There are plenty of green spaces on the Coldharbour Estate in New Eltham but somehow they feel neglected, or rather unloved.
The Coldharbour Estate
In the Middle Ages this was part of the Great Park of Eltham Palace and enclosed and forested. The trees were cut down for shipbuilding during the Civil War and interregnum and the land turned into arable and grazing land. As late as 1934 most of this area was Chapel Farm and Coldharbour Farm and crown property with tenant farmers.
The Council built the estate to house families made homeless during the Blitz of 1940-41 and mainly those living in Woolwich or Eltham. It was described as a ‘garden city’ but this didn’t mean it was covered in gardens. In the 1950s housing had covered the farmlands and the London County Council bought the last fields to create the Coldharbour Education Playing fields. In 1998 Greenwich Council took over the management of the sports fields which are now the Coldharbour Leisure Centre.
Chapel Farm stood roughly on the site of today’s Coldharbour Leisure Centre. The Little Quaggy supplied water to the farm in an open stream. Today it flows in a culvert.
Wynford Road Green is on the south west of the Coldharbour Leisure Centre playing fields.
In the 19th century Chapel Farm was a general and cattle farm. In the 20th century the Chapel Farm Dairy was an outlet on the High Street in Eltham (roughly where KFC and Iceland stand today). But there was time for fun! The farm had a football ground and a cricket pitch (first seen on a map of 1898 for the Chapel Farm Cricket Club. Eventually the Eltham Cricket Club took on the lease of the cricket club and W G Grace played his final match here on 25 July 1914. He lived at Fairmount in Mottingham Lane from 1909 until his death in 1915.
Coldharbour Farm was just south of Chapel Farm with its farmhouse roughly at the junction of White Horse Hill with Elmstead Lane. The farm was mainly dairy farming but also produced oats and wheat and kept pigs and all farm machinery was horse-drawn. Both farms were on Crown land. Farming ended at Coldharbour Farm, the last working farm in London, in 1947 when Woolwich Borough Council bought 155 acres of farmland from the Crown Commissioners and started building the estate.
At the south east corner is Altash Gardens. Altash Gardens is a small park which is named after the Mediaeval fields of Great and Little Altash in Mottingham. It is on the eastern side of a great curve of green space and includes a playground and outdoor gym. A row of old hawthorns lines the road, there are elegant willow trees lining the path, with one or two newer beech trees, and a majestic London plane tree in one corner. Wildflowers are starting to appear in the grass but it feels like a path from A to B rather than somewhere to linger.
The playing field
A gap in the fencing allowed me to walk into the playing field alongside Altash Gardens and this is where I found magic! An enormous willow tree partners the London plane in Altash Gardens and the unmown grass border is rich with flowering grass in June. You can feel the age of the area in this small wilder patch.
The Course is two grassy fields on a breezy hillside with a lovely view towards the clubhouse of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club on the far hillside. It is easy to see how this might have been the avenue in Sir John Shaw’s estate but hard to see how it might have been a racecourse – these are not usually in a straight line. A children’s playground, a ball court and a small hall separate the fields. And fenced-off allotments stand at the southern end.
These two fields have a wonderful feel. The lines of trees are elegant – London plane trees, willows and new beech trees – and the pattern of mowing has allowed colourful grasses and wild flowers to develop.
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, officially opened the estate in 1957. Queen’s Gardens is a small green named in her honour. It is opposite the neglected shopping centre on William Barefoot Drive, the main road through the Coldharbour estate. The park offers a diagonal avenue of willow trees across the grass with a fenced-off dog-walking area. There are some mature London plane trees trees and undergrowth on two sides of the park but no sign of a treasured garden.
This little park is not a happy place. Despite two very obvious litter bins I found rubbish of all sorts around the seats, and in the grass. This little park cries out for attention.
Greens and Avenues on the Coldharbour Estate
The ideals of the Garden City movement influenced the layout of the Coldharbour Estate. And so there are wide avenues with greens on either side and triangular greens at some street corners. It is attractive, but somehow, for me, it still looks unloved.
The Coldharbour Estate was laid out with plenty of green spaces. There are many opportunities for keen gardeners to care for and even enhance their local surroundings. It seems to me that the ideas of the garden city or suburb rely quite heavily on local people to maintain and take forward the creation of pleasing surroundings.
 Kennett, John: A Farm at Coldharbour, SEnine, September 2014, pp.20-21
 Gregory, R R C: The Story of Royal Eltham, 1909, Famloc Books 2017, p.451