Wimbledon History


Wimbledon has come a long way through the centuries. Archaeological evidence suggests that British people have inhabited it since prehistoric times, when an Iron Age hill fort was constructed upon the open hilltop of Wimbledon Common. Although it was called ‘Caesar’s Camp’, there is no evidence that the Romans ever occupied Wimbledon. The village of Wimbledon is not mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086, and it was not until the 16th Century that the merits of Wimbledon were recognised by Thomas Cecil, later the Earl of Exeter. Described as the “Maker of Wimbledon”, he was responsible for the improvement of the road to London and built Wimbledon Manor House. Queen Elizabeth I and James I were both entertained there. The house remained with the Cecil family until it was sold to the Crown in 1638. It then passed through several hands to Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough. The original manor had been demolished and rebuilt, and she was to build a further 2 houses. The manor remained in that family until 1846. In the meantime the village had been developing. In 1613 Robert Bell of the East India Company built Eagle House, from which he used to commute to London on horseback. Other large houses were built: West Side House (1750), Wimbledon House (now demolished), Cannizaro, Chester House, Stanford House and the Keir. During the 19th Century a number of the large houses were redeveloped as suburban houses for London businessmen. To provide for this affluent community, a number of shops were established along the High Street. The first appeared around 1670, a butcher’s run by Phanuel Maybank and a barber’s. In a sketch of the town of Wimbledon, commissioned in 1776 by Earl Spencer, every shop on the High Street is marked, some of which still stand today. In what is presently number 32 was a tailor, 33 was a glazier and plumber, 34 a butcher, 35 a baker and in 36 a builder. Wimbledon Common had been the scene of many duels, and from 1860 it was the venue for the National Rifle Association’s annual camp and meeting. In 1861 there was a spectacular cavalry charge, across the common, as part of the Royal Tournament. As the 19th Century progressed, Wimbledon Common was used for less dangerous sports, becoming the home of the All England Croquet Club which became the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club. After visits by the Prince of Wales in 1907 attendance increased and standard of play improved. Now Wimbledon fortnight is an international event, seen by millions on television worldwide. Subsequent to the two World Wars, Wimbledon’s estates were broken up and developed into smaller houses as a result of the social upheavals of these tumultuous times. The population of Wimbledon has grown exponentially from 1 591 at the turn of the 19th Century to the present level of 48 000. Wimbledon is now a thriving community of businesses and residents with a bright future.