Lest we forget
It is no secret here on Virtual Tourist that I have an interest in military history including war graves and memorials and so I was intrigued to see the large cross pictured in a pretty out of the way place near the playing fields on Wimbledon Common. A closer examination revealed it to be a World War 1 memorial which was placed in a landscaped area of five acres in what was formerly a farm which had been acquired by the Conservators to expand the Common. The land was purchased in 1922 and the memorial unveiled in 1925
Appallingly vandalism, as well as the ravages of time, have taken their toll and the names are now all but illegible but thankfully this is being rectified with new memorial panels having been commissioned. As always I make no apology for including this as a thing to do as I feel it is omportant theat the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice is perpetuated.
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I didn't see a Womble
Of course, people of a certain generation (mine) will forever associate Wimbledon Common with the fictional Wombles from the books of Elizabeth Beresford which was subsequently turned into a hugely successful TV animation. For those not familiar with these secretive little creatures, they were a sort of proto recycling species that went round collecting rubbish and putting it to good use as the theme song from the series (written by the excellent Mike Batt) notes.
"Underground, overground, wombling free
The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we
Making good use of the things that we find
Things that the everyday folks leave behind."
A favourite Wombling haunt was the charming Queen's Mere which was created in 1887 by damming a local stream and today provides a gorgeous setting for various wildlife. The picture should give some idea. Despite my best efforts I am afraid there was not a Womble to be seen anywhere.
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Take a hike!
Wimbledon Common, Putney Heath and Putney Lower Common (which is actually about a mile and a half distant) together form the largest area of heathland in Greater London and cover a huge 1140 acres (460 hectares). The importance of the heathland here is reflected by it's designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Area of Conservation under the EC Habitats Directive and a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation.
There has been settlement on Wimbledon Common since paleolithic times as evidenced by the confusingly named Caeser's Barrow which was discovered in the 19th century and has nothing at all to do with the Romans save that it may possibly have been attacked by a legion under the command of Vespasian in AD44 although this is open to debate.
From this time on I can find relatively little information until Tudor times when the start of a long period of military importance begins. In the 16th century the residents of Wimbledon were required to practice archery on the Common to keep their martial prowess up and could be fined 20 shillings (collectively presumably) if they did not keep the butts in good order. In 1648 at about the time of the English Civil War 3,000 men mustered here under command of a Wandsworth miller to march on Whitehall and demand the restoration of King Charles I. I am not sure what kind of qualification milling is for leading a large force of armed men but it obviously does little for your ability to defend yourself in a skirmish as he and several of his followers were killed when confronted by Cromwellian troops.
Whilst the actions of the miller and his men did not stop Charles I getting his head cut off, his son King Charles II reviewed troops here on the Common in 1684 adter the Restoration. This was to become a feature of the area as King George III (the allegedly Mad King) reviewed troops here on several occasions, perhaps most notably in 1799 when he reviewed the Surrey Volunteers and the Light Volunteers who numbered 1,958 and 676 respectively. These volunteer units were raised as England was at war with France at the time and there was no formalised standing army then.
In 1808 the Common was the site of testing of military rockets designed by Sir William Congreve who lived nearby at 1, the Green. These were used in several campaigns including that against the Americans in 1812 when they were used against Fort McHenry and in an attack on Washington. The Americans had never seen anything like these before and a chap called Francis Scott Key was watching the glow of the many fires over Washington and was moved to write the following (and a lot more beside)
"And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there."
The reader may recognise this as part of the American National Anthem. In one of the strange coincidences that seem to follow me around the leader of the British forces there was a Major-General Ross who was not only from near my family home in Northern Ireland but was killed in the action and his body returned to Halifax, Canada for burial. Not eight months previously I had seen his grave in the Old Burying Ground (also known as St. Paul's Church Cemetery) there and created the attached tip.
By 1859 Britain was once again at war with France and various defence measures were implemented against the feared invasion. A volunteer Rifle Corps was formed to encourage proficiency in that weapon which had superseded the defunct blunderbuss and musket. The National Rifle Association held it's first meeting of six days duration in 1860 which was opened by HM Queen Victoria who fired the first shot (with the aid of a mechanical rest). History does not record if she hit the target or not. The inaugural meeting was such a success that the next year a camp was set up for contestants and with refreshements etc. for the visitors who numbered over 13,000 when the polulation of Wimbledon was a mere 4,644.
Each succeeding year seemed to see further innovations and in 1862 the event ended witha sham battle that was to prove the precursor to the Royal Tournament which began in 1880 and lasted until 1999 when the appalling defence cuts of the Labour Government of the day took effect. An attempt to revive it by military charities as a fund-raising event some years later only lasted a short while.
In 1863 a moving target designed by the famous artist Landseer was introduced. Famous for his animal paintings and having exhibited at the Royal Academy at the tender age of 13 he went on to teach HM Queen Victoria and her Consort Price Albert to etch and is perhaps best known for designing the lions in Trafalfgar Square at the base of Nelson's Column.
