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History of Wimbledon

History of Wimbledon
  • council: Merton
  • phone code: 020
  • postcode area: SW19, SW20
  • county: Greater London

Wimbledon is a suburb of London, part of the London Borough of Merton and located seven miles (11.3 km) south west of Charing Cross.

For most of the past one hundred years, Wimbledon has been internationally known as the home of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships.

The name Wimbledon means "Wynnman's hill", with the final element of the name being the Old English dun (hill). The current spelling appears to have been settled on relatively recently in the early 19th century.

The village is referred to as "Wimbedounyng" in a charter signed by King Edgar the Peaceful in 967 and is shown on J Cary's 1786 map of the London area as "Wimbleton".

Early History
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".

In 1087 when the Domesday Book was compiled, Wimbledon was part of the manor of Mortlake. 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.

19th Century
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 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 out 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).

The change of character of Wimbledon from village to small town was recognised in 1894 when, under the Local Government Act 1894, it formed the Wimbledon Urban District with an elected council.

20th Century
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. To find out more about the baths click here

In 1931 the council built itself a new red brick and Portland stone Town Hall next to the station on the corner of Queen's Road and Wimbledon Bridge. The architects were Bradshaw Gass & Hope.

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.

54 Parkside is home to the Papal Nuncio (ambassador) to Great Britain.

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 custom. 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.

Present Day
As it was in the 16th and 17th centuries, Wimbledon's attraction remains its combination of convenient access to central London with the benefit of plentiful recreational facilities. Strong demand for homes, especially the larger properties in the Wimbledon Village and Wimbledon Park areas, has seen prices increase to amongst the highest in the outer London area.

Wimbledon Village provides a good collection of bistros, restaurants and pubs and during the fortnight of the tennis championship the streets are crowded with visitors enjoying the facilities. The newly reopened New Wimbledon Theatre on the Broadway is also popular throughout London, bringing in a large number of West End productions.

There is a Buddhist temple where on 15 August of every year a chariot festival takes place, open to the general public.

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