This pocket park near Stratford town centre can, sort of, be considered to be part of West Ham football club’s origin story.

The area was still a mix of fields being slowly surrounded by expanding housing and industrial estates when some of the land was leased to Scottish shipowner Donald Currie in September 1892. He used the land to set up a company football club for his employees working in the docks.

Called the Castle Swifts, the football team only used the site for a year, as there was a dispute with the landlord and in October 1892, they moved to Temple Meadows near East Ham station. At the end of March 1895, the club closed, but many of the players joined the newly formed Thames Ironworks football club — which is better known today as West Ham.

So, this pocket park can be considered one of the birthplaces of West Ham FC.

Even before the footballers had moved out, the County Borough of West Ham bought up some of the land for use as a public park as part of the borough’s policy of providing green spaces for locals to enjoy. There’s a record of a contract being awarded in September of that year for timbers to enclose the land.

The park has expanded a few times.

OS Map 1863 with Stratford Park outlined in red

In 1903, the large Abbey Mills Distillery next to West Ham Lane was demolished, and the land incorporated into the park, it’s now the tennis courts. There was also a small block of houses right where the fountain is today, although I’ve not been able to find out when that was cleared for the park.

Most recently, the southeastern corner was added when housing was redeveloped to replace old houses.

The park was originally called West Ham Lane Recreation Ground, usually abreviated to West Ham Rec, then sometime in the 1990s, it changed its name to Stratford Park. This was apparently to avoid confusion with the nearby West Ham Park, but again, it has been remarkably difficult to nail down exactly when that happened – some say mid-1990s, others are sure it was 1999 but don’t cite sources. And I can’t find a definitive source either.

It’s as if the name change snuck out overnight when no one was looking.

Apart from recreation, the grounds were also regularly used in the early 1900s as a meeting place for protests—often by railwaymen protesting about pay or by local groups campaigning for civil rights. There used to be a bandstand in the centre of the park, which was used for speakers to address the crowds.

The bandstand has gone, but a sort of open-air platform with a tiled wall replaced it—a miniature outdoor stage.

Most of the park is laid out as a classic Victorian park would have been, with long winding paths leading to the central bandstand area. These days, it’s very different from what its founders would have known, thanks to a century or more of growth, so there are now huge trees dominating the space and casting welcome shade on hot days.

A nice touch is that the grass areas are often left much thicker than usual, creating a sensible balance between being lawn-like and wildlife-friendly. The newer areas are easier to see, as there are fewer old trees and the old bowling ground clubhouse is now used by a local poetry society.

On my visit, the fountain was a sea of green and grey—the water was covered in weeds, and pigeons dominated the rest.

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