Mention Wimbledon today and tennis will be the sport that springs to mind; in the latter part of the 19th Century however, the foremost sport would have been rifle shooting. From 1860 until 1889 the National Rifle Association (NRA) held their annual rifle meeting on Wimbledon Common, with attendance in the thousands… and that was just the riflemen!
So who were these riflemen and what were they doing at Wimbledon?
Volunteers & The NRA
During the late 1850's there was growing apprehension as to the prospects of French invasion of Great Britain. A massive naval expansion was announced in France in 1855. Following the attempt on Napoleon III's life by Felice Orsini on 14 January 1858, some French officers actually called for an invasion when it was discovered that Orsini manufactured his bomb in England. In 1859 France and Piedmont were at war with Austria over Italian independence. All this was unsettling and newspapers, particularly The Times, continued to fuel the debate as to the formation of a Volunteer Force for home defence.
Finally, on 12 May 1859, the Government issued a circular authorising Lords Lieutenants to raise Volunteer corps. There was an immediate rush of Volunteering, but it was not expected to last. Anticipation was that as the feeling of apprehension as to national security diminished, the vitality of the Volunteer force would lessen, and after a lapse of a few years the whole force would disappear.
Measures to secure the long-term prospects of the Volunteers were, however, put in place late in 1859 when some of the leading spirits of the Volunteer movement were receiving instruction in musketry at Hythe. They formulated the idea of a national association to promote marksmanship within the Volunteers, and a committee under Earl Spencer was formed. At this time, the London Rifle Brigade was also setting about to establish a large scale annual rifle meeting. Happily the Hythe Committee and the London Committee were united at Spencer House, London, on 29 October 1859 to agree a common course of action. Here it was proposed to form a National Association "for the encouragement of Volunteer Rifle Corps and the promotion of rifle shooting throughout Great Britain." A subsequent public meeting was held at the Thatched House Tavern on 16 November 1859 at which a Working Committee was established. The National Rifle Association was born.
The labours of the Working Committee speedily became so heavy as to necessitate the appointment of a paid Secretary and the provision of an office. Rooms were taken at 11 Pall Mall East, and were occupied by the Association for its Secretary's office and for the holding of its meetings of Council.
National Rifle Meeting
The Association was promoted widely with local secretaries in the principal towns, adverts in the press, and circulars sent to all officers commanding Volunteer Rifle Corps. In a letter to The Times in December 1859, Lord Elcho set out the nature and objects of the Association. There was no intent to aid in the formation of Rifle Corps, nor to draw up any rules for their guidance. All such matters were addressed to the War Office. The purpose of the Association was fostering an interest in rifle shooting. Reference was made to Switzerland and their national rifle meeting, the Tir Fédéral, which had resulted in a taste for rifle shooting being thoroughly nationalised and a country garrisoned by a people trained in arms. The NRA planned its own great annual national meeting for rifle shooting. The principal prizes were to be open to Volunteers, thereby encouraging the Movement, and, with a view to the wider promotion of rifle shooting as a national pastime, additional prizes open to all-comers were to be established.
In 1860 practical steps were implemented to establish the National Rifle Meeting for that summer. Finding a suitable site to hold the meeting was naturally a difficult matter to decide, and many places were considered, including Woolwich, Epsom, Aldershot and Chobham.
It was Captain Mildmay, Secretary of the NRA, who suggested Wimbledon Common as a suitable location for the first NRA prize meeting. Lord Spencer, as lord of the manor, placed it at the disposal of the NRA Council. Colonel Clark Kennedy inspected the site and declared it suitable provided "the most stringent regulations should be framed and carried out for the prevention of trespassing across the lines of fire." The original intent had been for the prize meeting to be held at different locations of the country each year. This idea was 'shelved' as impracticable due to the costs and work involved in preparing the range. So, the NRA prize meeting remained on Wimbledon Common until 1890, when it moved to the new ranges at Bisley.
1. Hythe is situated in southern England, on the Kent coast. Existing barracks and miles of shingle beaches for ranges made it a suitable location for the establishment of a school of musketry. The School's first Commandant, Colonel Hay, arrived there in June 1853 and established the "Corps of Instructors in Musketry". The institution opened on 18 April 1854. The object of the establishment was the training of officers and non-commissioned officers so that they might become Instructors. In 1861 its title was changed to the "School of Musketry."
