Wimbledon and Putney Commons in London
Wimbledon Common is a large open space in Wimbledon south-west London, totalling 460 hectares (1140 acres). There are three named areas: Wimbledon Common, Putney Heath, and Putney Lower Common which together are managed under the name Wimbledon and Putney Commons. Putney Lower Common is separated from the rest of the Common by about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of built-up area.
Wimbledon and Putney Commons
Wimbledon Common together with Putney Heath and Putney Lower Common is legally protected by the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act of 1871 from being enclosed or built upon. The common is for the benefit of the general public for informal recreation and the preservation of natural flora and fauna. It is the largest expanse of heathland in the London area. There is an area of bog with unique flora. The western slopes, which lie on London Clay, support mature mixed woodland. The Commons are also a flagship site for the stag beetle.
Most of the Commons are a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation which is an important European designation. English Nature work with the Conservators on the management plan for the area.
The Commons are administered by eight Conservators, five of whom are elected triennially and the remaining three are appointed by three government departments: Department of the Environment, Ministry of Defence and the Home Office. The Commons are managed by the Clerk and Ranger who is supported by a Deputy, a Wildlife & Conservation Officer and a PA. There are seven Mounted Keepers (who deal with public safety and security), two groundsmen (for the playing fields), six maintenance workers and one property maintenance worker - comprising some 19 employees in total. There are at least four horses which are used by the Keepers on mounted patrol.
The Conservators are responsible for the annual budget of around £1m. Most of the revenue comes from an annual levy on houses within ¾ mile (1.2 km) of the Commons. The levy payers are entitled to vote for the five elected Conservators. The levy payers fall within three London boroughs: Merton, Wandsworth (which includes Putney) and Kingston.
A windmill stands near the centre of Wimbledon Common (see picture), notable for being the place where Robert Baden-Powell wrote parts of Scouting for Boys, which was published in 1908.
Two broad, shallow pools, Kingsmere and Rushmere, lie near roads on the higher parts of Wimbledon Common and seem to be the result of gravel extraction. The more remote Queensmere is somewhat deeper, being impounded in a small valley.
Beverley Brook runs along the western edge of Wimbledon Common.
There are approximately one million trees on the common.
At the southern end of the common are the remains of an Iron Age hill fort known as Caesar's Camp (although it has no known connection with any Roman emperor).
Charles II reviewed his forces on Putney Heath in 1684; in May, 1767, George III reviewed the Guards, and the Surrey Volunteers at the same spot in 1799. According to Samuel Pepys, Charles II and his brother, the Duke of York used to run horses here.
A stone and brick obelisk was erected on Putney Heath in 1770, marking the 110th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, to coincide with the invention of the Hartley fire plates by David Hartley (the Younger), near a spot where his fireproof house was built. The obelisk, with ornately detailed foundation stone, is still standing and can be accessed via the car park adjacent to The Telegraph public house, off Wildcroft Road, SW15. The lower part of this house was repeatedly set on fire in the presence, among others, of George III and Queen Charlotte, the members of Parliament, the Lord Mayor, and the Aldermen. Since 1955 the obelisk has been a Grade II listed building. The adjacent Wildcroft Manor was formerly in the ownership of publishing magnate George Newnes, builder of Putney library. In 1895 he was created a baronet "of Wildcroft, in the parish of Putney, in the county of London.
Many duels were undertaken on Putney Heath. In May, 1652, George, the third Lord Chandos, and Colonel Henry Compton fought with Compton being killed in the encounter. On a Sunday afternoon in May, 1798 William Pitt, the then Prime Minister, who lived in Bowling-Green House on the heath, fought a bloodless battle with William Tierney, MP. The house derived its name from the bowling-green formerly attached to it, and for more than sixty years (1690-1750) was the most famous green in the neighbourhood of London. The house had large rooms for public breakfasts and assemblies, was a fashionable place of entertainment, and noted for "deep play." Pitt died in the house in 1806. It was later owned by Henry Lewis Doulton, son of Henry Doulton of pottery fame. It was demolished and an art deco style residence rebuilt on the site in 1933. Putney Heath, near the Telegraph pub, was also the venue for the September 1809 duel between Cabinet ministers George Canning and Lord Castlereagh.
