Sir Henry William Peek, 1st Bt (1825-1898), was MP for Mid Surrey from 1868 – 1884 and made his fortune as an importer of spices, tea and other groceries. The very model of a Victorian philanthropist, he lived at Wimbledon House, Wimbledon and was a partner in the firm of Messrs Peek Brothers & Co., colonial merchants, of East Cheap. He was one of the notable signatories to the Alfred Markby Memorial
The fact that we can all enjoy the freedom of Wimbledon Common is largely down to Sir Henry. In November 1864, Earl Spencer, Lord of the Manor of Wimbledon, called a meeting of local residents where he put forth a proposal that 700 acres of the common be enclosed (forming a park), that a couple of acres be set aside so that he could build himself a nice big house (near the site of the present day windmill) and that 300 or so acres be built upon. Citing the ‘noxious mists and fogs’ and nuisance ‘gypsies’ as the main reason for him wanting to create this bill, he presented it to a largely sympathetic Parliament. However, the proposal was opposed by a Select Committee whose interest it was to investigate green open spaces around urban London. Sir Henry Peek, who established and chaired the Wimbledon Select Committee, went head to head with the Earl, eventually forcing him to come to a compromise and the Wimbledon Common Conservators were born. They maintain and keep the Common open to this day and a memorial to Sir Henry stands at the site of Caesar’s Well.
Sir Henry is also thought to have initiated hot school dinners in this country, believing that children could not learn unless they were well fed!!