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Charles Toase interview: Wimbledon memories

When did you first join the Wimbledon Society?

I don’t know exactly but I’ve had a look at some of the old membership lists and I was a member in 1964. I know I used to tease Richard Milward about this because he didn’t join until 1972 so I was a member long before him. I can also say I’ve been a Wimbledon resident for much longer than he was.

How influential was the Society in those days?

I don’t think at that time it probably was. I think it was seen as an elitist body rather. That’s something it has tried to shake off. More recently I think it has had much more effect. It has done a lot of positive things like getting involved in the Village facelift and now its Planning Committee looks at all planning applications and it has a little influence with the Council at least.

How would you describe the changes and developments in Wimbledon in your lifetime?

Most of those are in the town centre. I started off of course in Lambton Road in Cottenham Park and that hasn’t changed all that much. I remember all the shops there. They have changed – they are not all shops now. For instance the dentist I go to now in Durham Road used to be a greengrocer and there are various others that have become offices and are no longer shops.  One of my favourite shops as a boy was Philip Alan which was a toy shop. I bought my Dinky toys and Hornby trains there. There isn’t a toy shop now but there are still some shops that are purely local family businesses which is more than you get in the town centre.

The town centre of course has changed a lot, especially with the two main developments – Centre Court when we lost the Civic Hall and the area of the Odeon and Morrisons where we lost Victoria Crescent. We even lost the name  Victoria Crescent which was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee and the name has gone altogether now.  So there are those sorts of changes which I rather regret. Centre Court itself as shopping malls go is pretty good. It’s been done as a quality building and part of the old Civic Hall is still actually there. If you look down from the upper level there is a circular bit which was the original foyer of the Civic Hall and I can remember being there and looking down at the box office down below.  There is a little bit of it left and it hasn’t been altogether spoiled and we have got quite a reasonable shopping centre out of it. Better than a lot of places have.

Other things have been maintained. We still have the theatre which has been improved if anything. But the Village hasn’t changed except that most of the real shops have gone and it is predominantly restaurants and estate agents and most of those are not local but branches of national chains. So that’s a pity. And of course Tesco is an eyesore. The Wimbledon Society did battle against that trying to stop it. Had some success initially but eventually the Council gave way and the development went through.

How would you like to see Wimbledon develop in the years ahead?

I don’t think I want to see it develop. Development usually means change for the worse nowadays and the Village has settled down to a more or less reasonable state. It would be nice if we had some local grocers, butchers and so on but it is unlikely things will go that way. We still have the Common fortunately which ever since 1871 has managed to resist change, and the Wimbledon Society, while it isn’t trying to resist change, is trying to stop the worst sort of development.