Wildcroft Manor is surrounded by thousands of acres of Wimbledon Common and Putney Heath. For many residents and visitors this is a welcome open space, set with paths and ponds and woods. Suitable for walking dogs and entertaining children. For others, the place resonates with history, and the following snippets try to explain why.
Imagine the thunder of hooves and the excitement of horseracing. You might think of Epsom or Sandown. In 1667 Samuel Pepys recorded that the King and Duke of York had gone to Putney Heath to "run some horses". Such races on the Heath and Common were organised through the centuries until March 10th 1862, and included the prestigious King's Plate trophy.
Rifle Shots echoing across the Common? In 1684 King Charles II had inspected his troops on Putney Heath. Nearly a century later King George III had reviewed his Guards and the Surrey Volunteers. Queen Victoria opened the first National Rifle Association Meeting on the Common in 1860. Four years later participants and spectators might have travelled across the Common on the horse-drawn tram.
It was the same King George who, with his wife Queen Charlotte, had breakfasted in Wildcroft Manor, whilst a fire raged on the floor below. Inadvertent regicide was only avoided by the use of copper and iron sheets between the floors, as David Hartley dramatically demonstrated his fire-proof house.
Many other monarchs would have been familiar with these open grounds. Once, the inhabitants of Wimbledon were taxed with a one-off supplement of one shilling and 8 pence for the re-gravelling of the roads so that Queen Elizabeth I could ride her carriage to Putney - with as few jolts as possible.
Near to the present Wildcroft Manor is the Telegraph pub. Originally opened as a beer shop in the 1850's it became a licenced Inn in 1861. It was named after the adjacent mechanical Telegraph Station which belonged to the Admiralty. This was one of a chain of such signal stations, built in 1796, stretching from Central London to Portsmouth via Chelsea, Putney and on through Kingston to the Portsmouth Naval Base. These were towers with six shutters, later replaced by taller towers with just two moveable arms. The communication system worked, but was replaced by the electric telegraph in 1847. The latter was quicker and also worked at night - and in fog!
Farming on the Common. Well into the 20th century there were several working farms on Wimbledon Common. One of these, Newlands Farm, was established back in mediaeval times. In the 19th century it supplied wheat to be ground in the Wimbledon Windmill. Part of the farm was sold in 1891 for use as Putney Vale Cemetery - whilst another part of the farm still provides food to locals - being the site of the modern day Asda supermarket.
Fighting on the Heath? Bare-knuckle fighting provided mass entertainment (and more gambling opportunities) through the 18th and 19th Centuries - even though it had been declared illegal in 1750. It was patronised by the nobility and the authorities frequently turned a blind-eye. Some of the more memorable fights on the common included the one between Belcher and Gamble on Dec 22 1800, as well as the July 15 1801 fight between Tom Jones and Elias the Jew. The prize money could be equivalent to a year's wages, but the fighting was rough, for the Queensbury Rules of boxing were only introduced in 1867.