Perhaps the worst case of vandalism Wimbledon has ever suffered outside wartime happened exactly 137 years ago. The culprits were a builder called Dixon and a Member of Parliament, the landowner John Samuel Sawbridge-Erle-Drax.

In April 1875 with the support of Drax, Dixon destroyed the pre-historic Iron Age fort on Wimbledon Common dating back to 700 BC or earlier.

Known today as Caesar’s Camp, the fort had included circular ramparts nearly 20 feet high, topped with mature oak trees and surrounded by a 12 feet deep, 30 feet wide ditch, enclosing some 12 acres of relatively flat land with a view of Epsom Downs.

Its archaeological significance was incalculable and its precise origins still unknown to this day.

Drax, who became owner of land stretching from Beverley Brook to Westside Common through his wife’s inheritance, leased some fields to Dixon who then built three large houses in Camp Road and moved on to the area of the fort itself.

Bricks and scaffolding for more houses arrived on site, the trees were felled, the ramparts leveled and the ditch filled.

Drax had had the opportunity to save the precious Iron Age fort by selling the land to the campaigners who had successfully achieved Parliamentary protection of Wimbledon Common four years earlier.

However he hated the idea of being thwarted and had refused to sell. Although the Commons Conservators stopped any further action by securing a court order forbidding use of Camp Road for anything other than agricultural purposes, it was too late to save the fort, which was now unrecognisable.

Since 1907 it has simply served as part of the Royal Wimbledon Golf Course. Only from the air could the original circular shape of the fort still be made out, barely possible today.

The name Caesar’s Camp was adopted in the 1820s on the assumption that Julius Caesar might have built the fort after invading Britain. However, there was never any evidence for this and the structure had actually been known locally for centuries as The Rounds.

It was not until 1937 that its probable real age was discovered when the Metropolitan Water Board decided to build a new main across the site and allowed archaeologists to watch as a new trench was dug.

Although restricted, they were able to assess the age and possible purpose of the site in more detail than ever before.

They discovered that it had once had timber on its inner and outer faces as well as a palisade to defend the occupants against attack. A little pottery was also found, allowing an estimated date of 250 BC.

But further studies since then have concluded that the fort was actually much older and may have been one of a series of similar hill forts used as bases for trade rather than military protection.

The ramparts may have served as defences against rival settlements rather than outside invaders. Either way, today the sad remains of the fort are now a formally protected ancient monument.

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