The Coat Of Arms.
To find Beckenham Place Park is not that easy; you drive up a long road and there are two small gatehouses and a tiny sign set back amongst the trees. If you blinked or did not know it was there, you would miss it. Strangely, as you drive or walk up the sweeping avenue to the mansion house it is quiet and the birds sing in joyous songs. The sheer size of the park (237 Acres and 1070.4 yd²), engulfs you, stopping the noise of London. It is known that in medieval times King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) visited the estate. The present Mansion House was built for the Cator family and is said to be circa 1770; a lot of the columns and stone were taken from his other house at Blackheath. Here is the main entrance and the side\rear overlooking the Park.
However, as with anything in this mysterious place, the stable blocks were finished in 1730. Why have large stable blocks without a house, unless as some people have said, there was one there already and it was knocked down for the grand mansion to take its place. Unfortunately no known records exist. The Mansion House is in a state of disrepair, which is heartbreaking as the Adams ceilings inside are breathtaking. This has come about as the Park was given from the Greater London Council to Lewisham Council in the early 1950s. As all the buildings are listed buildings and by law it is the duty of the current owner to manage and pay for the upkeep of them, this has not been done. They have not been touched since the 1950s and it will take an estimated £5 million to put them back into good repair. So the Council wishes to sell it to a commercial company or individual, although it belongs to the public! Here using a telephoto lens is a view over to the south and southwest from the front of the mansion. In the horizon is the English wild wood; this has the River Ravensbourne running through it. It is also full of sticklebacks and the kingfishers love them.
It is known that Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), stayed with the Cator family near the end of his life, whilst he was ill. Although it is not known if he wrote anything here as he was quite old by then, it is said he had ideas for the estate as it was then, and some of the planting is said to be on his wishes. The land then was in the 1700s style of the landscape movement (Capability Brown style), with a single row of trees and a 2 acre lake to the left and at the bottom in front of the Mansion House. Here is a large London plane, Platanus × hispanica, and a group with daffodils.
The stables built in 1730 were beautiful; unfortunately they are being used to store the Contractors' garden machinery and are in a very poor state. The clock on the stables is also a mystery. It is said to have come from the Clock House in Anerly; although it is old, it was only placed there a hundred years ago and nobody knows by whom or how it got there! The park has a 94 acre 18-hole golf course that is public so anyone can go and have a game, plus it has a children's 9-hole golf course as well. The golf course was at one time the most used in Europe, but not now! Here is a bit of the flower garden, the stables are on the left. The other picture is in the flower garden and is a Magnolia grandiflora.
At the gate at the top of the flower garden are another two flower beds. The stables can be seen in the picture on the right.
Here is the mysterious clock on top of the stables; it used to work! On the right are the rose beds; they too have seen better days, how very sad compared to what they used to be.
I found a beautiful Magnoila stellata at the top end of the rockery. The picture on the right is looking at the bottom of the rockery from the middle of it.
This park is so vast you can easily get lost, and it would take someone very fit to walk and take everything in, in one day. Here at the top of the rockery is a gorgeous Blue cedar, Cedrus atlantica glauca although it is not very old. A long way down the main avenue is this conifer bed, with some very scruffy pink heather in flower.
Going up to the avenue from the flower garden is a small but quite nice spot. Unfortunately this beautiful building is boarded up and full of mowers and other gardening equipment. Here are two pictures, one from the bottom to the gate and on the right, one down to the park.
The locals call this very ancient tree the squirrel tree. It is a yew, Taxus baccata, I remember it as a lot bigger than this but we did have the 1987 Hurricane. However, although it is extremely old it seems to have come back to some sort of life, which is pleasing. The yellow yew on the right is commonly called the Irish yew. There is a large Magnolia soulangeana in flower behind it. The tennis courts lay beyond this.
This so far is only a bit of the front of the park; it stretches way beyond the horizon and down to the north, east and west. Here are some pictures of a tiny bit of the other side of the park looking to the north. I had to get a picture of the one with the blossom, although it was a long way away.