Queen Victoria fired the inaugural shot at the first rifle meeting on 2 July 1860. A Whitworth muzzle-loading rifle placed in a mechanical rest had been aligned with a target at a distance of 400 yards. Joseph Whitworth handed a silken cord attached to the trigger to Her Majesty and the rifle was discharged by a slight pull on the cord. The adjustment was so accurate that the bullet struck the target within 1.25 inches from the centre.
The Queen had further offered encouragement by founding an annual prize that Volunteers competed for in two stages; the first at 300, 500 and 600 yards, and the second at 800, 900 and 1000 yards. Prize money was £250.
With royal patronage and the daily papers and weekly-illustrated journals reporting widely on events, the 'Wimbledon fortnight' was marked for success and established as a fashionable summer attraction. By the mid-1860s, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Manchester newspapers had correspondents on the ground throughout the meeting, while the results of the chief competitions were telegraphed from day to day.
The Prince and Princess of Wales witnessing the match between the Lords and Commons
(Illustrated London News, 25 July 1863)
Queen's Prize winners became local heroes. In 1865 Private Sharman, of the 4th West York Rifles, won this coveted distinction. As a matter of course he was chaired and cheered; his health heartily drunk by all his friends; he was photographed, lionized, and finally received his prize with the band playing "See, the Conquering Hero comes!" But, bewildered as Private Sharman must have been by his hearty reception on the scene of his victory, he must have been still more astonished at the remarkable demonstration which awaited him on his return to Halifax. Here he was received in state by the town officials, and conducted in procession, as the man his townsmen wished to honour, through the principal streets. There were many thousands to see the champion - the crowd, reportedly, being greatly in excess of that which filled the streets on the occasion of the visit of the Prince of Wales to Halifax!
Right: Private Sharman, winner of the Queens Prize, 1865
(Illustrated London News, 29 July 1865)
Contrary to expectations in some quarters the Volunteer movement became firmly established. In 1860 there were 106,443 efficient Volunteers, and the numbers steadily increased in 1870 to 170,671; in 1880 to 196,938, and in 1888 to 220,124. Great Volunteer reviews before large crowds of spectators, and sometimes royalty, were held throughout the country where the men demonstrated their skill at drill and skirmishing. Local and regional rifle matches become commonplace and by the end of the decade of the 1860's Great Britain, with no prior tradition for rifle marksmanship, had thousands of trained riflemen.
2. From 1861, 200 yards replaced the 300 yards range.
In 1859 Volunteering was new, rifle shooting almost unknown. The NRA Council had not only to draw up the rules and regulations, but themselves had everything to learn. Discussion, of course, arose as to the rifles to be used, the form of target at which to fire, the best distances, the number of shots, the proper position in which to shoot, the system under which the firing was to be conducted, together with the nature and value of the prizes.
Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and the Duke of Cambridge presented valuable prizes to be annually competed for. With these and other donations the 67 prizes of 1860 amounted to a value of £2,238. Enthusiasm for the annual prize meeting blossomed. By 1866 the number of prizes had reached 835 with a value of £8,884 and in 1888 there were 2,814 prizes valued at £9,824, exclusive of challenge cups. The apparent disparity between the increase in number of prizes and their value was due to the urging of the competitors themselves that prize money be distributed over as wide an area as possible. With competitors travelling from every part of the country, it was important that they should if possible not only win honour and distinction, but also sufficient money to defray their unavoidable expenses. It was far better to give ten prizes of £5, than one of £50.
There were 24 targets at Wimbledon in 1860 and of the 67 prizes, 40 were open to all-comers and 27 restricted to Volunteers. Only 299 Volunteer competitors took part and the total aggregate of entries for Volunteer prizes was 594. For the all-comers' prizes the number of entries was 720, giving a grand total of entries of all kinds of 1,314. By 1888 the meeting had become immense. Target numbers had increased to 125 and the total aggregate of entries was an astonishing 41,670. In addition to this, the enormous number of 80,188 entries was made for the various Pool shooting and Running Deer events.
Right: The Last Shot of the Queen's Prize
(Illustrated London News, 27 July 1872).
Note the large number of spectators.
At the inaugural rifle meeting of 1860, ranges for Volunteer competitions were 300, 500, 600, 800, 900 and 1,000 yards. At 300 yards, shooting was 'off the shoulder' (i.e. standing) while beyond that, from the kneeling position. In 1861, 200 yards replaced the 300 yard distance; 300 yards being deemed too great for effective fire with the Enfield while standing. For the all-comers matches and at distances less than 500 yards shooting was from the standing position. At the remaining distances any position was allowed, although artificial rests (including slings) were not permitted.
