Thoughts on The Last Wimbledon Meeting

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Written by: S. Flood Page

Source: Murray’s Magazine, London, July 1889

Introduction > A measure of progress > The move to Bisley

“THE object of the Association is to give permanence to Volunteer Corps, and to promote rifle-shooting throughout Great Britain,” is the first clause in the constitution of the National Rifle Association. Her Majesty the Queen inaugurated the Wimbledon Meetings by firing the first shot on Wimbledon Common on July 2, 1860; since when, year by year, with almost continuous progressive prosperity, the meetings have been held on the suburban common, and the Wimbledon Meeting, Wimbledon Camp, Wimbledon rules and regulations have passed into household words throughout the English-speaking portions of the world. The Meeting of 1889 is the last that is to be held on Wimbledon Common, and it has been thought that this great crisis in the affairs of the Association affords a fitting opportunity to take stock of its work. Originally it was intended to hold an annual shooting meeting “in such part of Great Britain, varying from year to year, as shall be deemed by the Council most advantageous for the advancement of the objects of the Association,” and it was decreed that “every third meeting shall take place in Scotland.” But the magnitude and cost of the preparations for the meeting of 1860 led to the abandonment of the proposed peripatetic character of the shooting meetings; the representatives of Scotland, Lancashire, and Yorkshire acquiesced in this decision; and men from all parts of the Empire have come up to Wimbledon, year after year, agreeing that all the conditions necessary for such a Camp and Prize Meeting, were combined in complete perfection on the healthy, breezy Surrey common. When it was known that the Association were obliged to give up Wimbledon, proposals for land for the shooting came from many places, some that were impossible, and but few that combined all that was wanted. The Secretary’s office for months looked like a map shop; plans and sketches littered tables and floor, while the walls were literally covered with Ordnance and other maps. Seldom have a body of men had a more difficult task than fell to the lot of the Council: it was not easy to find a site that would do, it was perhaps harder to reconcile all the interests involved. The duty became all the more delicate and responsible, in that the Chairman, Lord Wantage, most generously offered an admirable site, suitable in every single particular save one, worth about £20,000, which, with characteristic liberality, he offered to convey to the Association as a free gift. This noble example was not less nobly followed by the landowners of Staffordshire, who expressed their readiness to buy, and convey free of cost to the Association, an excellent site on Cannock Chase. I need not dilate on the numerous proposals of varying character; on the work and labour of love; on the enthusiastic devotion with which the members of the Committee set themselves to weigh the merits and demerits of the various sites, most of which were inspected, several of them being visited on several occasions; but it will suffice to say, up to the very day on which the Council arrived at their decision, Lord Wantage’s site on the Berkshire Downs, Cannock Chase, Bisley Common, Dunstable, Lewes, and two sites near Brighton were still left for choice. I am betraying no secrets when I add that the three first-named sites were the three which were left in for final choice, and that a numerical majority voted for Bisley Common. The chief hesitation which any one felt in voting for Bisley arose from the fact that it might look as if the liberality of Lord Wantage and of the gentlemen of Staffordshire had not been fully appreciated.

Nothing was further from our mind: the paramount necessity for being as near London as possible weighed most, and with a majority; the advantage of drawing more closely the connection between the army at Aldershot and the National Rifle Association influenced many; while the admirable fitness of the site itself and the interest shown by the military authorities in the selection of Bisley, completed the conquest of some who were doubtful. It is satisfactory to be able to add, that at the General Meeting of the Association held the other day, at which the Duke of Cambridge presided, some of those who had vigorously opposed the adoption of Bisley, expressed their approval of the site, and their intention of supporting the Council in their endeavour to make the New Wimbledon as successful as the Old. I wonder whether any rich man, member of Council, Volunteer, or otherwise, may chance to read this article who wishes to give undoubted evidence of his patriotism, for I beg to inform such an one that the move from Wimbledon will swallow up all our reserve; in what we conscientiously believe to be for the interest of the Association we have been constrained to refuse the free gift of a site; we shall have considerable expense in establishing ourselves at Bisley, and the gift of a few thousand pounds would be most acceptable. The L. & S.-W. Railway are helping in many ways to smooth over the change, and the military authorities are giving the National Rifle Association such help as is in their power.