Sunday 16 October 2016

History of Avery Hill Park

by Bee Twidale

Avery Hill is a unique park where you can walk and enjoy a cross section of time! The earliest evidence of human activity is a Mesolithic flint tool found by a 1st Royal Eltham Scout taking part in a Young Friends of Avery Hill Park tree planting.

The rugby field and the others around it have medieval origins. After the Norman Conquest the land was gifted to the King’s brother, Bishop Odo. Most of the land was crown property until the nineteenth century. There are records from 1290 of  King Edward buying hay to feed the starving deer at Eltham Palace, from John De Henley; owner of the fields at that time. The wild flower meadow, Henley’s field, is named after him. The Hedgerows are the oldest in Greenwich; the earliest dating back to the 1370’s

There is a Tudor conduit in the North West corner of the park. This ancient building supplied fresh water to Eltham Palace. In Elizabethan times Ann Twist, Mistress of the Royal Laundry to Elizabeth 1st; owned the fields at Avery Hill. Next time you see pictures of fancy Elizabethan neck ruffs, think of Ann Twist!

In the 19th century the first mansions were built at Avery Hill.

The sugar magnate James Boyd developed the parkland and planted most of the fine specimen trees. Colonel John Thomas North, the nitrate king of the 1890’s, developed the Winter Garden, the Italianate Garden and much of the parkland as you see it today. Colonel North’s death notice in the New York Times (6.4.1896) reported; “Colonel North had a mansion in the outskirts of Eltham, in Kent, which was sumptuous and hospitable. Avery Hill is as celebrated in England as Walpole’s Strawberry Hill was.”

London County Council purchased Avery Hill in the early 20th century and established Avery Hill Teachers’ Training College; now part of Greenwich University.

Avery Hill Park has a strong sporting tradition, the LCC organised Polo matches in the 1920’s. Now you can enjoy cricket, football, rugby, basket ball, table tennis, boules and the fitness equipment; much of this financed by the Olympic Legacy fund and the Mayor of London’s “Help a London Park” grant. The mayor’s grant of £400K stimulated the Young Friends of Averyhill Park to design their own park features; a project supported by Greenwich University and Avery Hill Youth Club. More about Young Friends later!

Responding to the initiative set up by Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces; Friends of Avery Hill Park began in February 2007 led by Steve Hull. Their first big initiative was to fill the gap left by the park café (torched by an arson attack in 2005) with a “Container Café”. At this time tagging was rife in the park and the container was a prime target. With grant funding; Averyhill Youth Club and other local teenagers designed and painted a mural on the container café, problem solved! The Friends group went on to play a major part in the rebuilding of the eco-friendly, design award winning café. They have run many successful summer “Parks Fests” centred around the café and performance area.

The Young Friends, supported by the local Primary and Secondary Schools, Youth Club and Scouts and Guides have also been busy since 2007 conducting an accessibility survey for wheelchair users. Also finding their green fingers planting crocus & daffodils, snowdrop and bluebell bulbs. The adult friends’ group initiated a survey which led to the Young Friends choosing to design and build a wildflower maze and turf seat funded by a Greenwich Pride grant. By 2009 60 teenagers and 40 primary age children had planted 2K native species bulbs and 1K tree whips and completed a Tree Girth/Age survey.

2010 saw the centenary of Girl Guiding and the local Eltham young women pulled out the stops to enhance Henley’s wildflower meadow with 100 cowslip and primrose plugs & 1K wild daffodil and snowdrop bulbs. Inspired by the Mayor’s “Help a London Park” £400K grant; a team of 12 & 13 year olds from 3rd New Eltham Guides and a Scout from 40th Greenwich  worked with Greenwich Uni. Architecture lecturers and students to produce sketches and models of their “blue sky” designs for the park. These were put on display in the Winter Garden for the Green Chain festival. Heather Yedigaroff of Greenwich Council entered these young people for the “Green Guardian” awards. Amazingly the Guide team came 2nd; they lost out to professional architects from Hyde Housing for the Green Concept award! The Scout was awarded “Young Guardian of the Year”. The team of 12 & 13 year old Guides went on to design and build a balcony garden at Hampton Court Flower show.

2013 saw Averyhill Winter-Garden heating system fail. The friends group supported the universities bid for lottery funding and the uni. gardeners by lending garden fleece to protect the most delicate plants until the heating could be restored. The canary island date palm is the largest in the UK.

In 2015 Greenwich University put the Mansion Site up for sale, deeming it no longer fit for purpose. The Uni had plans for the building to be converted for Academy use. The Friends group instigated Tree Protection Orders being placed on the Winter-Garden trees and significant trees on the Mansion campus. To date, 2016, no buyer has been found.

In the past 2 years the friends’ group has encouraged Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces to clear Pippenhall Farm, our local Site of Importance for Nature Conservation, of massive Bramble overgrowth on the medieval Ridge and Furrow and also 1K square metres of Japanese Knotweed. A new tenant has been found. With ponies grazing once again, Narrow Leaved Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Knapweed, Fleabane, Corky Fruited Water Dropwort and Yellow Bartsia; some of the rarer wildflowers, have begun to re-emerge. Currently Friends of Avery Hill Park are seeking funds to restore the Italianate terrace garden. The design is well underway………watch this space!

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