Walking with John Goodier

A Pick of Peckham Parks

The Peckham Society News (Issue 146, Summer 2016) listed 38 small parks in their area. I have visited some of these as well as some areas on larger housing estates.

There are several parks north of Peckham Rye Station. Holly Grove Shrubbery was opened in 1897 and extended in 1902. It is a narrow park about 250 yards long and is now probably less shrubby than when it was laid out, but it still has a good number of trees.

Warwick Gardens was opened in 1910 and extended and redesigned after the Second World War. It has undulating grass with a variety of trees and two Festival of Britain planters with tropical style plants in them.

Lyndhurst Square is a tiny Georgian square from 1843 which was taken over by the Council in 1913; there are trees and flower beds.

Bellenden Road Nature Garden, developed in the late eighties on a bomb site, is a London Wildlife Trust mini nature reserve with a variety of habitats including a mini-beast village.

William Griggs Garden is a small formal garden, recently renamed after the local lithographer (1832-1911). The artistic connection is also made by Homage to Nicolas Poussin, inspired by Poussin's first great masterpiece, The Triumph of David in Dulwich Picture Gallery. The Homage is by Thierry Noir and is part of an ongoing street art project by the Gallery.

Peckham Square is a focus for Peckham with Peckham Library by Alsop and Stormer and the Peckham Pulse Healthy Living Centre nearby. The Square is a hard-landscaped public space also known as the Platform. Covered by a large awning, it is used for various community activities. Between this and the library is a sculpture by Duncan Hooson, in association with local schoolchildren, called The Elements, representing earth, air, fire and water. On the west side is the Peace Wall, a spontaneous response to the 2011 riots made with Post-it notes on a boarded-up shop in Rye Lane. It was moved here and made permanent.

In Goldsmith Road two estates face each other. Bells Garden has a large central grass area with some trees. At the entrance there is a more formal area with raised beds. Opposite in Oliver Goldsmith Estate is Goldsmith Square. Enclosed in green coloured iron railings, this is a more formal space with beds of shrubs surrounding an open space with seats. The iron railings are of a complex design that is also used around the blocks of housing and in the entrance to the estate.

Yarnfield Square is a low-rise block of housing. It has a central formal garden surrounded by houses and on land adjacent to the housing is a play area with a sunken hard surface and various types of play equipment on the surrounding grass.

Cossall Park is in the centre of an estate that dates from the sixties. The estate goes back to the plan for a series of motorway boxes around London. The southern side backs onto one of the roads and is a more or less blank wall. The park has a large undulating grass area, with play equipment some trees and community gardens. To the west is a more wooded area managed for biodiversity. Coming out of the park through the southern block, there is Kirkwood Nature Reserve, which has been developed on part of the road. It has a variety of habitats, including a wet area with a pond. If you walk through the reserve, you come to a remnant of Bidwell Street. The special interest of this fragment is that it is the first part of a project to reopen the Peckham Coal Line as a linear park and walkway between Peckham Rye and Queens Road Station. The re-imaging of Bidwell Street includes some planters, a new piece of street art and a mock-up of a section of the possible raised walkway. There is more to come, including the Coal Line Field Office which will be the centre for this crowd-funded project.

Consort Park, in Gordon Road, is a play park. It has play space for pre-teens, including patterned areas of hard ground and a concrete serpent. These sorts of features are beginning to appear in parks and encourage imaginative play. Across Sturdy Street is Dr Harold Moody Park, which has play equipment for young children and a full-size basketball court. Dr Moody (1882-1947) was a local doctor and the founder of the League of Coloured Peoples.

Nunhead Green is the remnant of the village green. It was taken over by the MBW in 1882. It was developed as a playground and was redesigned in 2002 with an area for children's equipment and a performance platform. Other parts are laid out in a formal manner with areas of planted gardens and seats. It is overlooked by the Metropolitan Beer and Wine Trades Asylum by William Webb in 1852. There are two pubs, one the Old Nun's Head, on the site of a convent and rebuilt in 1937 in a sort of Tudor style, and there is a new community centre called ‘The Green’, designed in 2013 by AOC which has dramatic herringbone brickwork.

Brimmington Park, south of Clifton Crescent, was developed after the Second World War. It is a large open space with some trees. By the railway is an area of hard ground for sports and a sports centre. There is also a play area and a sensory garden. The houses in Clifton Crescent (1846-52) were converted in 1977 into flats with the street front retained.

The Licensed Victuallers' Benevolent Institution by Henry Rose (1827-33), with additional later dwellings behind the original range, is the grandest of almshouses. The site is now called Caroline Gardens. In 2010 the chapel became the base for an arts group called 'Asylum'. It is one of the most popular wedding locations in the area, and there are arts events open to the public. The grounds in front of the Institution are open to the public.

St Mary's Frobisher Park was until recently a little-used space; but in 2010 it was developed as a play area with features such as a blue path that goes under a bridge, a sleeping giant's head, a climbing area plus trees and seats. It is between the Pioneer Health Centre, now flats (Grade II*) by Owen Williams (1934) and Sassoon House (Grade II) by Denby and Fry (1934).

Our last park starts back at Peckham Square and follows a branch of the Grand Surrey Canal. The canal opened in 1826, closed in 1970 and was drained in 1974. In 1995 it was made into a linear park. Its entrance is marked by some palm trees in memory of Walter Rodney (1942-1980), a political campaigner who was assassinated. The palm trees were planted in 2005 and a commemorative plaque was installed. There are two canal bridges across the path of the canal and part of the original towpath under the bridge is retained. The second at Hill Street (now Willowbrook Road) is probably the more interesting as it was built at an angle across the canal; the landscape is hard path, grass and trees. Between the two bridges the space widens to form Jowett Street Park, which has sports areas hidden by trees. There are two allotments at Bonar Road. The path ends at Burgess Park, which is a park we have visited before.

It is amazing how many open spaces there are in little more than a square mile. Play is an important feature in parks in urban areas and a good range is found here. The area encompasses a lot of history as well as aspirations for the Peckham Coal Line as a new open space.

Holly Grove Shrubbery
Holly Grove Shrubbery (Photo: Sally Williams)

Homage to Pousin
Homage to Pousin in William Griggs Garden(Photo: Sally Williams)

Nunhead Green
Nunhead Green(Photo: Sally Williams)

Caroline Gardens
Caroline Gardens (Photo: Colin Wing)

Peckham Canal
A bridge over the Peckham branch of the Surrey Canal (Photo: Colin Wing)