An Extended History of Myatt’s Fields Park
Rebecca Preston - October 2003
‘To the people gardens, and to the children playgrounds’.
Myatt’s Fields Park is a unique example of a surviving small-scale Victorian urban park. Originally formed from 14 ½ acres belonging to the Minet estate on the Camberwell/Lambeth borders, the Park was designed from the start to combine space for recreation with ornamental horticulture. It was opened to the public on May 28 1889. The Minet family had donated the land to the Metropolitan Board of Works (later the London County Council) for use as a public park on the understanding that the donor remain anonymous. The Park, named after the market gardener who previously tenanted the land, Joseph Myatt, was laid out by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association with a grant from the Lord Mayor’s Fund for the Unemployed. It was designed by the MPGA’s designer, Fanny Rollo Wilkinson, Britain’s first professional woman landscape gardener.
The Minet Estate In 1770 Sir Hughes Minet bought some 118 acres of land from Sir Edward Knatchbull on the borders of Lambeth and Camberwell. Most of the area now known as Myatt’s Fields falls into the former Minet estate, which was acquired by the London Borough of Lambeth in 1970. Hughes Minet (b. 1731) was the third generation descendent of a Huguenot refugee, Isaac Minet, who escaped to England from France following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1695. The family’s connections with France are commemorated in the names of several streets and blocks of housing in the area.
During the nineteenth century the Myatt’s Fields area was transformed from a collection of fields and market gardens into a populated neighbourhood. The building began at the edges of the estate. Two years after the opening of Vauxhall Bridge in 1816, ‘Cut-throat Lane’ became Camberwell New Road and became a reliable thoroughfare between Kennington and Camberwell Green. Soon, good quality villas lined the road, their gardens on the south side reaching into Myatt’s Fields. In the 1860s, after James Lewis Minet sold several acres on the south east of the estate to the London, Chatham and Dover Railway Company and Camberwell New Road Station opened, demand for smaller houses increased and the remaining land was laid out for residential use. Builders applied for plots which were granted on long leases. The houses were then sold by the builder and a direct lease granted to the tenant by the freeholder, James Minet, and after 1885, by his son William Minet. However, although the press was drawing attention to overcrowding and the need for a park in the area in 1874, the Minet estate was not fully built up until after 1900. According to the geographer H. J. Dyos, while some building had begun by 1871, ‘not more than half’ the building plots had been taken by 1890, the year after Myatt’s Fields Park was opened to the public. It seems likely that the park, bestowed primarily because of a lack of open space for local people, helped to attract further building and residents to the area. The Estate maintained strict control of building in the area, however. In addition to those houses built mainly for owner occupation, the Minet family also planned and built four blocks of flats shortly after the Park had opened. These were Burton House (1892), Calais Gate (c. 1895), Orchard House (1897), Dover House (1899) and Hayes Court (1900). In the twentieth century the estate also built Coligny Court (1964) and Hughes House (1962).
The Park was one of several amenities provided for the area by the Minet family. The first major philanthropic venture on the estate was James Minet’s gift of the Church of St. James’s, Camberwell (now Black Roof House), opened during 1870. The Church was impressive: it had capacity for 800 people and a 145 foot spire. Before residential building began in earnest between 1870 and the turn of the century, St. James’s stood alone, rising above the market gardens on the south side of Brunswick (later Knatchbull) Road, overlooking the site of the future park. We know from his diaries that James Minet took a close interest in the progress of what he called ‘my church’, and worried over ‘whether to take it in hand myself or leave it to others to erect’. William Minet was closely involved with his own philanthropic ventures on the estate. The Minet Free Library and a parochial hall opposite St. James’ were his bequests to the neighbourhood. William Minet was interested in the Co-operative Movement and the library was built by a company which he formed on co-operative lines.Myatt’s Fields Park was an integral part of the philanthropic projects undertaken by the Minet family for the estate. As Sir John Betjeman, who found the area ‘a strangely beautiful place’, put it in 1978, ‘Thank God for the Minet family’.
