mature trees.
Also, the John Innes Park includes a wide variety of holly bushes and trees. John Innes was known to have planted avenues of trees at the time he laid out many of the roads on the northern part of his Merton Park Estate in the 1870s and 1880s. Many of these now mature trees still survive - in particular the tall London plane trees in Sheridan Road, Dorset Road and Mayfield Road; and the chestnut trees in Mostyn and Kenley Roads. These mature trees have to be pruned at intervals to keep them to a manageable size appropriate for street trees; by their nature the plane trees can be allowed to grow taller and are most impressive.
John Innes planted other trees, such as birch, and an avenue of poplar trees along Poplar Road, only one of which survives. Other varieties of street trees planted more recently, and fine trees in the Churchyard, the parks and open spaces, and in private gardens, all help to provide a delightful mixture of flowering trees in the Spring, leafy ambience in the summer, and autumn colour.
John Innes park and recreation ground
Most of John Innes Park as it is today was formerly the gardens of John Innes' Manor House. The gardens were adapted by the architect Brocklesby as a public park, which was formally opened to the public in 1909. The John Innes Recreation Ground, which is connected by a public footpath to the Park, was established by the Trustees of the John Innes Charity at the same time. The Park and Recreation Ground were transferred by way of deed of gift to the Urban District Council in 1949, and they are now maintained by the Council for use of the public.
The Recreation Ground is still used by local Clubs for cricket, hockey and football. In the Park, much of the Manor House garden survives intact, with a series of winding paths connecting intimate spaces enclosed by yew hedges and dense evergreen planting. One such space is a lawn with fish-pond. The overall impression is of a strong "Arts and Crafts" influence. This character is enhanced by the attractive buildings - the entrance lodge (by Quartermain) and gates at the entrance; the cottage and adjoining archway (by Quartermain); and the discreet half-timbered public conveniences and the oak-framed bandstand (both by Brocklesby).
Every year in mid-summer, the John Innes Society organizes an entertainment of light and classical music in and around the bandstand. The Park includes various sports facilities. There are two bowling greens used by the Merton Park Bowling Club, which was established in 1926. There are four hard tennis courts, used by members of the public and by the nearby Rutlish School. There is also a croquet lawn, which is also used for disabled bowls.
Under the terms of his will, John innes left money for the founding in Merton Park of an Institution for horticultural training and research. This led to the establishment in 1909 of the John Innes Horticultural Institution, which pioneered research into plant breeding and genetics, and developed the composts that still bear John Innes' name.
The Institution outgrew the site, and, having acquired a larger site outside London in 1945, completed its move from Merton park in 1953. It is today the John Innes Centre at Norwich - one of the leading international centres for research in plant and microbial science. The site vacated in Merton Park, originally part of John innes' estate, was taken over in 1954 by Rutlish School for Boys (then well-established as a successful, traditional grammar school). The site included the Manor House - John Innes' home in Watery Lane. A new school building in the utilitarian style of the times were constructed in 1957.
The School is now a Boy's Comprehensive, and it was expanded in 2005/2006 with new buildings on part of the School playing fields, which were previously the John innes Institution's plant trail grounds. The Manor House survives, and houses the School's management. It acts as a reminder not only of Rutlish School's original grammar school ethos, but also of the part played by John Innes in local education.
Around the church
The 12th century church of St. Mary the Virgin, as well as a thriving Parish church, is a building of major historic importance. Just outside the entrance is an ancient Norman archway that was re-erected there in 1935 after discovery in 1914 during demolition of a house within the grounds of Merton Priory. It is believed to be the gateway to the Priory Guesthouse. Inside the Church are hatchments of Admiral Lord Nelson and Sir William Hamilton, both of whom worshipped there together with Lady Hamilton.
Another well-known member of the congregation in a later era was of course John Innes, who was also prominent in the affairs of the Church as a churchwarden and important benefactor. The four pairs of double-light windows of the south isle are a memorial to John Innes; they were made at the William Morris works in Merton: seven windows were to a design by Henry Dearle, one to a design by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. To the south of the Church and adjoining vicarage are the Glebe fields, which date from ancient times.
Opposite the Church still stands the ancient high red brick wall that surrounded the 17th century mansion called Church House, now gone, which stood at the junction of Church Path and Church Lane. The gardens of Church House were later occupied by the John Innes Horticultural Institution, and after their move out of Merton Park the property was acquired by the County Council, and the gardens became a public recreation ground: the Church Lane playing fields. Like the Glebe Lands, they help provide an atmosphere of rural peace and tranquility, as well as a public amenity, in the charming environment of the church.
As one of its first acts, in the 1970s the John Innes Society replaced the unsightly gates to the Church Lane Playing fields with attractive wrought iron gates.
On the other side of Church Lane, facing the east end of the Church, there still stands the attractive frontage of the 1870 Merton National Schools building (now private accommodation), for which John Innes was one of the original trustees. Not far away, just a few yards along Melrose Road, is a coach house, originally built for John Innes. It is now the headquarters of the John Innes Society, having been extensively restored in the mid 1970s.
Other green spaces in Merton Park
Mostyn Gardens is a public park in the south of Merton Park, at the junction of Mostyn Road and Martin Way. The land was originally the location of John Innes' brickworks, closed in 1909. Two large ponds, the result of the excavation of clay, were later used to dump spoil from the excavation of the Underground railway. Extra land on the east side of the site was acquired by the Council and was used for Cranleigh Lawn Tennis Club in 1929, and for Poplar Road School, in 1932. Eventually the ex- brickworks site was covered with soil and grassed over, before being opened as Mostyn Gardens in 1936.
Today it is mainly open grass, with trees and some flower gardens, a children's play area, and a outdoor court for basketball and other sports. The location of the original clay pits is still evident from the sunken garden area in the centre of the park.
Kendor Gardens is a long, narrow public park, with trees, lawns and flower beds, between Dorset Road and Kenley Road. It is land that cannot be built upon, as it sits over the underground railway tunnels north of Morden Station. Another green space is the 6 ½ acre sports ground along the east side of Poplar Road occupied by the Old Rutlishians Association - the active Old Boy's Club of Rutlish School.