Another early rise, as we wanted to spend the morning at Wimbeldon. We headed straight for the underground station after breakfast. Ryan was fascinated by the way the carriages snake their way along the winding rails like a slinky toy.
The London Underground (also nicknamed the Tube) is a public rapid-transit system in the United Kingdom. The world’s first underground railway was the Metropolitan Railway, which opened in 1863. The first line to operate undergrond electric traction trains was the City & South London Railway in 1890. The network has expanded to 11 lines, and carries over 1.34 billion passengers, making it the world’s 11th busiest metro system. The 11 lines collectively handle approximately 4.8 million passengers a day.
We made our way to the Wimbledon Tennis Club via tube, train, and bus.
The Wimbledon tour was great and interesting to be in all the places we have so often seen on TV. Riaan is a huge tennis fan and was thrilled to be able to walk where all the famous players have walked.
The Tennis Championships, commonly known as Wimbledon, is the oldest tennis tournament in the world, and widely considered the most prestigious. It has been held at the All England Club, played on outdoor grass courts, since the first men’s tennis Championships in 1877. The first male winner was none too impressed with the sport, expressing his preference for cricket and reportedly declared, “Lawn tennis is a bit boring. It will never catch on.” The first ladies’ Championship was held in 1884.
The Club was founded in 1868 as The All England Croquet Club and changed its name in 1877 to The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club; and in 1899 to The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. In 1940, German bombs struck a corner of the Centre Court stands and destroyed 1,200 seats.
When Wimbledon resumed in 1946, the seats remained out of commission amid post-war rationing, and the grounds were not fully repaired until 1949.
The lawns at the ground are arranged so the principal court is in the middle with the others arranged around it, hence the title “Centre Court”. The Grounds consist of 18 grass courts, eight American Clay courts and five indoor courts. There are 22 grass courts for practice before and during The Championships and two green acrylic courts. The total area, including the Club’s car parks, covers over 42 acres.
The nurturing of the grass at Wimbledon goes through many phases in a
calendar year. Like the players on their
relentless tour cycle, the grass needs time to adjust to peak tournament readiness. From March onwards, the shoots are trimmed a millimetre a week every fortnight from the winter height of 13mm down to the optimum playing level of 8mm, which is reached almost four weeks before the tournament starts, to allow the grass adjust to the stress before the trampling-by-players begins. Every day during the tournament, ground staff mow the courts to maintain the height of the grass at exactly 8mm and mark out the lines.
Two ‘Harris’s Hawks’ are kept at Wimbledon to keep the pigeons at bay as
the pigeons’ acidic droppings will damage the grass.
This horse-drawn roller was first used at the Club’s Worple Road ground. In 1922, the Club moved to its current premises, the roller went with. It was used for two years on Centre Court, pulled by a team of groundsmen, instead of a horse. In 1924, it moved to the newly opened No 1 Court where it continued in use for over 60 years. The roller was ‘retired’ in 1986.
The museum at Wimbledon is stunning and extremely well done. We watched a virtual-reality movie which was brilliant; it felt like we were on the court! In the museum, 3-D holographic images made it feel as if we were standing right next to the players.
From Wimbledon we headed across town, to Greenwich Park, the Meridian Line and
the Cutty Sark. The most historic of all Royal Parks, Greenwich Park dates back to Roman times and has the most stunning views across the River Thames all the way to St. Pauls Cathedral. The Park covers 183 acres and is the home of some historic buildings, including the Old Royal Observatory, the Royal Naval College, the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House. Greenwich was the birthplace of Henry VIII who introduced deer to the park. During World War II, there were anti-aircraft guns in the Flower Garden and the tips of some of the trees were cut off to widen the field of fire. After the war, the park was restored to its former glory.
The Royal Observatory in Greenwich is where east
meets west at Longitude 0°. A meridian is an
imaginary line, running north-south, used as the zero
reference line for astronomical observations. By
comparing thousands of observations taken from the
same meridian it’s possible to build up an accurate
map of the sky. The line in Greenwich represents the
historic Prime Meridian of the World – Longitude 0º
and isn’t imaginary, its cast in marble and steel!
Every place on earth was measured in terms of its
distance east or west from this line. Just as the earth is divided into the
northern half an southern half by the equator, so the Greenwich Meridian divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the earth; however due to movement in the earth’s crust, in reality 0º is now slightly off-set from the meridian line and the entire Observatory and the historic Prime Meridian now lie to the west of the true prime meridian.
The Greenwich Meridian was chosen as the Prime Meridian of the World in 1884. Before this, almost every town in the world kept its own local time. There were no national or international conventions which set how time should be measured, or when the day would begin and end, or what length an hour might be. However, with the vast expansion of the railway and communications networks during the 1850’s and 1860’s, the worldwide need for an international time standard became imperative.
This is the entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, building of which started in 1899 and was completed in 1902. It crosses under the River Thames, linking Greenwich on the south bank with the Isle of Dogs on the north. It replaced an expensive and often unreliable ferry service, thereby allowing workers living south
of the Thames to reach their
workplace in the London
docks and shipyards in or
near the Isle of Dogs, with
The craft of putting ship models in bottles has both fascinated and puzzled people for years and the world’s largest ship model bottle in Greenwich Park is no exception. The 4.7m long x 2.8m diameter work is a scaled-down replica of Nelson’s ship Victory, while the richly patterned fabric sails are symbolic of African dress and are a trademark of the Anglo-Nigerian artist, who prefers to keep secret just how he managed to put what is a large fully rigged model into the ‘demijohn’ shaped bottle.
A short way from Greenwich Park is the Cutty Sark, a British clipper ship. Built in 1869, she was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest. In 1938 she became an auxiliary cadet training ship alongside HMS Worcester, but by 1954, she had ceased to be useful as a cadet ship and was transferred to permanent dry dock at Greenwich, London, for public display.
Cutty Sark is listed as part of the National
Historic Fleet and is one of only three remaining
original composite construction (wooden hull on
an iron frame) clipper ships from the nineteenth century. The ship has been damaged by fire twice in recent years, but has been fully restored. A glorious opportunity, to walk through such a beautiful part of history and looking up into the masts made me feel somewhat small and insignificant!
A carved figure mounted on a ship’s bow is called a nautical figurehead. In the early days of seafaring, carved figureheads depicting women were also known as “Neptune’s wooden angels.” To the crew, the figureheads were seen as lucky charms, representing not only the eyes of the ship guiding them safely home but also the spirit of the vessel as well. The ‘Long John Silver’ Collection of figureheads on display at Cutty Sark is a colourful and eclectic collection of characters, ranging from Sir Lancelot to William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale to the Greek goddess Amphitrite, General Gordon to Abraham Lincoln and even Hiawatha.
Tea chests inside the hull of the Cutty Sark
Ryan had great fun on a helter-skelter and also came off worse-for-the-fun, but enjoyed himself anyway. The operator gave him a free ride in lieu of the friction-burn he got coming down the first time, so he wasn’t complaining. We stopped for early dinner at the Gipsy Moth pub, which was previously known as the Wheatsheaf. The 18th Century pub was christened the Gipsy Moth to honour the arrival of the Gypsy Moth IV, following Francis Chichester’s single-handed and successful 1967 voyage around the world.
And then it was back to central London for a short walkabout, and bed.
It had been a long but fun filled day!