Bexley Council LogoThe Villa Parks of South East London

JOHN GOODIER visits the London Borough of Bexley

Suburban London is sprinkled with parks that were once the grounds of large houses. In some cases the house remains. A fine collection can be found in Bexley.

Hall Place

Hall PlaceThe most significant house is Hall Place, which is recorded from the 13th Century. It has been rebuilt and extended, but the medieval core is still discernible. Many of the rooms are open and a local history museum occupies the first floor. The garden - except for a reconstructed medieval garden in front of the great hall, and no doubt some of the trees the garden - is modern. Some of it is the work of May, Countess of Limerick, who lived there from 1917. On her death the Council, who already owned the estate, opened the park and house.

The garden includes formal areas, a rolling grassed area with trees and a rocky hollow. The best feature of the garden are the yew topiary Royal Beasts created for the Coronation of the Queen. They are perhaps a bit plump, but still recognisable and very regal. Beyond the gardens there demonstration plots with examples of flowers and vegetables, glasshouses and plants for sale. There are also playing fields, a café and a pub / restaurant in the stables. Hall Place is ideal for a family outing.

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Foots Cray Place

Foots Cray Place was completely rebuilt in 1754 as a Palladian villa. The estate was bought to be a museum and park, but the house burnt down in 1949.

The most interesting way to explore the estate is to enter from Maylands Drive. A wide, partially-made path goes through woodland. On your left you should look for a low metal fence with a gate. Go through the gate and you are in what is left of a formal garden. I found a "Repton bundle" tree there.

Return to the path and, just before the wood ends, if you are feeling energetic, turn directly left and force your way over the overgrown rubble. You will emerge on a terrace garden where two great yews mark the centres of the vanished beds, and a great yew hedge marks the edge of the garden. A steep descent down the site of the steps brings you into the park land. It is easier and safer to proceed to the end of the drive where the stables are and then turn left, but remember to have a good look at the area on your left.

Foots Cray MeadowsThe walled garden is beyond the stable but was closed and overgrown when I was last there. The summer house of 1943 remains (now a private residence) and the Dower House is also still there. The most remarkable survival is the avenues of trees, three from the house and another from the Dower House. They take the eye down to the lake, part of the River Cray, with one focus onto the five-arch bridge that forms the dam. Obviously and thankfully, little has been done to Foots Cray Meadows since it became a park; but, as there are no metalled footpaths, it can be wet under foot so sensible footwear is recommended.

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Lamorbey, rebuilt about 200 years ago, survives as part of the University of Greenwich. It is an attractive house with fine open stone work on the parapet. The gardens are open to the public and are well planted. There is a lake but I am told that there was once another lake.

Danson House

Danson House English GardenDanson is another survivor, but only just. However, the recovery of the fixtures and the discovery of paintings before it was modernised in Victorian times have made possible a restoration by English Heritage to its original state when rebuilt by John Taylor for Sir John Boyd. The grounds are a municipal park, which has a very good English Garden with a variety of plants and is well worth a visit. Now that house is secure and has a use, the beech hedge, which was planted to hide the house from the park, will go this winter; and in due course appropriate planting will be done near the house.

The stables are a restaurant, there is plenty of play equipment and playing fields and the lake is given over to boating activities and training. Like Hall Place, Danson is a good day out for the family.

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