Have you ever wondered how our precious Wimbledon Common, occupying such a valuable spot, has withstood the encroachment of the bulldozer? Did you know that Queen Victoria once fired a rifle on the Common; or that an airstrip was hastily built on it to accommodate an aeroplane enthusiast who built his first bi-plane and insisted on taking off and landing in it on the Common?  The Museum of Wimbledon, from its diminutive but excellently curated spot above Wimbledon Village Hall, yields a multitude of fascinating secrets and treasures relating to our Borough’s past, through a combination of exquisite displays of artefacts, photographs, text, maps and a plethora of booklets.

A team of volunteers helps keep all this local history alive, and the assistants on duty at each visit I paid to the Museum on a week-end afternoon were only too keen to point out curiosities such as a large, antique camera on a wooden tripod donated by Russells the photographers; or the Biscuit Brake, a rare, recently restored, table-top with the circumference of a huge tree trunk, on a pedestal, on which dough was pounded with a forearm or bat, to produce fine-textured biscuits (the kind that you can stamp). 

Duty warden Kelly Jones, herself a former librarian and archivist, drew my attention to a corner of the Museum she thought I would find particularly inspiring; “Wimbledon has its very own suffragette”, she declared, proudly, guiding me to the display cabinet where I could read on and view memorabilia and photographs relating to our brave and forward-thinking heroine, Rose Lamartine Yates. Dorset Hall on the Kingston Road was where Rose lived with her husband, solicitor Tom Lamartine Yates.  The daughter of two teachers from France, Rose was an accomplished linguist with a fiercely independent spirit.  Who knows whether the experience of this bright and intelligent woman achieving a degree but not being awarded one ignited the spark of feminist rebellion that was to see her campaign to get herself elected first to a seat with the Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) and then to a Parliamentary seat in North Lambeth, backed by the National Union of Women Teachers. In 1909 she joined the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and became an ardent supporter of the suffragette cause, which saw her arrested and put in prison for a month while mother to an eight-month old son, for joining a public protest against Prime Minister Asquith for leaving Women’s Suffrage out of the King’s Speech.  Undeterred by her prison spell, she continued to give speeches and lectures and fundraise for the cause, touring nationwide, defending free speech and promoting women’s rights.  She rose through the ranks and befriended the tragic Emily Davison, who was killed when she got in the way of the King’s Horse at Epsom. Rose Lamartine Yates campaigned tirelessly for basic rights that we women enjoy and take for granted now, and I was grateful to the Museum for offering a glimpse of her life and times.