Cannizaro Park to be celebrated in a new book


One of Wimbledon’s best-kept secrets is being brought to life in a new book to be published this week


By Jason Thomson

One of Wimbledon’s best-kept secrets is being brought to life in a new book to be published this week.

Cannizaro Beyond the Gates tells the 300-year story of Cannizaro Park, off Wimbledon Common, a place once compared to Kew Gardens by the curator of that world-famous institution.

Author Tony Matthews wrote the book partly to tell the story of the park’s guardians – the Friends of Cannizaro Park – but equally to set down a record of the place itself.

“If you know Cannizaro Park, if you go to the festival, if you go to the hotel, you may wonder, ‘What is this place?’ The book has the answer,” he said.

The park contains hundreds of rare plants, dotted with North American and Japanese trees, as well as one old, frail Spanish oak tree – one of a kind in the area.

The house, standing at the park’s entrance and now a hotel, was private for decades before becoming an old people’s home and then almost being turned into houses by the council in the 1970s.

The book’s publisher, Cameron Brown of Wimbledon Society Museum Press, has a personal interest in the saga having been part of a trio who formed the Cannizaro House Trust and successfully fought the council’s housing plan.

“It’s the first book of its kind,” said Mr Brown.

“Cannizaro is a hidden gem. A lot of people in London don’t know it’s there and I suspect a lot of people who live locally don’t either.”

When it was privately owned the house hosted royalty among its visitors, including King George III as well as writers such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Henry James and Oscar Wilde.

There is even a statue of Haile Selassie, an Ethiopian Emperor and figurehead of the Rastifari movement, sculpted when he stayed nearby after fleeing the Italian invasion of his homeland in 1935.

But perhaps the book’s key personalities are the Duke and Duchess of Cannizaro, after which the park is named.

“I think the Duke and Duchess are great,” said Mr Matthews.

“They were both appalling in their way. It was a dreadful marriage – it’s a great story.”

The Friends, of which Mr Matthews was a founding member, were formed as the park once again came under threat in 1996.

There was a nationwide trend at the time of cutting back on funding for areas considered less important, such as leisure and parks, which meant Cannizaro began falling into disrepair.

In another cost-cutting measure the local authority decided to scrap the locks on all of its borough’s parks and leave them open 24-hours a day.

Mr Matthews said: “It’s fairly obvious what happens if you throw a park open all night long – it attracts crime and all sorts of problems.”

So the Friends were born – now numbering about 500 – and ever since they have continued in a compromise whereby they unlock the park in the morning and the local authority locks it at night.

Partly in a drive to boost awareness of Cannizaro and looking to raise much-needed funds, the Friends are supporting the launch of the book financially.

Mr Matthews hopes it will inspire people to visit the park and attend events that take place there such as the Cannizaro Festival.

Readers can buy the 122-page book at a discounted price of £5.99 (RRP £7.99). Contact Mr Brown at [email protected] for further information.

For information on the festival, taking place between 2nd-17th July, visit

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