Wimbledon Historian Highlights Local Slave Trade Links

House overlooking the AELTC was owned by man behind first slave voyages

Old Rectory in Church Road, Wimbledon

The Old Rectory in Church Road, Wimbledon.

On the eve of the Wimbledon tennis championships, local historian Peter Walker has highlighted the links to the slave trade and a house overlooking the world-famous courts.


The Old Rectory in Church Road was owned by William Cecil, Secretary of State and Lord Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I. He is said to have initiated Britain's role in the slave trade and arranged to fund the first slave voyages to Africa and the Caribbean.


Mr Walker said: “As the 2021 Wimbledon Tennis Championships begin, those participating and watching might be interested to learn that overlooking the All England Lawn Tennis courts a house where Britain’s participation in the slave trade was first planned and funded.


“William Cecil advised the Queen to help plan and finance the voyages of John Hawkins - Britain’s first slave trader in 1562.”


He said John Hawkins, with financial backing from Cecil and Elizabeth I, made his first voyage, initiating Britain’s participation in the slave trade in 1562-1563. He sailed down the West African coast capturing about 300 slaves.  He then crossed the Atlantic and sold his captives in the West Indies, making a handsome profit for his investors.


Mr Walker continued: “Cecil’s family, as well as Elizabeth I, benefited greatly from their participation in the slave trade. William Cecil’s son, Thomas, later Earl of Exeter, enriched by the trade, decided to build a grand new Wimbledon manor house in 1588 which was to become known as Wimbledon Palace.


“John Hawkins was knighted by Elizabeth I in 1588, and in 1599 the Cecil’s entertained Queen Elizabeth I at Wimbledon Palace for three days.


“The grounds of the ‘Palace’ covered part of the land now owned by the AELTC.  The Palace was demolished in 1717 leaving only the Old Rectory as a potent legacy in Wimbledon of Britain’s role in the slave trade.”


The Grade II listed Old Rectory is the oldest building in Wimbledon and was up for sale for a £26m guide price in 2012. It is still thought to be Wimbledon’s most expensive property, and previous owners include Henry VIII and Queen guitarist Brian May.

June 26, 2021