One of the Founders of the Wimbledon Village Club and Lecture Hall was Joseph Toynbee, a distinguished Aural Surgeon, and author of a small book called Hints on the Formation of Local Museums, in which he described himself as the treasurer of the Wimbledon Museum Committee. The Museum has a copy of his book published in 1863, and there is also one in the Wellcome Collection, you can read it online here. He envisaged that the museum would be one of the facilities offered by the Club, and one of the means by which its members could “take part in one of the most delightful of duties viz the conveyance to the minds of others an interest in those pleasing and elevating subjects from which, happily, their own minds derive gratification”.
Toynbee died before he could make his dream museum a reality, but his book inspired Richardson Evans, one of the founders of the John Evelyn Club (now the Wimbledon Society) in 1904. He resolved that the club should create “ a local Museum…primarily devoted to the illustration of local annals, antiquities, art and natural history”. In 1916 the objects which had been collected were moved into the Village Club’s Reading Room.
The first Chairman of the Museum Committee was Dr Francis Bather, an immensely distinguished palaeontologist and geologist, a Keeper at the British Museum, elected a fellow of the Royal society in 1909. He was a President of the Geological Society and of the Museums Association. During his lifetime he was recognised as one of the world’s leading authorities on museums, and in his Royal Society Obituary he was described as a museum curator of worldwide fame. His wife, Stina Bergöö, was Swedish, a sister of the artist Karin Bergöö Larsson (whose home life is said to have inspired the founder of IKEA). The Bathers were ardent supporters of Women’s Suffrage.
Dr Bather appointed as the first Curator of the museum, his own Secretary Margaret Grant, who was to be in charge of the Museum for thirty years. She was also the Secretary of the Wimbledon Branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union, a founder of the local St Andrew Society for Loyal Scots and an Almoner at the Wimbledon Cottage Hospital off Copse Hill. She was a keen local historian and wrote a series of short articles for The Boro’ News, later collected into booklets. She became an excellent curator. According to our present curator, Dr Pamela Greenwood, Margaret Grant’s record keeping was an example to all who came after her.
She did not always have an easy time. The Museum had to close in 1918 because the building was commandeered for military use. In 1924 it moved into the room it presently occupies. It closed again during the Second World War. For the period between the wars, right up to 1938, Miss Grant was on duty in the Museum every single Saturday (“twenty two years of continuous attendance”). She arranged special Exhibitions, and excellent lectures and talks. The years of her curatorship were a Golden Age for the Museum.
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Our treasured collections relate to life in Wimbledon from about 500,000 years ago right up to the present.