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Central Park

An education pack was produced as part of this project, also presented as a multimedia project here

History of Central Park

Industrialisation

From 1851 to 1911 the population of East Ham grew from 1,737 to 133,487 and the area transformed from a rural to urban district.

During industrialisation many people started to move to East Ham where work could be found at Beckton Gas works Gas Light and Coke company (est. 1870) at the Victoria Docks (est. 1855) and the Royal Albert Docks (est. 1880).

The railways also changed transport for large numbers of people and goods. The Romford to London Railway (est. 1839), the East Ham railway station (est. 1858), connecting the Tottenham and Forest gate railways and later connected to the District Line in 1902 were all important features of industry and urbanisation.

Resistance to industrialisation:

Some people were against the expansion of London into the countryside:
This is a quote from George Gissing in his novel ‘In the Year of the Jubilee’. (1893)

“London, devourer of rural limits, of a sudden, made hideous encroachments upon the old estate…Great Elms, the pride of generations passed away, fell before the speculative axe…The very earth had lost its wholesome odour; trampled into mire, fouled with builders’ refuse and the noisome drift from adjacent streets, it sent forth upon the sooty rain, a smell of corruption, of all the town’s uncleanliness. On this rising locality had been bestowed the title of ‘park’.”
- (Victorian Cities p363).

The Urban District Council (U.D.C)

To organise this shift from rural to urban district, the Urban District Council was set up, with councillors, town planners and district surveyors, to supervise the big scale development and construction needed to accommodate the large numbers of newcomers. Housing, shops, railways, trams, roads, schools, hospitals and parks all needed to built.

The three men who helped build Central Park

Many people helped in this development, but three were very important:

1. Col Ynyr Henry Burges, who was a rich landowner and known as Lord of the Manor in East Ham.

2. John Harvey Bethell, who was the first Mayor of East Ham Borough which was formed in 1904.

3. William H Savage, the district surveyor for East Ham.

These three men were to play an important role in the development of large parts of East Ham from 1890-1905 and were involved in the development of Central Park.

1. Colonel Burges: The Landowner

Col Burges owned much of the land surrounding Central Park as it was handed down to him from his Uncle Ynyr Burges paymaster of the East India Company from 1723, the biggest international company in the world and a major player in Britain’s empire. Much of the goods transported from all over the world came through this company and men like the Burges family benefited from it. However the Victoria and Royal Albert Docks were owned by the St. Katherine and London Docks company and the East and west India company built rival Docks in Tilbury. Colonel Burges belonged to the upper-classes or the Landed Gentry these people had a huge say in the development of Britain. They also made much of their money as landowners, selling and renting land to farmers, as East ham developed into an urban area farming declined and the land was used to build houses, schools, railways, shops and parks.

2. W H Savage: The District Surveyor:

The homes surrounding Central Park were built from 1890 to 1910. They were built for clerks (people who worked in offices) and skilled workers (people who were trained in labouring, on the docks or in building trade). To oversee this huge development of East ham the district surveyor was employed by the Urban District Council. His name was WH Savage. He had to make sure all the buildings in the area were built safely and well so they would last. He also designed and planned Central Park for development. WH Savage designed the park so that it was similar to Plashet which he designed a few years earlier and proved a success. He worked for East Ham from 1879-1899. He resigned due to the strain of increased work load as building in East Ham hit a peak in the late 1890’s and he felt he was not paid enough. In 1890 the surveyor was dealing with under 40 housing plans a month. In 1898, when most of the major developments in the east of Little Ilford were approved by the U.D.C., the average was 188 plans a month, and from April to July of that year it was 302.

This is an example of how much development was taking place in East Ham at this time. Indeed During the 1890s East Ham was growing faster than any other town of its size in England and this growth hit it’s peak from 1896-99.

