Clissold Park had been one of the great beauties of Stoke Newington for as long as anyone could remember. Nobody alive could remember before the house was built for the Hoare banking family. It had been sited to overlook a wide sweep of the New River which crossed Green Lanes, curved through the Park, ran along parallel to Stoke Newington Church Street, under Paradise Bridge (which was opposite the modern Gayton House flats) and off down the centre of Petherton Road, open to the sky all the way. The Park seemed to have been there for ever, with its trees growing more splendid year by year.
After the Hoares, the house and park had come into the hands of Mr Thomas Gudgeon, who lived there in 1804. The next occupant was Mr Crawshay, one of the Northumbrian branch of the ‘Iron Kings of Cyfarthfa’. The family owned iron mines, slate quarries and other industrial property on an immense scale and were reported to be the richest commoners in England.
Mr Crawshay obtained the perpetual lease of the property from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners at a yearly rental of ‘£109 and a fat turkey.’ No doubt that same turkey had been copied from lease to lease for hundreds of years, as the property changed hands. The lease prohibited the cutting down of trees or the granting of building leases. (These provisos were to become very important years later).
The various owners of the park had continued to landscape the property over many years. Loddiges had their famous nurseries nearby in Hackney, around Well Street. Newly discovered shrubs and trees were brought in every few months by Royal Navy ships from all over the World, so that the variety of plants available was enormous. The whole area was garden conscious. Some famous botanists lived in Stoke Newington and rare plants found here and along the river are listed in Victorian volumes. The grounds of Clissold House had been laid out as a spacious landscaped park, with long avenues of native and foreign trees. Stoke Newington gardens were full of rare specimens and this was the biggest garden of them all. Moreover, the Park was very public: not hidden away like other gardens. Anyone walking along Green Lanes or Church Street could enjoy the trees.
When The Rev. Clissold died the property reverted to the Crawshay family, and Mr George Crawshay became the owner. He kindly threw open part of the Park on certain days for the enjoyment of the general public. At the same time he pointed out that this would last only as long as he lived as he had no power to extend the right after his death. Mr Beck, a public spirited man who lived nearby in Albion Road, paid out of his own pocket to provide proper police supervision for this public use of the park, but when the Home Secretary heard about it, he ruled that the police had been employed in public service and the money was returned to Mr Beck. Four things had been established. The public had learnt to stroll in the park and value it, but had been told that this was not a legal right: Mr Beck had shown his intense interest in the park, and the government had recognised in some small way, the value of the park to the people of Stoke Newington by paying for the police.
An Alarm Call
Then came a bombshell. On 22 June 1886, Mr Beck wrote from Barton House, his home in Albion Road. His letter was a warning and an urgent call to action. Despite Mr Crawshay’s earlier statements, he had parted with all his interest in the estate. Clissold Park was to be sold, the trees felled and the land laid out as building plots.
Stoke Newington was losing its open spaces at an alarming rate. In the previous ten years, from 1776-1866, nearly a third of its 2000 acres had been built over. Mr Beck wrote:-
Crawshay had sold houses and park to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for £65,000. They planned to build on the land, but as there was by now little open space in Stoke Newington following the main population increase in the 1870's. there was a public outcry. This lovely open space was to become a maze of anonymous streets, bleak, characterless and repulsive to everyone who loved the Park. Trees which people had known all their lives would be felled. The New River, which came along Riversdale Road, under a bridge in Green Lanes, swept into the Park, up to the house which had been sited to take full advantage of the curving view, and back again along Church Street, left the Park under Paradise Bridge and down to Petherton Road, had been there from King Charles’ time. Nobody alive had known the area without the river and its rural setting. The river bank, where generations had fished and promenaded and courted, would be asphalted over. All heaven would be lost. That was the reaction of the general public, while the feelings of those who lived in the valuable Church Street houses the faced the Park, must have been apoplectic.
This stretch is called Paradise Row for good reason. They were the most desirable house in Stoke Newington and the whole of London. Their census returns reflect this. Over the years they read like a roll call of successful empire builders. The 1851 census shows the sort of people who could afford houses in such a position. It lists rich annuitants and professional people and the 1881 list was similar. The prominent people mentioned in Mr Beck’s letter, were prominent indeed: people who knew how the world wagged: who knew the right people to talk to: people you would prefer to have on your side.
THE 1851 CENSUS
Paradise Place – Heads of houses included:-
Paradise Villa: a Barrister in practice, 37;
1 Glebe Place: Retired officer East India Company, 54
2 Glebe Place: Gun manufacturer employing 150 men, 27boys,
3 Glebe Place: Fund-holder, 61,
4 Glebe Place: Widow of retired pattern designer
Glebe field:, Labourer and his wife
About 40 prominent local people like this had met in Mr Beck’s house and planned a pubic meeting at the Assembly Rooms, Defoe Road, on June 30 th, which was less than a week later. A committee was set up by Joseph Beck and John Runtz in order to try to purchase the estate and mansion for the public of Stoke Newington. Petitions would be sent to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, The Corporation of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works, signed by all the inhabitants.
There were public protest meetings in Defoe Road and at The Highbury Athenaeum. A petition signed by 12,000 people was presented to the Metropolitan Board of Works (The forerunners of the London County Council). Local Members of Parliament and the Clissold Park Preservation Society were prominent in the campaign.
