Upper Telegraph Hill Park is closer to where I live but I don’t know it! London Gardens Online tells me that ‘…Telegraph Hill Park in Lewisham is in two parts, an upper park in the south, and a lower park in the north, divided by Kitto Road. It incorporates the site of one of the Admiralty’s C18th semaphore stations, which was in use until 1815, from which the park gets its name. The Managing Director of the Metropolitan Gas Co. decided that the area needed a park and £2,000 with similar amounts from the LCC and Greenwich Board of Works. With this money they bought the land from the Haberdashers’ Company.
The park opened on 6 April 1895 with a bandstand, ponds and elaborate walks, perimeter planting and a perimeter walk. A shelter and toilets were added later in the northern park, and tennis courts were built on the site of the semaphore station in the south part, which has magnificent views. And recently the park was restored through a grant from the HLF…’.
The history of the park
Telegraph Hill used to be known as ‘Plow’d Garlic Hill’ but the name changed when a telegraph station was built on top of the hill in c.1795 and demolished c.1823. For many years the area was a market garden belonging to the Haberdashers’ Company. In the mid-1800s the Company then started to develop housing in New Cross, in the area around Eckington Gardens and Hatcham Gardens, and of course around The Hill, as Telegraph Hill Park is now known. The Company built high-quality housing on wide, tree-lined streets and most of the development was between 1870-1900.
The Company developed facilities for the new houses – a school, church, and a park. Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for boys and girls, named after a liveryman, Robert Aske, opened in 1875, and then the girls moved to a separate Haberdashers’ Aske’s girls’ school in 1891. Today the schools are in the top ten independent schools in the UK.
St Catherine’s Church was built in1894, but badly damaged both by a fire in 1913 and then again during WWII. Today it appears to be a thriving centre for the community: The Telegraph Hill Centre attached to the Church provides facilities for local people, as does The Hill Cafe which, together with The Telegraph Hill Festival generate funds for the Church and the Centre.
Telegraph Hill Park today
Overall, Telegraph Hill Park in Lewisham covers 10 acres. LGO says that ‘…The southern part is overlooked from the north by the church of St Catherine, Hatcham; railings are along the east boundary, and to the east are terraced rose gardens laid out on the slope. It has oak, beech, thorn and hornbeam at the hilltop in the southern part…’.
Since LGO surveyed the park in 2012 it has changed in that I could not find the terraced rose gardens; there are railings around the park; and there are two public tennis courts. The many trees are still thriving. There are two gates into the park from Kitto Road, and another two gates on Drakefell Road.
The Semaphore Station
LGO tells me that Telegraph Hill Park in Lewisham is so-named because ‘…It incorporates the site of one of the Admiralty’s C18th semaphore stations, which was in use until 1815…’.
This part of the park is for dog walkers, but there are also several benches for people to watch the tennis, look at the view, or just sit.
The trees in the park
There are trees all round the borders of the park, and several in the ‘body’ of the park which creates a very soft and interesting feel to the area.
Shrubberies in the park
The boundaries of the park are shrubberies, with varied plants, but they are not always in very good condition; nevertheless they add variety. I found Pampas Grass, Snowberries, Lilac, Cotoneaster, and Eleagnus amongst others.
Sadly there is evidence of box caterpillar.
The views from the top of the park, on a clear day, are amazing!
Unbelievably there are still active bees!
Upper Telegraph Hill Park is yet another surprise in Lewisham! And yet another example of how local people, determined to make a difference, can care for their surroundings. HLF must be very pleased with the results of the grant given to refurbish the Park in 2005.