3. John Harvey Bethell: The Politician

Bethall was also a surveyor and a director of large companies like Barclays Bank, he became a politician and was elected to the council in 1888. He became the first Mayor of East Ham when it was officially made a borough in 1903-1904. (Before this he was mayor of West Ham, not sure this is true) He was concerned with the need to have services for the growing population in East ham such as Hospitals, Trams and Parks. Bethell put pressure on other members of the council to buy land from Colonel Burges to build East Ham central park. By 1896 Col Burges was selling much of the land in East Ham for development of housing. Bethell and the council then bought 17 acres for the central park around Rancliffe House for 8,500 pounds and then another 8 acres for £4,000. Bethell became UDC chairman in 1897. In 1898 park opened, WH Savage draws up plans for the park.

Bethell was what is called a philanthropist. During this time there was not a welfare state to take care of the least well off people, when they were sick or unable to find work, there were many social problems due to increased numbers in East Ham due to poor sanitation. Which caused illheath and spread discease. He was aware of the need for an area’s development to reflect the needs of a growing population and worked dilengently to provide hospitals, good sanitation, transport and recreation to this end. Bethell had experience with developing urbanised areas at this time due to his work in West Ham and he understood the need for open spaces, he was instrumental in opening many parks in East Ham and West Ham including Plashet Park, Barking Road Recreation Ground 1908 and Hermit Road recreation ground. John Harvey Bethell was also responsible for both Balaam Street Park, later renamed Plaistow Park, and Canning Town Recreation Ground. Bethell Road nearby recalls him.

Central Park: World War One

In Central Park there is a war memorial for the 32nd Infantry Battalion (East Ham) Royal Fusiliers. This is a short history of their actions during World War 1, in which they fought in Belgium, France and Italy.

September 1915: The mayor of East Ham asks for permission to form an East Ham infantry battalion.

November 1915: By the end of the month 500 men join from East Ham, many others would have already joined other Battalions earlier in the war.

December 1915: Battalion sent to Aldershot training camp for combat training.

Named 32nd East Ham Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.

Train with the 26th Bankers Battalion. This is a larger battalion formed earlier in 1915 and made up with bank clerks and accountants from all over the country. Some may have come from the area surrounding central park as the houses there were built for clerks.

Battalions, Brigades and Divisions.

East Ham Infantry 32nd Battalion was a battalion of men and was part of a larger Brigade (124th) which was part of a larger Division (41st), which was part of the British Army. The two battalions (East Ham and Bankers) became part of the 124th Brigade, which was part of the 41st Division of the Royal fusiliers. May 5th 1916: East Ham Battalion sails to France for battle against Germans under command of Major-General Sir Stanley Lawford.

May-August 1916: The whole 41st Division including East Ham Battalion concentrated near Steenwerck, and the Division began familiarisation with trench warfare in the areas of Ploegsteert and the Douve valley, south of Ypres, where it remained until August 1916.

15th September 1916: Battle of Flers-Courcelette

October 1916 Battle of Le Transloy

Battle of Messines:

Messines is on the border of France and Belgium in a region of Belgium known as the West Flanders in the south-west, which is a Flemish (French speaking) part of Belgium.

This was the first battle the East Ham Battalion was fully engaged in. It was launched on 7 June 1917 with the detonation of 19 underground mines underneath the German lines. The mines had been placed by Royal Engineers for 18 months before the actual battle. These men were often miners and engineers and were used to digging underground. In the face of active German counter-mining, 8,000 metres of tunnel were constructed under German lines. Occasionally the tunnellers would encounter German counterparts engaged in the same task: underground hand to hand fighting would ensue.

The mines were so huge it was said the explosions could be heard in London. They created huge craters (Holes) in the ground. After the war some were filled others were kept and filled with water, creating ponds to remember the battle. One is known as the pool of peace.

Passchendaele. July-November 1917.

This was a horrific three month battle, fought on muddy marshland. 140,000 allied troops were killed and another 350,000 injured for the conquest of 5 miles of muddy marshland. It represented the pointlessness of the entire war, where human live was pitifully cheap.

