Sayes Court Park (Lewisham)
Sayes Court Park is on part of the former grounds of Sayes Court, a property that was once was within the King’s estates in Greenwich. From the mid-C17th it was the home of the diarist John Evelyn who laid out fine gardens here. After he moved to Surrey, Evelyn let Sayes Court, including for a short time to Peter the Great of Russia in 1698, who was studying ship building at the Royal Dockyard nearby. The mansion was demolished in 1729 and a workhouse built on the site, later converted as almshouses by a descendent of Evelyn. In 1878 he laid out part of the land as a recreation ground initially for his tenants, but later a park of 1.5 acres was opened as a public facility. Requisitioned during WWII, the park was later re-landscaped by the LCC and opened in 1952.
- Previous / Other name:
- Sayes Court
- Site location:
- Sayes Court Street/Grove Street, Deptford
- What 3 Words:
- Type of site:
- Public Park
- Open to public?
- Opening times:
- 8am - sunset
- Special conditions:
- Play area
- Public transport:
- London Overground: Surrey Quays then bus. Rail: Deptford then bus. Bus: 47, 188, 199.
- Research updated:
- Last minor changes:
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.lewisham.gov.uk/inmyarea/openspaces/parks/Pages/sayes-court
Full Site Description
The Manor of Deptford or West Greenwich, of which Sayes Court was the manor house, was part of the Crown's estates in Greenwich and its kitchen gardens, orchards, cattle and poultry supplied Greenwich Palace before the Civil War. The name derives from Geoffrey de Say who came to the property having married Alice, a descendent of the Maminot family, whose Norman great grandfather Gilbert Maminot assisted William the Conqueror. After the Civil War the manor was taken by Parliament, surveyed, and the manor house and 60 acres of land given to the Browne family who were already in occupation. The daughter of Sir Richard Browne, Mary, married John Evelyn in 1647 and they came to live at Sayes Court in 1651. Evelyn (1620-1706), now famous for his Diary that provides a valuable record of the C17th, was important in a number of fields including science and horticulture in addition to his position as a courtier. He enlarged the house at Sayes Court and created fine and much-admired gardens here, influenced by French and Italian ideas. The property reverted to the Crown at the Restoration, and it was not until 1663 that Evelyn managed to negotiate a 99-year lease from Charles II. Sayes Court remained the home of the Evelyns until 1694 after which he moved back to the place of his birth in Wotton, Surrey, although still owning his property at Deptford.
Soon after the move to Deptford, Evelyn’s diary entry of 17 January 1653 refers to his first works in the garden: ‘I began to set out the Ovall Garden at Says Court, which was before a rude Ortchard, & all the rest one intire fild of 100 Ackers, without any hedge: excepting the hither holly-hedge joyning to the bank of the mount walk: & this was the beginning of all the succeeding Gardens, Walkes, Groves, Enclosures & Plantations there.’ On the 19 February he ‘planted the Ortchard at Says-Court’. A plan of the garden drawn by Evelyn in 1653, probably for his father-in-law who was in Paris at that time, showed his design in some detail. What is marked on this plan as ‘Broome Field’ is the approximate site of the small public park today. To the west of the house was a walled garden with ‘choice flowers, and simples’ (medicinal herbs) planted in formal beds around a fountain, with an arbour sheltered by elm trees in the north-west corner. It was here that he set up the unusual bee hive that he had been presented with in July 1654 by Dr Wilkins at Waddum, Oxford; his diary entry refers to the bee hive that he ‘afterwards had in my Garden at Says-Court, many Yeares after & which his Majestie came on purpose to see & contemplate with much satisfaction.’ Much of Evelyn’s garden was on a grand scale; it included a long terrace walk that overlooked an intricate parterre; a Grove planted with numerous species of trees and featured walks and recesses; extensive kitchen gardens; an orchard of 300 or more fruit trees; avenues and hedges of ash, elm, and holly; and a long walk or promenade from a banquet house, which was by the south wall of the garden, leading to an ornamental lake with an island, fruit bushes and a summerhouse at the north end.
Evelyn’s diary entries provide information about events in the garden; for example, in August 1658 there was ‘a tempestious Wind, which threw-downe my greatest trees at Says Court, & did so much mischiefe all England over: It continued all night, till 3 afternoone next day, & was S. West, destroying all our winter fruit.’ In the spring of 1664 he ‘planted the home field & West field about Says-Court, with Elmes; being the same Yeare that the Elmes were also planted by his Majestie in Greenwich park.’ In January 1684 London experienced severe frosts, and on 4 February Evelyn went to assess the damage, ‘where I found many of the Greenes & rare plants utterly destroied; The Oranges & Myrtils very sick, the Rosemary & Lawrell dead to all appearance, but the Cypresse like to indure it out.’ Following this devastation the south-west portion of the garden was simplified, and the parterre laid out as a semi-circular lawn with fruit planted in the quadrants.
