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Strathmore Road - geograph.org.uk - 1303433.jpg
Strathmore Road, Wimbledon
Grid reference: TQ239709
Location: 51°25’25"N, 0°13’2"W
Post town: London
Postcode: SW19, SW20
Dialling code: 020
Local Government
Council: Merton

Wimbledon is a distinctive town in Surrey within the metropolitan conurbation but bounded by the great green space of Wimbledon Common which, along with the village's own qualities, preserves Wimbledon's individuality.

The fame of Wimbledon comes from the presence of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, home to the world's leading tennis championship, the Wimbledon Tennis Championships held every year and known worldwide just as "Wimbledon". The town is known too for Wimbledon Common, one of the largest areas of common land in the conurbation.[1]

The town is split into two sections known as the "village" and the "town", with the High Street being part of the original mediæval village, and the "town" being part of the modern development since the building of the railway station in 1838.

Name of the town

The name Wimbledon is said to mean "Wynnman's hill".[2] It is referred to however as "Wimbedounyng" in a charter signed by King Edgar I in 967, which suggests other, unknown elements. The name is shown on J Cary's 1786 map of the London area as "Wimbleton", and the current spelling appears to have been settled on relatively recently in the early 19th century, the last in a long line of variations.


Early history

Wimbledon has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age when the hill fort on Wimbledon Common is thought to have been built. The original centre of Wimbledon was at the top of the hill close to the common; the area now known locally as "the village".

The village is referred to as "Wimbedounyng" in a charter signed by King Edgar I in 967. At the time the Domesday Book was compiled (around 1087), Wimbledon was part of the manor of Mortlake, and so was not recorded by its own name.[3] The ownership of the manor of Wimbledon changed hands many times during its history. The manor was held by the church until 1398 when Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury fell out of favour with Richard II and was exiled. The manor was confiscated and became crown property.

The manor remained crown property until the reign of Henry VIII when it was granted briefly to Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex until Cromwell was executed in 1540 and the land was again confiscated. The manor was next held by Henry VIII's last wife and widow Catherine Parr until her death in 1548 when it again reverted to the Crown.

In the 1550s, Henry's daughter, Queen Mary I, granted the manor to cardinal Cardinal Reginald Pole who held it until his death in 1558 when it once again become royal property. Mary's sister, Queen Elizabeth I held the property until 1574 when she gave the manor house (but not the manor) to her favourite, Christopher Hatton, who sold it in the same year to Sir Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter. The lands of the manor were given to the Cecil family in 1588 and a new manor house was built and gardens laid out in the formal Elizabethan style.

17th century

Wimbledon's convenient proximity to the capital was beginning to attract other wealthy families and in 1613 Robert Bell, Master of the Worshipful Company of Girdlers and a director of the British East India Company built Eagle House as a home at an easy distance from London. The Cecil family retained the manor for fifty years before it was bought by Charles I in 1638 for his Queen, Henrietta Maria.

Following the King's execution in 1649, the manor passed rapidly through various parliamentarian ownerships including a Member of Parliament for Leeds, Adam Baynes and civil war general John Lambert but, following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, was back in the ownership of Henrietta Maria (now Charles I's widow and mother of the new King, Charles II).

The Dowager Queen sold the manor in 1661 to George Digby, Earl of Bristol who employed John Evelyn to improve and update the landscape in accordance with the latest fashions including grottos and fountains. On his death in 1677 the manor was sold on again to the Lord High Treasurer, Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby.

St Mary's Church

The Osborne family sold the manor to Sir Theodore Janssen in 1712. Janssen, a director of the South Sea Company, began a new house to replace the Cecil-built manor house but, due to the spectacular collapse of the company, never finished it.

The next owner was Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough who increased the land belonging to the manor and completed the construction of a house to replace Janssen's unfinished effort in 1735. On her death in 1744, the property passed to her grandson, John Spencer, and subsequently to the first Earl Spencer.

The village continued to grow and the introduction in the 18th century of stagecoach services from the Dog and Fox public house made the journey to London routine, although not without the risk of being held-up by highwaymen such as Jerry Abershawe on the Portsmouth Road. The stage coach horses would be stabled at the rear of the pub in the now named 'Wimbledon Village Stables'.

