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From the Famous to the Infamous: Our Local History

Creative producer Andy Alty reflects on our online oral history day revealing fascinating stories about our local area.

Our big project this year is called In Common. Inspired by our discovery that Wimbledon Common reaches the grand old age of 150 years and Mitcham Common celebrates its 130th birthday, we felt that there couldn’t be a better time to commemorate and celebrate these two wonderful green spaces which have meant so much to so many of us during lockdown.

All three groups have been researching the history of the two commons and have turned up some fascinating stories from our local history. As part of the project we also wanted to talk to some local people with stories to tell about the common and what it means to us. 

Our Oral History day took place on the 8th November and after brushing up their interview skills the Act Three team spent time chatting with eight locals including a Wimbledon Common Ranger, members of the Wimbledon Historical Society and Friends of Mitcham Common and also to the world-famous playwright and director Patrick Marber (a Rutlish School Alumni), who’s play Closer won the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy and became a big budget movie starring Julia Roberts and Jude Law. 

“Never a dull moment,” with the interviewees on Oral History Day

The conversations we had were wide-ranging and included; the “birth” of Wimbledon Common, the dastardly highwayman Jerry Abershawe (who’s story we will be dramatizing), a famous duel between Prime Minister William Pitt and George Tierney, the suffragettes and what life was like during the war years. Patrick Marber entertained us with some great anecdotes about his life and work in theatre and gave us lots of useful pointers about getting started in the industry. 

The notorious highwayman Jerry Abershawe.

While the interviews were quite stressful for us we really enjoyed doing them. As one member said, “It was wonderful to get to know you as a person as you are very inspiring to us and we were engaged the entire time. There was never a dull moment!” 

We’re hugely grateful to all of them for giving up their time to talk with us.  The In Common project is our first local heritage production and we are looking forward to sharing “first glimpses” of what we’re creating at the end of term on December 6th.

Andy Alty, Creative Producer November 20.