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There have been people living in Wimbledon since, at least the Iron Age, around 2,750 years ago. That is when experts think that the hill fort located in Wimbledon Common was built. It is likely, though, that there were settlements in Wimbledon dating back even further than this. Sadly, though, no evidence exists of the earliest people in Wimbledon.
For much of history, Wimbledon was a small countryside village. There was a stable rural population in Wimbledon from the 1000s right up until the 19th century. And unlike other parts of London, the rural population coexisted quite happily with the wealthy nobility and merchants from London, who used Wimbledon as a countryside retreat to escape the smoke of the city.
The naming of Wimbledon has only just recently been solved. The village first appeared on records in 967 in a charter signed by King Edgar the Peaceful. It was called ‘Wimbedounyng’ in the charter. The name then went through many revisions. A few of these suggest a family name linked to the area. A translation of an old name for the area is ‘Wynnman’s hill’. Could Wynnman be a wealthy family that settled in the area at some point before the Domesday Book? Sadly, no records survive.
In the earliest maps of Wimbledon, the area is called ‘Wimbleton’. These maps were created by one of the best map makers in England at the time, J. Cary in 1786. They show a wonderful look at the area with small settlements of farmers, as well as estates and stately homes of the wealthy coexisting. Finally, in the early 19th century, everyone decided that the best name for the area was Wimbledon, and the name has now stuck, for now.
Due to the importance of Wimbledon, it has some tantalising links to the crown. The kings and queens of England have handed the land of Wimbledon around to some very important folk over the years. Early owners of Wimbledon include Richard II, who confiscated the land from the church in 1398. Thomas Cromwell owned the manor for a very brief time after Henry VIII granted him ownership. Henry’s last wife took ownership back after Cromwell’s execution in 1540, and it was in the hands of the crown for a mere 8 years until it was passed back to the monarch. Henry’s daughters Mary I and Elizabeth I also played their role in Wimbledon’s past as well as many other major players in the history of England.
We had to mention Wimbledon’s tie to tennis, as the two have a strong bond. The first tennis championships to take place in Wimbledon were in 1877. The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club held the championships in Worple Road, Wimbledon. 22 men entered, and the first winner, Spencer Gore, held up the trophy in front of 200 onlookers. The first women’s championships were held in 1884 and were won by Maud Watson, who narrowly beat her sister to win the trophy, a rather interesting story that has occurred many times at Wimbledon and a legacy that the Venus sisters have very much carried through to present day.