The Metropolitan Public Gardens Association The Metropolitan Public Garden, Boulevard and Playground Association was set up in 1882 by Lord Reginald Brabazon (1841-1929), later the 12th Earl of Meath, in order to preserve open space in the capital for the benefit of the urban population. Reginald Brabazon, a diplomat, philanthropist and later senator of the Irish Free State, was particularly concerned about the physical condition of the urban poor and the role which parks and playgrounds could play in improving it. The Minutes of the first meeting record the Association’s primary object as ‘giving to the people gardens, and to the children playgrounds’.Brabazon believed that there was plenty of land which might be gratuitously acquired and laid out as gardens and playgrounds, particularly disused burial grounds and closed churchyards, which on completion could be handed over to the public body for maintenance. The Association (which abbreviated its title in 1885 to the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association but which was often referred to simply as Meath’s Association) was one of a several organisations campaigning for the protection of open space of all sorts for the physical, moral and spiritual edification of the populace. These included, most notably, the National Trust, founded in 1895 by the Octavia Hill, Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley. The MPGA also shared similar objectives with two other predecessors, the Commons Preservation Society (founded 1865 by George J. Shaw-Lefevre with prominent members also including Henry Fawcett and Octavia Hill) and the Kyrle Society (founded 1877 by Octavia and Miranda Hill). The Kyrle Society was founded with the purpose of giving ‘pleasure to the poor’. Its means of attaining this end were threefold: through the distribution of cut flowers and plants; providing playgrounds and gymnasia; and giving over burial grounds and other waste spaces for use as public gardens. Brabazon was a member of the Kyrle Society but felt increasingly that more attention should be paid to the two latter objectives in order to capitalise on the 1881 Metropolitan Open Spaces Act, itself the result of Octavia Hill’s lobbying, in which local authorities were able to retain and maintain grounds left by trustees. Soon, the National Health Authority handed over its interest in open spaces to Brabazon’s MPGA, but Hill held firm and resisted a merger. Between them, these societies and the parks and gardens they created were instrumental in defending open space against the more powerful investment of urban development in bricks and mortar; their principles were later enshrined in the 1909 Town Planning Act. Like the Commons Preservation Society (now the Open Spaces Society) the MPGA continues today, making grants towards the preservation and upkeep of open spaces and helping to provide seats and trees for deserving areas.
The MPGA focussed its attention upon relatively small areas of wasteland in the poorest, most densely populated districts of the capital – many of its projects were disused burial grounds - and laid them out as parks and playgrounds for the local population. The MPGA made a significant contribution to the passing of The Metropolitan Open Spaces Act of 1881 and The Disused Burial Grounds Act of 1884; together these two acts led to the conversion of many burial grounds to gardens and prevented the erection of buildings on disused burial sites. When these gardens were established and had been maintained for a short while by the Association, they were handed over to amenable local authorities to manage. Where local rates could not support such a venture, as in the case of Myatt’s Fields Park, assistance was often requested of the London County Council. The MPGA’s tenth annual report gives an idea of the remarkable number of projects it had undertaken by 1893, including ‘82 grounds opened under the Society’s auspices, 116 playgrounds for children thrown open, 2,400 trees planted in 51 different metropolitan districts, 1,000 seats supplied, [and] 18 fountains erected.’ Although the securing of public open spaces by the MPGA followed no set pattern, it is fair to say that Myatt’s Fields Park was significant among the Association’s projects in that it was one of the few ornamental parks with integral sports and recreation facilities created from scratch.
The MPGA would increasingly focus its attention on the recreational aspects of open space and by 1910 was insisting that the public use of open space should not be dominated by aesthetic considerations and that playing fields for organised games should take precedence over horticultural displays. Ten years earlier, Myatt’s Fields was already showing signs of adopting this policy, when the LCC Parks and Open Spaces Committee recommended that alterations should be made to the grass areas around the bandstand ‘with a view to moving the tennis courts and providing additional playgrounds for children.’ However, this and other changes in the Park, such as when, in 1900, the Committee approved a proposal for removing two shrubberies on the understanding that the land recovered would be added to the playing ground, were informed as much from local pressure as top-down directives from the Council, and this is true of the way the Park has evolved up to the present day. FannyRolloWilkinson (1855-1951),landscape gardener. Fanny Wilkinson was born in Manchester, the daughter of theprominent local doctor and landowner, and one time President of the British Medical Association, Matthew Eason Wilkinson. Fanny Wilkinson was educated ‘privately and abroad’ before completing the renowned 18-month course in landscape architecture under Edward Milner at the Crystal Palace School of Gardening and Practical Horticulture. Her entry into this formerly men-only school was, according to the author Elizabeth Crawford, ‘fraught with difficulty’. She persisted and, aided by her close association with members of the reforming Garrett family (particularly Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Agnes Garrett) and their circle, quickly earned a long succession of landscape design commissions, eventually founding the Women’s Agricultural International Union (1899) and becoming Principal of Swanley Horticultural College (1902-1916 and 1921-22). Through her association with these organisations, and in her role as a professional landscape gardener, Fanny Wilkinson campaigned for the right of women to enter the professions and earn equal respect and pay. She was also actively involved with other aspects of feminist politics. During the laying-out of Myatt’s Fields, in December 1888, for example, Fanny Wilkinson also sat on the executive committee of the Central Committee of Women’s Suffrage, led by her friend, colleague and later family member, Millicent Fawcett.
