Outer borough of southwest Greater London comprising the suburbs of Wimbledon, Mitcham, and Morden; population (2001) 187,900. Features include the Augustinian priory, founded in 1114, where Thomas à Becket and Walter de Merton, founder of Merton College, Oxford, were educated (it was demolished at the dissolution and the stones used by Henry VIII to build Nonsuch Palace); Merton Place, where Admiral Nelson lived; Merton Park, laid out in the mid-19th century, claimed as the forerunner of garden suburbs; Wimbledon Common, includes Caesar's Camp – an Iron Age fort; and the All England Lawn Tennis Club (founded 1877). Merton was created as a borough on 1 April 1965.
From Roman times to 20th century The first traces of settlement in the area are Roman; it is possible there was a staging post along the Roman Stane Street in what is now Merton High Street. In Saxon times it is thought that Cynewulf, King of Wessex, was murdered here in 786 and that in 871 King Ethelred was mortally wounded by the Danish armies in the battle of Merton. Merton remained a small village until 1117 when Merton Priory, a house of Augustinian Canons, was built. This was patronized by most English kings; major international conferences and royal councils were often held here and a major constitutional document, the Statute of Merton, which stated causes of baronial opposition to the king, was promulgated in 1236. The monastery was dissolved in 1536 and few ruins remain. In the late 19th century William Morris established a factory on the River Wandle to produce his designs for household and ecclesiastical furnishings; this was closed in 1936. Shortly afterwards Liberty & Co, the Regent Street cloth and fashion manufacturers, established a factory nearby.
Mitcham was also settled in Saxon times but until the 18th century it was mainly an agricultural community, although its fair dates probably from the 16th century, after which time it became the residence of wealthy Londoners. From the 17th century the River Wandle supplied water power for flour mills, bleachers, and calico printers.
Settlement in Morden dates from early times; there is a Romano-British burial mound at Morden Park. Morden manor was given by King Edgar to Westminster Abbey in 968 and remained the Abbey's property until 1553. From the 18th century Morden was a popular residential area for wealthy London bankers and merchants, and with the extension of the underground railway to Morden in 1926 it became a commuter area. The manor house, demolished in 1946, had many distinguished owners, including Queen Henrietta Maria and the Duke of Somerset, who entertained Queen Victoria here on numerous occasions.
Wimbledon is best known for its annual international lawn tennis championships, run by the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which had its origins in the local All England Croquet Club founded in 1868. Buildings of historic interest include the Old Rectory (1500), Eagle House (1613), and the mid-17th-century Rose and Crown public house. The Wimbledon Literary and Scientific Society was founded in 1891. Famous residents include Thomas Cecil, Captain Marryat, and William Wilberforce. Although now mostly a residential area, the main industries are light engineering, and the manufacture of chemicals and food.
Recreation Extensive recreational areas are provided by Wimbledon, Mitcham, and Cannon Hill commons. Wimbledon Common has a windmill (1817) where Baden-Powell wrote Scouting for Boys (1908). Cannizaro Park has a fine collection of azaleas, rhododendrons, and rare plants. The four golf courses in the area include the Royal Wimbledon course adjacent to the Common. Wimbledon stadium is used for football, speedway, stockcar racing, and greyhound racing.
Henry III: Provisions of Merton