Historically a part of Surrey, the area takes its name from the old village of Battersea, an island settlement established in the river delta of the Falconbrook; a river that rises in Tooting Bec Common and flows underground through south London to the River Thames. The site of the original settlement is marked by St. Mary's Church. William Blake was married, and Benedict Arnold and his wife and daughter are buried in the crypt of the church. Battersea is mentioned in Anglo-Saxon time as Badrices īeg = "Badric's Island" and later "Patrisey". As with many former Thames island settlements, Battersea was reclaimed by draining marshland and building culverts for streams.
The settlement appears in the Domesday Book as Patricesy. It was held by St Peter's Abbey, Westminster. Its Domesday Assets were: 18 hides; 7 mills worth £42 9s 8d, 17 ploughs, of meadow, woodland worth 50 hogs. It rendered (in total): £75 9s 8d.
Before the Industrial Revolution, much of the area was farmland, providing food for the City of London and surrounding population centres; and with particular specialisms, such as growing lavender on Lavender Hill (nowadays denoted by the road of the same name), asparagus (sold as "Battersea Bundles") or pig breeding on Pig Hill (later the site of the Shaftesbury Park Estate). At the end of the 18th century, above of land in the parish of Battersea were occupied by some 20 market gardeners, who rented from five to near each. Villages in the wider area - Battersea, Wandsworth, Earlsfield (hamlet of Garratt), Tooting, Balham - were isolated one from another; and throughout the second half of the second millennium, the wealthy built their country retreats in Battersea and neighbouring areas.
Industry in the area was concentrated to the north west just outside the Battersea-Wandsworth boundary, at the confluence of the River Thames, and the River Wandle which gave rise to the village of Wandsworth. This was settled from the 16th century by Protestant craftsmen - Huguenots - fleeing religious persecution in Europe, who established a range of industries such as mills, breweries and dyeing, bleaching and calico printing. Industry developed eastwards along the bank of the Thames during the industrial revolution from 1750s onwards; the Thames provided water for transport, for steam engines and for water-intensive industrial processes. Bridges erected across the Thames encouraged growth; Putney Bridge, a mile to the west, was built in 1729, and Battersea Bridge in the centre of the north boundary in 1771. Inland from the river, the rural agricultural community persisted.
Along the Thames, a number of large and, in their field, pre-eminent firms grew; notably the Morgan Crucible Company, which survives to this day and is listed on the London Stock Exchange; Price's Candles, which also made cycle lamp oil; and Orlando Jones' Starch Factory. The 1874 Ordnance Survey map of the area shows the following factories, in order, from the site of the as yet unbuilt Wandsworth Bridge to Battersea Park: Starch manufacturer; Silk manufacturer; (St. John's College); (St. Mary's Church); Malt house; Corn mill; Oil and grease works (Prices Candles); Chemical works; Plumbago Crucible works (later the Morgan Crucible Company); Chemical works; Saltpetre works; Foundry. Between these were numerous wharfs for shipping.
In 1929, construction started on Battersea Power Station, being completed in 1939. From the late 18th century to comparatively recent times, Battersea, and certainly north Battersea, was established as an industrial area, with all of the issues associated with pollution and poor housing affecting it.
Industry declined and moved away from the area in the 1970s, and local government sought to address chronic post-war housing problems with large scale clearances and the establishment of planned housing. More recently, some decades after the end of large scale local industry, residential overspill from fashionable Chelsea, the area to the north across the Thames, has changed the character of much of Battersea. Factories have been demolished and replaced with modern apartment buildings. Some of the council owned properties have been sold off and several traditional working men's pubs have become more fashionable bistros, although much local authority housing and industrial areas still remain.
Battersea was radically altered by the coming of railways. The London and Southampton Railway Company was the first to drive a railway line from east to west through Battersea, in 1838, terminating at Nine Elms at the north west tip of the area. Over the next 22 years five other lines were built, across which all trains from Waterloo Station and Victoria Station ran. An interchange station was built in 1863 towards the north west of the area, at a junction of the railway. Taking the name of a fashionable village a mile and more away, the station was named Clapham Junction. A campaign to rename the station "Battersea Junction" fizzled out as late as the early twentieth century. During the latter decades of the nineteenth century Battersea had developed into a major town railway centre with two locomotive works at Nine Elms and Longhedge and three important motive power depots (Nine Elms, Stewarts Lane and Battersea) all situated within a relatively small area in the north of the district. The effect was precipitate: a population of 6,000 people in 1840 was increased to 168,000 by 1910; and save for the green spaces of Battersea Park, Clapham Common, Wandsworth Common and some smaller isolated pockets, all other farmland was built over, with, from north to south, industrial buildings and vast railway sheds and sidings (much of which remain), slum housing for workers, especially north of the main east–west railway, and gradually more genteel residential terraced housing further south.
The railway station encouraged the government to site its buildings - the town hall, library, police station, court and post office in the area surrounding Clapham Junction; the Arding and Hobbs department store, diagonally opposite the station, was the largest of its type at the time of its construction in 1885; and the area was served by a vast music hall - The Grand - opposite the station and nowadays serving as a nightclub and venue for smaller bands. All this building around the station marginalised Battersea High Street (the main street of the original village) into no more than an extension of Falcon Road.
Battersea is dominated by four main housing estates. The Winstanley Estate, perhaps being the most renowned of them all, is popularly known as being the birthplace to the garage collective So Solid Crew. Winstanley is situated behind Clapham Junction railway station in the northern perimeter of Battersea. Further north towards Chelsea is the Surrey Lane Estate, and situated on Battersea Park Road is the Doddington and Rollo Estate. Going towards Vauxhall off the Wandsworth Road is the Patmore Estate which is in close proximity to the Battersea Power Station. Other estates include York Road, Somerset, Savona, Badric Court, The Peabody estate and Carey Gardens - which is arguably on Battersea's peripheral boundary in spite of its closeness to Patmore.