Nothing is known of Fanny Wilkinson’s private garden and landscape design commissions, although it seems likely that she would have been contracted to work for prominent leaders of the suffrage movement and those involved with her other areas of work, if not more widely. Apart from her work designing and laying out scores of grounds for the MPGA, Wilkinson was also responsible for the landscaping of the London School of Medicine for Women and we may assume that she was also asked to design gardens for other of the new women’s institutions. Although the MPGA left comprehensive records of all its business, the imprint which Fanny Wilkinson left upon its many parks and gardens is mostly restricted to a general outline of the spaces she designed. When interviewed by the Women’s Penny Paper in 1890, Wilkinson related that her training under Edward Milner had encompassed ‘taking surveys, levelling, and staking out the ground, drawing plans to scale, and making estimates’, and these tasks were presumably part of the process of laying out Myatt’s Fields. Details relating to planting are scant and, even though the LCC kept equally comprehensive records of the development of its parks once they had been handed over by the MPGA, the appearance of a park when first opened and in its development remain hazy. The planting plan given below, for example, was made after the MPGA had handed over control of the Park to the LCC and when, apparently, very little had been done to the Park beyond laying out its basic structure -its perimeter wall, railings and gates and its internal paths and turved areas. Revealing the particular design and layout of Myatt’s Fields is made doubly difficult on account of the land donor’s desire for anonymity. However, the MPGA has left us an outline record of her career, including her involvement with Myatt’s Fields.
In February 1884, Fanny Wilkinson became a member of and ‘honorary landscape gardener’ to the MPGA. By 1886 she had persuaded Lord Brabazon to drop the ‘honorary’ title and to make a charge which would fully cover all expenses. As Crawford notes, ‘barely two years after obtaining her professional qualification, Fanny Wilkinson was able to step from behind the shield of an “honorary” title, doubtless a factor of her class as much as her gender, and reveal herself a practical professional woman’. By 1887, Wilkinson was also employed as landscape gardener to the Kyrle Society. Despite the overlap in interests between the two groups, it seems Octavia Hill resisted the merger for which Brabazon was pressing and tensions developed. Nevertheless, Wilkinson continued to work for both organisations, designing Vauxhall Park (on land belonging to Henry and Millicent Fawcett) for the Kyrle Society, which was opened in July 1890 by the Prince of Wales,while the MPGA agreed to provide the benches in Vauxhall Park - twelve initially and another twelve ‘to follow as soon as it was seen how the first were appreciated’.
In a letter to the Acting Clerk of the LCC presented at the Parks Committee on 4th April 1889, the MPGA described Miss F. R. Wilkinson (she is usually recorded as Miss Wilkinson in official memoranda) as ‘our landscape architect’, and as being ‘in charge of the ground’ at Myatt’s Fields Park. Wilkinson’s address at this time was 15 Bloomsbury Street (later re-addressed as 241 Shaftesbury Avenue), which Elizabeth Crawford tells us was a flat above a leather-dressers shop owned by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, and probably acquired through her work. She lived here with her sister, the bookbinder Louisa Wilkinson, until around 1896 when they are recorded as living nearby at 6 Gower Street. Wilkinson employed female assistants on her MPGA work who were probably serving apprenticeships in her office. Her assistant on Myatt’s Fields was Emmeline Sieveking, one of the three daughters of Sir Edward Sieveking, physician-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria, who would later marry Fanny’s brother, Matthew Eason Wilkinson. Later assistants included Evelyn Alkey and Madeline Agar. Agar eventually succeeded Wilkinson on her resignation from the MPGA in 1905.