Competitions were broadly separated into Volunteers using the military arm of issue, all-comers shooting 'small-bore' rifles, and team shooting (including the Elcho Shield, Lords and Commons match and a day set aside for Public Schools matches).
Although the targets, number of shots fired, positions used and distances competed at varied over the years, the competition format would largely be familiar to today's marksmen… … fire a set number of shots at a target at a given distance and achieve the highest possible score. There have, however, been less 'conventional' competitions which are worthy of review, if not revival!
The Novelty Acts
The Owl newspaper made its debut at Wimbledon in 1864 and generously gave a prize, which was shot for under special regulations, as set forth in the following proclamation:
Owl Shooting Extraordinary.
Oh Yes! Oh Yes!!
Take Notice all,
A Prize of £50 has been given by the venerable owls of the Owl newspaper,
to be competed for on such terms as the Council may fix.
Out of consideration for the generous but benighted donors,
the competition shall take place in the dark, at 200 yards.
Lights, called Owl's Eyes, will be substituted for Bull's Eyes.
Each competitor shall pay one shilling per shot,
and if the competitors do not appear in great numbers -
'The moping owl will to the moon complain.'
The prize shall be in the form of a beautiful silver owl,
shall be adjudged to the competitor who shall
by the end of the meeting have made the greatest number
of owl's eyes; that is, who shall have oftenest knocked out the owl's eyes.
Every precaution has been taken to guard against accidents.
The silver owl was won by Mr. Martin Smith, who fired ten shots, making four owl's eyes. Forty men in all shot for this prize. The competition was not repeated again, on safety grounds.
Yeomanry cavalry competition for the Loyd Lindsay Cup at Wimbledon
(Illustrated London News, 24 July 1886)
In 1873 Colonel Lloyd Lindsay introduced a prize for mounted riflemen. The initial experimental competition was a great success and it was for many years a feature of the shooting programme. The conditions in 1873 required that sections of four mounted men were to ride about three quarters of a mile, taking two flights of hurdles in the course, and were, while dismounted and their horses either linked or held by alternate files, each to fire five shots at 200 yards standing, and the same number at 400 yards in any position. There was a time limit of twelve minutes, and the rifle, of any Government pattern, had to be carried on the back or slung to the saddle. The winning team of the nine competing in the inaugural match was the Warwickshire Yeomanry, who carried Westley-Richards rifles.
A further mounted competition was added in 1879, this being for Regular Cavalry and was called the Royal Cambridge. Conditions were much the same as the Lloyd Lindsay, except that the arm was the Martini-Henry carbine. Four teams entered, with the 5th Dragoon Guards being the winners having cleared the course in eight minutes and twenty-seven seconds and scoring 107. The second placed 11th Hussars scored 88 and were 10 points above the winning score for the Lloyd Lindsay.
In 1861 Lord Radstock and a very small detachment of the Victoria Rifles encamped throughout the NRA meeting at Wimbledon. In 1862 there were 674 men in camp, of whom 212 were Volunteers and by 1866 this had increased to 1,292 Volunteers, with a total of 2,151 in camp. As the numbers continued to grow the annual Volunteer camp at Wimbledon became an established spectacle.
In addition to the Volunteers, regular troops also camped at Wimbledon. In 1865 the total number stationed there during the meeting was 539; being chiefly employed as markers at the butts. That year there were also 221 of the metropolitan police force present.
The Volunteer Camp (The Graphic, 21 July 1888)
John Wyatt, Secretary of the NRA, makes some interesting observations on accidents and health at Wimbledon in his report of 23 July 1865:
"The number of casualties admitted into hospital on account of gunshot injuries have been six, of which three occurred at the review on the 22d August.
"The volunteers and regular troops requiring medical treatment during the entire period have been 107, or less than a daily average of 2 per cent.
"The most severe of the 107 medical cases which came under my notice were those of two policemen stationed at the camp; one was affected with a severe form of English cholera, the other had smallpox of a confluent character, and was immediately removed to the Fever Hospital in London.