Scio House was the last villa on Portsmouth Road abutting the heath. It was built and owned by Eustratios Stephanos Ralli, a founder of the Baltic Exchange and a member of the most successful Greek émigré merchant families, the Ralli Brothers of the mid-19th century. Their firm employed more than 40,000 people. They were quick to seize new opportunities created by wars, political events, and the opening of new markets, such as corn, cotton, silk, opium and fruit. Scio House was named after the family's birthplace, the Greek city and island of Chios. Mary Ann Chadwell describes driving "with Mrs Peter Ralli's children to Putney to see the grounds of Mrs E. Ralli. Beautiful views over Wimbledon Common." The mansion eventually became a hospital and was known as Scio House Hospital for Officers, Putney. and by 1919 a Colonel Hargreaves was living in Scio House. By 1926 it was known as the British Red Cross Hospital, where serviceman injured in World War I still remained. Former British governor to Singapore Sir John Fearns Nicoll died at Scio in 1981. In the mid-1980s the site was controversially redeveloped as Lynden Gate, a gated community of 70 neo-Georgian homes divided between two streets. Opposition to the planned demolition of Scio House was raised in the House of Lords in 1982 by Lord Jenkins.
Putney Heath is around 400 acres in size and sits at approximately 150 feet above sea level. Because of its elevation, from 1796 to 1816 Putney Heath hosted a station in the shutter telegraph chain, which connected the Admiralty in London to its naval ships in Portsmouth. This was replaced by a semaphore station, which was part of a semaphore line that operated between 1822 and 1847.
Putney Heath was for many years a noted rendezvous for highwaymen. In 1795, the notorious highwayman Jeremiah Abershaw - also known as Jerry Avershaw - was caught in the Green Man pub (now owned by Wandsworth brewery Young's,) on the northside of the heath where Putney Hill meets Tibbet's Ride. After execution his body was hung in chains on the heath as a warning to others. An ancient wood fence cattle pound is located opposite the Green Man, adjacent to two huge plane trees, near the bus terminus. This simple wood fence structure, used historically to contain lost livestock, has been listed as a Grade II listed structure since 1983.
A number of fine homes lined Putney Hill and the north face of the heath, west of the Green Man. All had semi-circular carriageway entrances and exits. These included Grantham House, the residence of Lady Grantham; Ripon House, Ashburton House; Exeter House, occupied by the second Marquis of Exeter. George Cockayne, author of peerage and baronetage publications, died at Exeter House in 1911. Nearby Gifford House was owned by the J. D. Charrington of brewing fame; and Dover House, was the seat originally of Lord Dover, afterwards of Lord Clifden. It was owned at the turn of the 20th century by the famous US financier JP Morgan.
With the development of transport routes for the growing financial sector, the area became highly desirable for City gents in the 1890s and they were initially known as "outsiders". In 1900, social researcher Charles Booth had classified the whole area of Putney Hill and West Hill, leading into Putney Heath, as wealthy or well-to-do. Despite a full array of places of worship, he said it was noted for low church attendance with all denominations "struggling for the souls of pleasure-seeking Putney... the middle class here are as indifferent as the poor elsewhere."<ref name="autogenerated1913"/>
The village green at the corner of Wildcroft and Telegraph roads is used by Roehampton Cricket Club and is one of the oldest cricket teams in London, being established in 1842. The club has played there continuously since 1859 when lord of the manor, Earl Spencer, suggested it as a new site. It has two sides in the highly competitive Fullers Surrey County League and a Sunday side that plays on a more social level. In 1900, a decade after the death of his multimillionaire father Junius Morgan, JP Morgan had already gained a fondness for the sport and was made an honorary member. Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, who presided at the club dinner in 1910, allowed his two young children - Raymond and Cecily - to play cowboys and indians on the cricket green during the week. This groundkeeper's transgression was later believed to have been a privilege of him being an honorary member.