The Park Due to open on April 13 1889, Myatt’s Fields Park opened after a short delay on 28 May 1889. The landscaping was undertaken by the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association at a cost of some £10,000 with the help of a grant from the Lord Mayor of London’s Fund for the Unemployed which stipulated that jobless local men be engaged to labour on the project during the winter of 1887-88. Myatt’s Fields Park was designed by Fanny Wilkinson, the MPGA’s landscape designer, who, with her female assistant Emmeline Sieveking, directed 220 men from the Lord Mayor’s Fund in the laying out of the Park. The first payments to Miss Wilkinson and the ‘wages of the unemployed’ were made in January 1888 and we may assume that this is when work began. The Park was acquired by the London County Council, (successor to the Metropolitan Board of Works after 1888) in the same year that it was opened to the public, in 1889. From its inception in 1889, the County Council maintained a special Parks and Open Spaces Committee, whose first chairman was Lord Brabazon.
London County Council Minutes state that the name Myatt’s Fields commemorated Joseph Myatt, a former tenant famed for his rhubarb and strawberries and after whom “Myatt’s Offenham compacta” cabbage was named. Myatt was a tenant of the land known as Myatt’s Fields between 1818 and 1869. As the author of Lambeth’s Open Spaces suggests, the Park might better have been named after the Minet family. William Minet was insistent that the name of the donor should remain anonymous, however, and MPGA Minutes of 10 April 1889 record that ‘in deference to the wishes of the donor’ (who is not mentioned by name in the minutes), the Park be named ‘Myatt’s Fields’. Until this time the MPGA and the LCC referred to it simply as ‘Camberwell Park’, when a letter from the MPGA to the LCC urged the Council to ‘please call it Myatt’s Fields and not Camberwell Park’. Lord Brabazon was also forced to abandon his plans for the local police band to play at the park’s opening on account of the fact that Minet had made it clear at the start of the Park’s development that ‘he wished the work proceeded with as quietly as possible, and that he desired no opening ceremony at its completion’. His desire for secrecy surrounding the gift of the land did not mean he wished to remain uninvolved with its development, however. Surviving correspondence between Minet, the LCC and the MPGA’s solicitors indicate that he followed closely both the planning of the park and the legal ramifications of transferring its ownership to the Metropolitan Board of Works, the latter being the subject of an interview he had with the Superintending Architect of the Board. Minet communicated the results of his preliminary research into the legality of conveying the land to the Board ‘for the use of recreation and to maintain the same’ to the MPGA’s solicitors, Horne & Birkett. He also appears to have overridden the solicitors’ recommendation made on a rough draft of the Conveyance that ‘it will be better to take this conveyance under the Open Spaces Acts rather than the Recreation Grounds Act 1859’as the final agreement stated that as soon as the park was finished it be conveyed pursuant to the latter Act. The draft, titled Open Space for South London, stated simply that ‘a piece of land containing 14a 2r 0p in the parishes of Lambeth and Camberwell known as “Myatt’s Fields”, which has recently been tastefully laid out as a garden or open space was today conveyed by the owner to the LCC as a free gift to the public’; ‘the owner’ replaces ‘the munificent gift of the owner’ which has been crossed through.
The correspondence also shows that Minet was communicating directly with the Park’s landscape architect, Miss Wilkinson, and that shortly before May 1 1888 he requested to see the final plan before making his agreement to the project final. MPGA Minutes dated May 1 1888 tell us that a plan of the Park had been seen and signed by this date. It is likely that this is the plan attached to the Agreement made between William Minet of 47 Albion Street, Hyde Park and two members of the MPGA on 16 May 1888.
