The History of Wimbledon

Fascinating history of Wimbledon

Wimbledon is often described as one of London’s most perfect villages, full of beautiful shops, prime period properties and outdoor spaces. It’s no surprise, therefore, that this part of south-west London attracts discerning buyers who are looking for beautiful houses and flats in a ‘village-like’ atmosphere, with excellent facilities, transport links and bustling pubs, wine bars and restaurants.

As well as this, SW19 also has an intriguing story behind it, interwoven throughout the history books. The area is known for being the birthplace of writer Raymond Briggs and actors Martin Clunes and Oliver Reed, but long before they – or even the Wombles – made Wimbledon their home ancient Greeks and Romans settled here. In fact, evidence exists that during this period there was a full-on iron fortress built on what we now call Wimbledon Common.

The original nucleus of Wimbledon was at the top of the hill where “the Village” can be found today. However, a charter signed by King Edgar the Peaceful in 967 refers to this area as “Wimbedounyng”. In Anglo-Saxon times, Wimbledon was known as “Wynnman’s hill”. Wynmann was a local landowner, while the “don” part of the area’s modern-day name derives from “dun” – the old English word for hill.

Early history

When the Domesday Book was compiled around 1087, Wimbledon was part of the manor of Mortlake, and so was not recorded. According to the history books, the ownership of the manor of Wimbledon changed hands many times, held by the church until 1398 when Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Arundel fell out of favour with Richard II and was exiled. The manor was then confiscated and became crown property until the reign of Henry VIII when it was granted to Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex. Cromwell was executed in 1540 and the land was confiscated again, but it came into the hands of Henry VIII’s final wife and widow Catherine Parr until she died in 1548, when it was once again returned to the monarch.

Henry’s daughter Mary I gave the manor to Cardinal Reginald Pole, who kept it until his death in 1558, when Elizabeth I took it back and then gave it to Christopher Hatton, an English politician. He sold it the same year to Sir Thomas Cecil, Earl of Essex. The lands of the manor were given to the Cecil family in 1588 and a new manor house, Wimbledon Palace constructed and the gardens laid out in the more formal Elizabethan style.

17th, 18th & 19th Century

The proximity of Wimbledon to central London started to appeal to wealthy families. In 1613, Robert Bell, a director of the British East India Company, built Eagle House as a home close to London. As well as this, Charles I purchased the manor back from the Cecil family in 1638 for his Queen, Henrietta Maria. She then sold the manor in 1661 to George Digby, Earl of Bristol, who upgraded the landscape. On his death in 1677, the manor was once again sold on to the Lord High Treasurer, Thomas Osborne, Earl of Danby. The manor was next sold to Sir Theodore Janssen in 1712 and then Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, who increased the land belonging to the manor. Her death meant the property passed to her grandson, John Spencer, who later became the first Earl Spencer.

Modern history

By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, the Wimbledon School of Art had been established and the town acquired its first cinema and theatre. Bizarrely, there was also a Turkish baths included in the theatre’s facilities! The population also continued to grow, so the urban district was incorporated as the Municipal Borough of Wimbledon, with the power to select a Mayor.

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