Heritage: Memories of childhood in a vanished Wimbledon
It is 28 years this month since the death of Patrick Fawcett (1906-1985) - actor, priest, and the first man to publish memoirs of a personal childhood in Wimbledon which now took place a century ago.
His book, Memories of a Wimbledon Childhood 1906-1918, published in 1981 and still available at the Museum of Wimbledon, describes in minute detail what it was like to grow up in a semi-rural Wimbledon Village just outside London in the years leading up to and including the First World War.
While many of the locations are still just recognisable today, the society has changed out of all recognition in a world where much of what we now take for granted simply didn’t exist and what did has largely vanished forever.
Philip Patrick Noble Fawcett, son of the commanding officer of the army’s Wimbledon Battalion of the Surrey National Reserve, was born at Worple Lodge, 97 Worple Road in 1906. The family later moved to 104 Ridgway where they lived until leaving Wimbledon in 1918.
Nearly 60 years later in 1977, Fawcett returned in old age to spend the rest of his life at 23 Thornton Lodge, Thornton Hill. He was the Wimbledon Society’s publications officer for four years from 1981-1984.
In the intervening years he had read law and theology at Clare College, Cambridge, been ordained an Anglican priest and served successively as assistant curate at St Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol, chaplain at Worksop College, Nottinghamshire, and then at St Peter’s School, York.
But he was also a budding stage actor, had had his first professional audition in 1925 and turned professional in 1947. Under the name Patrick Noble, he appeared in some 200 productions over the next 18 years.
But his earliest memories remained crystal clear - the first ever Christmas pantomime at the newly built Wimbledon Theatre; circus elephants and steam traction engines along the Causeway; two galloping white horses dragging a scarlet fire engine with brass bells clanging down the Ridgway; the Box Hill stagecoach outside the Dog & Fox; virtually all traffic horse-drawn, hand-pushed or foot-pedalled; fields along Coombe Lane, dense woodland along Copse Hill and open land everywhere south of the Broadway; hot air balloon races over the Common; the day a pioneer aviator landed an early aeroplane on the Village Green; the clear view of the windmill across open heath-land from Southside Common; open topped trams to Hampton Court; strict social codes for family friendships; servants in every home.
And at some point during the war, hearing that Wimbledon was no longer in Surrey but had become London SW19.
Yet the buildings – if not the shops themselves – of Wimbledon Village would still be familiar today, and while much has also changed over the past 28 years, Fawcett lived to witness modern Wimbledon as we now know it.
His obituary described him as “unassertive, conscientious and competent”, one of the Wimbledon Society’s “gentlest and most helpful members” who “endeared himself to us all”.
The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.
For more information, visit wimbledonsociety.org.uk and www.wimbledonmuseum.org.uk.
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