Brookmill Park and Broadway Fields in Lewisham are in the Ravensbourne River valley, between the DLR railway stations at Deptford Bridge and Elverson Road. The parks are a wonderful respite from the busy surrounding roads, railway lines, and DLR trains. And Brookmill Park in particular is home to some surprising wildlife!
The Ravensbourne Water Company was founded in 1701 and became the Kent Waterworks Company in 1809. The water from the river was for Deptford, Lee, Lewisham, Greenwich, and Rotherhithe, but as time passed the river became increasingly polluted by the mills and industries along the river. So, in 1859, the company drilled down into London’s artesian water supply and after 1861 water was no longer taken from the river for domestic consumption. In 1904 the Metropolitan Water Board took over the supply of water and today this is controlled by The Thames Water Board.
History of the Park
‘…in the 1920s … part of the disused reservoir was infilled, and opened as Brookmill Park. …When nearby housing was destroyed by WWII bombing, the park was further extended, re-opening in 1951 as Ravensbourne Park. When Deptford and Lewisham amalgamated to form Lewisham in 1965, the park reverted to its earlier name. It was again re-landscaped when the DLR was constructed … The park was re-opened in 1998…’.London Gardens Online, 2012
The reservoir (next to the pumping station) is covered these days. And the river follows a different course too. It changed to include flood prevention measures and accommodate the Docklands Light Railway. A small part of the former reservoir remains as a small lake in the park. This was drained but was reinstated after a local campaign. Beautiful, mature trees surround the pond, including some wonderful London plane trees, and the water is home to various ducks and coots.
Brookmill Park & Broadway Fields today
The two parks, Broadway Fields and Brookmill Park in Lewisham, lie between Deptford Bridge DLR and Elverson Road DLR and run parallel to Brookmill Road. They cover 9 acres (including the river) and facilities include: a cycle route, a play area, the river, and there is a Friends of the park group. The cycle path is part of Route 21 from London to Brighton. It is also part of the Waterlink Way which runs along the River Ravensbourne at this point.
Entrances to Brookmill Park
There are several entrances to the park: three gates through the railings on Brookmill Road, and access from Deptford Bridge DLR and Elverson Road DLR stations. Interestingly, the original name of ‘Ravensbourne Park’, and the date ‘1953’, remain on the main gateway from Brookmill Road.
The formal garden
The Stephen Lawrence Centre overlooks the formal gardens. During the 1990s reconstruction a formal garden with pergola was added to the park. Here the Friends of Brookmill Park do some light gardening on the first Saturday of the month, and the chap in the red t-shirt was weeding one of the rose beds when I visited.
Glendale Management is responsible for the major work – hedging, mowing, spraying. The style of park planting, with round beds of roses (not underplanted), or annuals, is not fashionable anymore, but I found it a pleasing contrast to the acres of perennials, wildflowers, and grasses which are increasingly common. The roses were pretty and the wisteria is growing and spreading over the pergolas. A fountain adds the sound of water. People enjoy the space in various ways – playing, sitting, walking. The only sadness is that the box caterpillar was attacking the box hedges when I visited in late 2019.
The children’s play area
Near the formal garden there is a small, fenced-off children’s play area and lots of open grass on both sides for children to run round. Tall trees fill the park, which is wonderful. Sadly one of the very old London Plane Trees has recently been defaced – why do people do this?
Trees in Brookmill Park
The Waterlink Way
A cycle path running through Brookmill Park in Lewisham is Route 21, a long-distance cycle path from Greenwich to Eastbourne. The footpath and cycle path are part of the Waterlink Way, a 12km route which follows the Ravensbourne and Pool Rivers from the Thames to Lower Sydenham.
Wildlife in the park
The park is an important nature conservation area in the borough of Lewisham. It has areas of marsh, water and grassland, some of which flood at high tides. Bird species sighted at the park may include kingfisher, grey heron and moorhen – I was lucky to see the heron!
Enjoying the park
The path along the river is quiet, and peaceful and people often just sit and read, or just sit with their own thoughts for company, listening to the water, or the birds.
A wildlife area?
The notices mention a wildlife area on the opposite side of the river. I believe it lies behind the locked white gate.
And finally the path reaches the DLR at Elverson Road, with Lewisham nearby. At this point buddleias hang over the path in the summer – quite lovely! It is hard to believe we are approaching a busy transport hub, in London.
Brookmill Park and Broadway Fields in Lewisham are two interesting parks along the River Ravensbourne. They are popular with local people and offer a lovely evening walk between DLR stations. These parks are a real asset in the local area and will go on developing and maturing as the years pass.