Wimbledon Common is draped in history that makes it one of the most unique places in the country. Many people who grew up in the 70s and 80s think of one thing when the Commons are brought up in conversation; The Wombles! These furry little creatures were a big hit on UK TV sets, and many people in the area credit them with putting this place on the map.
However, while Uncle Bulgaria and the gang did a lot to raise the profile of Wimbledon Common, the history dates back much further than that. If you take a journey through time, you’ll see the first signs of Wimbledon Common as early as the Stone Age. But, most of the important aspects of history took place during the 19th Century.
Lots of people and historians have researched the Commons over the years. One thing that always comes up is the origination of the name. Wimbledon Common rolls off the tongue perfectly, but what fuelled the name?
Effectively, it came from the term ‘common land’, which was regularly used in the 1800s as a way of describing land that was owned by the Lord of the Manor. Ironically, it wasn’t actually a place for ‘common’ folk to go as they please! People were given entitlements to use the land, but they were called ‘commoners’ with specific rights. Of course, when you pair this with the location, you get the name Wimbledon Common.
The Wimbledon Windmill Rises
Those of you that have been to Wimbledon Common will notice the iconic windmill located on-site. It is a Grade II listed windmill, and it’s open to the public as a museum. This is one of the finest pieces of architecture – not just in Wimbledon, but in London as a whole.
So, it’s interesting to know that the Wimbledon Windmill may not have been built because of failed planning permission back in 1799. Thankfully, a man called Charles March – the local carpenter in Roehampton – re-applied for planning in 1816 and was approved. He built the windmill himself, and it was up and running for nearly 50 years before being shut down.
Earl Spencer, Lord of the Manor
In 1864, Wimbledon Common almost came to an early end. The current Lord of the Manor of Wimbledon – Earl Spencer – decided that he didn’t like the land much after all. It was deemed too boggy, and he wanted to completely alter the area. He proposed that a few hundred acres were turned into a park, but the rest was used to build a brand new private manor house and garden. This also caused the closure of the much-loved windmill – where he knocked down part of the brickwork to turn into lodgings for workers.
Many people opposed this idea, but he took it to parliament and ended up getting it approved by most of the people who were present. Thankfully, a committee delayed the bill, and this led to the creation of the Wimbledon Common Committee. Following this, a suit of Chancery was commenced against Lord Spencer in 1866. Four years passed, but he was forced to draw up a new bill that became the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act.
This Act ensured that the Commons were kept open and that nothing could be built on them. It was a massive move that saved Wimbledon Common and allowed it to grow into the lovely areas we know today. Earl Spencer was also made to contribute £1,200 every year, which went towards preserving the area. As time went on, these payments were also distributed amongst the local residents to keep up the fund.
The Wimbledon Windmill Sails Again
Following all of this, the Wimbledon Windmill was re-opened and repaired. Many people and businesses from around Wimbledon contributed to the repairs, and it was finally complete in 1893.
An interesting fact about the Wimbledon Windmill is that it underwent a radical camouflage transformation during World War II. It was painted green and became partially invisible to avoid attracting the attention of any German bombers. While it survived two World Wars, the iconic windmill sadly stopped working during the mid-1900s. It underwent extensive restorations in 1975 before becoming a museum.
As you can see, Wimbledon Common has a very intriguing history. It’s been through some rough times, but the local residents have always fought to keep it a public place. Tourism has increased since The Wombles made it their home, and it remains one of the most beautiful Commons in the country.