A German V-1 flying bomb destroyed the club's pavilion, opposite the Telegraph pub, in July, 1944, near where the covered water reservoir is located. The Chelsea Water Company originally owned the reservoir site and allowed construction of the club pavilion on its property. The reservoir site is now owned by Thames Water. Cricket matches continued during the war although some games started late or were drawn due to late starts or air raid sirens. Wildcroft Road, turning into Portsmouth Road and thus the future A3, was a main thoroughfare into SW London and became a stop-off point for American serviceman who alighted from their jeeps to "taste this crazy cricket game"
On the south side of the reservoir, in the triangle of land between Wildcroft Road, Tibbet's Ride and the Green Man, is a large clearing of land. A funfair is set up on the grounds each October, lasting for one week. Ground rent is paid by the touring company to the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators, as part of the income of the charity.
Sports and recreation
Old Central School, situated in the south west of Wimbledon Common, provided a former pupils football team in the late 19th century which played on the common and used the "Fox and Grapes" public house as a changing room. At first called "The Old Centrals", this club later became Wimbledon F.C.
Putney Lower Common hosted Fulham F.C.'s home games in the 1885/1886 season.
The Richardson Evans Memorial Playing Fields, which form part of the Commons and are situated in Kingston Vale, provide football and rugby pitches for local schools and clubs. The grounds are currently home to London Cornish RFC, and is the training ground for Harlequins Rugby League. It also hosts the annual National Schoolboy 7s rugby tournament. The grounds can also accommodate many different sports such as Australian Rules Football and Ultimate Frisbee.
Hampton and Richmond Borough Juniors FC (Colts section of Hampton and Richmond Borough FC of the Conference League) play their home matches at the Richmond Park entrance/Robin Hood roundabout corner of the common on Sunday mornings.
Today, as well as being a fine place for cycling, jogging and walking, the Common is home to The Wimbledon Common Golf Club (Brian James, Secretary - Jeff Jukes, Professional - Emma Pope, Bar Manager) and The London Scottish Golf Club (Steve Barr, Secretary and professional - Katie Campbell, Bar Manager). The first University Golf Match was played on Wimbledon Common in 1878, courtesy of the LSGC. It also is the base for Thames Hare and Hounds, the oldest cross country running club in the world. Annually Thames Hare and Hounds host the 1st team (Blues) Varsity cross-country match between Oxford and Cambridge Universities.
The Commons also provide some 16 miles of horse rides.
The Common is home to The Wombles, the children's TV characters.
It is also featured in the novel The Wimbledon Poisoner by Nigel Williams, the climax of which occurs in the windmill.
The TARDIS briefly stops there at the end of the Doctor Who serial The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, while Iris Wildthyme - a character from the BBC Doctor Who book series - travels in a TARDIS which is disguised as the Number 22 bus to Putney Common.
The Common is one setting of HG Wells' War of the Worlds.
In the British Television Sitcom Bottom, Richie and Eddie go camping in Wimbledon Common.
In the news
Wimbledon Common suffered a drop in popularity and increased concerns for public safety in 1992 following the Rachel Nickell murder case. The public was asked to avoid walking on the common alone, particularly single women. There were also two rapes on Wimbledon Common/Putney Common in 2002.
- Richmond Park
- Putney Vale
- Raynes Park
- Wimbledon & Putney Commons Conservators
- Thames Hare and Hounds Cross Country Club
- Wimbledon Common Time Trial
- The Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act 1871
- Wimbledon Common on the VisitWoods website
- Putney Lower Common on the VisitWoods website