Today Fordham Park in New Cross is owned and managed by the Borough of Lewisham, but back in 1619 the area was owned by James 1. Clifton Rise, which today leads from the main New Cross road into one side of the Park, was called ‘Wolve Acre Lane’ and the area was farmland.
In the 1840s John Avann gardened here, on land called ‘Parry’s Meadows’, supplying fruit and vegetables to Covent Garden. Then, from the 1850s, the area was developed into working class housing by the Rev Robert Walpole and Augustus Hamilton.
The Ordnance Survey map of 1965 still shows tightly packed urban streets. Heavy bombing during WWII might be the reason for the demolition of some of the housing: the Achilles Street Estate was built in the early 1950s and Sanford Street and Achilles Street still border the park but the roads inbetween, Snead Street and Vance Street, built in 1875, were demolished in 1975. Was the housing unsafe? Or was there a pressing need for leisure facilities?
It seems that Fordham Park began life in 1978 as a skateboarding park, designed by Patrick Brown, a member of the National Skateboarding Association, so I couldn’t resist this photograph! And at some point during the 1980s it was redeveloped as a sports ground. A major regeneration project in 2010 added new lighting, trees, furniture and play elements (!). The Park is well-used, varied, and another delightful surprise behind the very busy main road in New Cross.
Fordham Park is quite open and there are many ‘entrances’. Childeric Road on the west is mid-Victorian housing and here railings enclose the park. Happily old plane trees were preserved, and the ends of the road are planted with roses and hypericums. And at the junction of Childeric Road and Sanford Street there are beautiful oak leaf hydrangeas. In the middle section of the railings the planting is messy, and even the hydrangeas are starting to disappear under weeds – where are the Friends…?
Angus Street, on the north of the park, also has some Victorian houses adjacent to the new Deptford Green School. The park between Angus Street and Childeric Street is very attractive – undulating, with crossing paths, large trees, and lots of cherry trees in a ‘wild’ area – it feels like a small country town! In this area too is a public memorial and bench, installed in 2012, and dedicated to the victims of the New Cross house fire of 1981. In the park side of Angus Street are wooden totem poles, sculptural poles, and an interesting dry garden. Some of the planting in the dry garden is perhaps unnecessarily neglected, which is a pity, because this could be one good example of cost-effective planting in a public space. The grasses will spread and there are no edges to cut!
The entrance from Pagnell Street in the east is somewhat spare, with borders which would benefit from more attention. This is the start of the linear tree walk, marked by an oak tree, but it is a feature of the park which didn’t really catch my attention – the plaques on the ground don’t really stand out. At this side of the park the new Community Centre, the Moonshot Centre, is situated.
The ‘play elements’ in the park include a play area and sandpit for children under six, a large climbing frame, a youth shelter, table tennis tables, an area for ball games, a trim trail, an informal football pitch, a cycle route. VolkerHighways was the London Borough of Lewisham’s main contractor for the Fordham Park in New Cross urban regeneration project, which was highly commended at the 2012 Landscape Institute Awards.
The Moonshot Centre was built in 1981, after the New Cross house fire, specifically for the African and Caribbean communities in New Cross. It closed in 1999 but a consortium of four partners (IRIE! dance theatre, Surestart Grinley Gibbons (Playhouse Nursery), Deptford Green School and the London Borough of Lewisham) came together to raise money and refurbish the building. The centre reopened in 2007 with a revitalised programme of events targeting younger people, and as the photographs below show it has clearly been a success.
Fordham Park is filled with trees, large and small, which are planted mainly along the edges of the park, leaving the centre of the park grassy and open.
The regeneration project features works by local artist Heather Burrell, who is known for her floral and foliage metalwork throughout the Borough of Lewisham. In Fordham Park in New Cross her work is in the underpass to Douglas Way and Margaret McMillan Park.
This is a wonderful green space, peaceful and calm behind a busy main road through New Cross, and then the underpass and its art work lead on to another park, the Margaret McMillan Park which I will visit next week – do come with me!