Jack Swaab interview: Memories of Wimbledon

What do you remember of Wimbledon when you first moved here in the 1940s?

I wasn't here all that much because I was working in London all day. There were obvious things, like there wasn't any Centre Court. The shopping wasn't very good. I do remember when our first so called supermarket opened up in the Village - Waitrose. Of course in those days nobody had ever heard of Waitrose, we thought it was some sort of jam. It was quite small. Not much bigger than a corner shop is now.

But of course transport was very different. We had the 200 bus up here. It must have been one of the worst services in the world. Many times I have stood at the bus stop on the Ridgway cursing with the other passengers and waiting 20 or 30 minutes. Now it's really very good. We have these little single decker buses and it's very good for me because of course I am free. I don't have to pay and I use the bus quite a bit. There's that and there must have been the trams when I first came here. I know they did run along Worple Road and had been running since about the turn of the century. But I do remember we had trolleybuses and they were awfully good. It's rather a pity they ever gave those up. They were completely silent and quite large. Now and again the pole dropped off the top and they couldn't go any further.

I remember there was an Odeon cinema at the corner of Worple Road and one or two other cinemas, although I can't remember exactly where they were. And the theatre, which is one of the things that have really improved now - it's really very good now - whereas then it was a pretty modest sort of thing.

Of course another thing that has changed is that we didn't then have very many citizens from the Empire as it then was and nowadays it's commonplace - we live in a multicultural society but in those days we didn't. I don't particularly recall that it was an issue with anybody any more than it really is now. But that is really one of the fundamental changes. Nowadays black and brown people running so many things, driving the buses. Our local chemist probably knows more about people in Wimbledon than anybody else - terribly good.

Well, talking of things that have not improved now. It's the situation where there is so much crime and worry about children being out late at night or on their own even in the daytime. In those days we didn't have those sorts of worries. In our road we had all sorts of families - there were Swedes, Danes, Russians, French and Dutch and we nearly all had children and the children were in and out of each other's houses by day and sometimes by night as well. Nobody worried about it. The windows and doors were left open and very rarely locked, even at night. In the summer at night the French windows in my living room here were left open because it was hot at night - wide open to the garden. Perhaps it was really rather foolhardy but nothing ever seemed to happen and there was very little crime and of course the children enjoyed it very much. We had lots of children in our house because Zena was famous for the chocolate chip cookies she made. You know, 50 or 60 years later I still meet people who were children then and they still remember those chocolate chip cookies, as indeed do I.

Also, there is a lot of talk at the moment about the drought. Well in 1976 the Common was on fire for weeks on end. You used to go up on Southside and you could see the smoke - not flames but smoke. It smouldered away for weeks on end until it started to rain again.