Wimbledon

      

                                Rose & Crown                                                                 Hand in Hand                                                                 The Crooked Billet  

The nearest tube stations to Wimbledon Tennis are Southfields and Wimbledon Park on the District (green) line, though if coming from the North/centre of London on the tube train you would alight at Southfields, which is the nearest station. However, I wouldn’t recommend you do more than go to the tennis from Southfields, neither would I recommend you go to Wimbledon Park or Wimbledon itself, unless you have plentiful time, no I recommend that you visit Wimbledon Village up at the edge of Wimbledon Common, and the favourite haunt of many tennis stars.

The Village is historical Wimbledon, where the last ‘coach’ stop before crossing the common was the Rose & Crown, 55 High Street, SW19 5BA (0208 947 4713), a former coaching inn, the place for wary travellers to take a drop of ‘Dutch Courage’ before braving the highwaymen encountered regularly on Wimbledon Common (when exactly were those ‘good old days’ people talk about?). The Rose & Crown can be traced back to 1659 and was first called the Sign of the Rose. Famous past literary visitors include James Henry Leigh Hunt and Algernon Charles Swinburne, who was a regular at the Rose & Crown and, allegedly, after sketches of Swinburne drinking in the pub were published in the Pall Mall Gazette, he started entering the pub surreptitiously by a side door and kept to drinking in a private room. More recent tennis celebrities that have visited the Rose and Crown include Jimmy Connors and Andy Roddick.

The Rose & Crown is a Young’s house and Young’s are the beers to be mostly encountered in this neck of the woods, ie South West London. I remember visiting the Rose & Crown whilst living in Scotland and, on drinking a pint of Young’s Special, it tasted so bitter! But this was in comparison to regularly drinking Broughton Greenmantle (which is relatively ‘sweet’) whilst in the Borders, virtually the only real ale you could purchase there in the 1980s.

Young’s Special nowadays is still a very good beer, but nowhere near the bitterness that can be found in many of the new Micro Brewery beers now on offer around the country, where you definitely can taste the hops. Sadly, though, Young’s beers are no longer ‘local’, following the sad demise of their great patriarch John Young, the Wandsworth brewery (London SW18) was closed down and brewing shipped out of London. I can remember, not so long ago, when Young’s beers were delivered by drays pulled by great horses within a 3 mile radius of the brewery, they used to upset drivers enormously. Car and other delivery drivers obviously had no time for the tradition these horses and carts evoked, they just wanted to be elsewhere much quicker! Sadly, that is the way of the world now, too many people wanting to take much less time to reach anything or anywhere, but that is another story...

But, where was I? Oh yes, the Rose & Crown, this is one of four pubs I recommend you visit whilst in Wimbledon Village, though they are not the only four licensed premises there. The last time I was at the Rose & Crown, somewhere I do visit quite regularly, I did enjoy my Special bitter, and the company. You find a varied mix of customers, young, old, and not so old, locals that have lived here for years, up and coming youngsters, students, tourists and tennis lovers. I have never eaten here, but the food served up always looks good, and the ever returning customers can’t be anything other than a positive reflection on the quality of the food.

However, there are more places to visit, so, on leaving the Rose & Crown, you need to cross the road (it can be busy, so be careful as you are at a bend in the road here) and start across Wimbledon Common, along Southside for 5 minutes, and you soon reach 2 pubs next door to each other on your right, both Young’s houses, at Crooked Billet, one called the Crooked Billet and the other the Hand in Hand.

I remember years ago, the Hand in Hand, 7 Crooked Billet, SW19 4RQ (0208 946 5720) was the only place in Wimbledon, or Wandsworth for that matter, I knew of where you could buy Ruddles of Rutland beers. They don’t sell Ruddles County here anymore, neither is Ruddles brewed in Rutland as it is now brewed by Greene King, but the Hand in Hand remains a great place to meet friends and family. It now sells Young’s beers, and, in good weather, you can take your drinks outside and sit on the green at the edge of the common. The building has sold ales since 1867, previously being a bakehouse and grocers, and, before that, the home of Daniel Watney, whose great-grandson founded the now defunct Watney’s Brewery.

Next door is The Crooked Billet, Crooked Billet, SW19 4RQ (0208 946 4942), a more open pub selling Young’s, where you are obviously still sitting on the edge of the common, so has good outside access should the weather bid you to drink outside. Personally, I prefer the Crooked Billet to the Hand in Hand, though I like both pubs, or I wouldn’t be recommending them, but I don’t really know why I prefer it, maybe it’s because I enjoy sitting on a stool at the bar? A pub has been on this site for over 500 years, and the current building was erected in 1776 and, if you believe such things, the ghost of an Irish Woman haunts the cellar.

           

                       The Fox and Grapes                                                               Green Man 

For the final recommendation looking over Wimbledon Common, when you leave either of the previous 2 pubs, go left, walk along and turn left and turn left again 2 turnings on, and you reach the Fox and Grapes, 9 Camp Road, SW19 4UN (0208 946 5599), a fine pub made up of 2 buildings, the one to the left with a low ceiling and accommodation above, whilst, to the right the room has a high ceiling and large screen for viewing sporting events. This has been my favourite pub in the area for years and is not even a Young’s house, though has changed hands recently, becoming a 'gastro pub', still with a bar.  A recent article in the Metro (27/04/2011) states that a French chef has taken over, and gives a mixed report, with some excellent dishes described, eg Wild Garlic and Potato Soup with Buttery Chopped Snails on Toast, and early English Asparagus with Smoked Hollandaise and Pink Grapefruit, and some not so. 

If you have the time to venture across the Common, head for the Green Man, Putney Heath, SW15 3NG (0208 788 8096), is another Young’s pub, dating from the early 18th century. On the way across is the old windmill that was built in 1817, a great landmark. As with many Young's houses, you do get a good food menu to support the good beer. Rumour has it that Dick Turpin, the notorious Highwayman, once stashed his weapons at the Green Man, in an upstairs room, whilst hiding from the law, but stories of older pubs are a great element of why we visit and love these old inns and taverns.

 

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Subpages (1): Eating in Wimbledon
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