While visiting the Pepys Parks I had noticed a green space behind the row of shops on Grove Street and decided to investigate. A path leads alongside and behind the Community Centre to an open grassy area – and beyond that comes the big surprise – the Surrey Canal Linear Park! The Surrey Canal Linear Park, created by Lewisham Council and opened in mid-2016, is a surprising and delightful new park in Deptford on the line of the former Grand Surrey Canal.
The construction of the Canal was authorised by Parliament in 1801 and planned to run from Rotherhithe to Epsom (in Surrey) with branches to any place within 1500m of the main canal. The purpose of the canal was to transport cargo, primarily timber to the Surrey Commercial Docks. The first lock into the Thames was opened in 1807, but the Canal was never built beyond Peckham because it was apparently more lucrative to invest in the docks. By 1836 it was a serious of wharves and it was finally closed down and drained by the Port of London Authority in 1971. This Park is created over part of the Canal. (A proposal for the original Canal can be found here.)
The planting in the borders of the former canal is colourful, and imaginative – and perhaps most importantly, the plants are tough. There are lots of centranthus and you don’t get much tougher than that! Then I saw various heuchera, geranium macrorrhizum, sedums, hypericum, and iris foetidissima amongst others.
There is a wide use of grasses – planted in clumps or amongst the perennials: miscanthus, acorus, stipa tenuissima and anamanthele amongst others.
The planting is not exactly the same along the length of the park. At the far end of the park a long border of box (sadly with signs of the dreaded caterpillar), lavender, ceanothus, and hebe is elegant and calming, and very green, although blue flowers should start appearing before too long and it will be buzzing with bees.
The interesting planting continues in the walks and little squares amongst the blocks of flats.
There are outdoor exercise points, wooden sheep for children to climb and sandpits, and even rooftop gardens – surprises and changes at every point along the park – really clever. And of course eateries – the Plough Way Cafe and The Pear Tree which does very good carrot cake!
The Park is imaginative and interesting, but would not have happened in this shape and format without the strong involvement of local people – everywhere I look the story is the same: ordinary people have imagination, determination, and the power to change the course of events in their area – they do not have to demand that the local authority be responsible for everything. And when local people effect change they have a stake in their surroundings and perhaps are more careful. It would certainly be good to see many more ‘Friends of…’ organisations!
Do visit this fascinating new development!
Further information and sources
The Surrey Canal Linear Park development
The involvement and effort of local people
The Surrey Canal development, with historical photographs
Walking the route of the Grand Surrey Canal
The Grand Surrey Canal history
The Surrey Canal – what might have been
‘The canal that lives and the one that died’