Telegraph Hill - an HLF Success Story

Telegraph Hill Park in New Cross Gate, South London, has had a recent make-over costing around £1.5m, with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Lewisham Council. MALCOLM BACCHUS, Chairman of the Telegraph Hill Society, explains how it all came about.

Telegraph Hill toilet block - before and after restoration

Telegraph Hill Park covers just under ten acres in a part of Inner London otherwise deprived of parks or gardens. It was created in 1894 on one of the remaining undeveloped sites in the area through an initiative of George Livesey, a local philanthropist and company director. Designed by Lt-Col. J. J. Sexby, Chief Parks Superintendent to the London Country Council, the park was described on its formal opening in 1895 as "the smallest of London's lungs".

Despite its small size, it had the natural advantage of an undulating hill-top site with good views to central London in the North and, at that time, south to Croydon and east to Shooters Hill. It was for that reason the site had previously been a Napoleonic semaphore telegraph station, from which the hill obtained its present name.

The park had been originally equipped with all a Victorian family might need; but by the 1980s, when I moved to the area, long-term lack of investment by the council had led to the same sorry position that we saw all over London: it was derelict, decayed, overgrown and a shadow of its former self. So, in 1993, the chair of my parks and amenities working party, Jayne Bates, and I sat down to think of something we could usefully achieve for the park's centenary in 1995.

For security and appearance reasons, we decided upon replacing the long-Iost Victorian railings and gates. We didn't manage it. People came to us with ideas about what could be done but no money. By 1995 we had promises of no more than £30,000 and a wish list costing over £1,000,000.

Support from Lewisham Council

Our ideas turned to approaching the Heritage Lottery Fund but, to do that, we clearly needed the support and involvement of Lewisham Council. It took a lot of work and was a long time in coming, but when we got it, the council officers were fantastic. They found seed-corn funding to allow consultants to be appointed. The consultants then put in an initial bid to the HLF, which, in turn, secured us enough money to make a full-scale bid.

The monies raised allowed us to renew all the paths; replace the majority of the railings and all the gates; re-landscape two derelict areas added to the park in the 1960s; recreate the missing pond, cascade and bridge and bring the remaining pond - dry for forty years - back into use. In addition, the original views have been restored by arboreal work; new plantings have been established in areas previously overrun by self-seeding trees, bushes and weeds; the play areas have been refurbished with equipment for the new generation of children; and the long disused and overgrown toilet block restored as a park-keepers' office and toilet.

Some sacrifices have been made - we could not justify a new bandstand - and we would like to find the money for drinking fountains, all-weather shelter and more seating, but has it been worth it? Without doubt. The usage of the park has grown beyond measure now it is a safe and pleasant place to go. It is now truly an uplifting place to while away a spare few hours and is, once again, as the then Chairman of the LCC said on its original opening, "a park for the people for ever".

Telegraph Hill Park is about five minutes' walk south of New Cross Gate station (main line and East London underground line). There is a history of the park and pictures of the restoration work at