The Garden Guide

Book: London Parks and Gardens, 1907
Chapter: Chapter 7 Municipal Parks in South London

Southwark Park

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SOUTHWARK PARK Southwark Park lies far away from Southwark, beyond Bermondsey, in Rotherhithe. It was in the parliamentary borough of Southwark, hence the misleading name. The Park is a gloomy enough place when compared with the more distant or West End Parks, but a perfect paradise in this crowded district. Between its creation in 1864 and its completion in 1869, a great reformation was worked in the district. Close to the docks, and intersected by streams and canals, with the poorest kind of rickety houses so vividly described by Dickens in "Oliver Twist," the surroundings were among the most dismal imaginable. The actual site of the Park was partly market-gardens which had for long been established in this locality owing to the fertility of the alluvial soil. Vines were grown here for wine with success in the first half of the eighteenth century, when there was a revival in grape-growing, and vineyards were planted at Hoxton and elsewhere. Over 100 gallons of wine were made in a year in Rotherhithe. Some of the earth excavated from the Thames Tunnel was put on the ground covered by the Park before the laying out commenced. When the land, 65 acres, was bought, only 45 were to be kept for the Park, and the rest were reserved for building. But when the day of building arrived there was such an outcry that the whole plan was remodelled, the drives which encircled it done away with, and tar-paved paths substituted, only one driving road crossing it being left, and the ponds added. It is more the want of design, than any special style, that is conspicuous, and a good deal more could have been done to make the Park less gloomy. An avenue is growing up, but it will never have the charming effect of the one across Battersea, as the line is neither straight nor a definite curve. The wild fowl on the pond are such an attraction, that perhaps it may be that the wire netting and asphalt edges they apparently require are not drawbacks, but they are not beautiful. The gateway into the Park, near Deptford Station, has rather the grim look of a prison, and yet, with the forest of masts behind, all it requires is a climbing plant or two to make a picture. On the opposite end of the Park runs Jamaica Road, which perpetuates the name of a well-known Tea Garden, Jamaica House. Pepys records a visit there, on a Sunday in April 1667. "Took out my wife, and the two Mercers, and two of our maids, Barker and Jane, and over the water to Jamaica House, where I never was before, and there the girls did run for wagers over the bowling-green; and there, with much pleasure, spent little and so home." Pepys' home in Seething Lane near the Tower would be an easy distance from the Tea Gardens of Redriff, as Rotherhithe was called then, and in the days when Swift made Gulliver live there. There were other well-known Tea Gardens near, the "Cherry Garden," "Half-way House," and at a much later date "St. Helena's Gardens," which were only closed in 1881. The disappearance of all the Tea Gardens and open spaces made the necessity of a Park very obvious, and it was to meet this want that Southwark Park was made.