A Battersea Walk

Additional Information


The park was laid out on an area which during the first half of the 19th century was Battersea Fields with up to 367 individual farm plots growing carrots, melons, lavender and asparagus. There were also riverside industries. On Sundays up to 40,000 people would come to the area where there were amusements and stalls and the gentry would come for bird shooting. The vicar of St Marys found the behaviour unacceptable and submitted plans to the Prime Minister for a park which he hoped would be more orderly. He was supported by the builder Thomas Cubitt who acquired 120 acres of the land purchased for the construction of mansion blocks to the south and west. The marshy land was raised with spoil from the excavation of the Victoria Docks. It was hoped to stage the Great Exhibition of 1851 in the park but it was not completed in time. The 200 acre park was opened by Queen Victoria in 1858 along with Chelsea Bridge.
The park was divided into quarters by paths with a carriage drive around the perimeter and lodges at three of the four entrances. In 1860 an ornamental lake was created in the south east covering 16 acres but only 3' deep with rocks and cascades to the north. This provided a home for wildfowl and facilities for fishing, boating and in the winter - skating. The overall plan was by James Pennethorne and John Gibson, who became the first superintendant in 1856, was responsible for the planting including carpet bedding. In 1862 the Royal Agricultural Show was held in the park and in 1864 the sub-tropical garden was laid out. By 1865 visitor numbers had risen to 40,000 - 50,000 many arriving by steamer. Nobility and Royalty would ride or drive around the park along with people who had taken up the new craze of cycling. Facilities were also provided for cricket and tennis. There were refreshment rooms on the riverside site now occupied by the Pagoda and the bandstand had seating for up to 1000 people. In 1885 the Albert Palace from the Dublin Exhibition of 1872 was erected on the south side for concerts and art exhibitions. However these were not very successful and the building was demolished in 1894. The park came under the control of the LCC in 1889 and the deer enclosure was added in 1896.
During WWI the park was given over to vegetable allotments and a military encampment. In WWII beside vegetable allotments there was a barrage balloon, covered trenches for shelters and an anti-aircraft rocket battery manned by the Home Guard. The bandstand and railings were sacrificed for the 'war effort'. It is now known that such metal collected was useless and dumped in the North Sea!
Post-war it was decided to hold a Festival of Britain on two sites - the South Bank and Battersea Park. The park Pleasure Gardens were designed by James Gardner with other contemporary designers to cover a 37 acre area. Bright colours of red, white and blue with yellow and gold were used including the planting of shrubs and bulbs. Features included a Funfair with Big Dipper and Rotor, Schweppes Grotto, Children's Zoo, Tree Walk, Guiness Clock, Concert Pavilion, Showboat and 'Far Tottering & Oyster Creek Railway' based on cartoons by Ronald Searle. It was originally intended to be held for six months but was extended to a year during which time 8 million people visited. Some of the features remained after 1951 and the last of the funfair was closed in 1974.

In the 1960s car parks, sports changing rooms and an adventure playground were added. In 1977 the British Genius Exhibition was held to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee. In 1986 the GLC (successor to the LCC in 1965) was abolished and control of the park passed to Wandsworth Council. During the 1980s more sports facilities and a new bandstand were provided and the Children's Zoo and playground were remodelled. The Peace Pagoda, a gift from Japanese Buddhist monks, was erected in 1985. Made from Canadian Douglas Fir it has four gilded Buddhas. Some two hundred trees were lost in the hurricane of October 1987. An annual Easter Parade was held until 1991. In 1992 the pump house was restored and now provides an art gallery and park information

The park office is in the walled staff yard (NW corner) and can suppy information. The Children’s Zoo is open 10am – 5:30pm daily (admission charge) [website]. The restored Pump House has a shop and is used for exhibitions (open 11-3 Weds-Sun). The shop sells 'Battersea Park - An Illustrated History' by the Friends of Battersea Park at 5.95. [website]

The first church on the site may have been as early as 800. In 1067 William the Conqueror granted the Manor and church to the Abbey of Westminster. Alterations were made in the 15th, 16th & 17th centuries. In 1489 a chapel dedicated to St Nicholas was added. At the Dissolution of the monasteries in 1540 the manor passed to the Crown. Charles I sold it in 1627 and in 1763 it was purchased by Earl Spencer. Battersea became a fashionable residental suburb in the 18th century and in 1771 a new church was planned. Designed by local architect Joseph Dixon it was built in 1775-7.
Features inside include a terracotta war memorial and the chair used by the artist JMW Turner. Stained glass includes a fine east window and 4 new panels added in 1976-82. There is a collection of church plate and a belfry with a number of bells. Church registers date back to 1559 and include the marriage of William Blake. The crypt was remodelled in 1995-6 when 60 coffin plates were put on display.

The church is sometimes open or you can make arrangements to view it on 020 7228 9648. A guidebook is available to purchase. [website]


Reference sources
London Villages by John Wittich
Walking London’s Parks and Garden by Geoffrey Young

london-footprints.co.uk 2011

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