The 1735 manor house burnt down in the 1780s and was replaced with Wimbledon Park House in 1801 by the second Earl. At this time the manor lands included Wimbledon Common (then called a heath) and the enclosed parkland around the manor house. The area of the park corresponded to the modern Wimbledon Park area, The house was situated to the east of St Mary's church.

Wimbledon House, a separate residence close to the village at the south end of Parkside (near present-day Peek Crescent), was home in the 1790s to the exiled French statesman Vicomte de Calonne, and later to the mother of writer Frederick Marryat. Their association with the area is recorded in the names of nearby Calonne and Marryat Roads.

To the south of the common, the early 18th century Warren House (called Cannizaro House from 1841) was home to a series of grand residents.

19th century development

Wimbledon section of Edward Stanford's 1871 map of London

The first decades of the 19th century were relatively quiet for Wimbledon, with a stable rural population coexisting alongside nobility and wealthy merchants from the city, but renewed upheaval came in 1838 when the opening of the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) brought a station to the south east of the village at the bottom of Wimbledon hill. The location of the station shifted the focus of the town's subsequent growth away from the original village centre.

For a number of years Wimbledon Park was leased to the Duke of Somerset, who briefly in the 1820s employed a young Joseph Paxton as one of his gardeners, but, in the 1840s, the Spencer family sold the park as building land. A period of residential development began with the construction of large detached houses in the north of the park. In 1864, the Spencers attempted to get parliamentary permission[4] to enclose the common for the creation of a new park with a house and gardens and to sell part for building. Following an enquiry, permission was refused and a board of conservators was established in 1871[5][6] to take ownership of the common and preserve it in its natural condition.

Transport links expanded further with new railway lines to Croydon (Wimbledon and Croydon Railway, opened in 1855) and Tooting (Tooting, Merton and Wimbledon Railway, opened in 1868). The Metropolitan District Railway (now London Underground's District Line) extended its service over new tracks from Putney in 1889.

In the second half of the century, Wimbledon experienced a very rapid expansion of its population. From a small base of just under 2,700 residents recorded in the 1851 census, the population grew by a minimum of 60 per cent each decade up to 1901 increasing fifteenfold in fifty years. During this, time large numbers of villas and terraced houses were built along the roads from the centre towards neighbouring Putney, Merton Park and Raynes Park.

The commercial and civic development of the town also accelerated during this period. Ely's department store opened in 1876 and shops began to stretch along the Broadway towards Merton. Wimbledon got its first police station in 1870, situated in Victoria Crescent. Cultural developments included a Literary Institute by the early 1860s and the opening of Wimbledon Library in 1887. The religious needs of the growing population were dealt with by a church building programme starting with the rebuilding of St Mary's Church in 1849 and the construction of Christ Church (1859) and Trinity Church (1862).

Modern history

By the end of the first decade of the new century Wimbledon had established the beginnings of the Wimbledon School of Art at the Gladstone Road Technical Institute and acquired its first cinema and the theatre. Somewhat unusually, at its opening the theatre's facilities included a Turkish baths .

In 1931 the council built itself a new red brick and Portland stone Town Hall next to the station on the corner of Queen's Road and Wimbledon Bridge. The architects were Bradshaw Gass & Hope.

By the 1930s residential expansion had peaked in Wimbledon and the new focus for local growth had moved to neighbouring Morden which had remained rural until the arrival of the Underground at Morden station in 1926. Wimbledon station was rebuilt by Southern Railway with a simple Portland stone facade for the opening of a new railway branch line from Wimbledon to Sutton. The Wimbledon to Sutton line opened in 1930.

Damage to housing stock in Wimbledon and other parts of London during the Second World War led to the final major building phase when many of the earlier Victorian houses built with large grounds in Wimbledon Park were sub-divided into apartments or demolished and replaced with apartment blocks. Other parts of Wimbledon Park which had previously escaped being built upon saw local authority estates built by the borough council to house some of those who had lost their homes.

