Visitors to an exhibition being staged by the Museum of Wimbledon will learn how lords, a prime minister and even royalty have a history of discharging firearms on the nearby common.
Playing with Fire: The Story of Shooting on Wimbledon Common reveals how the area was used for military parades and duels in the 18th century, with King George III reviewing his troops on the open heathland. ‘Duellists’ included Prime Minister William Pitt, Lord Castlereagh and Lord Cardigan, who is famed for ordering the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War.
The exhibition, which is being staged just a short walk from the Common at the Norman Plastow Gallery on Lingfield Road, also reveals how the Common’s shooting tradition started when Earl Spencer, Lord of the Manor, helped found the National Rifle Association – a corps of volunteers raised to meet a potential French invasion. The first meeting took place in 1860 – and Queen Victoria fired the first shot.
As the popularity of the NRA grew, there were thousands of entrants for the Queen’s Prize by the late 1870s and in 1890 the association found an alternative site in Bisley, Surrey. The Common was later used in both world wars for training of troops.
The exhibition runs until Sunday 12 April. Opening times at weekends are 14.30 to 17.00 and Wednesdays 11.30 to 14.30. Admission to the Norman Plastow Gallery is free.
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Image credit: James Lee (flickr.com)