The East Ham battalion took part in two battles in Passchendaele:

July 31st 1917: Battle of Pilckem Ridge.

20 – 25 September 1917: Battle of Menin Road.

November 1917 – March 1918. Italy.

The 26th Bankers and 32nd East Ham Battalion were posted to Italy to defend the north-west region near the border of Austria (Austria were allies with the Germans and known as the Axis powers). This time was to prove most agreeable compared to the hardships faced in France and Belgium. They arrived by train in the south-west region of Italy bordering France in a town called Ventimiglia, which is on the Riveria. Here they were greeted as heroes by the Italian locals, there were carnations and cheers as if they’d won the war already. They continued by train to Genoa and were given several barrels of wine by locals, leaving the soldiers of the Bankers and East Ham battalion rather drunk. They marched to north-west Italy to a region called Treviso. Here they defended the area on a mountainous region called Montello near the Piave River. It was cold but safe with good cover in caves and high ground. In January they left for Padua in the Padova region just south of Montello. Here the men trained by doing athletics and jogging up a hill to the local monastry.

March 1918: East Ham Battalion disbanded:

In march they were called back to France, but the East Ham battalion was disbanded (the men were sent to other battalion’s and the East Ham battalion no longer existed) this happened to many battalions towards the end of the war, as they had lost so many men during the war that they were too small to continue. It would have been hard for the men as they had spent over three years together often depending on each other for their lives making their relationship as important as any family member. The men continued to fight until the end of the war, but with other battalions.

These men had little say in the war itself and it is now widely considered an unnecessary and unjust war, fought between imperialist powers with too little concern for the welfare of their own people, however that should not take away from the bravery and resilience men such as those who fought for the East Ham battalion showed.

Central Park: World War Two

September 1940 and the Blitz.

The war began in 1939 and at first the German Luftwaffe attacked RAF (Royal Air Force) bases and other military targets in Britain. On September 7th 1940 348 German bombers escorted by 617 fighters attacked the capital in the late afternoon, forming a 32-km (20-mile)-wide block of aircraft filling more than 2000 square kilometres (800 square miles) of sky. The Thames was strategically very important as this quote about the river explains:

1. “It could lead them into the heart of empire, which is to say not merely into London but into dockland itself, which we might term the heart of the heart of empire. Accordingly dockland was England’s most tempting target, the paramount goal of any modern enemy.” – (The Thames England’s River p196)

The attack took the British by surprise. The Germans concentrated their attack on London’s Docklands and met little resistance that day causing huge destruction to London’s east end.

2.“Firemen fought to contain blaze after blaze: at Woolwich Arsenal they worked amid boxes of live ammunition and nitroglycerine; in the warehouses that contained alcohol they saw barrels ignite, and rum and whisky arc flaming into the air…grain fires released millions of black flies and thousands of rats to plague the men who carried the hoses…It looked as though portions of the river itself had caught fire.”
(The Thames p200)

After this London was bombed at night almost every night until May 10th 1941. The East End took the worst of it, due to the industrial targets along the docks and river Lea.

Central Park: Timeline

History of Central Park

In the Domesday records of 1086, Newham was known as ‘Hame’ meaning ‘low lying pasture’. By the late 13th century most of the woodland had disappeared, due to intense strip farming. By the mid 18th century, the woodland had been cleared and the land reclaimed.

The landscape had become predominantly agricultural with a mix of arable and pasture. On John Roque’s plan of 1754, the future site of Central Park consisted of fields divided by hedgerows.

19th Century

By the 19th century, much of the area and Rancliffe House was owned by the Lord of the Manor of East Ham, Mr Burges, also called Colonel Burges. The landscape remained largely unchanged during the first half of the 19th century. Rocque’s plan shows little in the way of designed landscape around Rancliffe House, but the Chapman and Andre plan of 1777 shows a series of buildings with a small garden to the east. The late 19th century saw the industrialisation and expansion of Newham. With the advent of the London to Romford Railway in 1839, East Ham came within easy reach of central London. Now, rather than being a suburb, it became firmly part of the dense urban fabric of the city.

