The picturesque inns of Wimbledon are integral to daily life both today and historically. Delve into their past with local author Trevor P Kwain.
Our social lives, just as the lives of characters we read about in novels, always gravitate around food and drink, and it has always been so. Wimbledon Village too has a history to tell when it comes to the art of feasting and merry making. If you were blessed with a time machine you would find nineteen Inns to choose from. The Baldfaced Stag, The Jolly Butchers, The Brewery Tap, and many others used to line Wimbledon High Street.
When I was planning the Wynnman book series, I wanted my characters to chat as much as possible in one or more of our pubs. I envisaged them chatting or in heated discussions during the different periods of their lives. When Viviane and Dr Watkins plan to break into Cannizaro Park against police orders to search the Guides’ Chapel, it made perfect sense they did it at the Rose and Crown over a drink. The picturesque inns of Wimbledon are integral to daily life both today and historically so they could never be ignored! Two public houses feature more than others simply because they have seen so much by being the oldest hostelries in the village. The Dog and Fox and The Rose and Crown have stood where they are and despite name changes have been open continuously since the 1700s. They may have been refurbished throughout history but the original walls that still stand proud have heard and seen more in their lifetime than we ever will.
The Rose and Crown is in theory ‘the oldest’, dating back to the 1650s and standing pretty much in its original form. Its name changed from “The Sign of the Rose” during Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth and then “The Rose and Crown” when King Charles II was restored to the throne. A survey of the manor in 1617 for Thomas Cecil, Lord of the Manor of Wimbledon, mentions a bowling green on site but it is not clear if a pub already existed there back then.
The Dog and Fox appears to date back to 1776 when placed on one of the first maps of Wimbledon commissioned by the Lord of the Manor Earl Spencer. However, records show it existed in situ before then since it is mentioned in a survey of the manor from 1617 under a different name: The Sign of My Lord’s Arms (very different from the pub names you see nowadays!). For a short period in the early 1900s the Dog and Fox was known as Wimbledon Hill Hotel. Putting historical records aside, there is one thing for sure: both the Dog and Fox and the Rose and Crown have always been a central point for stay-overs, concerts, games and stops for London stagecoaches. Their importance in the community is also reflected in how they became meeting points for different groups, from famous poets such as Hunt and Thackeray, to friendly societies, and the local Vestry (which took charge of church matters and welfare for the poor).
Beyond these two giants, we must not forget the many other traditional pubs, still present today, which have existed since the 1800s: The Crooked Billet, The Fox and Grapes, The Hand in Hand, The Fire Stables and The Swan. With a gentle amble down Wimbledon Hill you will find the multi-faceted, community driven Alexandra and the Hand and Racquet.
Unsurprisingly, given the number of pubs in Wimbledon, the town and village have a long tradition of local brewing, having had two breweries. The Wheatsheaf Brewery was built near the Crooked Billet, but disappeared in 1842, and the Wimbledon Brewery, was razed to the ground in a fire in 1889 only to see its name resurrected recently. The fact that two breweries existed in Wimbledon Village from the late 1700s was a cause of great concern as the exuberant enjoyment of the working class exploded into big business for beer and spirit makers. Too many pubs were opening in Wimbledon Village, indeed many of the pubs in the 19th century locale had laws in place to limit disorderly behaviour and drunkenness!
Since those days, Wimbledon pubs have changed dramatically. Today they are more family friendly, more diverse in the food served, offer TV screens and use social media as a key part of the pub social life. But, as we prepare for Christmas, their old magic remains. Picture yourself enjoying the comfort of an armchair by a roaring log fire sipping locally brewed ale and you can travel back in time. Like me, you too can imagine those who once walked this earth and made these inns the places that they are today. They are the very characters that inhabit my tales.
As Christmas approaches, indulge yourself in a special evening in one, or more, of Wimbledon’s historic hostelries. Wimbldonians have always done this, so be safe in the knowledge that you too will be helping to keep up our fabulous historic traditions. Have a very merry Christmas!
Trevor has woven a fascinating novel where present day Wimbledon and its history meet. His attention to detail brings the story to life and that makes it even more enjoyable.
Contributor: Trevor P Kwain
Editor: Janie Smith | Arts & Culture Editor
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