During the 1970s and 1980s Wimbledon town centre struggled to compete commercially with the more developed centres at Kingston upon Thames and Sutton. Part of the problem was the shortage of locations for large anchor stores to attract customers. After a number of years in which the council seemed unable to find a solution The Centre Court shopping centre was developed on land next to the station providing the much needed focus for retail expansion. The shopping centre incorporated the old town hall building. A new portico, in keeping with the old work, was designed by Sir George Grenfell-Baines who had worked on the original designs over fifty years earlier.


Churches in Wimbledon include:

The Tennis Championships

2010 Wimbledon Championships

In the 1870s, at the bottom of the hill on land between the railway line and Worple Road, the All-England Croquet Club had begun to hold its annual championships. But the popularity of croquet was waning as the new sport of lawn tennis began to spread and after initially setting aside just one of its lawns for tennis, the club decided to hold its first Lawn Tennis Championship in July 1877. By 1922, the popularity of tennis had grown to the extent that the club's small ground could no longer cope with the numbers of spectators and the renamed All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club moved to new grounds close to Wimbledon Park.

Wimbledon historian Richard Milward recounts how King George V opened the new courts:

"He gave three blows on a gong, the tarpaulins were removed, the first match started - and the rain came down..."

The club's old grounds continue to be used as the sports ground for Wimbledon High School.


Although now best known as the home of tennis, this was not the first sport to bring Wimbledon national fame nor its only sport today:


  • Wimbledon FC ("the Dons") was founded as a non-league club but from 1977 climbed quickly through the league to the top in 1986 and in 1988 won the FA Cup against Liverpool. In 2000 the club was relegated from the top division and in May 2002 it relocated 70 miles north to Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.
  • AFC Wimbledon, a semi-professional team, inherited FC's local fan base when it moved to Buckinghamshire. AFC won the Combined Counties League Premier Challenge Cup in 2004 and the Surrey Senior Cup in 2005. On 21 May 2011, AFC Wimbledon was promoted to the football league.

Rifle shooting

In the 1860s, the newly formed National Rifle Association held its first competition on Wimbledon Common. The association and the annual competition grew rapidly and by the early 1870s, rifle ranges were established on the common. In 1878 the competitions were lasting two weeks and attracting nearly 2,500 competitors, housed in temporary camps set up across the common. By the 1880s, however, the power and range of rifles had advanced to the extent that shooting in an increasingly populated area was no longer considered safe. The last meeting was held in 1889 before the NRA moved to Bisley in Surrey.


Wimbledon Village Stables is the oldest recorded riding stables in England. The late Richard Milward MA, a renowned local historian, researched the background of horses in Wimbledon over the years and found that the first recorded stables belonged to the Lord of the Manor, and are detailed in the Estate's accounts of 1236-37. Stables on the current site, behind the Dog & Fox pub in the High Street, were founded in 1915 by William Kirkpatrick and named Hilcote Stables; William's daughter Jean took over on his retirement and continued to visit the stables until her death in 2005. From 1969 Hilcote Stables was leased to Colin Crawford, and when it came up for sale in 1980 it was renamed Wimbledon Village Stables. It is now Approved by both the British Horse Society Association of British Riding Schools and offers horse riding lessons and hacks on Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park.[7]

In the 1792 work by the Rev Daniel Lysons, The Environs of London: being an historical account of the towns, villages, and hamlets, within twelve miles of that capital is reported:

In the early part of the present century there were annual races upon this common, which had then a King's plate.

Lysons gives no further details and does not say how successful the horse racing was or how long it lasted.

Wimbledon Stadium

For many years Wimbledon Stadium has been host to greyhound racing[8] and stock car racing[9] and motorcycle speedway.

Speedway began at Wimbledon Stadium in 1928 and the local speedway team, nicknamed the "Dons" was very successful over the decades. The team started out in 1929 as members of the Southern League and operated until the Second World War. The track re-opened in 1946 and the Dons operated in the top flight for many years. In the 1950s the track was home to two World Champions in Ronnie Moore and Barry Briggs. The Dons' last season was 2005; lease and rent negotiations were unsuccessful and the team was wound up. Greyhound racing and stock car racing continue to take place.


