Dr Elspeth Veale interview: Wimbledon Village

Let me turn now, however, to Wimbledon Village where capital letters were used, perhaps by estate agents, to emphasise the value of local property. But I remember it as a village with a small V with chiefly facilities that would have been found in any small town. A post office, the grocer, the International Stores run by a married couple well known to everyone, a fishmonger, a butcher, a chemist. Davies - now further down the High Street - held originally the corner shop. Then there were inns - the Dog & Fox, Rose & Crown and one or two others. There was a more modern restaurant, the Steakhouse which I and my family sometimes favoured for substantial meals known to us from central London. The Dog & Fox also produced meals. For simpler meals, we preferred Aunt Mary’s Pantry, [now Light Café].

There was a tailor, Greenwood, on the corner opposite the present Tesco, two bookshops, banks. I also remember a dress shop. Did I not buy something very elegant in yellow there? There were of course other shops in Church Road. Private properties blocked much development.

The Ridgway, the road that led out of Wimbledon towards Kingston and Surrey, narrowed as it reached the High Street but some development took place in that area. A big site was held by a car showroom where I bought my first car, later Strakers. Later still there was a garage at that part of the town. But when that site came on the market a number of big schemes were put forward, eg a restaurant with sittings for 140. Most collapsed under the problem of car parking but Tesco bought it to provide a small Tesco Express with several floors for residents above. I believe it has some restrictions over car parking but I don't feel able to discover what. I complained bitterly - as I did about the increasing number of pubs in the Village and the lengthening of drinking hours - but in the end we had to accept the Tesco, even though the grocer in the Village suffered, and I came in the end, as I got too old to walk very far, to be thankful for the Tesco.

Other memories of the Village:

Looking back, I recall particularly how quiet the Village was on a Saturday. Residents did their shopping there during the week. Brief visits were paid to the newsagents in Church Road [Sutherlands]. But still the number and range of restaurants and shops increased, many not surviving long due to the high rents. Families began to have outings on a Saturday and these increased greatly, attracting in their turn high quality business.

Of course there were many other aspects of the Village I might comment on. The churches, same as ever. Eagle House, I was there several times for showings, exhibitions and so on. Tennis, I could go on for another 20 minutes on the changes in arrangements for tennis. I was well placed to get to the courts and interested.   

Cannizaro, with all its troubles, was put on the market. Details, Tony [Matthews] has given comprehensively in his own book and I frequently went there both for antique fairs and to the gardens which I knew well, particularly in the days when, as he suggests, the garden was well kept and beautifully looked after.

Then there was the working men's club with the hall for lectures in pre-decoration days and the Wimbledon Society premises itself now updating the exhibition which I have already mentioned. Details of these are in Richard Milward's History of the Wimbledon Society.