The plan, in ink and wash on linen, was drawn on and crossed through in pencil at a later date, possibly by Wilkinson in response to Minet’s suggested alterations. The boundary and main internal paths seem uncontested, the perimeter has been confirmed in pencil as ‘wall and iron railings’ but some of the preliminary flower bed designs have been crossed through. (At this date Wilkinson was pressing repeatedly for the railings and walls to be erected before any more internal work was carried out by workmen). A fountain was originally proposed where the present summer house stands, and the summer house (shown with a square plan), which first appears south of the path leading to the fountain, has also been crossed through. The position of the fountain is not resolved on this plan. This fountain is presumably the ornamental drinking fountain finally installed in 1894. This plan of Myatt’s Fields Park, held at the Guildhall, appears to be the surviving copy. The Metropolitan Archives holds plans of other MPGA parks, but these are final maps intended for public presentation rather than preliminary planning. No such final map appears to have survived for Myatt’s Fields. However, when agreed, this early working plan formed the basis of the new Camberwell Park (and work had begun on the Park at least four months before the final agreement was made), while it would seem that its internal components were added later, even though the Agreement had stipulated that the land would be conveyed once it had been ‘laid out and enclosed and planted’. We have some other information about the state of the Park one month after it opened from Parks Committee Proceedings. Responding to a request from the Architect’s Department, each Park Superintendent recorded basic information about his park. Myatt’s Fields had in attendance at his time two park keepers, one leading labourer, one carpenter and fifteen general garden work labourers (one of whom, a Mr. H. Dockey, acted as a ‘constable’ during the summer months). In October of the same year additions were made to the initial audit which recorded that the Park also maintained ‘1 donkey’ (for pulling the Ransomes lawnmower - the donkey lasted until 1903 when it was recommended he be ‘slaughtered and replaced with a pony’) but contained ‘no birds’. The lodge is listed as being occupied by the superintendent at this date and there is also a ‘brick shelter’ which was presumably that mentioned as required for the keepers in the children’s playground. The two gymnasia, one each for boys and girls, were already in place, measuring 270 x 210 feet and 180 x 155 feet, respectively. There was also a stable for the donkey, a potting shed, a tool shed, one house (conservatory) for the raising of bedding plants measuring 50 feet by 12 feet and ‘about ten acres of gardens’.
It is not known whether William Minet continued to be involved with the Park’s design or whether Miss Wilkinson, other members of the MPGA and the availability of funds dictated the layout of the remainder. It may be that the LCC was responsible for a large part of the Park’s planting and ongoing layout, with or without consultation with the MPGA. A letter of 1889 to the Parks Committee suggest that this was the case for planting, with the LCC Superintending Architect’s Department (until 1892 this department was in charge of parks and open spaces) rather than the park keeper requesting purchase of ‘bedding plants’, ‘£5 worth of flower seeds’ and ‘170 dozen herbaceous plants to fill the beds in the flower garden’, at an average of 3s per dozen for Myatt’s Fields. A Minute on the LCC Parks and Open Spaces Committee Agenda for June 23 1893, however, does note that Minet was kept up to date with ‘procedures’, even if Wilkinson had by then moved on to other projects.
A late change to the opening date of the Park (poor weather held up the laying of a second coat of gravel) and William Minet’s desire for anonymity means that there is little record in the press of Myatt’s Fields appearance at the time of its opening. There was a brief announcement in the Gardeners’ Chronicle of January 28 1888 on the ‘various important works […] under consideration by the earl of Meath’s Association’ which noted that
The laying out of a park at Camberwell is one of the chief works [of the MPGA]. Land to the extent of 14 acres has been presented by a gentleman who owns a large property at Camberwell, and his offer has been accepted by the Association. The donor desires to be anonymous. It is estimated that the cost of laying out this park will amount to nearly £8000, and it is hoped that a portion of the Gardens and Pleasure Ground (Mansion House) Fund for giving work to the unemployed will be available for the work. This new park will be near the Camberwell New Road railway station, in a populous district where there are no other public parks excepting the small Kennington Park, which has always been much too limited in area for the neighbourhood.
It is possible that the information given in this notice was issued by the MPGA as a press release, as it seems that Meath was still hoping for some kind of event to mark the opening of the Park in late April 1889 (it was already established that the donor wished the Park to open ‘without any formal ceremony’), but he was forced to abandon plans for the Camberwell Police band to play at the proposed opening.
While the Chronicle and the other major horticultural magazines continued to report positively during the last decade of the century on parks opened under the auspices of the MPGA and, later, the new London County Council’s Garden Department, as well as those donated by other philanthropists like Sidney Waterlow’s ‘new park for London’ in Highgate, none mentions the opening of Camberwell or Myatt’s Fields Park in subsequent years. Meath must have found Minet’s reticence trying, as the Association needed the good publicity which the horticultural press cultivated. Instead, publications like The Garden, Gardening Illustrated, Gardening World, and the Journal of Horticulture
focussed their reports in the period upon the MPGA’s other early flagship park, the smaller and now much less spectacular Meath Gardens, a former cemetery in Bethnal Green which was also designed and laid out by Fanny Wilkinson.