Everywhere I go lately there are camellias, but pink ones. I wanted some white or red ones but the frost and rain got them. There may be some later I hope. Here are two I found near the 19th hole, the bar, if you are not a golfer! Even some of these had been hit by the week of cold and rain, but the lower ones were all right.
When I started my seven year apprenticeship with the Parks Department everyone was sent to this wondrous park to do six two week training courses. You had to pass all six of these that were in different disciplines about amenity horticulture, to be allowed any chance of going to college. Beckenham Place Park was a steep learning curve for those of us picked and allowed to go there, you suddenly were thrust in the deep end of things you did not know about or had never done. At that time the park was gorgeous and the staff were knowledgeable and loved what they did. Then after seven years of hard work I got all the qualifications I could, the Council sacked everyone and took on contractors. People who knew everything about horticulture and the parks\areas were suddenly gone, forever. This is something the Council now deeply regrets; and I hope whoever did this to the parks, our open spaces, municipal buildings, old building gardens and the community will have it on their conscience, forever more! On the left a most unusual combination of a Hebe and a Eunoymus. The picture on the right is not an Erica sp. it is a pink flowered Daboecia sp.
I only went around a bit of the Park as it has two ponds, a children's play area, a lot of sports fields, a cafe and bar, recreational grassland, meadows, ancient woodland, water habitats, and a mass of wildlife and flora. There is too much wildlife to put on this article but some of the notable are; 3 species of woodpecker, kestrel's, sparrow hawks, kingfisher's, nuthatch, black cap, tree creeper's, the rare stag and lesser stag beetle, butterflies, badgers, bank vole, other small mammals and pipestrelle bats. The place to see pictures of these is at Wild About Britain Gallery. The flora is stunning and is every plant lovers dream. Going away from the ornamentals there are lots of pedunculate oak, evergreen oak, wild service trees, ash, beech, elm, London plane, hazel, holly, hornbeam, mulberry, yew, bluebells, wood anenomes, lesser celadine and fungi. Currently there have been 65 tree species identified. If your plant i.d. is not 100% I would take a good tree book, a good plant book, and Excursion Flora Of The British Isles. Here is a picture to the left of the park with a bit of the wild wood and the park stretching into the horizon. The other picture is an ancient tree in one of the fairways; it is even complete with a Golf ball!
I write and look at this wondrous place with a sad and very heavy heart. Last year the Council to a very expensive P.R. weekend on the tax payers money invited certain people to hear their plans for this historic and beautiful place. The Council had invited me; that surprised me, having already stopped the Council building on a rare woodland given to the people of London by Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). The Council explained they could not afford to do what they should have been doing since the 1950s by law, and therefore were going to sell the Mansion House and turn the Golf course into a 9-hole course. This is because the person\company would want privacy and car parking space and not let the public into an area the public owns anyway. Somebody pointed out this is the only public 18-hole Golf course in the whole of London and if it was turned into a 9-hole course it would die. That may be the Council's idea. People were allowed to have their say, so as I know a lot about this incredible place and have worked there, I was quite venomous in my defense of the Park. It seemed to the Ministers (MPs) and Council people present that King Henry VIII, Linnaeus, plus the history and wildlife\plants did not matter, just money mattered. Believe me this is the thin end of the wedge, for if they do this they will destroy and sell the rest of it. I walked out of the Park yesterday as I did out of the Councils expensive P.R. show, bitter and cynical, and I fully admit with very damp eyes. Will I ever be allowed to show my nieces and nephew where this famous bit of history is or will I have to show them a plaque on a housing estate and not a tree in sight!
There is a lot of anger and feeling about this Park, and people have vowed to fight against the Council's money-making ideas and to try to preserve it for future generations. I for one will fight tooth and nail against them, and in the words of Churchill "We will never surrender!"
If someone does not do it, it may be the end of the road for this incredible and mesmerizing place.
Thank You For Being With Me On This Tour.
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