London Gardens Online tells me that ‘…Eckington Gardens is originally the name of the residential street, in an area that suffered bomb damage in WWII and became derelict. In 1974, the area was declared as unfit and in an uninhabitable state by LB Lewisham, and site clearance was proposed. In 1980 Swift contractors submitted a bid for works to lay out and equip Eckington Gardens and extend the space. By 1981 the work was complete and it became the Eckington Gardens Park. The grounds have in recent years been enhanced with colourful signage and floral displays with low maintenance but attractive planting schemes. There are ornamental gardens at the entrance, with clipped hedges in geometric patterns…’. LGO also mentions a paddling pool. (This entry is dated 2002.)
The Lewisham Council site tells me that the facilities include ‘…a ball court, a dog exercise area, the Friends of the park group, a play area, CCTV, a bandstand, and a multi sports centre...’ and that in addition to the ornamental gardens I will find mature trees, shrubs and lawns. The Park is managed by Glendale Services at the current time.
What neither description tells me is that this park is situated in an historically interesting area, designated a Conservation Area in 1990 by Lewisham Council. Way back in 1614 the land, Hatcham Manor, was bought by the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers as an investment. They then leased land out for substantial country houses. The manor house was rebuilt in mid-18C when Joseph Hardcastle was the tenant, but finally demolished in 1869 for more housing, built under the strict control of the Haberdashers.
Hatcham Park Road was begun in 1848, two-storey houses built of brick; Nettleton Road’s three-storey houses were built by 1868 and the Haberdasher’s plaque is still visible at the entrance to the road. The Haberdashers leased the land and took ground rent for income.
Curiously both pubs and shops in the residential streets have been converted to housing, not always in a sympathetic way. The Royal Archer pub on Camplin Street has been converted into housing and the shop opposite is boarded up. In Monson Road something similar has happened, only the pub’s distinctive curved frontage has been removed, and yet an appraisal in 2005 by Lewisham Council listed this pub, The Duke of Albany of 1880, of special architectural interest! and the shop more interestingly converted to a home.
The Haberdashers’ Company have a long history of funding education and one of their schools is in this area. Robert Aske was a silk merchant who left £20,000 to the Company in 1689 to build an almshouse and a school. The Company invested his money wisely and the Foundation now funds five primary schools and four secondary schools in south east London.
Well, the descriptions by LGO and Lewisham Council sounded very promising and I set off with high hopes. Sadly those hopes were not entirely realised but I notice that the Friends of Eckington Gardens are increasingly active and I hope that they will be supported by the Borough Council, or perhaps even the ‘Friends’ in neighbouring parks.
The park lies between Casella Road, where the houses date from 1870, and Monson Road, where there are signs of of new building in the area. The entire park is enclosed with railings and the gates to the park are locked at night.
The noticeboard at the entrance on Casella Road shows the layout of the park which was being well used on both occasions when I visited – dog walkers, children playing with their parents, and runners exercising – and on a second visit the Glendale Management team was cleaning and clearing.
I couldn’t find the water fountain or a paddling pool, and neither were there any ‘…colourful signage and floral displays … ornamental gardens … clipped hedges in geometric patterns…’ as indicated by LGO. Even Lewisham Council talks hopefully of the ornamental gardens and shrubs. There are indeed lawns and mature plane trees.
There are some neglected beds on Monson Road which are planted with ivy, which would be fine, but there are also lots of weeds which the Friends could sort out in half an hour…. I like ‘wild’ planting but I think one probably has to be quite disciplined about what creates ‘wildness’ and when a planting becomes ‘weeds’! Underplanting the trees with ivies would work well, but it would look most impressive if the beds were only filled with ivies! There were also some other signs of neglect, although the rubbish – why do people make such a mess? – was being cleared by Glendale Management on my second visit.
And alongside the park All Saints Church on the main road was built in 1869 on land given by the Hardcastle family of Hatcham House and the Haberdasher’s Company.
The Hatcham Conservation area is interesting and quiet which is surprising considering the very busy and congested main road through New Cross – do visit!
Further information & sources
A full and interesting history of the area and its development here, in an appraisal document drawn up by Lewisham Council
The Friends of Eckington Gardens