Baxter Field in Sydenham

Baxter Field in Sydenham, (known as Baxters to the locals!), is a grassy park which hides between houses, and it is another little surprise in my exploration of green spaces in South East London. The park is associated with significant and important people in the printing industry in the 19C who lived in the area.

History of Baxter Field

‘… Baxter’s Field is on sloping land that remained open land as housing gradually surrounded it from the late C19th. The OS Map of 1952/3 shows the north-west part in use for allotments, with playing fields to the south-east crossed by a line of trees, and provided with a drinking fountain, but it is unclear whether this was public open space or part of the adjacent Sydenham School grounds. By 1970 it all appears to be one site, crossed by a path on the line of the former boundary between allotments and playing field. A plaque erected by the Sydenham Society in 1980 at the west entrance gives information about George Baxter (1804-1867) after whom the park is named…’.

London Gardens Online (LGO) (1.4.2002)
Baxter Field on Google maps
Baxter Field on Google Maps
Plaque on Charlecote Lane
Plaque (damaged) on Charlecote Lane

George Baxter

George Baxter was an engraver and printer who developed an economical way of printing in colour, patented in 1835, but also produced very beautiful prints. He lived in Sydenham and is buried at Christ Church in Forest Hill. (Baxter lived in The Retreat which was renamed Leahurst and whose garden included the green space known as Kirkdale Dale.)

Baxter married Mary Harrild, the daughter of Robert Harrild (1780-1853, also a printer, who lived at Round Hill Cottage. Robert Harrild developed a new method of printing, establishing Harrild and Sons, a company which lasted until 1958. Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt St Antholin’s Church in Watling Street after the Great Fire. In 1829 Robert Harrild rescued the upper part of the spire when it was removed. He paid £5 and erected it on his property in Round Hill. This spire, and the cedar tree, are all that remain of his home.

Spire of St Antholin and Cedar Tree on the site of Robert Harrild's home in Round Hill
Spire of St Antholin and Cedar Tree on the site of Robert Harrild’s home in Round Hill

Christ Church, Forest Hill

‘…Christ Church was built in 1854 as the parish church of Forest Hill, although its tower with tall spire, which is a local landmark, was not erected until 1885. The church has now been redeveloped as flats, with a small chapel created at the east end, and the former churchyard is only partially accessible. The churchyard had some fine tombs and gravestones, including a red granite obelisk marking the family grave of George and Mary Baxter. By the west wall was a memorial in the form of a pinnacle to members of the Tetley family of tea fame, dated 1872, and to the right of the main entrance was the gravestone to the Hennell family…’.

London Gardens Online, April 2002

The Baxter memorial is now in the residential area of the church. The residents have installed a password protected gate on Church Rise, and a fence inside the graveyard separates the residents from the Chapel. The graveyard itself is in a poor state.

Christ Church Chapel in Forest Hill
Christ Church Chapel in Forest Hill
Baxter’s Memorial in the residents garden
Baxter’s Memorial in the residents’ garden

Baxter Field today

‘…Now sandwiched between suburban housing the park is largely grass with railed shrubberies, a few trees, a perimeter path and another path crossing the park between the entrances…’.

London Gardens Online, (1.4.2002)

In August rather dry grass covered most of Baxter Field. A tarmac path runs round the top half of the park, above the crossing path between the two entrances. There is a rather sad looking shrubbery on one side of the park and a ‘wild walk’ on the other, behind the railings. I visited at a very hot and dry month, in a particularly hot year, and the vegetation was not looking at its best.

Baxter Fields in Sydenham
Perimeter path
Baxter Fields in Sydenham
Opposite side of perimeter path
Baxter's Fields in Sydenham
Panoramic view of the Field looking towards Sydenham High School

‘Wild walk’

A little path hides behind the railings but it is not a particularly pleasant area in which to wander, or explore. Perhaps it is just the time of year, or the very dry and hot weather… The Friends have recently installed bird and bat boxes and are planting new trees. I hope the local people will respond to their efforts and look after the park, including take their litter with them!

The railings closing off the ‘wild walk’
The hidden path

Shrubbery and trees

The shrubbery and wooded area around the park was rather dull and it felt as though there was not much interest in gardening here. But again this area might be the victim of a hot and very dry summer.

I think the parks management in Lewisham, Glendale Management, does a marvellous job with a vast portfolio. The only thing about their gardening which I don’t understand is why they so seldom allow shrubs to have a ‘natural’ shape. Instead they are pruned into squares or columns – very odd. There are some very lovely shrubs along the park’s perimeter – the shrubberies could look very beautiful… I must return in the spring and early summer.

Shrubbery in Baxter Fields in Sydenham
A very dry and sparse ‘shrubbery’
Acer in Baxter Field in Sydenham
Acer
Oak trees in Baxter Field in Sydenham
Oak tree
Jersey Tiger Moth in Baxter's Fields in Sydenham
Jersey Tiger Moth!

Children’s play area

Children and their parents were enjoying the play area when I visited Baxter Field in Sydenham. There were delighted squeals of ‘Higher! Higher!’ from small children to their parents, and everyone seemed very happy.

Crossing path in Baxter Field in Sydenham
Crossing path in the park

Baxter Field in Sydenham is a large, grassed open park in South East London. The planting is not particularly remarkable and because of the particularly hot and dry year it was definitely not happy! But the park serves a useful and good purpose for the surrounding local community. Excited children filled the children’s play area when I visited, and other children were cycling happily around the paths. It was much busier than another park I had recently visited, Downham Playing Fields, and another of the surprising green spaces in South East London.

3 thoughts on “Baxter Field in Sydenham

  1. I was born in Charlecote Grove in 1958 and lived there for many years. As children we played in ‘the field’ as we all called it, as it had no name. Around 1979 I said to local historian Joan Read that it should have an official name – and suggested ‘Baxter’s Field’. She thought it a great idea and said she’d mention it to the council.
    When I came back from university at the end of term I was amazed to find the metal plaque with that very name in place.
    And even more amazed when I moved to Lewes in Sussex to find the beautiful park on the other side of our road is called ‘Baxter’s Field’! After the same George Baxter – he was born in Lewes and moved to Sydenham, while I’d done the opposite.
    We adopted a delightful young cat yesterday and we’re thinking of calling him Baxter…

I'd love to hear from you!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.