Another in the occasional series on historical sites on the “Capital Ring” walk …
Wimbledon was first recorded in c. 950 as Wunemannedune, from the Old English personal mane Wynnmann and “dun”, “hill” (note also, though, that there is an Iron Age earthwork nearby, at “Caesar’s Camp”). The original church of St Mary was built here in the Saxo-Norman period. A manor house, known as the Parsonage House and later the Old Rectory, was built here in c. 1500; and a second one, known as Wimbledon House or Palace in c. 1588.
The village of Wimbledon grew up around the church and manor houses.
Eagle House, on the High Street, was built for Robert Bell, Master of the Worshipful Company of Girdlers and Co-Founder and Director of the British East India Company, in either 1613 or 1617 (sources differ).
The Rose and Crown, also on the High Street, was built in the middle part of the seventeenth century.
The area only began to become densely built up after the arrival of the railway in 1838. It is now part of the London Borough of Merton.
Church of St Mary
As noted above, the original church of St Mary was built during the Saxo-Norman period, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. It was rebuilt in the later Medieval period, at the end of the thirteenth century, and again in the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. The oldest surviving part is the chancel.
The Cecil Chapel contains a stained-glass window dating back to the fifteenth century, and a number of memorials from the seventeenth century, including that of Edward Cecil, 1st Viscount Wimbledon (d. 1638), son of Thomas, and grandson of William. Elsewhere in the interior are memorials to Philip Lewston, who died in 1462, and William Walter, who died in 1587. And commemorative plaques to the abolitionist William Wilberforce, who lived locally and died in 1833, and who is buried in Westminster Abbey, and to the “Sewer King” Joseph Bazalgette, who also lived locally, and died in 1891, and who is buried in the family vault in the churchyard.
What is now known as the Old Rectory was built in c. 1500 for the church, the manor at that time being owned by the Archbishops of Canterbury. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the King, Henry VIII, gave it to Thomas Cromwell, in 1536, and then – after Cromwell’s fall from grace and execution – to the Queen, Catherine Parr, in 1543. Henry visited the house in 1546, after being taken ill on a tour of his Surrey palaces, and indeed was so ill he could not make it up the stairs, such that a bed had to be made up for him in front of the fireplace in the entrance hall. In 1550, it became a grace-and-favour home for William Cecil, who went on to become 1st Baron Burghley – and Elizabeth I’s chief adviser. The house still stands to this day, its appearance altered from that in Tudor times essentially only by the demolition of some parts and the restoration of others in the early eighteenth century. However, it is now carefully screened from public view.
Wimbledon House or Palace
Wimbledon House or Palace was built in c. 1588 for William’s son Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter. It was subsequently rebuilt – by Inigo Jones and Nicholas Stone – in 1639, for King Charles I’s Queen, Henrietta Maria, taken away from her during the Civil War in 1642, and only given back after the Restoration in 1660, and sold – in a sorry state of repair – in 1661. It was eventually demolished in 1717.