Downham Fields in SE London was also called Durham Hill and I found the park when I was walking in South East London. It is one of the surprising, and perhaps unlikely large green areas – a large green park, on a steep hillside, with beautiful trees and far views over London.
History of the area
London Gardens Online (April 2012) tells me that:
‘…The Downham Estate was built between 1924-38, an extensive LCC estate designed on ‘garden city’ principles. Named after Lord Downham, Chairman of LCC in 1919-20, the estate had long winding tree-lined roads and incorporated and preserved an existing tract of woodland from Whitefoot Terrace to Bromley Road. Now called Downham Woodland Walk it runs between the houses for over 1.5 km, and much of it is almost certainly ancient woodland, shown on maps of 1805. Also preserved as open land was the highest point in the centre of the estate and fields to north-west and south-west. Initially called Downham Fields, the site was renamed Durham Hill in the 1990s, as it was locally known and referred to on old maps…’.
This area was farmland before the Downham Estate developed in the 1920s, after WWI. There were two large farms in the area: Shroffold Farm and Holloway Farm and both belonged to Lord Northbrook, a member of the Baring family. The countryside here was known as ‘the Seven Fields’ (even though there more than seven fields) and it was a popular walking area for local people.
Downham Fields today
Today Downham Fields in SE London covers 20 acres. The original plan for the park, 1924-38, has been maintained. There are entrances into the park from Moorside Way, Downham Way, and Churchdown.
‘…From Durham Hill there are fine views across to Beckenham Place Park (q.v.), to Crystal Palace ridge, and to Croydon and beyond. A new Leisure Centre and outdoor sports courts are now adjacent to the park. There are a few scattered trees on the open grassland, some exotic species and some fine crack-willows and white willows…’.London Gardens Online, 2012
Because the hillside is so steep the only playing fields are the tennis courts at the top of the hill. There is a rather odd track near the entrance from Moorside Road, and a somewhat futuristic ‘jungle Jim’ nearby. The slightly flatter ground at the bottom of the hill allows for football practice. The Downham Health and Leisure Centre (built in 2007) at the top of the hill offers a wide variety of activities as well as a GP surgery and library.
The real glory of Downham Fields is the trees which have space to grow and to show off their elegance and beauty. I am still not very good at identifying trees but could see white willow trees, crack willows, poplars, pines, oaks, possibly larch, hawthorn, and lime trees. When this was still farmland there were apparently fine elm trees here.
Downham Fields in SE London is a wonderful open space with wide views and beautiful trees. It is perhaps a lesson to local councils, and property developers, in humane and considerate housing estate development. Yes the houses on the Downham Estate were small, but the estate included parks and leisure facilities from the beginning.