The Common Waste was a large area of land where the soil was too poor for cultivation but provided good pasture for grazing plus a source of firewood and timber for the repair of houses, carts and other farm tools. The land was owned by the Lord of the Manor but his tenants had the right to graze a specified number of cows, sheep, horses and pigs. They could also take three cartloads of timber each year. As the use of the Common grew from 1400 to 1700 the Lord of the Manor controlled access via the Manor Court, fining tenants who over-burdened it.

After 1700 it became impossible to control as outsiders moved their animals in and it became the haunt of vagrants and highwaymen such as Jerry Abershaw. By 1830 it was packed with animals of all kinds and was increasingly used for sports such as horse racing, cricket, prize-fighting, shooting and hunting. In 1864 Earl Spencer as Lord of the Manor introduced a bill in Parliament to enclose 700 acres as a park and sell off a further 300 acres as building land. The plan encountered stiff local opposition led by Sir Henry Peek. Eventually, in return for an annuity of £1,200, the Earl gave up his rights under the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act of 1871. A body of local residents called Conservators was then set up to ensure that the Common remains unbuilt upon and open to all for exercise and leisure.