The Church Commissioners had collected some vociferous opponents and it was not the first time. Highgate Wood had already raised a storm. Over the years the Church Commissioners had tried to build houses on what the public regarded as common land and had been defeated in the end. The campaign to save Clissold Park was part of a huge movement which had been gathering force since 1855 and before. People were getting used to regarding the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as bloodsuckers.
A New Lung for North London
A Plea for Clissold Park
Reported in the Pall Mall Gazette of July 23 1886
There was a ferocious campaign to save the Park, so powerful that it would probably have won anyway, as happened in other places, but one old clause finally closed the argument. This stipulated that the park had to be sold in one complete lot. It could not be sold in pieces. No builder or developer had that sort of money and therefore the Church Commissioners had no hope of finding a buyer.
Beck and Runtz continued to pressurise the authorities and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the estate was eventually acquired under the Clissold Park (Stoke Newington) Act 1887 from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners at a cost of £96,000.
Clissold Park, consisting of 54 acres, was opened on 24 July 1889 by the Earl of Roseberry, the first chairman of the London County Council, but their predcessors had done the hard work.
The Park consists of 53 acres and was opened in 1889. It was well wooded then and today it holds more than fifty varieties of trees, some of them magnificent specimens. The grounds had been laid out according to the ideas of Repton who believed in irregular paths which turned to reveal new vistas of apparently unlimited extent. Groups of trees were arranged to give surprising changes. Shrubberies like the one behind the old St Mary’s Church opened suddenly into parkland or an ordered avenue of lofty trees. Surprise and apparent space were the aims and we still experience these in Clissold Park today.
Thus, when the London County Council took over the grounds as Clissold Park, they inherited a minor Botanical Garden which had been designed as the grounds of a gentleman’s residence. The two ponds were christened Beckmere and Runtzmere and the memorial drinking fountain was erected to commemorate Beck and Runtz’s work in securing the park for the public
Clissold Park was one of the first London municipal parks in which bird and animal life was specifically provided for. An animal enclosure was established before 1900 and the introduction of deer was regarded as a ‘bold experiment due to the confined space.’ There were donkeys, a wallaby and an aviary.
Let J.J.Sexby, who wrote about Open Spaces in London, have the final word
The Open Spaces Movement
While the campaign to save Clissold Park was run by local people who cared passionately about this particular fifty acres, they could call on the skill and expertise of many people who had fought similar campaigns elsewhere over the previous thirty years. The Commons Preservation Society had fought enclosing landlords for years, ripping down their illegal fences and fighting them in the courts. Parliament Hill; Church Bottom Wood, which we now call Queen’s Wood; Highgate Woods; Crouch End Playing Fields; Hampstead Heath; Kilburn (Paddington Recreation Ground), and a dozen other places around London, had all been defended by local action and many had been saved.
Cliss pk sexby.doc Facsimile Pages of THE MUNICIPAL PARKS: Gardens and Open Spaces of London by Lieut. Col. J.J. Sexby.
OPEN SPACES MOVEMENT
SAVING OF HIGHGATE WOOD and HIGHGATE WOOD, Ibid. pp. 182-3
CHURCHYARD BOTTOM WOOD, from ‘The Growth of Muswell Hill’, by Jack Whitehead, pp. 208-219
PADDINGTON RECREATION GROUND, from ‘The Growth of St Marylebone and Paddington,’ by Jack Whitehead. pp 146-149
OPEN SPACES, Mornington Crescent 16.7.07
THESE ARE SEPARATE FILES WITH THESE NAMES
The Saving of Highgate Wood
In the 1880s the Church Commissioners planned to develop Gravel Pit Wood (now called Highgate Wood) by building rows of houses as they had done in other parts of the Borough. It was their property and they had the legal right to do so, but the public outcry was so great that the Commissioners decided instead to build a road instead through Bishop's Wood (now Bishop's Avenue) and to give Highgate Wood to the public. They asked the City of London to accept and maintain the Wood as an open space.
The 1886 Highgate and Kilburn Open Spaces Act was passed enabling the Church Commissioners to transfer some of their lands to the Corporation as permanent open spaces for the use of the public. The wording shows that, while generous, the Commissioners were not entirely altruistic in giving the land to the public. They recognised that permanent open spaces near to their own existing housing estates, or ones to be built in the future, would make the houses more attractive and more valuable. Just as Victorian builders knew that a good church near their new estate would help to sell the houses, the Church Commissioners saw that their houses would sell better if there was an open space nearby.
Shortly after this The Church Commissioners tried to develop Church Bottom Wood, which we now call Queen’s Wood and got avery dusty answer from the general public.
ADD FOOTNOTE TO MUSWELL HILL Pp 180-189
The Flora of Middlesex (1869) by Trimen and Dyer
And The Historical Flora of Middlesex (1975) by Douglas Kent, its modern equivalent, Science Museum
Barton House has now been demolished and the Barton House Health Centre built on the site.
And The Historical Flora of Middlesex (1975) by Douglas Kent, its modern equivalent, Science Museum
Back to The Story of Newington Hall
Revised: April 14, 2021 3:42 PM