The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon

For two weeks of every summer, typically the last week in June and first week in July, this sports ground in south west London becomes the centre of world attention. The cream of the world's professional tennis elite compete on its twenty grass courts for what is, in effect, the sport's annual world championship.

Squeezed into a rather odd wedge-shaped piece of real estate between Somerset Road and Wimbledon Park Road, the AELTC has a strange dual existence. For the fifty weeks of the year during which the world is otherwise occupied, it is essentially an exclusively private club. There is, however, a museum on the site and from a side door the public have access through to a small viewing gallery in the stands of the Centre Court. From here one may gaze upon the most famous and most cosseted rectangle of turf on the entire planet.

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Centre Court during the close season

Standing here during the close season, one cannot help but be struck by an air of sadness that this stadium lies, unused and forgotten by all but its staff, for all but a fortnight of the year. Even the club's members are not permitted to play here. The public address speakers relay the sounds of a match in progress for visitors but this, while welcome in itself, still serves to bring home how uncannily empty the place is without its thousands of spectators and the feast of skill and athleticism taking place across the net.

The rest of the AELTC, while closed to the public except during the championships, is currently undergoing an extensive programme of remodelling. The old No.1 court has disappeared within the last few years to be replaced by a new stadium, in some aspects superior to the adjacent Centre Court, to the northeast on what used to be part of the catering area. Over the next decade the southern end of the grounds, deep in the vee of the wedge, will be remodelled to accommodate a new no.2 court and other changes will follow in the remainder of the complex.

When I originally wrote the narrative for this page I expressed a wish that the club would provide some additional public access to the grounds during the other fifty weeks of the year. Well now they have. Group tours of the grounds take place daily from the museum, and individuals can apparently get places on these tours provided they call in advance. Details can be found on the club's website.

The images above were taken from the viewing gallery in Centre Court's stands. Since they were taken the stands have been rebuilt and the standing terraces seen here no longer exist.

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This page last updated 4th January 2003