Wimbledon is a suburban district of southwest London, England, in the London Borough of Merton, located south of Wandsworth, east of Kingston upon Thames, west of Mitcham and north of Sutton. It is situated within Greater London. It is home to the Wimbledon Tennis Championships and New Wimbledon Theatre, and contains Wimbledon Common, one of the largest areas of common land in London. The residential area is split into two sections known as the "village" and the "town", with the High Street being part of the original medieval village, and the "town" being part of the modern development since the building of the railway station in 1838.
Wimbledon has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age when the hill fort on Wimbledon Common is thought to have been constructed. In 1087 when the Domesday Book was compiled, Wimbledon was part of the manor of Mortlake. The ownership of the manor of Wimbledon changed between various wealthy families many times during its history, and the area also attracted other wealthy families who built large houses such as Eagle House, Wimbledon House and Warren House. The village developed with a stable rural population coexisting alongside nobility and wealthy merchants from the city. In the 18th century the Dog and Fox public house became a stop on the stagecoach run from London to Portsmouth, then in 1838 the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) opened 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.
Wimbledon had its own borough of Wimbledon and was within the county of Surrey; it was absorbed into the London Borough of Merton as part of the creation of Greater London in 1965. It is in the Parliamentary constituency of Wimbledon, and since 2005 it has been represented by Conservative MP Stephen Hammond.
Wimbledon has been inhabited since at least the Iron Age when the hill fort on Wimbledon Common is thought to have been constructed. 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 the Peaceful in 967. The name Wimbledon means "Wynnman's hill", with the final element of the name being the Old English "dun" (hill). 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.
At the time the Domesday Book was compiled (around 1087), Wimbledon was part of the manor of Mortlake, and so was not recorded. 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 monarch.
In the 1550s, Henry's daughter, Mary I, granted the manor to Cardinal Reginald Pole who held it until his death in 1558 when it once again become royal property. Mary's sister, Elizabeth I held the property until 1574 when she gave the manor house (but not the manor) to 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, Wimbledon House, was constructed and gardens laid out in the formal Elizabethan style.
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 Leeds MP 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.
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 Jansen'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
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 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 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).
Wimbledon's population continued to grow at the start of the 20th century, a condition recognised in 1905 when the urban district was incorporated as the Municipal Borough of Wimbledon, with the power to select a Mayor.
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 .
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 constructed by the borough council to house some of those who had lost their homes.
In 1965, the London Government Act 1963 abolished the Municipal Borough of Wimbledon, the Merton and Morden Urban District and the Municipal Borough of Mitcham and in their place created the London Borough of Merton. Initially, the new borough's administrative centre was at Wimbledon Town Hall but this moved to the fourteen-storey Crown House in Morden in the early 1990s.
During the 1970s and 1980s Wimbledon town centre struggled to compete commercially with the more developed centres at Kingston 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.