After the Conservators (mentioned above) took over, the tournament was allowed to continue with a record of 2,498 entries for the Queen's Prize in 1878 but it was not to last. Small arms technology had advanced to the point that ranges were much increased from the old Enfield rifles originally used and the population of Wimbledon had boomed to 16,000 and so you can see the problem, it was downright dangerous and so was moved to Bisley in Surrey where it still remains.
In November 1864 Earl Spencer proposed a plan to present a Parliamentary Bill that would allow for 700 acres of the Common to be enclosed as a park with a further two acres set aside as a garden for his prospective new home. Perhaps potentially most damaging was his proposal to sell off 300 acres to developers which would radically have changed the complexion of the Commons. Fortunately for the land the Bill was held up by a Parliamentary Select Committee investigating the very issue of common lands in the London area.
The matter went to Court and took four years resulting in a new Bill which became the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act of 1871. Administration of the entire area passed to a group of eight Conservators of whom five were elected by ballot form amongst local residents and three were appointed. This system exists more or less unchanged until today. The revenue to run the place was to come from a levy on people residing close to the Commons and again this arrangement exists to this day. The recent actions of the Conservators has brought the body into some disrepute of late but we are getting ahead of ourselves and so back to the 19th century we go.
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany took the salute at another massive military muster in 1891 when he inspected 22,000 troops of whom 16,000 were volunteers. I wonder if he thought then that just over two decades later some of these same men or perhaps their sons would be fighting against his country in "the war to end all wars".
Before we reach that awful conflict we come upon a little piece of aviation history in 1907 when A.V. Roe, another local resident, flew Roe 1 (his first full size aircraft) on the Common completely without permission. There is yet another small coincidence associated with this as I had previously passed the spot on Waltahmstow Marshes where he had made the first all-British powered flight in Avro #1 a couple of years later. This seems a little odd to me as it would be hard to find two more diametrically opposed areas of Greater London than Wibledon in the Southwest and Walthamstow in the extreme Northwest. I shall investigate further and let the reader know in the appropriate tips.
A further and probably unsuccessful aeronautical enterprise was attempted in 1912 when the absolutely delightfully named Passat's Ornithopter was tested here. Built by Mr. J.B. Passat in nearby Durham Road it was one of those Heath Robinson contraptions held together by string and the power of prayer with flapping wings to mimic the action of a bird in flight. They were never a great success but they do make for some wonderful old monochrome footage of early flying machines.
Sadly aeroplanes were to take on a different role with the advent of the First World War in 1914 and a portion of the Common from Windmill Road to Parkside was requisitioned as a fighter base for the defence of London. A much larger portion of the land was utilised by the Army for training, transit camps and local defence. The "war to end all wars" proved to be anything but and the pattern was repeated in the Second World War without the aerodrome but with the addition of anti-aircraft defences, an ammunition dump, assault course and even a sizeable vegetable plot tended by Italian prisoners of war.
I have spoken above of rifle shooting but this is by no means the only sporting activity available on the Common both historically and contemporaneously. Wimbledon F.C., who are now controversially the M.K. Dons some seventy miles away in what was seen by many as a go-ahead for American style franchising, were formed here and used the Fox and Grapes pub as a changing room. Fulham F.C. played one season of home games here in the late 19th century. Part of the Common is known as "The Richardson Evans Memorial Playing Fields" in honour of the man who saved them for public use and they host London Cornish RFC (Rugby Union) as well as providing training facilities for Harlequins Rugby League side.
Two golf clubs (London Scottish and Wimbledon Common) share a ground here and the Scottish clubhouse is also home to the Thames Hare and Hounds cross country running club which is the oldest in the world and so it is probably fitting that it annually hosts the Varsity (Cambridge vs. Oxford Universities) event in that discipline. In similar vein the first Varsity Golf match was held here in 1878. Ypu can esily spot the golfers as a local regulation requires them to wear red tops whilst playing.
There are 16 miles of horse rides here and every Saturday morning over 300 people turn out for a five km. fun run. Truly a sporting venue in beautiful surroundings.
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It being a Common, there are not tons of things to do that are indoors.
This museum is nice as it is educational for both kids and adults. Inside they ahve many mini windmills showing how they have developed through the ages. They have a film showing how mills are built, I found this particularly interesting!
Schools come here on visits, so it is advisable to cisit this on a weekend or a public holiday, so the place is not deluged with eager youngesters :)
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History of the windmill
My two favourite windmills thus far is the one in Rye, and this one :) Okay, I havent travelled the world extensively, nor saw windmills when in Holland, but these are good enough for me.
Its base is octoganal, and brick. All the machinery was placed inside the brick area. It was built in 1817 to provide the locals with organically grown flour.
It halted all work in 1854, and was used as accommodation for a while. One of these rooms is still on view to the visitor.
In 1975 it bacame a museum when renovations were done on it.
- Museum Visits
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