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Educating stuff: Wimbledon's hidden gems

The grounds of the All England Club
by Ben Swann
Wednesday 10 April 2013

The latest instalment of 'Educating stuff,' news and views from Wimbledon's Education Department, wonders why Wimbledon was built on a hill...

I was gladdened to see that the last ‘Educating Stuff’ entry garnered a few reactions from the world of the web; it is nice to know that someone is reading these blogs.  It also got me thinking about the audience for these posts and what it is that lures an individual to the Wimbledon website. 

Tennis and the players is the obvious answer, but anyone who follows tennis will already know that Wimbledon is dormant until the last week of June and the first week of July each year and that tennis players aren’t daft, they follow the sunshine round the world and would rather eat their own racket than visit a cold, windy, SW19. 

So if it isn’t for the players then perhaps it is for the place itself.  As we never tire of telling students here, Wimbledon transcends the sport that it hosts, it is a life event as much as a sporting one, people love the tournament almost as much as they adore the champions who play here.

All well and good, but what has this got to do with Educating Stuff? 

Recently the Education Department has unearthed a whole wealth of hidden gems about Wimbledon the venue, and how it has developed.  The majority of these insights will be revealed closer to The Championships but for now here is a little taste of what we discovered.

One thing that is particularly daft about the Championship site is that geographically it is not well suited for a tennis tournament.  Think I’m mad? Well look again at the layout of the grounds, particularly from a side elevation, the whole site is on a hill.  Now I don’t claim to know much about how one should lay out a tennis court, I shall leave that to the expert and excellent musings of the ‘Groundsman’s Diary’, but I do know that a court should be level (years spent hitting wayward bouncing balls around my parent’s wobbly lawned garden taught me this – pity it didn’t teach me how to play tennis).

Ironically this is not the first time that the AELTC has acquired a site that needed terracing; the old Worple Road site was also on a hill.  The chosen sport of Worple road was of course croquet (hence the extra C in AELTCC) and this game needs a level surface as much as tennis.  To top it all though, this was not the first encounter with an awkward site for the Club.  Before Worple Road the All England Club was briefly at Crystal Palace which is famous for being one of the hills of London.  So it seems that whilst the AELTCC is terrific at organising sporting events, it does not like to do it the easy way.

Just levelling the Northern end of the Church Road site meant the removal of over 14,000 cubic metres of clay or if you prefer, around 1500 lorry loads (the majority of which now forms the base on which the Millennium Dome, Greenwich now stands) it also meant the Club had to build a 300 metre long wall of concrete piles drilled 19 metres into the ground to stop Somerset Road from collapsing, which all had to be hidden, hence the terraced hill where fans watch the big screen.

The grounds of the AELTC are a wonderful world of contradictions; they’re a private club, a building site, a tourist attraction, a place of work and a playground for foxes.  All this is mostly hidden but in the last week of June and the first week of July it reveals itself to all, but ironically as none of the above, but as simply a tennis tournament. Though as all of you who visit the website in the off season know, The Championships is not just another tennis tournament, it is Wimbledon.

If you would like to see for yourself what Wimbledon does in the off season then why not book a Primary, Secondary or Higher educational tour and explore more of Wimbledon’s fascinating story.

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