Heritage: How Havering’s network of parks was created

Charter Mayor CH Allen, the town clerk and prominent councillors at the opening of Rise Park in 1937

Charter Mayor CH Allen, the town clerk and prominent councillors at the opening of Rise Park in 1937. Picture: Brian Evans - Credit: Brian Evans

Far-sighted local councils and generous benefactors built up Havering’s network of public parks, says Professor Ged Martin

Havering’s parks are often half-hidden: even nearby residents hardly know they’re there.

How many Collier Row people know Lawns Park? Do Hornchurch residents know St Andrew’s Park? Some, like Rainham’s 15-acre Spring Farm Park, bring a surprise rural touch to urban life.

Most local parks owe their origin to far-sighted local authorities in the 1920s and 1930s.

Hylands Park was established by the newly established Hornchurch Council in 1927, after a battle with a developer who’d installed a track for trotting races. Harold Wood Park began as a cricket ground in 1934.

Benefactors donated some local parks.

READ MORE: The history of Havering’s parks

Herbert Raphael presented part of the Gidea Hall estate to Romford in 1902, and the park was named in his honour.

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In 1935, the building firm Costain added 35 acres to Harrow Lodge Park, to promote their Elm Park Garden City. Rise Park was the gift of Thomas England, a visionary local citizen.

It was a link in his planned “green lung” through Romford, from Carlton Road to Bedfords, starting with Lodge Farm and Raphael Park.

At Rise Park’s official opening in 1937, the Mayor and the Town Clerk, in their official robes, merrily rode on the playground roundabout. Central Park was planned as part of Harold Hill from the start of the estate in 1947. Paines Brook sometimes flooded, so it made sense to keep houses away and create a public open space along its banks.

Many parks doubled as sports grounds, like Brittons Playing Fields in South Hornchurch.

Some open spaces, like Harold Wood, were originally called recreation grounds: children would say they were going “over the rec”.

The name’s still used at Collier Row and for Rainham’s tiny play area.

Some Havering parks bear ancient names.

Haynes Park can be traced to 1492. The Cottons family farmed in London Road Romford from the 16th century.

They weren’t keen to sell their land in 1920, but their name survived in Cottons Park. Two open spaces commemorate royalty. King George’s Playing Fields, north of the A12, are a memorial to George V. In 1953, the year the Queen was crowned, headstones from a former cemetery were cleared to create Coronation Gardens alongside Havering Town Hall.

Some Havering parks survived by luck.

A sewage works until 1968, Bretons Outdoor Centre was gradually converted into a public amenity.

Lodge Farm Park was used as a rubbish tip in the 1930s. Landfill was also used to level Grenfell Park near Roneo Corner, and to restore Hornchurch Country Park after gravel working.

Upminster Park was glebe, land belonging to the rectors of the parish. In 1929 it provided the growing suburb with an open space right in the middle of the village.

Lakes were created at Harrow Lodge Park in the 1950s and Bretons in the 1980s.

The late twentieth century saw a new wave of parks, with fresh thinking about recreation space.

The 185-acre Havering Country Park opened in 1976. It was once the estate of a mansion called Havering Park, which itself succeeded the former royal palace, holiday home of England’s monarchs.

READ MORE: The lost mansion of Harrow Lodge Park

Its most celebrated feature is the Wellingtonia Avenue, giant sequoia trees now about 160 years old.

Most people associate this country park with Havering-atte-Bower, but there’s access from St John’s Road and Clockhouse Lane in Collier Row too.

The successor to the Battle of Britain aerodrome, Hornchurch Country Park was landscaped and planted with trees in 1980s. It’s become a successful Ingrebourne valley conservation area.

Havering has benefited from the Forestry Commission’s Thames Chase Community Forest project.

Pages Wood, 183 acres in Hall Lane, with four miles of footpaths and 100,000 now-maturing trees, was opened in 2002.

It effectively links Harold Wood Park to Havering’s oldest open space, medieval Tylers Common. The Thames Chase project also includes woodland at Harold Court and Cranham.

Check opening hours – don’t get locked in! – and enjoy Havering’s parks responsibly during this Covid-19 crisis.