"Of the very few casualties from gun-shot accidents which occurred, the most severe were the cases of Sergeant Cousins, of the 1st Lincoln Volunteers, who shot himself through the upper part of the great toe, requiring subsequent amputation, and Private Walton, of the 2nd City of London Volunteers, who was shot at the review by the accidental discharge of the rifle of the rear-rank man, carried full cock at the trail. The whole of the blank charge with a porting of the trousers were removed from a deep wound at the back of the thigh, and the man taken home in the evening by the surgeon of the corps"
Sergeant Cousins accident had been brought about by the practice of capping off against the polished toe of his boot. Sadly the rifle had been left loaded!
With the camp increasing in size the necessity for regulations arose, and the NRA Council were obliged to issue certain rules with reference to the conduct of their camp. Life at the camp became an odd mixture of military exactitude and laughing unconventionality. Reveille sounded at half past six and after that hour Volunteers were not permitted slumber; all must attend parade. One Volunteer recalled being awoken by an orderly-sergeant who "wore nothing but his cross-belt, forage cap, and cane, and who swaggered rather more than if he had been in full uniform at a royal inspection." Another Volunteer recalled a somewhat ruder awakening:
"You catch hold of his head and I'll catch hold of his feet."
"Methought in my dreams that I heard a gruff voice utter these words; and then I experienced a sensation of being lifted up and carried through the air. The sensation was brief, its conclusion unpleasant, for I was roughly awakened by being dropped, and starting up, found myself on the ground in front of the tent, and two stalwart Volunteers standing beside me with pails of water in their hands. Before I could utter a word, splash came the contents of one pail over me, quickly followed by those of the other."
The morning parade was somewhat unorthodox if this 1883 description is anything to go by: "I have seen the captain commandant appear on parade in dressing-gown and socks; and I have seen a man present himself in a piece of Turkish carpet, a fez, and a cigarette; and another actually enjoying his morning tub in the ranks."
'Field-Marshal Punch' inspected camp in 1875 and, with a view to insuring uniformity, published in the magazine bearing his name a number of regulations for Wimbledon, some of which are reprinted below:
"Officers ordered to attend Full Dress Parade, will not appear in white neck-ties, lavender kid gloves, and swallow-tailed coats. A projected visit to the Opera (after the Parade has been dismissed) will not in future be accepted as an excuse for disobeyance of this order.
"Non-Commissioned Officers taking part in Battalion Drill should never unfurl their umbrellas without the command of a Brigadier General.
"Fancy grey Overcoats (with black velvet collars and cuffs) should not be worn over tweed shooting-jackets and regulation trousers on parade in fine weather.
"A Major (in the absence of his Commanding Officer) should never hold a Church Parade in a straw-hat, a sword, and a pair of galoshes.
"The Order "March at ease" will not be considered, in future, as tantamount to a permission for a Company to ride home on the outside of an omnibus.
"Guides should not explain the theory of Billiards or the rules of Lawn-tennis to their Markers during the formation of a four-deep square.
"No more than a dozen Privates (to each Company) should speak at once on the call of "Attention!" Constant disregard of this rule will be found to cause some confusion, especially in the performance of brigade movements."
Camp life for some was relatively comfy; the NRA Secretary's tent included a curtained bed, boarded floor and thick carpet amongst other comforts from home. For the Volunteers things were somewhat less luxurious and one writing in 1867 described the camp in less than glowing terms:
"Distance lent enchantment to the view in the case of our tent; for although its appearance from afar was singularly neat and inviting, yet upon a nearer approach the neatness vanished, and gloomy thoughts of sleepless nights disquieted the soul enamoured of nocturnal repose. The tent had been pitched with a greater regard to uniformity with the others than for the comfort of its occupants. A colony of misguided ants had originally settled upon the spot now covered by it, and, having devoured every blade of grass around the settlement, had departed again in search of happier regions, abandoning their penetralia to the earwig and the beetle, which delightful animals were careering in playful sportiveness all over the place. The furniture of the tent was not luxurious; it consisted solely of two minute iron bedsteads, suggestive of anything rather than one's ability to lie down on them. One of these proved to be broken… …"
Then, as nowadays at Bisley, there was a break in shooting for dinner. On the firing of the dinner gun shooting ceased and "the soldier in the grey great-coat who has been waving the red flag of danger now stabs the staff in the ground and proclaims a truce. The cautious markers emerge from behind their iron walls and enjoy the short cessation of the week's rainy season of bullets" wrote a reporter in 1862. He continued:
"The ladies rise from their chairs and are gallanted to the dining tents; the orderlies canter their horses to their own quarters; a national peace between all belligerents is proclaimed. The diners divide into many bands. The ladies are drafted off into the private tents, where the effect of a ceaseless duel is kept up by the popping of champagne corks. I and the other vagrant males betake ourselves to an enormous bell tent, supported by a polished mast, and large enough to shelter the whole regiment of the Blues. Round the counters, every possible colour of rifleman is having pork-pies, frothing up stout, or clamouring for sandwiches. Grey coats with red collars, green coats with red collars, grey coats with black and silver lace, green coats with black braiding, are all smitten with the same vast and insatiable hunger. In a moment barrels are emptied, loaves severed, biscuits snapped, and sandwiches devoured. In the large dining tent, the long tables are crowded with volunteer officers and hungry marksmen of all ages, classes, and degrees of title; nor do I see the least difference between the man who has made three bulls'-eyes running and the man who has missed twice in succession. No doubt the loser is suffering slightly from heartburn, and would, if he dared, run his fork into the bull's-eye man; but he eats with very creditable energy, and outwardly seems no whit the worse."
