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Center Court


For two weeks each year the eyes of the sporting world are focussed on the famous Centre Court. From time to time the aerial camera pans to show the lovely outline of St. Mary's dominating the hill. Wimbledon is a gracious place to live, the picturesque High Street home to a blend of fashionable boutiques, cafes, and bars snakes through the village, the traffic yielding from time to time to let horses have the right of way on their way between the stables and the Common.

It is close to being a rural idyll with the village bordering the more open part of Wimbledon Common with its pond. Beyond are the wilder parts left largely in their natural state, paradise to dog owners, and golfers in their mandatory warning red sweaters. Members these of the London Scottish Golf Club, England's second oldest gold club, with the distinction of producing in 'Young' Willie Dunn the first Open Champion of the United States in 1894, but the prize in the Wimbledon golfing world is membership of the splendid Royal Wimbledon Golf Club.

When in 1864 the 5th Earl Spencer, the Lord of the Manor, proposed to enclose the Common and sell part of it as building land, it was saved after a long fought legal battle by Act of Parliament. Weapons 100,000 years old have been found, and the Common boasts a 'Caesar's Camp' several centuries older than Caesar himself. Since then it has variously been the haunt of highwaymen such as John Tibbet (of Tibbet's Corner fame), a centre of bare knuckle fighting, and the testing ground for railways, and early aviation.

The windmill, famously painted by John Constable no less, was where Baden Powell completed the writing of 'Scouting for Boys'. Today, preserved as a museum, it has become a symbol of Wimbledon.

Close by on Parkside at No 57 is the imposing residence where Pope John Paul II stayed on his visit to London. In nearby Calonne Road is the unexpected site of a glorious Buddhapadipa Temple with splendid paintings inside.

William Wilberforce, who's reforming zeal lead to the abolition of the slave trade, lived beside the common. So too did 'Blade Runner' and 'Gladiator' director Ridley Scott; and that larger than life character, actor Oliver Reed. A blue plaque celebrates actress Margaret Rutherford who lived a short walk away in Berkeley Place, in the same short cul-de-sac where best-selling author Penny Vincenzi now resides. Another plaque, to the great German philosopher Arthur Schopenhaur educated here in Wimbledon, adorns the elegant Eagle House.

Visitors to the Festival can enjoy concerts in 'one of London's hidden gems' (BBC TV), Southside House with its many associations to historical figures. One of the family married the only heiress of Anne Boleyn; another married the heiress of the infamous Duke of Wharton; another played a Scarlet Pimpernel role during the French Revolution, and was rewarded some say with the pearls that Marie Antoinette wore to the guillotine.

Emma Hamilton is said to have performed her famous 'attitudes' in the Music Room before her lover Admiral Lord Nelson. Edward VII met his mistress Alice Keppel here. And in the gardens the Swedish doctor and philanthropist revised his famous book, 'The Story of San Michele''. It was published by the famous publishing house of John Murray (associated with Lord Byron, and Darwin), and the family name lives on in the road which links the common with another of the Festival venues, the Church of St John the Baptist, where Murray Road becomes Spencer Hill.