Cornmill Gardens & River Mill Park are relatively new open spaces in the centre of Lewisham. The centre of Lewisham has a lot of new high-rise flats and Cornmill Gardens in particular will help soften the hard landscape as time passes.
History of the site
At the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 the Manor of Lewisham was held by the Abbey of Ghent, and at the time there were eleven mills. These may not all have been driven by water, but on the John Roque map of 1746 two mills are shown on this section of the River Ravensbourne. A corn mill stood on the site of today’s Cornmill Gardens, and for a while in the mid 17C it was used by John Betts for glass cutting, explaining the term ‘Glass Mills Leisure Centre’ next to Cornmill Gardens. And the second mill was listed as a leather mill but called the Riverdale Mill on later maps and standing on the same site as today’s River Mill Park.
In the 14C and 15C the land in the Manor fell into different categories, one of which was ‘common-field’. ‘Sundermead’ was a common-field of 17 acres covering the site of today’s Lewisham Station.1 This is where the Sundermead Estate of the 1960s derived its name. The estate was demolished to redevelop Loampit Vale.
BDP worked with Lewisham Council to redesign the site and the new park of 1.3 hectares opened in 2007. In 2009 the park received the Best New Public Space Award at the London Planning Awards, and a Green Flag Award in 2020, one of fifteen in Lewisham. Planting along the river includes indigenous plants and trees (rushes, birch, alder, sweet gum) and is slowly starting to develop. Mallards, coot and moorhen are always present too.
The entrance from Loampit Vale is a little bleak, particularly in the winter, but the trees are growing and it will ‘green up’ as time passes. Attractive railings guard the river on the left. These look like Heather Burrell’s work which can be found all over Lewisham – Fordham Park, and Mountsfields Park, for example. Next to the railings a small path leads through the planting down to the river.
Riverdale Park is off Molesworth Street. Leland Duncan suggests this was Semannesmill or Seemanysmille dating from the time of the Domesday Book. John Penn I probably built today’s Mill in early 1800s, and by the end of the 1800s it was the John Wallis Flour Mill. Only the shell of the building remains. Mill House is now flats. A 20C water wheel stands next to the Engine House, and the mill pond is in front of the building.
Cornmill Gardens & River Mill Park in the centre of Lewisham are two surprising green spaces, with a fascinating history!
- 1. Duncan, Leland L.: History of the Borough of Lewisham, 1908: p.39
- Cornmill: https://archive.org/stream/proceedingsoflew02lewi/proceedingsoflew02lewi_djvu.txt
- A criticism of Lewisham’s new town centre: https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/lewisham-the-notopian-future-of-london
- John Roque map of 1746: https://biblio.unibe.ch/web-apps/maps/zoomify.php?pic=Ryh_1813_22.jpg&col=ryh
- John Betts: https://www.facebook.com/groups/468787103603238/permalink/493895757759039/