Baxter’s Fields in Sydenham is a grassy park which hides between houses in South East London. The park is associated with significant and important people in the printing industry in the 19C. It is another little surprise in my exploration of green spaces in South East London.
History of Baxter’s Fields
‘… 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) (2002)
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 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.
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, c.2004
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.
Baxter’s Fields 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 c.2004
Rather dry grass covers most of Baxter’s Fields today. 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 time of the year and the vegetation was not looking at its best.
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…
Shrubbery and trees
The shrubbery and wooded area around the park was very dry and rather dull. It felt as though there was not much interest in gardening here.
Children’s play area
Children and their parents were enjoying the play area when I visited Baxter’s Fields in Sydenham. There were delighted squeals of ‘Higher! Higher!’ from small children to their parents, and everyone seemed very happy.
Baxter’s Fields in Sydenham is a large, grassed open park in South East London. The planting is not particularly remarkable 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, but still one of the surprising green spaces in South East London.