The Tarn in south east London is a small and beautiful park in Eltham which is mainly a lake fed by the Little Quaggy river and surrounded by trees.
Enclosed parklands originally surrounded Eltham Palace – the Great Park, Middle Park and Horn Park. In the south of the Great Park was a small pond known as Starbucks Pond named after a local family of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Sir John Shaw started leasing the Eltham Palace estate in 1660. He built himself a new home, Eltham Lodge, and developed the land around Eltham Lodge. Sir John Shaw, 4th baronet, succeeded to the title in 1738/39 and set about renovating the house and further developing the estate. Around 1755 the pond was enlarged to create a pleasure and boating lake.
I am not sure when the land passed into private ownership, but fast forward to the early 20th century when Walter Johnson bought bought land around the lake and built a house which he sold to Edwin Churchill in 1907. Churchill was a significant gunsmith and wealthy man. He developed the property and renamed it The Tarn.
In 1934 Woolwich Council bought some woodland and the lake from the Royal Blackheath Golf Course to create a public park. The park includes a bird sanctuary in the wooded north east corner which covers almost half the site and which is closed to the public.
Little Quaggy river
The Tarn is fed by the Little Quaggy which flows into the lake in the south east corner from under the railway line. There is also a drain from the golf course which feeds into the top north east corner of the lake. Both drain out under Court Road and along Nottingham Farm to join the main Quaggy near the Dutch House pub on the Sidcup bypass.
The ice house
An ice well of c.1760 serviced the mansion house and it still stands in the north west corner of the site near the lake. Ice was cut from the lake in winter. The ice house is brick with a domed roof and the ice was stored underground. Manor House Gardens in Lewisham has a similar but more elaborate ice house which is sometimes open to the public.
Late March flowers at The Tarn
Late March blessed us with some wonderfully warm and sunny days and persuading the flowers to pop out. People visited the park to just sit and watch the birds in the lake and enjoy the warmth.
The Friends of The Tarn are essential to this park! They are there every week, digging, weeding, planting and repairing and their care and commitment are very clear as you walk down the slope from the road into this haven of calm.
The Tarn in Eltham is one of the Green Flag parks in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and a very beautiful site.