This pocket park in Lambeth is a former gravyeard that closed to the dead 170 years ago, and opened to the living 40 years later.
Although created as a graveyard in 1703 there isn’t a church here, as the graveyard was an overflow site for the nearby St Mary’s church which sits next to the Thames and Lambeth Palace. The church is now the Garden Museum., and you can climb up the old church tower to get some pretty good views across central London.
But back in the 18th century, the church was busy, and its parishioners had a habit of dying, so they needed more space to bury them and in 1703 Archbishop Tenison bought a plot of land that was being used as a market garden. It was consecrated in 1705 for burials, and as the living kept on dying, was expanded in 1814. Eventually, they ran out of space and the graveyard closed in 1853.
It was left untended, and in 1880, the local vestry decided to clear the site of the graves and open it as a public park, which took place in 1884. At the time it was called the Lambeth High Street Recreation Ground, but the opening day was marred by a heavy thunderstorm that fell just after the rector handed over the keys to the gates. God was not pleased.
And it’s been open ever since. Notable changes were an expansion in 1929, but at some point, the main lawns were paved over, so in the 1970s it was fully restored.
The park was renamed Old Paradise Gardens in 2013 after the neighbouring street, when it was given another refurbishment, and new gates added on the northern corner. Old Paradise Street was originally called Paradise Row, renamed Paradise Street in the 1800-1830s, and had gained the Old by the 1890s.
The name likely comes from the walled garden that was built here to serve nearby Norfolk House, a grand manor house owned by the Duke of Norfolk, and where King Henry VIII’s future wife, Catherine Howard lived in her childhood. The family later sold the estate, and it eventually chopped up and sold off piecemeal.
So while the road was named after a garden, as it’s been adopted by the former graveyard as the name for the park, it’s accidentally quite appropriate.
Looking around, you can see the gravestones now piled up against the walls underneath the trees and bushes planted around them.
The centre of the park is filled with a number of low-rise mounds which give the lawns a bit more character. A part of the park that may be said to be too characterful is the derelict water feature, which looks pretty shabby these days.
The main attraction seems to be the pigeons, who were being fed by a dog walker at the time I visited.
If you look in the western corner you can see a small stone plaque marking the site of an old watchtower, which was built to keep an eye on the graves at a time when bodysnatchers were active.
As a pocket park, it’s a pleasingly mixed layout, from the small playground, a walled-off allotment area and the low rolling hills surrounded by trees to provide shade if summer ever arrives.