Above: Tea Time! The Camp at Wimbledon
(The Graphic, 16 July 1870)
The commissariat arrangements were necessarily on a large scale. From 1863 Messrs. Jennison, of Manchester, began bringing to Wimbledon from Lancashire their entire staff. "Their wood, their carts, their horses, their men and women (numbering more than a hundred), their beer, meat, milk, and, in short, everything that enters into the construction of their building, or tenants them when constructed, comes from Lancashire."
In 1871 the NRA opened their own catering pavilion at Wimbledon, to be let to the catering contractors. The building was designed to be built in sections so as to be removed at the end of the meeting and stored for re-erection in future years. Its cost was about £4500, including plant. Each year the building was assembled for the Wimbledon fortnight and dismantled at the close. With the move of the NRA rifle meeting to Bisley in 1890 the Pavilion found a permanent home. By 1923 the building had, however, reached the end of its useful life and was demolished to make way for the current NRA Pavilion which opened in 1924.
The Club Tent (Illustrated London News, 16 July 1864)
The NRA Council fitted up a club-tent. "If you have ever seen a comfortable club-room in town, you need no description of the National Rifle Association Club-tent, the sole difference being that the one is a tent and has a piano in it," wrote one commentator in 1867. Entertainment for the Volunteers in camp was sometimes provided in the club-tent, while the regimental camps vied with each other in friendly rivalry in their almost unbounded hospitality. The bagpipes of the London Scottish were however a cause of terror at first to the weaker-minded. So, at least, reported The Earwig, camp newspaper of the Victoria Rifles:
"Last evening a sudden and violent illness seized the members of the Victoria Camp, and caused great anxiety to their worthy and much respected surgeon. On mature inquiry, it was found to arise from the effect of playing of the bagpipes in the Scottish camp; on the cessation of the noise the symptoms of the illness deceased, and the members gradually recovered."
The mess tent in the evenings was the site of much conviviality. A Volunteer writing in 1867 described the scene when he entered the tent to find "the men assembled and busily engaged in quaffing a fiery compound, which the members of the staff were pouring from a huge tin." The effects were apparently wonderfully potent in the "promotion of jollity," inducing many a chorus, with song succeeding song in rapid succession while the fun-promoting contents of the huge tin fast disappeared. With the bugle sounding the ten minute warning prior to lights out, and after a heartrending verse of "God save the Queen" it was time to retire: this was not necessarily easy to accomplish as our Volunteer recalled.
"Some wonderful natural convulsion appeared to be taking place as we issued forth from the mess-tent, causing the contents to whirl round and round, and then dart from side to side, in the most surprising manner, rendering it a work of no slight difficulty to catch them. Fortunately I was perfectly sober, so bided my time; and when I saw our tent make a slight pause in its wild career past us, with a mighty spring I threw myself upon it, and grasping one of its ropes with both hands, held on firmly in spite of all its attempts to shake me off. The convulsion soon passed over, and Miller, who was very drunk, pulled me into the tent, and implored me to get into bed. Knowing how hopeless it was to reason with one in his unfortunate state, I complied with his request, and tumbled in just as the camp guard was threatening to cut our tent-ropes if the light were not extinguished immediately."
While the mess tents catered for the masses, select tea-parties were to be found amidst the camp tents and on occasions an entertainment of a more refined sort might be found where perhaps a young lady made music with a violin.
