Bishops Park Regeneration Nearing Completion


Restoration of the lake in Bishops Park
Restoration of the lake in Bishops Park, Fulham, nears completion. The project includes the reinstatement of the historic ‘Margate Sands’. (Photo: Hazelle Jackson)

The Bishops' Tree

From the original Fulharn Palace estate, out of which Bishops Park was created, 12 acres (4.9ha) were retained as the gardens of Fulham Palace. As well as restoring Bishops Park, the HLF grant has included the restoration of the Palace gardens.

The Bishops' Tree (David Hawgood)
The Bishops' Tree
(Photo: David Hawgood)

When visiting the gardens, you will come across the Bishops' Tree. The Bishops' Tree was carved by Andrew Frost - an accomplished environmental sculptor based in Derbyshire. The figures - all Bishops of London - have been carved out of cedarwood and applied to the tall trunk of a Cedar of Lebanon on the Palace's north lawn. The sculpture was commissioned by a local lady, Dolores Moorhouse, in memory of her late husband, Peter, and the times they shared at the Palace.

The bishop standing on the top is Bishop Porteus (Bishop of London 1787-1809). His portrait hangs in the Palace museum. He was a campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade and left his collection of books to create the library, at which he is staring.

The bishop that has managed to climb half way up is Bishop Creighton (Bishop 1897-1901). He was an important historian and is featured in the stained glass of the east window of the chapel.

The bishop at the foot of the trunk is Bishop Banner (a Catholic, he was Bishop twice during the Reformation from 1540 to 50 and 1553 to 59). During Queen Mary's reign he kept some Protestants imprisoned at the Palace, and is alleged to have tortured them there.

A short way from the tree on a carved oak bench lies a napping Bishop Compton (Bishop 1675- 1713). He made the Palace gardens famous by importing new plants from overseas, especially from Virginia and first cultivated some flora found in Britain today, including the American magnolia, M. virginiana, Liriodendron, Liquidambar and the first American azalea grown in England, Rhododendron viscosum. In his heated 'stoves' he grew the first coffee tree in England. By 1681 the gardens at Fulham Palace were already remarkable, as diarist John Evelyn noted when he visited.

Bishop Compton's gardener in the early years was George London, who started his famous nursery at Brompton the year of Evelyn's visit. Today Bishop Compton lies on his bench taking a well-earned rest after a morning's botany and a very long lunch.

Book Publication

The History of Bishops Park: A People's Park

by Sally Miller

Published by Scala in association with the Friends of Bishops Park, September 2011
Scala Publishers. Paperback, 96 pp, 276 x 205mm. ISBN 978 1 85759 708 0. £14.95.


In the 19th century, the great Victorian public park movement carved out green spaces for Britain's rapidly growing urban populations.

Parks fulfilled an urgent public health need and were thought to moderate social behaviour, providing an elevating alternative to raucous drinking houses and dog fights. This illustrated history celebrates one of London's unsung but much-loved public spaces, Bishops Park, which adjoins Fulham Palace in west London.

The first granting of land for the purpose of this park was made in 1883 by the Bishop of London, resident of Fulham Palace.

Unlike many late-Victorian parks in London, it was not laid out in one grand sweep but extended piecemeal around the palace over a period of 20 years, and is so closely enmeshed with its neighbour that the two sites are often thought of as one.

This book is published to coincide with the reopening of the park following a major new project, backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to restore key elements of the original design and improve facilities.

A History of Bishops Park may be ordered from the Friends of Bishops Park, 54 Langthome Street, SW6 6JY, price £14.95. Includes free delivery in LBs Hammersmith & Fulham, Wandsworth and Richmond-upon-Thames. Elsewhere add £ 1.95. Cheques to ‘Friends of Bishops Park’.

The Heritage Lottery funded restoration of Bishops Park in Fulham is due to be completed by the end of 2011. The park lies along the river between Putney Bridge and the ground of Fulharn Football Club. A late nineteenth-century creation on land part of the estate of Fulham Palace, which it borders, it was laid out and opened in stages between 1893 and 1903, with further additions in 1924 and 1926. Its most famous feature, ‘Margate Sands’, opened in 1903.

Bishops Park in 1904
Postcard view of children playing on ‘Margate Sands’ in Bishops Park, Fulham. The card was postally used in 1904.

Like many public parks, it was adapted for new uses over its hundred-year history but, by the end of the last century, it was in poor condition. In March 2010 the HLF awarded £3.65million towards the total cost of £7million for improving the park and the grounds of Fulham Palace, including the restoration of some of the original design features.

The setting for the 'Sands' was the most architecturally interesting part of the park, making clever use of the limited space and the different levels behind the river wall.

In the original design, this small area (about 130 by 90 metres) was laid out with a U-shaped ornamental lake enclosing on three sides a grass green and spanned at the narrowest point by a rustic wooden bridge. Each of the lobes had a small island. The larger, eastern lobe had a single jet fountain and a sand 'beach' along one side, the park's most innovative feature, unique in London. The area was enclosed by yellow terracotta balustrades ornamented with plaques of the borough's monogram and coat of arms and terracotta flower vases placed along the coping.

In the 1930s the lake was divided to create a separate paddling pool. After the war, the pool was used as a boating pond with the 'beach' replaced with a small paddling pool and sandpit.

Restored to Original Design

The lake has been restored to its original design by removing the infilled section, a 'rustic' bridge has been placed where the original was and the green has been reinstated as a picnic area. The margins of the lake have been planted to support wildlife and water pumps will help oxygenation. ‘Margate Sands’ has been reinterpreted on the original site, separated from the lake by a footpath and a curved seating wall retaining a raised sand 'beach'. Behind the beach three small splash pools of differing depths with interactive water jets for children to run through. When the water is turned off, the surfaces can be drained and used as an informal play area.

Fulham Beach: artist's impression
‘Fulham Beach’, artist's impression, courtesy of Chris Blandford Associates, 2009

The area adjacent to the lake and 'beach' has also been reinstated as the focus of the park. The bandstand which stood there from 1894 was replaced in 1960 by the popular open-air or summer theatre. When that burned down in 1991, a hard play area was laid. Now the historic path layout has been reinstated and the circular area divided into recreation zones for toddlers, older children and families, with the restored café building nearby.

Lack of funds from the 1970s on meant that Bishops Park escaped radical change and much of the original design survived. Despite its condition the park has always been popular and well used by local residents. The injection of lottery funding has enabled it to be reshaped for contemporary use while honouring the spirit and intentions of the public servants who created it.

Latest news from Friends (November2011) is: lake finished but still dry; water play area still has lot of work to be done; repairs to the terracotta balustrades 90% complete. The contractors are confident they will have completed and cleared site by mid-December.