Forster Memorial Park in South East London is another of the surprising and hidden parks in South East London. It lies behind busy main roads and affords peace and quiet to local residents. And unusually it has the remains of Ancient Woodlands as well.
History of the park
London Gardens Online tells us that ‘…The land for the park was given to the people of Lewisham in 1919 by H W Forster, later Lord Forster, first MP for the Borough of Bromley and Governor-General of Australia from 1920-25. The Forsters had lived at Southend Hall since the early C19th and had a large estate in what was then a rural area. Mr Forster donated the land [in 1919] in memory of his 2 sons, killed in WWI, and Forster Memorial Park was opened in 1922 by his daughter. The park was expanded in 1937 when land to the north was purchased from the Forster Estate Company…’.
The Park today
Today the park covers 17 hectares or 42 acres.
The Ancient Woodlands
A densely wooded area runs alongside Longhill Road, and on the opposite side of the park, along Conisburgh Crescent. This park is unusual in that these are ancient woodlands. According to The Woodland Trust this means: ‘…areas of woodland that have persisted since 1600 in England and Wales, and 1750 in Scotland. This is when maps started to be reasonably accurate so we can tell that these areas have had tree cover for hundreds of years. They are relatively undisturbed by human development. As a result, they are unique and complex communities of plants, fungi, insects and other microorganisms…’.
Woods continue along the boundary with the Prendergast Girls’ School playing fields.
And the other area of Ancient Woodland is alongside Conisburgh Lane.
There is a surprising area of pine trees on the north side of Piggy Island.
An outdoor learning centre
The ‘Outdoor Learning Centre’ is a fenced space near the entrance on Whitefoot Lane.
Piggy Island & The Orchard
Trees surround ‘Piggy Island’ which is an open grassed area today. But when Forster Memorial Park was still farmland it was a piggery. I assume that ‘The Orchard’ has a similar history.
The gated park
This is the large green space between Piggy Island and the Meadow. It is a sloping, grassed area, with a variety of trees, and a family were enjoying a quiet picnic when I visited.
The Meadow is a wild area which hides between the trees along Whitefoot Lane, and a section of the original Lane, now a footpath inside the park.
LGO speaks of ‘…some areas of formal bedding [and] a rockery..’ in 2012. There is still a colourful bed of annuals at the main entrance from Whitefoot Lane, and some uninteresting and neglected rose beds on the far side of the central grassed area and at the entrance from Bellingham Road. These features, and the ‘rockeries’, are not really features of the park, where the trees and wilder areas are more interesting.
LGO tells me that ‘…The park, which at one time had a paddling pool and pitch and putt, now provides a skate park, BMX track and new playgrounds…’. I couldn’t find the skate park or BMX track, but there are play areas for children of different ages, an outdoor table tennis table, and practice pitch for basketball.
The central area of grassland
This wide open area looks like a field which has been cleared in the middle of woodlands.
Forster Memorial Park in South East London is another of the wonderful and surprising green spaces hidden amongst the streets of continuous housing, and providing exercice and relaxation opportunities for local residents. And this is the view of Central London from the entrance off Bellingham Road!