London Gardens Online tells me that ‘…Brookmill Park in Lewisham originated as a small recreation ground provided from 1880 near the Kent Waterworks’ reservoir by the River Ravensbourne. It was expanded in the 1920s when part of the disused reservoir was infilled, and opened as Brookmill Park. Some evidence of the reservoir remains, much reduced in size, as the small oval lake still found in the 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, necessitating re-routing of the Ravensbourne, and former Thames Water gardens were added, now a formal garden with pond, pergolas, ornamental beds and hedges. The park was re-opened in 1998…’. (2012 and no photographs).
I feel that LGO doesn’t do justice to the two parks, Broadway Fields and Brookmill Park in Lewisham, which lie between Deptford Bridge and Elverson Road and run parallel to Brookmill Road. The parks 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 and the path 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
I started walking from The Stephen Lawrence Centre which is next to the formal gardens. In this part of the park the light gardening is done by the Friends of Brookmill Park 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 was spraying and people were enjoying the space in various ways – playing, sitting, walking, – but sadly the box hedges are being killed by the box caterpillar.
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 abound but sadly one of the very old London Plane Trees has recently been defaced – why do people do this?
The water companies
These two parks are in the Ravensbourne River valley and between the play area and Elverson Road DLR station you are very conscious of the river. The Ravensbourne Water Company was founded as early as 1709 and became the Kent Waterworks Company in 1809. The companies took water from the river but as time passed it became increasingly polluted and so in 1859 they drilled a well down into London’s artesian water and after 1861 water was no longer taken from the river. In 1904 the Metropolitan Water Board took over the supply of water which today is controlled by The Thames Water Board.
Nowadays the reservoir (next to the pumping station) has been covered and the course of the river has been changed to include flood prevention measures and the Docklands Light Railway. Part of the former reservoir remains as a small lake within the park – this had been drained but was reinstated after a local campaign. The lake is surrounded by mature trees, including London planes.
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.
With areas of marsh, water and grassland, some of which flood at high tides, the park is considered an important nature conservation area within the borough of Lewisham. Bird species sighted at the park may include kingfisher, grey heron and moorhen – I was lucky to see the heron!
Peace in 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.
Some notices mention a wildlife area on the opposite side of the river but I think this is now the enclosed area in front of Crescent House, off Ravensbourne Place.
And finally the path reaches the DLR at Elverson Road, with Lewisham nearby. The path here is overhung with buddleias – lovely!
Brookmill Park in Lewisham is a well-used and interesting park, and a lovely evening walk between DLR stations – a real asset in the local area.