The Lewisham Council site tells me that Friendly Gardens in Lewisham has a dog exercice area and a playground, and that the two parts of the gardens are separated by the railway line, while LGO does not list the gardens at all. In 2014 The Brockley Central Blogspot describes the park as ‘…Perhaps the most mistreated of the Brockley parks, Friendly Gardens is a pleasant slope of grass running parallel with Friendly Street and Lucas Street. A little too small and vertiginous for many people to spend much time in and often blighted by litter, it is a pretty spot which nonetheless sometimes has a touch of Kes about it…’. Fortunately there is now a Friends of Friendly Gardens and obviously I needed to take a look!
History of the area
The park is in an area which was known as ‘Deptford New Town’ and it was a ‘boom town’ at the end of the 18C because of its dockyards, shipbuilding, industry, and market gardening. Jonathan Lucas owned the majority of the land in this area (Lewisham Way, Tanners Hill, Brookmill Road, Deptford Broadway) and built his own home, Lucas Villa, alongside St John’s Church (built in 1855 in the garden of the Villa). The family had previously lived in Hatcham Grove House. Lucas wanted to created good living conditions for working class people, and, like the Haberdashers in Hatcham, controlled the standard of the buildings. His Villa became the vicarage, and today it is a nursery school. Some houses were built in Albyn Road in 1795 and between 1805-15 that new streets were created around the railway in Deptford and the area became known as ‘Deptford New Town’.
The Upper Section of the Park
The gardens between Thornville Street and Lewisham Way (the larger area on the left of the plan below) were well-used on both occasions that I visited. There were schoolchildren and parents in mid-afternoon, and then, later in another afternoon, groups of people just enjoying the sunshine, or perhaps taking a short cut home, away from the traffic on busy Lewisham Way. While there are some wooden ‘structures’ but for a playground the equipment seemed quite limited to me.
The trees are mainly around the edges of the gardens, and some new trees have been planted. There are also a few shrubs, but on the whole these gardens look a little sad and the borders would benefit from ‘gardening’!
Several entrances lead into the gardens: from Lewisham Way, Lucas Street, Thornville Street, and Friendly Street.
Glendale manages the gardens and seem to visit regularly; the overflowing bin on my first visit had been cleared two days later. Perhaps there should be larger bins? Or even bins which are closed? Signage needs replacing too – perhaps that is the responsibility of the Council?
The Railway Meadow
The Railway Meadow over the railway separates the two sections of the park and is locked. But alongside the lower edge of the meadow is a narrow path alongside the houses and this has been gardened – really pretty!
The Lower Section of the Park
The lower section of the park, between Oscar Street and Friendly Street, is for dog walkers and this is the peaceful area. It is clean, and filled with large and beautiful trees, and it was very unexpected. I have driven past here numerous times but it feels quite different when you walk through the park.
An old pub
The Prince Alfred pub in Albyn Street, at one entrance to the park, has now been converted to flats. There used to be numerous pubs in the area: The Flower of Kent at the top and the Royal Albert at the bottom of Florence Road, The Royal George in Tanners Hill, The Royal Standard (also in Albyn Street), the Brookmill, and various others in Deptford High Street.
I don’t think the rather downbeat descriptions of Friendly Gardens in Lewisham are justified anymore. I found the Gardens, particularly in the lower section, well-used. The upper section could be further developed as a playground, with better planting, particularly around the edges of the gardens. Perhaps a task for the Friends?
The development of the area