3. The prevalence of the earwig was such that the Victoria Rifles named their camp newspaper after it. The Earwig was first published in 1864, as "a paper containing neither Politics, Literature, Science, nor Art." In 1866 "The Earwig Prize", value £20, an inkstand in silver and blue enamel representing an earwig, appeared in the prize list. The prize was open to any purchaser of a copy of the Earwig newspaper, on payment of a shilling for an 'Earwig' ticket. Both the newspaper and prize disappeared in 1872.
Serious Aims, For Some …
For many the Wimbledon Meeting was regarded as a fourteen days' picnic with no particular aim other than pleasant enjoyment, but for many others it was a fortnight of work with serious aims. Following is an affectionate portrait of the 'shooting man' written in 1883:
"At roll-call he is the only individual properly dressed; at breakfast he is not visible - nor at lunch, nor at dinner, nor at tea; the mess tent knows him not, and if he eats at all, he must do so invisibly in holes and corners. By nine o'clock he is at the firing point, and there or thereabout, he remains all day. At gun-fire (seven p.m.) he returns to his tent, after perhaps a single sententious pipe in his doorway. His speech is composed of scornful monosyllables; his manner seems based on a careful study of the snub direct. These peculiarities are due, I suppose, to deep thought on such matters as wind-pressure, fore-sights and back-sights, inners and outers, and bulls - which, if you once yield to them, bind you with an insatiable fascination. But, eccentricities apart, the shooting man commands respect. He works hard, he maintains the credit of his corps, and he makes not a little money. In short, he sets a good example; for unless they were decent marksmen, Volunteers would not be of very immediate service in an emergency."
Where the serious work took place (Illustrated London News, 25 July 1863)
Shooting began each day at nine, by which time the bulk of the camp population was to be found at the various firing points or loitering in the 'high street' of trade tents or the refreshment rooms. Others remained amongst the tents devoting their mornings to rehearsals of amateur theatricals, to the tuning of pianos, to the pretence of reading the daily papers, or to the serious business of the morning pipe.
After the lunch time break opportunity might be taken to stroll around and see what there was to be seen. With the stream of visitors increasing throughout the afternoon there was the added distraction of ladies to the scene. Chairs were provided inside the ropes at the firing points for the ladies, and this an area "which no male dared enter but the shooting man, the scorer and the officer in charge." The officer was regarded with not a little envy, managing to combine his duties with flirtation!
If the weather changed for the worse, then the scenes of gaiety melted away as the officer in charge developed a view of life which was little less than blasphemous. The shooting men were the same though and "that strange product of Wimbledon existence, the offensively robust person who parades a pair of knickerbockers of a remarkable check pattern and a head-covering of no known shape or designation" was to the fore as usual, "with his field-glasses and comforting flask of sherry."
The Sunday in camp was one of noise and bustle. Throughout the preceding week the papers had long accounts of the events, and those that could not get away from business on the weekdays availed themselves of the Sunday to visit Wimbledon and see what had excited so much attention. These large crowds were not without their problems.
The use of the common was not unopposed in 1860 and Lord Spencer received a deputation from local residents. In 1865 a complaint was received by the NRA council about bullets passing over the Coombe Estate, belonging to the Duke of Cambridge, a member of the council. Further complaints were received from the Duke of Cambridge's solicitor in 1869, and compensation of £100 was paid to the Duke's tenant Col. Clifton.
Over the years objections continued from other householders in the growing neighbourhood. The large crowds of visitors troubled them and their free use of the common was restricted. The Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act of 1871 introduced some regulation to the use of the common, a rent of £100 per annum payable by the NRA and free passes to local householders.
In 1879 a charge of sixpence was introduced for admission after gunfire. This was an attempt to keep out the increasing crowds, and partially to recoup some of the receipts that had been lost by the issue of the free passes. This was not a popular move! Paraffin was used to set fire to the Common and hoardings and there were conflicts with the police which developed into riots. The fee was dropped in 1880, and the fence made of corrugated iron; not readily combustible…
By 1887 Wimbledon was a rapidly growing suburban neighbourhood. The residents were disturbed by the crowds from London, and were upset at having their rights of access to the Common curtailed. With the NRA about to embark on some costly repairs and enlargements, the Duke of Cambridge, who had long suffered the danger of bullets going over the butts into his grounds, this year gave the NRA notice to quit the common prior to any commitment to large expenses.
Due to difficulties associated with finding and preparing a suitable location for a rifle range, the prize meeting remained at Wimbledon until 1889. In 1890 it moved to Bisley, where it remains.