This is a large public park close to Tower Bridge that is unsurprisingly, the former graveyard for a church, but also a much more important space than that.

Long before there was a church here though, and the area was still largely fields, the land around here was known as Horseleydown. The name is thanks to the low-lying and often waterlogged fields being used as a pasture for horses that were used for moving cloth from the nearby tenter grounds.

By the 16th century, the area was starting to be developed, with new housing appearing along the roads, and by the end of the century, the land was also being used for an annual May Fair.

Some of the land was enclosed in the early 17th century for use by the local militia for training.

It was however in the 1720s that plans were drawn up for a church on the site designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and John James. It opened as St John’s Horseleydown in 1733. The most distinctive feature of the church was its unusual spire, in the form of a tapering column, and was topped by a weather vane depicting a comet. The “silly but lovable spire” was considered a landmark of south London by Nikolaus Pevsner.

The church spent the next couple of centuries rather uneventfully, until 20th September 1940, when it was badly damaged during WWII. Although attempts were made to rebuild it, nothing much happened and it was formally closed in 1968 and sold for £37,811 to the London City Mission in 1974. They then built the current very modern building on top of the older Hawksmoor base – giving it the curious appearance it has today.

This was also when the graveyard was relandscaped back into a public park, much as it had been in the 16th century, albeit without the horses. The park was landscaped again in 2012 to its current layout.

It’s now mostly large open lawns for people to relax on with patches of planting and plenty of old trees for shade. A newish children’s play area is in one corner, and there’s a mix of old and new benches dotted around the new paths that were laid out in 2012.

Off to one side of the old church is a WWI war memorial, and opposite is a paved area for table tennis games.

You can see the still derelict church in the music video by Manfred Mann for Ragamuffin Man.

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One comment
  1. Duncan says:

    You forgot to mention the P├ętanque court in SW corner. The park gets packed when the fire alarm goes off at Southwark Council HQ, 160 Tooley Street and it’s used as the Rendezvous point (RVP) for staff

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