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Kenneth Young interview: Wimbledon in the 1920s

As a young boy when I first lived in Wimbledon in 1919 the railway bridge outside the station was open to the sky. There were no shops on it. On the south western side pedestrians could look over the low parapet and see almost as far as Raynes Park.

Traffic was still a mix of horse-drawn and motor vehicles.  There were no traffic lights of course and I remember that there was usually a policeman on point duty at the Alexandra Road/St Georges Road crossing.

The shops in Hill Road at that time were mainly conversions from Victorian residencies, many of which had sacrificed their front gardens to permit the building of shops on their frontages. Apart from the vast red brick St Georges Road complex and the development of Ely, many of these buildings still retain their 1900s character.

I remember the J Lyons teashop, just two doors up from the station, where you could get a cup of coffee (small) for 2d and a large one for 3d. And waitress service too!

Also I recall the glow from the furnace at the blacksmiths in St Mark’s Place where the smith was kept busy shoeing horses. Also in St Mark’s Place were the occasional visits of Punch and Judy shows.

At the corner of Woodside was located the nurseries of D S Thomson with its large conservatory and offices, its grounds extending along Woodside and (before my time) down into the Compton Road/library area. Also at the Woodside corner was a white wooden signpost bearing the direction: “To Summerstown”. As a lad I remember thinking that Summerstown must be a very important place to have its own sign! The sign survived for years.

Wimbledon Hill, as I knew it in those early days, was still only partially developed with houses. On the right hand side going up between Woodside and the High Street there were only seven houses, all large. The spaces in between them were a derelict and much overgrown part of the Belvedere Estate, still awaiting development. The majestic tall elm trees in the unique border between road and footpath are sadly no longer there but the newer trees and shrubs still provide a pleasant walk up the hill.

Most of the old houses have now gone, replaced by blocks of flats. The same applies to the other side of the hill, although some of the early Victorian buildings remain, mostly modernised (eg Wimbledon High School).

In the High Street the fine bank building at the corner of Belvedere Grove was already in situ by 1919 but the imposing row of shops beyond it with flats over them was not completed until 1923 onwards when the single storey shops between numbers 87 and 79 were erected. I well remember the gap where Lloyds Bank is now sited. It was - in 1919 to about 1923 – a fenced off field with large trees which overhung the pavement , the last remaining part of the Belvedere Estate.