diamond geezer

 Sunday, March 14, 2004

Random borough: Merton

So, yesterday I ended up in southwest London in the randomly selected borough of Merton. That's Wimbledon to you and me. I could have ended up somewhere a lot worse, I guess. Below are the places I decided to visit after an hour's detailed net research. And, hmm, I still have 32 folded pieces of paper sitting by my computer in a used honey jar, just in case I ever decide to turn this into a regular series...

Somewhere famous: Wimbledon Common
We can thank author Elisabeth Beresford for making famous this glorious expanse of open space. Thirty-five years ago she wrote a book about some litter-tidying inhabitants, then in 1974 Bernard Cribbins provided the voices for the BBC cartoon adaptation, Mike Batt wrote one of the hookiest TV themes ever and a childhood classic was assured. No Wombles in sight today, nor any litter either, which proves how hard Orinoco and friends must still be working. The most famous spot on the Common is a restored windmill, now home to a museum, inside which Baden Powell wrote much of Scouting for Boys back in 1908. Beside the mill is a large car park to which London's upper middle classes drive their 4x4s at weekends so that they can pretend to be in the countryside and take their dogs/children for some exercise. Walk a few hundred yards away from the car park, however, and you can have the common to yourself, even on a Saturday afternoon. Uncommonly good.
by bus: 93

Somewhere historic: Morden Hall Park
Right at the southern tip of the Northern line lies Morden, not the most historic part of the world you might think, and you'd be right. In fact I found it really hard to find anywhere even vaguely historic in this borough at all, but I assumed that if the National Trust had a property in the area then it was worth a visit. Morden Hall was built in 1750, which makes it positively ancient for this part of London - originally a boarding school, now a posh restaurant. The National Trust own some of the outbuildings, including a waterwheel formerly used to power a snuff mill (that's a mill for making snuff, of course). The surrounding parkland by the banks of the River Wandle is an oasis of green in grey suburbia, including both woodland and wetland. There's an extensive rose garden, laid out by former owner and philanthropist Gilliat Hatfeild (sic), although the roses won't be spectacular for another couple of months. The whole place is unexpectedly pretty, so long as you don't spot the garden centre nextdoor, the giant car park and the A24 thundering by outside. And it's free.
by tube: Morden; by Tramlink: Phipps Bridge

Somewhere pretty: Wimbledon Park
It was a very showery day yesterday, with a number of heavy downpours between sunny intervals. I found myself walking through posh North Wimbledon, sheltering under available trees, when suddenly I spotted a rainbow curving over the Merton sky. It was a double rainbow no less, sweeping down to touch the ground just out of reach across the park. Local golfers paused awhile to point it out to one another, then continued on their rounds. Old ladies shuffled by in blissful ignorance, huddled under tartan umbrellas. From my viewpoint the rainbow had picked out its crock of gold well. As well as the golf club and a certain nearby tennis facility, the houses round these parts drip wealth. Close by is Wimbledon Village, sat atop a hill overlooking central London, and the site of the original settlement around which the local suburbs grew up. There are now designer boutiques, bakeries selling ciabattas, and that telltale sign of overaffluence - the Bang and Olufsen shop. Maybe not so pretty after all, then.
by tube: Wimbledon Park

Somewhere sporty: All England Lawn Tennis Club
AFC Wimbledon play in the neighbouring borough of Kingston, so I headed instead to my second choice sporting venue. Opposite Wimbledon Park lies the most famous tennis club in all England, probably in the whole world. It started life as a croquet club, but diversification into racquet sport has subsequently earned the club many millions of pounds. The Lawn Tennis Championships have been held here annually since 1877, the only Grand Slam event still played on grass, and there are now 19 courts spread out over a massive 42 acres. The southern tip of the site, viewed from outside, has the austere look of a beige and green holiday camp. The main courts, however, are on a completely different scale with huge green grandstands, far bigger than I'd imagined, surrounded by imposing bars and restaurants that close for fifty weeks a year. You can of course visit the museum throughout the year, or join the massed 7-year-olds playing short tennis in the shadow of Centre Court as part of the Junior Tennis initiative. Oh, and I'm glad to report that nobody's started queueing for June just yet, but I'm sure it won't be long now.
by tube: Southfields; by bus: 493

Somewhere retail: Merton Abbey Mills
In search of shopping nirvana I avoided Wimbledon High Street - a mass of department stores sliced through by road traffic hell - and headed instead somewhere slightly more alternative. Merton Abbey Mills is a 'craft village' located in the former Liberty silk-printing works beside the River Wandle. William Morris, the Victorian god of wallpaper, set up a workshop here in 1881 to undertake dyeing, block printing, weaving and stained glass manufacture. His buildings are now home to about 20 shops, selling everything from lace to ceramics, and beanbags to sci-fi memorabilia. Merton Abbey Mills describes itself as 'southwest London's answer to Camden Lock', which I think is stretching the truth somewhat - not one Goth was anywhere to be seen. In fact the whole place was a bit on the quiet side, but maybe I arrived a bit early in the day. The mill at Merton Abbey houses an 1860s waterwheel, used by Morris to rinse his silks after printing. This waterwheel has since been adopted as the logo of the London Borough of Merton - presumably it symbolises continuity, community and sustainability, or whatever the important local government buzzwords are these days.
by tube: Colliers Wood

Somewhere random: Abbey Parade
I picked somewhere random in my random borough by looking up the first Merton road to be listed in the index of the London A-Z. And so I found myself at Abbey Parade, a shabby parade of shops just up the road from Merton Abbey Mills. Forget the five places I've visited above - this is real London. Mothers and pushchairs crowd the OK Laundrette, beside the dark mysteries of the Wizard Tattoo Shop. You can buy your perfect bathroom, call in at the Tubing Centre, or get your bike fixed at AW Cycles (a satisfied customer blogs here). It costs just £65 for diamond bleaching at the Teeth-u-like dental surgery, while Chris's Gents Haircutters displays the same six perfectly-coiffed heads as can be seen in barbers' windows across the country. And at the heart of the parade lies The Nelson Arms pub, a hint that this might not be quite such a random location as I'd first thought. Turns out that 200 years ago Lord Nelson bought a small house on this very site, where he busied himself with 'gardening, attending the House (of Lords), eating and drinking and hurra-ing'. He'd no doubt turn a blind eye to the state of the place today.
by tube: South Wimbledon


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