In later years Minet seems to have had a change of heart, however, and nearly ten years after work on Myatt’s Fields began, a book by the Superintendent of the LCC’s Park’s Department publicly acknowledged him as donor. Lieut.-Col. J. J. Sexby’s The Municipal Parks, Gardens and Open Spaces of London of 1898 thanked him ‘for the particulars of the history of that place’ in the acknowledgements (though notes in the text suggest Minet simply sent him a copy of his Huguenot Family of Minet), gave a lengthy history of the family and Minet estate (from which the bulk of the 1951 Survey of London entry seems to have been gleaned), and reviewed the Park itself, well but only briefly. Even so, Sexby’s observations seem reliable (he was himself responsible for the design of Brockwell, Dulwich and Southwark Parks) and his descriptions give a good overview of how Myatt’s Fields was composed at the end of the nineteenth century. Sexby noted how:
The park lies a little below the level of Knatchbull Road, from which it is separated by an open wrought-iron railing, with massive and artistic gates, which are a decided ornament to the park. The principal entrance is through a porch attached to the superintendent’s lodge, something after the style of a country lych-gate. The park is tastefully laid out with gravel walks, flower-beds, and grass enclosures, which are large enough to provide room for several tennis-courts. A portion of the ground is used as a gymnasium for boys and girls, the remainder of the buildings comprising a large circular shelter, a bandstand, and the necessary green-houses for the raising of the flowers for decoration.
Nearly ten years later, garden historian Alicia Amherst (the Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Cecil) published London Parks and Gardens. She, too, named the donor, repeated the brief family history of the estate, the handing over of the Park to the LCC, and described how ‘Myatt’s Fields or Camberwell Park is but a short distance to the south-west of Kennington. This Park of 14 ½ acres was one of those princely gifts which have been showered on the inhabitants of London.’ Amherst thought Myatt’s Fields ‘one of the most tasteful of the new parks’ and was particularly impressed with the lime avenue which she expected would ‘some day be one of the great beauties of the neighbourhood, and which is in the meantime a pleasant shady walk’. She continued:
The small Park in Camberwell has a little avenue of limes running straight across, with a centre where seats can be put and paths diverge at right angles. It is quite small, and yet the Park would be exactly like every other piece of ground, with no particular design, without this. It gives a point and centre to the meandering paths, and comes as a distinct relief.
Described as ‘the largest area [...] we have hitherto dealt with’ by the MPGA in 1889, Myatt’s Fields Park remains an exceptional park for a number of reasons. Historically, the park is interesting in being one of the first municipal parks designed by a female professional landscape architect who was also active in the campaign for full suffrage. It retains many of its original features, such as its layout, some of its built structures, planting and play areas, and as such is an unusual example of a surviving smaller-scale Victorian urban park. But its true significance was enshrined in the original agreement between William Minet and the MPGA which stipulated that the land be ‘dedicated for the purposes of a Public Park and Recreation Ground for ever thereafter’. These qualities - the combination of attractive landscape design with local amenity in a highly populated area in which green space of any kind is in short supply - are as important today as the day that the Park was opened on Tuesday May 28 1889, when it ‘was daily thronged with visitors’.
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The First World War Early in the war, the Park was requisitioned for use as an annexe to the first London General Hospital, Camberwell, the military extension of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, and closed to the public until 1921. The nucleus of the Camberwell Hospital, also commandeered for military use, was St. Gabriel’s College on Cormont Road, normally a Church of England training college for women teachers, opened in 1900. Neighbouring elementary schools also became wings of the hospital. Vera Brittain was a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse (VAD) at the hospital and described in Testament of Youth working on the ‘wards’ in Myatt’s Fields Park. Her first ward ‘was a long Tommies’ hut in the open park, containing sixty beds of acute surgical cases’. Most of the patients at Camberwell were privates and NCOs, although there was also a small officers’ section. Brittain’s duties in the long hut ‘consisted chiefly in preparing dressing-trays and supporting limbs – a task which the orderlies seldom undertook because they were so upset by the butcher’s-shop appearance of the uncovered wounds.’ Staff on night duty also slept in the park, as ‘the VAD night quarters had recently been moved to some small individual huts just erected in the open park opposite the hospital. Unfortunately, Brittain, who did not enjoy her time in the Camberwell and Myatt’s Fields areas, does not describe the Park in any further detail. The Park re-opened in March 1921 with an approved estimate of c. £7,000 for ‘reinstatement expenditure’. In 1922 the Park’s status was raised from a ‘Fourth-class Park’ (Open Spaces Act, 1881) to ‘First Class Garden’.
