As it’s the first day of the Wimbledon tennis tournament today, it seems a choice moment to have a wander through the back-lanes, greenery and ancient history of the London suburb that shares its name, and find out some interesting facts and, like, say them. And no, the location of The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club is not one of them.
Thing 1: Ancient History
Although there have been settlements on this patch of land since the Iron Age – there’s a hillfort on Wimbledon Common, towards the old hub of the community, the area of the town that is known as The Village. This is because it actually was just a village – albeit one ringed by very expensive manor houses – right up until the arrival of the railway in 1838. This has given the area a sense of being at one and the same time slightly removed from the hubbub of city life, and right in the thick of things.
Thing 2: What’s In A Name?
The area was slow to receive a commonly-agreed spelling. King Edgar the Peaceful (known as such because it was under his reign that the scuffling kingdoms of England were consolidated into a relatively calm union, not because he was a drip) signed a charter in 967 that referring to the village as Wimbedounyng, deriving from Winnman’s Dun (Winnman’s Hill). It went through a phase of being called Wimbleton as well, before finally settling on the current spelling at around the time the trains arrived. Did I mention the transformative effect of the trains?
Thing 3: Remember You’re A Womble
To British people of a certain age, Wimbledon is not only famous for the tennis, Wimbledon Common is the home of the Wombles. Elizabeth Beresford wrote the tale of these early recycling creatures with ice-cream-cone noses and exotic names. Then they appeared on British TV in animated form (narrated by Bernard Cribbins of Doctor Who fame) and then they started having spin-off hit records. In the actual charts. Look!
Thing 4: The Big Guns
The first shooting competitions, organised by the recently-formed National Rifle Association, took place on Wimbledon Common during the 1860s, quickly becoming such a success that they attracted nearly 2,500 competitors. A visiting American team of marksmen were awarded the Wimbledon Cup in 1875, won by Major Henry Fulton, and this was then taken back to Ohio, to become the official trophy of American rifle and pistol matches, specifically marksmanship over 1,000 yards.
Back on Wimbledon Common, however, the power and range of the latest rifles, together with the increasing population in the surrounding area – those trains again – meant that the competition had to be moved to rural Surrey, in 1889.
Thing 5: Famous Faces
Notable Wimbledonians include: Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the man who build the London sewer system, Oliver Reed, and Lord Horatio Nelson, the fellow on the column in Trafalgar Sqaure. But the area seems to have a real knack for churning out musicians, most notably Marcus Mumford – of & Sons fame – Slick Rick and Young MC, both of whom were born there, before moving to New York
But this has to be the best of them all. Sandy Denny, singer with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay:
Anyone for tennis?