Cyril Maidment interview: Wimbledon Society

When did you join the Wimbledon Society and how has it changed?

I was first a member of the Local History Group and after a while Richard Milward said I really ought to be a duty officer in the Museum and so I did that. It was more relaxed then. We used to go for a drink in the club afterwards with one or two others. Round about 1995 I became the Curator of the Map Collection and still am.

I do three [organised] walks. One is Houses around the Rushmere, another is one I invented which is Doublegates to Singlegate, and a new one I did this year is Conducted Walk to View the 27 Listed Monuments and other Historic Monuments in the Graveyard of the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Wimbledon. [About 1990] I was asked if I would take over from Wilbur Cocke who was a famous Wimbledon Society person. He did a walk around the Rushmere, the Green, a bit of Parkside and Westside. Plenty of stuff there to talk about. I have two books on it. A lot of research went into it and it was a good walk. I haven’t done it for a while. Similarly, I devised another walk from Doublegates to Singlegate as I called it. Doublegates was on the toll road which existed between Wimbledon on the one side and Merton on the other. It was a good walk for local history. Richard [Milward] made the rules about local history: you couldn’t talk outside Wimbledon apart from Merton Priory, Admiral Nelson and William Morris. Those you could talk forever about. There was plenty to talk about in the Wimbledon half of that walk but the more interesting parts were on the other side of the road. But that was quite legal because of the Milward rules on this matter.

Then the third walk. I couldn’t believe that one graveyard could have 27 listed monuments but it was all very true. Therefore I thought that would also make a good walk so I put that together. Believe it or not the hardest part was to find these monuments because you get some help from English Heritage but not much. A lot of their descriptions and locations are quite wrong but I sorted them all out and I did the walk in June and I think it was a success. It was well received certainly and over-subscribed. So that was my third walk.

The other things I did – I helped Richard with some books, a lot of his books. This is one we did together which is called Wimbledon, A Surrey Village in Maps. It was produced for the millennium. Then this book which was my idea but Richard did the [text]. It is called The Lull before the Storm, the Last Years of Rural Wimbledon. It showed the maps and it was around the time of the Tithe Maps and we had some good maps to go in. It made a good book, I think. Then I helped with a number of other books of Richard’s. I could do the maps for him. Last year we had a new book [by] Elspeth Veale. I did a lot of maps for that book as well. 

Have you been involved with any of the other aspects of the Wimbledon Society such as the planning side, activities and lectures?

I have done an occasional lecture and I work closely with the planning because they put great emphasis on heritage and we can help them out. We did have a big thing this year about Rose Cottage. Along Merton High Street there were four big estates and one of them – eight acres – was Rose Cottage. The building is the only one that is still there but it is shadow of its former self. It has never got listed unfortunately but the internal part is as it was built in 1810. 

You are also an expert on Merton Abbey.

Next year for ten weeks from July we are going to take over the Gallery and give the history of Merton Priory. I’ve got a lot of it done already. There are going to be contributions from [Councillor] Richard Chellew and from the Merton Priory Trust and from the Merton Historical Society and also the Museum of London.

I was chairman of the Museum Committee when I retired from 1996 until 2001 for five years. I took over from Pru Hartopp and I think it was quite a successful period. However I then decided that there was a very pressing need for us to digitise our images, that is to say our photographs, our prints and our watercolours. They all needed to be digitised, scanned and thoroughly catalogued.  So I thought I would be more useful doing that exercise to the Museum than carrying on as chairman. Charles [Toase] took over as chairman while I sorted out the scanning of our images and cataloguing them. I think it was a great success and we had a print on demand service. If anyone took a fancy to a photograph of their house or whatever we could do a print on demand. There have been lots of changes in the Museum and this service has evaporated but it might come back. Certainly the fact that all of our images are now digitised has been of great benefit to our website and to anyone who wants to see them but to see them in the Museum has been a bit of an obstacle course in the last five years.