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Military uses

From early times the Commons have been a place for assemblies, reviews, parades, manoeuvres and other military activities. For example, in the 16th century the Lord of the Manor required local inhabitants to practice archery on the Common. They could be fined 20 shillings if they did not set up or neglected their archery butts.

In 1648, the year before Charles 1 was executed, 3,000 Surrey men led by a miller from Wandsworth assembled on the Common and then marched over London Bridge (the only one then built) to Whitehall to demand the King's restoration. Unfortunately they were met by Cromwellian troops who killed many, including the miller.

In 1859 when England again feared invasion from France a volunteer rifle corps was formed which became the National Rifle Association. Earl Spencer as Lord of the Manor was closely involved and it was he who made the Common available for their annual meeting and competition. The first of these took place on 2nd July 1860 and lasted six days. It was opened by Queen Victoria who fired the first shot. She also inaugurated the Queen's Prize which is still competed for today. There are various items commemorating this event on display.

In 1907 the aviation pioneer A. V. Roe built his first full-sized aircraft at 47 West Hill, Wandsworth and flew it in the early hours of the morning on Putney Heath without the Conservators' permission. Passat’s "Ornithopter" was built in a field off Durham Road in 1912 and tested on the Common. During the First World War an area along Windmill Road from Parkside to the windmill itself was cleared and used as a fighter station for the defence of London. In both wars the Common became an important camp for accommodating and training troops before they were sent to fight. In the Second World War an extensive network of trenches were also dug.