Playing with Fire: The Story of Shooting on Wimbledon Common

17 January 2015 - 12 April 2015

Guns have quite a history on the Common. Military parades and duels both date back to the 18th century. King George III famously reviewed his troops on the open heath land and as Wimbledon is so near London, duelists could ride out in the early morning, do their business and be back in town for breakfast. Among the most notable were Prime Minister William Pitt, Lord Castlereagh and Lord Cardigan, later notorious for ordering the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimea.

However the Common’s main shooting tradition began when Earl Spencer, Lord of the Manor, became a founder of the National Rifle Association, a corps of volunteers raised to meet a possible French invasion. He offered the Common as the site of its first meeting in 1860. The event opened with Queen Victoria firing the first shot.

The NRA meeting became very popular in the annual social calendar. Apart from varied competitions, there were extra sporting events and musical entertainments as well as lively less official night life. The meeting grew in size and scope until, by the late 1870s, there were nearly 2500 entrants for the Queen’s Prize. The NRA flourished at Wimbledon for 29 years until increasing housing development nearby made it incompatible with safe use of the Common.

The NRA found an alternative site at Bisley, Surrey, and the annual meeting moved there in 1890. Four years later when a gravedigger in Putney Vale Cemetery was killed by a stray bullet from the nearby rifle range butts, it was the last straw for the Conservators and the ranges were closed forever.

Shots were later to ring out over the Common but not for sport. It was used in both world wars for training of troops.


Visiting information

The exhibition runs until Sunday 12 April. Open at weekends 2.30pm to 5pm and Wednesdays 11.30 am to 2.30 the
Norman Plastow Gallery, Museum of Wimbledon, 22 Ridgway, London SW19 4QN.
Opening hours are 2.30 – 5pm Saturdays and Sundays and 11.30 am – 2.30 pm on Wednesdays

For further information

Cassandra Taylor
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0208 946 1544