There is an active running club in Wimbledon called the Windmilers. The club includes some top athletes as well as beginners.[10]

A running event held on Wimbledon Common every week is the Wimbledon Common Time Trial, which was the second running event in a collection of Time Trials. The run is 5 km and timed by volunteers every Saturday morning at 9 am.

New Wimbledon Theatre

New Wimbledon Theatre

The New Wimbledon Theatre is a Grade II listed Edwardian theatre built by J B Mullholland as the Wimbledon Theatre on the site of a large house with spacious grounds.[11] The theatre was designed by Cecil Aubrey Masey and Roy Young (possibly following a 1908 design by Frank H Jones). The theatre opened its doors on 26 December 1910 with the pantomime Jack and Jill.[12] It was very popular between the wars, with appearances by Gracie Fields, Sybil Thorndike, Ivor Novello, Markova and Noël Coward. Lionel Bart's Oliver! and Half A Sixpence starring Tommy Steele received their world première at the theatre in the 1960s before transferring to the West End.

The theatre was saved from redevelopment when it was bought by the Ambassador Theatre Group in 2004.[13][14] With several refurbishments most notably in 1991 and 1998, it retains its baroque and Adamesque internal features. The golden statue atop the dome is Laetitia, the Roman Goddess of Gaiety and was an original fixture back in 1910. Laetitia is holding a laurel crown as a symbol of celebration. The statue was removed during the Second World War as it was thought to be a direction finding device for German bombers, and replaced in 1991.


  • Railway:
    • Wimbledon station.
    • Wimbledon Chase
    • Raynes Park
  • Underground:
    • Wimbledon Park
      • South Wimbledon


In the world of literature, Wimbledon provides the principal setting for several comic novels by author Nigel Williams (including the best-selling The Wimbledon Poisoner and They Came from SW19) as well as for Elisabeth Beresford's series of children's stories about the Wombles.

Wimbledon was also the site where the sixth Martian invasion cylinder landed in H.G. Wells' book The War of the Worlds and is mentioned briefly in his books, The Time Machine and When the Sleeper Wakes.

Major public open spaces

  • Cannizaro park|Cannizaro Park
  • Richmond Park
  • Wimbledon Common
  • Wimbledon Park

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Wimbledon)


  1. Edward Kemp. The parks, gardens, etc., of London and its suburbs, described and illustrated, for the guidance of strangers. John Weale, 1851. p. 29. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=52MDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA29&dq=Wimbledon+Common#v=onepage&q=Wimbledon%20Common&f=false. Retrieved 2011-02-20. 
  2. Room, Adrian: "Dictionary of Place-Names in the British Isles", Bloomsbury, 1988
  3. "Wimbledon". www.british-history.ac.uk. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45395. Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  4. London Gazette: no. 22915, pp. 5834–5835, 25 November 1864.
  5. London Gazette: no. 23682, pp. 5244–5245, 25 November 1870.
  6. London Gazette: no. 23768, p. 3643, 18 August 1871.
  7. Wimbledon Village Stables
  8. [1] Greyhound racing – Wimbledon]
  9. Spedeworth
  10. Windmilers
  11. "New Wimbledon Theatre - architecture - Merton Council". www.merton.gov.uk. http://www.merton.gov.uk/leisure/history-heritage/architecture/open_house_new_wimbledon_theatre.htm. Retrieved 2011-01-14. 
  12. "The New Wimbledon Theatre". www.arthurlloyd.co.uk. http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/WimbledonTheatre.htm. Retrieved 2011-01-14. 
  13. Christopher Hibbert, Ben Weinreb. The London encyclopaedia. Pan Macmillan, 2008. p. 1026. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wN_H-__MBpYC&pg=PA1026&dq=new+Wimbledon+Theatre+history#v=onepage&q=new%20Wimbledon%20Theatre%20history&f=false. Retrieved 2011-01-14. 
  14. "New Wimbledon Theatre Centenary - find fun things to do in London & Surrey with Time & Leisure". www.timeandleisure.co.uk. http://www.timeandleisure.co.uk/articles/history/390-wimbledon-theatre-centenary.html. Retrieved 2011-01-14.