In 1934, according to the Survey of London, Miss Susan Minet (1884-1976) presented a further quarter of an acre of the estate to the Park near the junction of Knatchbull Road and Calais Street. This must be the area at the eastern edge of the park where it reaches what is now the roundabout at the junction with Flodden Road. This section is marked ‘cranes’ on the 1913 Ordnance Survey map of Camberwell and Stockwell.
World War Two In the Second World War a complex system of trenches was dug in the Park for the purpose of sheltering local people during bombing. A barrage balloon, based in the Park, rose above the park during bombardments. Restoring the Park after the closure of the air raid shelters cost £1,747. 4s. 6d. In common with many parks and gardens at this time, the railings surmounting the boundary wall were removed as part of the war effort.
Information on key structures Playground
The children’s gymnasium or playground was central to the idea of Myatt’s Fields Park from its conception. It is also one of the areas which has been most subject to improvement over the years. When it was first opened, the gymnasium, in the same area as the children’s play area today, was separated from the rest of the park with a simple fence and divided into boys’ and girls’ areas. ‘Giant Strides swing frames’ were purchased for £38 5s,but other than this it is not clear what, if any, other equipment the gymnasium contained at this time. In late October 1889, the Superintending Architect reported that ‘a watch box is very necessary at this place, to be placed between the two playgrounds’. He proposed ‘to fix it in the fence with a door opening on to the boys and girls grounds respectively’, which he estimated would cost £40.The following month he reported on the cost of altering the children’s WCs ‘to secure decency’ and of erecting a brick shelter in the playground for the keepers. He submitted ‘a plan showing suggested alterations to the WCs with additional walls making each a separate closet [which] will, I think effect the desired object. The watch box is shown at the other end of the covered shelter with an approach from each side in that position it will command a view of the playgrounds. The cost including the necessary alterations to drains &c, estimated approximately at £150’. In 1899 it was agreed that the see-saws in the girls’ gymnasium should be removed and replaced with parallel bars. The wood paving would then be removed and the whole area tar paved. The following year, ‘ornamental fencing’ (which replaced earlier oak fencing) with the necessary gates would be erected around the two playgrounds. By early 1903 this ornamental fencing had become ‘boundary railings’, when it was minuted that Miss A. Spragge, of 11, Calais Street, wrote to the LCC South West District Sub-Committee of the Parks & Open Spaces Committee recommending that ‘a close pale fence’ should be erected inside or in place of the railings because of ‘the number of loafers who stand looking into the girls’ gymnasium’.Early in 1891, the MPGA engaged the services of a Mr Astor, Gymnastic Instructor. It was minuted that ‘During 4 Saturdays in February, a total of 55 girls and 187 boys had been under his instruction’ at three grounds including Myatt’s Fields.
The present toilets and park keepers’ room replaced the original lavatories in the early 1960s.
Although a Report on the supply of water to parks under control of the LCC recorded that Myatt’s Fields contained two drinking fountains in October 1891,these would seem to have been of the functional kind, especially as one of them was moved onto the playing ground during 1900. By 1893, however, the LCC Parks and Open Spaces Committee had authorised £60 for the erection of a more ornate drinking fountain for the Park.This was selected from a range of designs presented on request to the LCC Parks Committee by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association, during late 1889.
Erected in 1897, the shelter had several different titles over the years, partly as a result of a lack of clarity over precisely what its function was. Two years after it was built, the Parks Committee was debating whether it should have an additional entrance and what further use could be made of the structure. Refreshments were served from the shelter from 1899, under licence from the LCC, and hence it was often referred to as the refreshment house.
The Lodge (now Park Cottage) was in place and occupied by the LCC Park Superintendent by October 1889, but possibly as early as May when a letter from the Superintending Architect’s Department to the Parks Department noted that blinds were still needed for the windows, the bedroom walls needed papering, the scullery floor had not been cemented and the gas had not yet been laid on. From 1888 until at least 1891, the ‘Park Keeper and Foreman’ who lived at Myatt’s Fields Lodge was Mr Moorman. Sexby’s Municipal Parks, Gardens and Open Spaces of London of 1898, tells us that ‘the principle entrance at this time was through a porch attached to the superintendent’s lodge, something after the style of a country lych gate’.
The bandstand was finally erected after much discussion in 1894 and the ‘Description of Parks, Gardens and Open Spaces, By-laws, Acts of Parliament, Regulations, Instructions to Officers &c’ returned for 1 October 1894 recorded that a band played there in the season. On 31 January 1894 it was noted that £450 had been authorised for the bandstand and that the architect was to submit alternative plans and estimates not to exceed this figure.
