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A Brief History of Wimbledon
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Wimbledon - Inhabited since Prehistoric Times
An examination of archaeological evidence suggests that Wimbledon has been inhabited at least since the age of the ancient Greeks and Romans. During this time, an Iron fortress was constructed on a hilltop on what is now Wimbledon Common. Although there is no evidence that the Romans ever actually occupied Wimbledon, it is known that the site became known locally as Caesar's Camp. There is no mention of Wimbledon in the Doomsday Survey of 1086, however from 1328 to 1536 historical records list a manor of Wimbledon among the possessions of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The 'Maker of Wimbledon'
In the 16th Century, after passing through a succession of royal hands, Elizabeth I granted Wimbledon to Thomas Cecil, the 1st Earl of Exeter, who was noted in history for making significant improvements on the road from Wimbledon to London. He later built Wimbledon House, visited by Queen Elizabeth I and James I, but destroyed by fire in 1785. Such progress and development took place that Thomas Cecil is remembered in history as the 'Maker of Wimbledon'.
Wimbledon Village grew in size and importance as other important homes were built in the area. In 1613 Robert Bell of the East India Company built Eagle House; West Side House was built in 1750. And during the 19th century, these homes were then redeveloped as suburban residences for successful London businessmen.
The railway, one of the first in South London, came to Wimbledon in 1838 and due to the high ground in the village, it was situated in open country at the foot of the hill. On 21st May 1838 the first railway engine, pulling just a few coaches, passed through the tiny Wimbledon and Merton Station, isolated in the fields at the bottom of Wimbledon Hill. It came from Nine Elms near Vauxhall and went only as far as Woking, but it inaugurated the main line linking London and Southampton, with trains running every two to three hours.
The arrival of the railways accelerated suburban growth when the coming of the trains made travel easier, and gradually cheaper. With this link to the City, areas like Wimbledon with much open space attracted families who bought large houses, needing many servants to maintain them and an array of shops to keep them supplied. In the early 1850s, houses began to go up south of the Ridgway and small cottages were built in Oldfield and Thornton Road. Shortly after, a series of new roads, some containing gentlemen's villas, were laid out near them: Grosvenor Hill, Sunnyside, Ridgway Place and South (or Denmark) Road. On the north side, only Lingfield Road broke the line of the long gardens and paddocks belonging to the houses along the south side of the Common, until Clifton Road, the Grange and Lauriston Road were laid out in the 1880s and 1890s, followed by Murray Road in 1905.
Little has been published about any of these developments, except those in Denmark Road and the Grange. At the top of Denmark Road the Cottage Improvement Society, founded in 1859 to provide 'good, suitable dwellings for the working classes at a moderate rent', put up seventeen cottages. The rent was four to five shillings a week, but only 'applicants of good character and cleanly habits' were wanted. At the Grange a very different class of buyer was encouraged. Here the land, once the grounds of a large mansion facing the Common, that had belonged to the Mansel family, was divided into lots and sold to the highest bidders. The houses along the new road were almost all architect-designed with large gardens and were built for the well-to-do. 'Socially', historians have remarked, 'the Grange was highly respectable'.
As a result of these developments, a growing number of shops and businesses were established to cater for the town's newly affluent community, and the High Street was substantially redeveloped by Victorian builders. Further residential developments were gradually constructed around the station, and by the 1880s, much of the new town had been established.
Extracts compiled by Luke Whitaker from 'A New Short History of Wimbledon' by Richard Milward M.A.
Acknowledgement: Richard Milward M.A., The Wimbledon Society
Worple Road's History
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