After his family left Sayes Court for Wotton in 1694, Evelyn let the Deptford property. In 1696 Vice Admiral Benbow took a 3 year tenancy ‘with Conditions to keep the Garden &c.’ although it appears he was not as careful a tenant as Evelyn would have liked. In early 1698 the house was let for a few months to the Czar of Russia, Peter the Great, who came to study shipbuilding in the Royal Naval Dockyard, working as a ship's carpenter. The Czar ‘made it his Court & palace, lying & remaining in it, new furnish’d for him by the King.’ After his departure, Evelyn went to Deptford on 9 June to ‘view how miserably the Tzar of Moscovy had left my house after 3 moneths making it his Court, having gotten Sir Cr: Wren his Majesties Surveyor & Mr. London his Gardener to go down & make an estimat of the repairs, for which they allowed 150 pounds in their Report to the L: of the Treasury.’ The Treasury finally paid £350 9s 6d in compensation. The Czar appears to have created havoc, reputedly having wheelbarrow races in the gardens with Edmund Halley, Royal Astronomer. In November 1703 Evelyn's diary noted that the 'house, Trees, Garden &c. at Says-Court suffered very much' in bad storms. When Evelyn died in 1706 Sayes Court was held in trust for his grandson Sir John Evelyn, as Evelyn’s own sons had died. The estate at that time comprised the house and c.62 acres around it, as well as considerable properties, including the site of the later navy victualing yard, a wet and dry dock, and a watermill. The old manor house was largely demolished by 1728/29 and a parish workhouse was built on the site, which remained in use until 1848,following which it was used as an emigration depot and then a clothing factory. Its historical associations are recalled in street names such as Evelyn Street, Czar Street and Sayes Court Street.
In 1856 the Sayes Court site was purchased by the Admiralty, but when the dockyard was closed in 1869, William John Evelyn, a descendent of Sir John Evelyn, bought back what remained of the estate. In 1876 he began to lay out part of the land as a recreation ground for his tenants, with plants and turf transported from Wotton. By 1877 this comprised a site of 14 acres of the former gardens. What remained of Sayes Court manor house, with 4 acres of adjacent garden, was converted as almshouses, with the public garden area comprising 10 acres. In the north-west of the site was the former Dockyard’s Admiralty Model house. In 1884, Evelyn approached Octavia Hill with the suggestion that the garden be publicly owned, with the hall as a public museum, a suggestion that played an important part in the formation of the National Trust in the following decade. Octavia Hill initially put forward the Commons and Gardens Trust as the name for the new company that would have the legal power to hold property for the public interest, but the name the National Trust was finally adopted. In 1886 Evelyn’s remaining estate comprised 6 acres of which he dedicated 1.5 acres to the public in perpetuity. The Kyrle Society then laid out the park with trees, flowers and shrubs, walks, a children’s playground and a central bandstand. Evelyn also made permanent provision to cover its maintenance. Sayes Court Park was officially opened on 20 July 1886 by Baroness Burdett-Coutts.
In WWI Sayes Court House was used by the War Department as a Horse Transport Reserve Depot to enlarge the Supply Reserve Depot that was adjacent on the Foreign Cattle Market, and both were purchased by the War Department in 1926. The almshouses later became Headquarters Offices and the Model House was used as the Officers Mess, although part of the Victorian park remained inside the depot. Bombing in WWII destroyed nearby terraces and after the war the remnant of the public park, which consisted of under 2 acres, was part of the post-war redevelopment by the LCC. A new recreation ground was laid out with children’s playground, paddling pool, heated playroom with a park attendant’s room and offices, public conveniences and a shelter facing a formal garden with a pond at one end. The park was opened on 29 May 1951 and later became the responsibility of Greenwich Council. In 1993, as a result of borough boundary changes, it came within LB Lewisham. The park contains some large London plane trees possibly dating from 1878, and one railed, ancient mulberry. A new playground and formal gardens were laid out as part of a deal with a housing developer.
The park is adjacent to the Convoys Wharf development site of the former Royal Dockyard, now owned by Hutchison Whampoa Ltd who have applied for planning permission to convert it for housing and commercial use, with new community, cultural and leisure facilities including public spaces.
Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert, 'The London Encyclopaedia' (Macmillan, revised ed. 1993); Document for Glendale/LB Lewisham Parks Conference 11 March 2000; John Archer, Ian Yarham, 'Nature Conservation in Lewisham', Ecology Handbook 30, London Ecology Unit, 2000; Robert and Celia Godley, 'Greenwich: A history of Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton, Deptford and Woolwich', 1999; Beryl Platts 'A History of Greenwich' 2nd ed. (Procter Press), 1986.
Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
- Grid ref:
- TQ368780 (536850,178050)
- Size in hectares:
- Site ownership:
- LB Lewisham
- Site management:
- Greenscene Department, Glendale Grounds Management
- C17th; 1877/86; 1951
- C17th John Evelyn; 1886: The Kyrle Society; 1951: LCC
- Listed structures:
- On National Heritage List for England (NHLE), Parks & Gardens:
- Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:
- Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:
Local Authority Data
The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
- On Local List:
- In Conservation Area:
- Tree Preservation Order:
- Yes? Check mulberry tree
- Nature Conservation Area:
- Yes - Local Importance
- Green Belt:
- Metropolitan Open Land:
- Special Policy Area:
- Yes - Area of Archaeological Priority; Thameside Policy Area
- Other LA designation:
- Public Open Space
Sayes Court Park - Trees in autumn alongside Convoys Wharf site - Photo: Candy Blackham
Date taken: 01/11/20 14:36
Click a photo to enlarge.
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