Restoring the Quaggy
- and Saving Lewisham

by John Goodier

The Quaggy is one of London's lesser known rivers, but it is definitely not one of the hidden rivers.  It rises in Sundridge Park, and runs through a surprising amount of open space - four parks, a golf course and many playing fields. It also takes water from Petts Wood and Bromley to the Kyd Brook.

The Quaggy joins the Ravensbourne in, the middle of Lewisham. And herein lies the: problem with the Quaggy: in wet weather it can carry a considerable amount of water and has in the past caused severe flooding in Lewisham. The solution to the likelihood of more flooding was a proposal to build even higher retaining walls along the Quaggy, A group of locals who were alarmed at this idea, because it would be unsightly and would further reduce the wildlife habitat of the river, launched the Friends of the Quaggy.  They later changed their name to the Quaggy Waterways Action Group. With advice from Dr Edward Hollis, a leading expert on river management, they proposed a scheme relying on flood retention and persuaded the local authorities, the Environment Agency and local people that this was the best way forward.

Recreating the Original

At the centre of this scheme return of the Quaggy to its original route through Sutcliffe Park. Recently Sutcliffe has been given over to sport, and there is a good athletics track in the park.  The Quaggy skirted the park in a roofed-over concrete trough. 

Sutcliffe Park

Now the Quaggy flows through the park in a reconstruction of the original route.  In storm conditions, the water enters the old trough but then discharges into the park to form a temporary lake.  The restored Quaggy has been planted with waterside plants and a small permanent lake has been formed, so the park provides a wildlife reserve and a fun place to play.  The Quaggy is being closely monitored to see how it changes its course and how the wildlife develops.  What is learnt here will be used in other flood-control schemes.

Further upstream QWAG has been instrumental in restoring Chinbrook Meadow. Here the Quaggy has also been released from its concrete trough to provide a marshy habitat. This area also provides some flood retention capacity Standing by the stream, looking up the rising ground, it is easy to imagine the amount of water that would enter the Quaggy in a heavy rainstorm. Chinbrook Meadow and Sutcliffe Park both have many mature trees, and they now have extensive wildlife areas, in which a variety of interesting and colourful native plants grow and vvhere dragon and damsel flies in brilliant colours can be seen.

Manor House Gardens

Downstream of Sutcliffe Park, the Quaggy passes through Manor House Gardens. The river may still be constrained in its trough here, but there is a formal lake, a small dry-land nature reserve, some formal beds by the cafoé, and the Manor House, built in 1771 by Richard Jupp (now the public library and partially open to the public). Manor House Gardens are a good example of a park made from the grounds of a large private house.

A short distance further downstream is Manor Park. This is a small park by the side of the Quaggy, which has mature trees and planting near the main entrance from the road, also called Manor Park. The entrance from Weardale Road is less attractive. At the point where the Quaggy joins the Ravensbourne neat Lewisham railway station, there is a small open space with a bit of flood protection. There are proposals to open this up to provide a more natural and attractive feature. Some private houses along the Quaggy have opened up the banks of the Quaggy to improve the quality and interest of their gardens.

The ongoing restoration of the Quaggy is a success story both for local action, and as a model for other flood protection schemes, My interest comes from a QWAG walk round Sutcliffe Park last September, when the hydrology was explained. I thank them for the walk, and for comments on a draft of this article.

For more information and pictures see their web site

More about the Quaggy

Andrew Belsey writes:

I grew up in the 1950s in and around the Quaggy, and I know it well for its entire length. It rises at Locksbottom, with a secondary source on Bromley Common, and runs through Crofton, Petts Wood, Chislehurst and Elmstead, before reaching Sundridge Park. I'm afraid that I can make no sense of Mr Goodier's remark that "It also takes water from Petts Wood and Bromley to the Kyd Brook." The Kyd Brook is an alternative name for that part of the Quaggy that flows through Chislehurst.

You must be unfamiliar with Ken White's invaluable booklet, "The Quaggy River and its Catchment Area," obtainable from Lewisham Local Studies and Archives at Lewisham Library. (A web search will find them.)

I also wonder if you have been misled by the map that appears on the Quaggy Waterways Action Group's website, which shows the river only as far upstream as Sundridge Park. As far as I can tell, QWAG are only interested in the Quaggy within the Borough of Lewishman, and lose interest when the Quaggy flows through the Borough of Bromley.

Paul de Zylva, Chairman of the Quaggy Waterways Action Group, writes:

John Goodier is right to say that the River Quaggy starts at Sundridge Park, but that it rises south of there in Petts Wood. The point is that the upper part of the river is not called the Quaggy but the Kyd Brook.