Development of the Park

The landscape of the area changed from rural grazing land to a dense urban one and District Councils were established. One of their main tasks was to provide open space and parks for the recreation and health of the growing (soon to become overcrowded) population. J H Bethell was elected to the East Ham Council in 1888 and was a main protagonist for the creation of public recreation grounds.

Land Acquisition and Park Design 19th Century

In 1896, Bethell obtained Col Burges’ agreement to the purchase for £8,500 of 17a/7Ha of his estate, around and including Rancliffe House. A major local landowner, Col. Burges was also a vice chairman of the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, which was instrumental in supporting and helping to establish parks in newly urbanising districts, such as East Ham.

This purchase was specifically for the purpose of creating a public park, ‘Central Recreation Ground’. Another section of Burges’ land which had been used for agricultural purposes and adjacent to the 17 acres already purchased, was secured for £4,000, bringing the total cost of the acquisition to £12,500 and the total area of land to 25 acres. At this point, the 25 acre site was renamed ‘Central Park’.

Plans for the Park were drawn up by W H Savage, the District Surveyor who was also responsible for the acquisition of the land. Provision for children was a key aim and central to the design of the Park. Savage’s design was drawn up to include “a large area of grass, where cricket, football and other games can be played, besides affording full scope for children. A corner for young children is to be set apart.

Opening Ceremony

Central Park was officially opened on 5 July 1898 at 4pm by Councillor T L Knight. The ceremony was attended by 7000 people, including over 3000 children from Lathom Road, High Street and Plashet Lane schools. During the event a drinking fountain was unveiled, which was designed with “the advantage of being low enough down for the children to reach it, which is not normally the case and donated by Col. Burges, the former landowner.

In his opening speech, Councillor Knight talked of further plans for the Park, “including an open public bath, 90ft x 30ft and properly screened; the erection of a lodge for the gardener; greenhouse and frames and fencing the site”. The total cost for this work was estimated at £4,200. The loan for the works was to be spread over 23 years and the loan for the cost of the land to be repaid over 50 years.

The full account of the Central Park opening is described in the East Ham Echo on 7 July 1898 together with the opening ceremony leaflet and programme. Several speeches were made during the course of the opening ceremony. As part of his speech, Mr Burges made reference to the needs of the children in the area and the importance of the Park as a resource for children, saying “all work and no play made Jack a dull boy” and that he “was sure that in future, the children would do their lessons all the better through having an open park to play in”.

Central Park was opened with only the fountain and ‘walks’ in place, but with the other items of work programmed. At the opening ceremony a ‘handsome’ sun dial was promised by a Mr John Lawrence of Manor Park and a further appeal was made by the then Chairman of the Parks Committee, Councillor Carte: “We need a lot of garden seats, a gymnasium for the children, vases for flowers, etc. Also mentioned at the opening were the plans for a pavilion where tea, coffee, cocoa, or as Mr Burgess went on to say “even something a little stronger” could be sold (to loud applause from the gathered crowds).

Development of the Park – The 20th Century

By 1901 the formal and informal gardens had been laid out, the gardeners house erected at the northwest corner, and Rancliffe House still standing. The swimming baths were officially opened in May 1901, at a cost of £1,400. The water course to the western side has been reformed into ornamental lakes and the White Horse Public House is shown, still standing at the south east corner of the site. The surrounding streets to the north are filling up with the new terraced houses.

The Park was probably at its most ‘complete’ during the 1920s. By this time the water gardens (former drainage ditch) are well established on the western side, glasshouses and a keeper’s lodge stand at the north-western corner, the bandstand has been added to the Formal Gardens, the public baths are complete and the new memorial to the victims of the Great War erected by the main entrance in the south-east corner, where the White Horse Public House formerly stood.