Planting It seems that the Park was opened with little more than its outline structure in place. It is unclear whether any planting besides turf had taken place at the time of opening, although a letter of November 25 1889 from the LCC Superintending Architect to the Parks Department South West District Committee which oversaw Myatt’s Fields, indicates that the planting may not even have got to the planning stage: ‘Some planting is very much required at this place which is at present very bare and in need of embellishment. The Park Keeper has furnished me with a list of trees and shrubs which he recommends and I think it is well selected and suitable, and I beg to submit it’. He estimated that the cost of the trees and shrubs on this list would be about £35 and recommended ‘that the plants should be carefully selected before purchasing, as some of them are specimens and should be good ornamental varieties’. The Keeper’s Special Report of 14 November 1889 recommended the following trees and shrubs:
30 Large London Planes
12 Acacia Betsoniana
100 Rhododendrons 50 Aucuba 50 Roses in 10 hardy strong growing sorts on the briar 25 Euonymous radieans [?] variegata 250 Laurel Caucasia (or other hardy sort) 50 Strong Privet (ova jolium or Japonicum) 4 Weeping Green Hollies 4 Weeping Elms 3 Weeping Ash 2 Jaserdium distietum [?] (deciduous Cypress) 2 Fraseinus ornus [?] (flowering ash) 12 Arbutus Linedo [?] 12 Ivy Roe foneriana [?] x dentata ‘To the amount of £35 which if not quite exhausted in the forgoing could be made up with a specimen Holly or 2 more. It would be a good plan to select before purchasing.’
Chronology 1889: Myatt’s Fields Park formally opened
1890: Bothy (Current One O’clock Club area)
1894: Drinking Fountain installed
1894: Bandstand erected
1894: Croquet permitted on plot of land by lodge gates; 12 seats added later
1895: Swings, portable parallel bars, giant slide and girls’ swings added to the gymnasium (current children’s playground)
1897: Shelter. Refreshments served here from 1899 under LCC license
1898: Gravel paths replaced with Tarmac because of Minet’s concern about stone throwing by youths.
1899: More tennis courts added
1899: Fencing erected around ‘band promenade and refreshment house’ by Messrs. M. McVey.
1909: New ornamental fencing around bandstand erected by McVey.
1914-1921: Park closed to the public and used as annex to military hospital
1922: Status raised from ‘Fourth-class Park’ (Open Spaces Act, 1881) to ‘First Class Garden’
1934: Susan Minet presents a further quarter of an acre near junction of Knatchbull Road and Calais Street
1939-1945: Park dug with air raid shelters; railings removed for war effort
Bibliographies Primary Sources
11097 MPGA Minutes
11100 MPGA Journals
11101 MPGA Cash Books 11103 MPGA Ledgers
21670 MPGA Miscellaneous legal correspondence
London Metropolitan Archives
BOAST, Mary, The Story of Camberwell, London: London Borough of Southwark, 1979; revised 1996 edn.
CONWAY, Hazel, Public Parks, Princes Risborough, Bucks: Shire Publications, 1996.
CRAWFORD, Elizabeth, Enterprising Women, the Garretts and their circle, London: Francis Boutle Publishers, 2002.
CROWE, Andrew, The Parks and Woodlands of London, London: Fourth Estate, 1987.
DRAPER, Marie P. G., Lambeth’s Open Spaces. An historical account, London: London Borough of Lambeth, 1979.
DYOS, H. J., Victorian Suburb. A study of the growth of Camberwell, London: Leicester University Press, 1961; 1966 edn.).
GALINOU, Mireille, (ed.), London’s Pride. The glorious history of the capital’s gardens, London Anaya Publishers, Ltd., 1990.
JORDAN, Harriet, ‘Public Parks 1895-1914’, Garden History, ? 1994, (85-111).
PORTER, Roy, London, A social history, London: Hamish Hamilton 1994; Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1996.
WAINWRIGHT, Clive, ‘Municipal Parks and Gardens’, in The Garden: A celebration of one thousand years of British gardening, V&A exhibition catalogue, 1979.
WATERSON, Merlin, The National Trust. The first hundred years, London: BCA Books by arrangement with the BBC Books, 1994; 1995 edn.
WEINREB, Ben and Christopher HIBBERT, The London Encyclopaedia, London: Macmillan, 1983; 1993 edn.
© Myatt's Field Park Project