This decent sized municipal park in east London was once owned by distant Westminster Abbey, if you go back far enough.
Although gifted by King Edgar to a local nobleman, by 1086 East Ham, including the marshes of North Woolwich was known to be held by Westminster Abbey, as the abbey’s manor of ‘Hammarsh juxta Barking’.
It remained in religious ownership right up to 1840 when the railway proprietor, George Parker bought the land so he could extend railways to the ferry — and built North Woolwich railway station.
The gardens themselves were laid out as a Victorian pleasure garden by a hotel opposite the railway station, the Pavilion Hotel, in 1850, and although initially hugely successful, by the 1880s the gardens were losing money, and there were proposals for them to be converted into industrial use. Fortunately, a public appeal, led by the Duke of Westminster was able to raise the £19,000 needed to buy the land for it to be permanently laid out as a public garden and in April 1890, it was handed to the London County Council.
There is a quirk in that this patch of land north of the Thames, known as North Woolwich was, until 1965, part of Kent, not Essex. This is thought to have been a legacy of the Norman conquest when the Sheriff of Kent, Hamo Dapifer was gifted land in Essex, and he managed to somehow attach that to his estates in Kent — and tax the ferry linking the two.
However, in 1888, North Woolwich was split in half by the park itself, which became part of East Ham – leading to a peculiar peninsula of political power in this part of London. In 1965, this mess was tidied up at last, and now the entire north bank of the Thames along here is united in the Borough of Newham.
Nothing remains of the Victorian pleasure gardens, and what’s here is largely how the gardens were laid out in 1890, with a series of paths for decorative Victorian walking, and a high raised back next to the river giving a pleasant riverside walk, even if the riverside wall is a rather unpleasant concrete anti-flood necessity.
The only noticeable piece of docklands history here is a large steam hammer from a local ship repair dock. One thing which was added in later years, but is now missing is an open air swimming pool that used to sit between the bowling green and tennis courts.
One of the odder events in the park took place in July 1969, when some 500 dead birds were found in the park, thought to have died following a torrential thunderstorm the day before, although no one has ever been able to find out the actual cause.
The park has been somewhat neglected in recent years, and the local area map still shows the local railway station — North Woolwich — which closed down in 2006.