On Saturday 13 August civic and sporting dignitaries joined more than a hundred local residents at Wimbledon Park to celebrate a hero of the English landscape. As part of a nationwide festival of events marking 300 years since the birth of famous designer, Lancelot “Capability” Brown, the Friends of Wimbledon Park organised a guided walk around the historic green space. During the 18th century, this was land belonging to Earl Spencer, then lord of the manor of Wimbledon. In 1764 he commissioned Brown to landscape his estate. The earlier formal gardens were replaced by a beautifully naturalistic design, encompassing striking vistas, woodland, pasture, farmland and a large lake, created by damming a local brook. Today just 15% of Brown’s original park survives, on land owned by the All England Lawn Tennis Club, The Wimbledon Club and the London Borough of Merton. This includes the public park which is not only much-loved and well used by the local community but a haven for wildlife.
Wimbledon Park has been listed by Historic England due to its national significance and as part of Saturday’s event, a series of commemorative plaques were installed at key points around the perimeter. The first is situated at the Wimbledon Park Road entrance to the park and was unveiled by the Mayor of Wandsworth, Councillor Richard Field. A joint unveiling was then held at the Revelstoke Road entrance by Ian Tattum, Chair of the Southfields Grid Residents’ Association and Iain Simpson, Chair of the Wimbledon Park Residents’ Association. The Mayor of Merton, Councillor Brenda Fraser, who accompanied local residents for the entirety of the walk, was delighted to unveil a third plaque at the park’s Home Park Road entrance. The final plaques were unveiled at the entrance to the Wimbledon Park Golf Club by its director, Vince O’Brien and the Church Road entrance to The Wimbledon Club by the Chairman, David Johnson.
At various points along the route, participants in the walk were treated to short talks from the Friends of Wimbledon Park. Ecology Adviser, Dave Dawson, gave a fascinating insight into the development of the park, Brown’s historic landscape and examples of the flora and fauna which can be found in this area. In the beautiful setting of Wimbledon Park Golf Club, Tony Borkowski, spoke about the history and objectives of the Wimbledon Park Angling Club, of which he is a long-standing member. Martin Sumpton, one of the founder Friends of Wimbledon Park also gave a passionate speech about the need to protect and restore the park, not only to create a healthy environment for wildlife but also to improve the amenity for the future benefit of local residents.
The culmination of the event was a fascinating talk by former Wimbledon resident, Steffie Shields, who is not only an acclaimed author, lecturer and garden photographer but also an expert on the life and work of Capability Brown. The programme ended with a short speech from Sally Bolton, Head of Corporate Affairs at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, who described its pride in being associated with Brown’s historic landscape and thanked the Friends of Wimbledon Park for organising the event.