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Sydenham Wells Park Lewisham

Summary

Sydenham Wells Park is near the former site of mineral springs that were discovered in the C17th, becoming a popular spa whose numerous visitors included King George III. The spa's success led to the building of larger houses, and wealthy people began to settle in the area. The opening of Crystal Park encouraged further influx. Sydenham Wells Park opened as a public park in 1901 following a campaign to save the land from being built over by housing development. The park was laid out with broad paths, ornamental plantations and a miniature watercourse designed in imitation of the River Rhone as well as a wide variety of sports facilities. While retaining much of its early layout, the park has continued to develop in response to changing needs of the park users.

Basic Details

Site location:
Longton Avenue/Wells Park Road/Taylor's Lane, Sydenham

Postcode:
SE26

Type of site:
Public Park

Date(s):
1898-1901

Designer(s):
LCC

Listed structures:
None

Borough:
Lewisham

Site ownership:
LB Lewisham

Site management:
Greenscene Department, Glendale Grounds Management/Sydenham Wells Park Users Group

Open to public?
Yes

Opening times:
8am - sunset

Special conditions:

Facilities:
Children's playground, water play area, tennis courts, ball courts, putting green (summer only), nature reserve, toilets

Events:

Public transport:
Rail: Sydenham Hill. Bus: 202, 356

Citymapper
Citymapper

The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 01/04/2012
Please check with the site owner or manager for latest news. www.lewisham.gov.uk/inmyarea/openspaces/parks

Further Information

Grid ref:
TQ344720

Size in hectares:
8

Green Flag:
No

On EH National Register :
No

EH grade:
None

Site on EH Heritage at Risk list:
No

Registered common or village green on Commons Registration Act 1965:
No

Protected under London Squares Preservation Act 1931:
No

Local Authority Data

The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.

On Local List:
No

In Conservation Area:
No

Tree Preservation Order:
No

Nature Conservation Area:
Yes - Local Importance

Green Belt:
No

Metropolitan Open Land:
No

Special Policy Area:
Yes - Area of Archaeological Priority

Other LA designation:
Public Open Space

Fuller information

Sydenham was known as Sippenham until the C18th from the village of Cippa (Old English), a small settlement of a few cottages among the woods, whose inhabitants could graze their animals and collect wood on Westwood Common. By the C16th there was a sizeable hamlet along Sydenham Road. In 1614 the leaseholder of the common attempted to enclose it, fencing off the land so that local people could not use it. Led by the Vicar of Lewisham, Abraham Colfe, the commoners took the case to court and won it, but eventually the common was enclosed between 1810 and 1819.

In the 1640s springs of water in what is now Sydenham Wells Park were discovered to have medicinal properties, promoted by physician John Peter. Twelve wells were eventually opened, all still in existence in 1810, and crowds would come to drink the waters. Famous in the C17th and C18th, the spa was 'much frequented by the quality in the summer' according to John Evelyn; one of the visitors was King George III and it is rumoured that when he took the waters a band was engaged to play outside the cottage he stayed in to drown out his curses as the waters were apparently very bitter. This success led to the building of larger houses, perhaps to lodge the water drinkers, and wealthy people began to settle in the area. It remained a spa until the early C19th, but the wells were covered by the church of St Philip, which was built in 1866 but demolished in 1982, the site now housing a new church of 1983 and part of the Wells Park Estate. With the building of Crystal Palace the area became increasingly fashionable, with wealthy residents living in Upper Sydenham while Lower Sydenham housed working people.

Sydenham Wells Park opened as a public park in 1901 near the site of the old spa; springs have since emerged in several places and have been channelled into drains; a bog garden and bamboo walk have been planted on one of these areas. The campaign to acquire the land for the public began with a petition in 1895 when there were fears that it would be entirely built over for housing. In 1898 7 hectares were acquired by the LCC for £7210 with Lewisham Board of Works contributing half the cost. T W Williams, a member of the Board of Works, was particularly instrumental in the campaign for new public space, pointing out that the increased population as a result of extensive development would be poorly served for open space. The new park was opened on 27 May 1901 by the Chairman of the Council and John Burns, Trade Unionist and MP for Battersea Rise.

The park was laid out with broad paths, ornamental plantations and a miniature watercourse in the south leading to the main lake, designed in imitation of the River Rhone apparently to mark the influence of the small German community in the area at that time, with a rustic bridge that is now gone. The park's original provision included a park office, demolished in 1994; promenade; tennis courts and quoits pitch; bowling green; paddling pool; and a circuit walk laid over the undulating hillside, the whole costing about £5000 to lay out. By 1933 a bandstand had been added, but this had been taken out by 1966.

The park today retains ornamental trees and shrubs; the water feature and rill planted with Juniper and other shrubs; wooden shelter and kiosk beside the bowling green; a 1960s paddling pool system; serpentine paths; rhododendron, hornbeam, bedding displays. A serpentine path runs around the upper part of the rill that runs through an area of lawn planted with willow and other ornamental trees and shrubs. There are no substantial buildings but good path layout and collection of trees and shrubs, including some pedunculate oak that may be relics of the Great North Wood. Since 1988 a backland site between Queenswood and Wynell Roads has been managed as a nature reserve, which is now used by Sydenham Garden Project who have a community horticultural therapy resource. In 1995 the gardens of 2 Victorian houses were added to the park, creating a 'wild' area on the western edge with bark-chip footpaths.

In 1999 Glendale Grounds Management entered into a 10-year ground maintenance contract in partnership with LB Lewisham and in the first 5 years carried out extensive infrastructure works to improve the basic facilities in the park and improved the service provided to the public in the way of events and park supervision. This culminated in Sydenham Wells Park being awarded a Green Flag in 2003-2004, which it has subsequently retained. The park continues to develop with new children’s play areas and an innovative water play area, and a sensory garden is almost complete.

Sources consulted:

Candidate for Register: The Builder 80, 1901, H Jordan 'Public Parks 1885-1914', AA dissertation 1992; Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England: London 2: South' (Penguin) 1999; J Coulter and J Seaman 'The Archive Photographs Series: Sydenham and Forest Hill', 1994; Sydenham Wells Park Dedication, 1901; LB Lewisham, "Parks historical trail"; Darrell Spurgeon, 'Discover Sydenham and Catford', (Greenwich Guide-books, 1999)

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