Inventory Site Record

Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park (including Imperial War Museum) (Southwark)

Brief Description

Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park was created when the Bethlehem Royal Asylum, first located here in 1815, moved to Bromley in 1926. The land and buildings were purchased by Viscount Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail, who presented it to the LCC for use as a public park in memory of his mother, Geraldine Mary Harmsworth. It was opened in 1934 by Lord Snell, then Chairman of the LCC. Within the park is the remains of the hospital building, which was converted into the Imperial War Museum in the 1930s. The park features mature trees and is an important green space in this crowded area of Southwark.

Practical Information
Previous / Other name:
St George's Fields; Bethlehem Royal Asylum
Site location:
Lambeth Road/Brook Drive
What 3 Words:
Type of site:
Public Park
Open to public?
Opening times:
Special conditions:
Children's playground, sports area with facilities for football, basketball, netball and tennis; café, toilets
Public transport:
Rail/Tube: Elephant & Castle (Northern) then bus. Bus: 3, 12, 53, 148, 453, C10, 344, 360, 59, 159
Research updated:
Last minor changes:

Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news.

Full Site Description

Formerly part of the site of the Bethlehem Royal Asylum, the park was created when the hospital was moved to Bethlem Royal Hospital in Monks Orchard, Bromley (q.v.) in 1926 and the existing patients wings were demolished. The Imperial War Museum in the centre of the park was created in the remains of the hospital in the 1930s, the collection previously housed in South Kensington. The Royal Bethlem Hospital was built here when it moved from Moorfields in 1815 on land formerly known as St George's Fields, a marshy area with ponds and streams draining into the Neckinger Brook. The marshy character of the land was the reason that housing development had not taken place here and it was used for agricultural purposes until the end of the C18th, administered by the Bridge House Estate. A road was first built across the marshy land in 1753 although it was used for fairs, pony races and other public entertainment; John Gerrard the herbalist and botanist wrote in 1597 of the water violets he found there. From 1731 mineral waters from local springs were sold from the small public house that had existed here since at least 1642, known as the Dog and Duck as ducks had been hunted here with dogs. The pub was then renamed St George's Spa and by 1758 provided tea rooms, music gallery, ladies' and gentlemen's baths, skittle grounds, bowling green, but it became notorious and rowdy and was closed in 1799.

The area was also used for military and political assemblies. In 1537 the Guild of Fraternity of St George was granted a charter by Henry VIII allowing them to practice archery, which carried on into the C17th. Two Commonwealth forts were built in the fields, Royal Fort 21 holding 3,000 soldiers. By the early C19th with drainage improved, the area began to be developed. As the Royal Bethlehem Hospital was seeking a new site, it was offered 12 acres in St George's Fields in exchange for its Moorfields site in the city. The new hospital was opened in 1815, with new blocks built in the following years. These included the State Criminal Asylum, which was housed in two blocks behind the Bethlehem Hospital from 1816 until 1864 when it moved to Broadmoor. Various additions and extensions took place over the years, such as the copper dome added to the hospital in 1844-46, designed by Sidney Smirke.

The road layout in front of the hospital had changed in the 1830s, as a result of which additional land was acquired and laid out as ornamental gardens with an oval lawn that remains today. Now the forecourt of the Imperial War Museum it houses items from the museum collection including a fragment of the Berlin Wall. The Lodge on Lambeth Road dates from 1837 and was built when the ground was enclosed and planted. In the mid C19th, the care of the mentally ill was improved, largely as a result of the work at Bethlem Hospital by Dr Charles Hood and George Henry Haydon, with better furnishings, flowers, books, pictures and music introduced as well as recreation inside and outside the hospital. In 1905 a stone obelisk of 1771 by Robert Mylne was removed from St George's Circus to the north east corner here.

When the hospital moved to Bromley, the land and buildings were purchased by Viscount Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail, who presented it to the London County Council for use as a public park for the 'splendid struggling mothers of Southwark' in memory of his own mother, Geraldine Mary Harmsworth. It was opened in 1934 by Lord Snell, then Chairman of the LCC, and the Imperial War Museum was subsequently set up, the building leased to the Commissioners of Works. In 1938 a children's lido was added to the park's amenities, but no longer in existence.

The ‘Samten Kyil’ or Tibetan Garden of Contemplation and Peace, commissioned by The Tibet Foundation, was opened on 13 May 1999 by the Dalai Lama; the centre piece is a Mandala, a Tibetan Buddhist symbol connected with peace and the well-being of those who see it. The outer circle of the garden contains specially commissioned sculptures by Hamish Horsley representing the four elements of earth, fire, water and air.

In the west of the park is a Soviet War Memorial to the Soviet dead of WWII, sculpted in Stalingrad by Sergei Shcherbakov and unveiled in 1999.

Recent additions to the park include an ecological world garden laid out along the boundary with Lambeth Road to the west of the café, a small copse, a family orchard, and an Ice Age Tree trail.

Sources consulted:

Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999; John Beasley, 'Southwark Remembered', Tempus, 2001; Friends of GMH information sheet; Southwark Listed Buildings data

Further Information (Planning and Conservation)
Grid ref:
TQ313791 (531350,179150)
Size in hectares:
Site ownership:
LB Southwark
Site management:
Parks; Friends of Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park
Listed structures:
LBII: Imperial War Museum, Lodge on Lambeth Road, stone obelisk by Robert Mylne.
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:
Conservation Area name:
West Square
Tree Preservation Order:
Nature Conservation Area:
Green Belt:
Metropolitan Open Land:
Special Policy Area:
Other LA designation:
Special Site, Tier Two. Green Chain Walk

Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park (including Imperial War Museum)

Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park - Imperial War Museum - Photo: Colin Wing
Date taken: 20/10/20 16:37

Click a photo to enlarge.

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