The promised sundial is in place in the Formal Gardens. A bowling green and tennis courts are in place together with associated drinking fountains and urinals and a putting green in use in the informal gardens.

The war memorial was designed by local architect M R Banks-Martin who was Mayor of East Ham during the War years. Although the war memorial was not installed until 1921, its setting is shown on the 1920 OS plan as a central planted lawn area with formal radiating paths.

Chronology of Central Park

‘Hame’ = ‘low-lying pasture’. At time of the Domesday Book, the southern part of East Ham was the main settlement; the northern part mostly wooded.

East Ham ‘Levels’ were low-lying marshes, with high risk of flooding (maximum height of land is 50′ above sea level). From Medieval times continued reclamation of the marshes took place.

1745 John Rocque’s plan. Rancliffe House shown, as are several houses lining ‘Church Street’ of ‘South End’. Otherwise site of Central Park is agricultural land (part arable, part pasture), divided into irregularly shaped fields, with occasional hedgerow trees.

1777 Chapman and Andre’s plan shows that Rancliffe House is the property of ‘Burges Esq.’. Housing/agriculture ratio is same as depicted on Rocque’s plan. To the east of Rancliffe House there is what appears to be a water body. No field boundaries or vegetation are marked in the locality.

1777 The Manor of East Ham Hall is inscribed on a marker stone (which currently stands in the Formal Gardens) ‘The Hall of East Ham is shown on the 1777 plan.

1788 Watercolour of ‘The Seat of Ynyr Burges’ shows attractive parkland and a large house.

1838 Estate plan of the Parish of East Ham. Fields and plots are shown and numbered. Interestingly the possible water body seen on Chapman and Andre’s plan seems to have been elongated into a canal.
1839 Approach of railway (London to Romford line) leads to increased development.

1851 East Ham population 1,737. Its character is entirely rural. Many villagers believe East Ham to be haunted, with its marshes, rats and foul drains.

1858 Branch line of railway built through East Ham.

1861 East Ham population is recorded as 2858. First Edition Ordnance Survey Plan (25″ to the mile). Future site of Central Park demarcated by White Horse Lane along the south (now Rancliffe Road) and East Ham Manor Lane to the east. Rancliffe House and details of pleasure ground clearly shown, including pool. Landscape to the north and east still agricultural.

1879 East Ham made an Urban Sanitary District

1884-87 Construction of electric tramways through East Ham (along the Romford Road).

1888 J H Bethell elected onto Council. A surveyor by trade, he was noted for his vigor and energy in the development of East Ham, providing a great number of public services and facilities (including parks, trams, roads and hospitals).

More commitment to the provision of public parks shown by East Ham than other Metropolitan Essex suburbs.

1890s The Burges family, Lords of the Manor of East Ham in 18th and 19th centuries, are largest landowners in East Ham, and prominent in the East India Company. At the turn of the century the family sells off parts of the estate in order to develop property – terraces of small but well built dwellings for clerks and skilled workers. Industry is concentrated in the south of the Borough, by the docks. Gas works were the only public works in the area.

1891 East Ham population 32,718. Plashet Park opened.

1892 Keir Hardie elected as the first Labour MP in the country. The area is described as the ‘industrial heartland of the south’.

1894 7th June: Canning Town Recreation Ground and Balaam Street Recreation Ground opened.

1896 District Council purchases the freehold of 17 acres of land, including Rancliffe House and buildings for £8,500 from Col Burges. The land was previously a mix of pasture and arable land under lease to a Mr J G Hollington.

Eight additional acres adjacent to the 17 acres were then bought for £4,000 to prevent Col Burges developing it for housing.

1897 J H Bethell serves as Urban District Council Chairman.

Council agrees to extend ‘Central Recreation Ground’ to 25 acres. At this point it was renamed ‘Central Park’. The additional purchase of land delays the laying out of the Park.

Ordnance Survey plan (25″:1 mile). No changes on 1861 First Edition.

5 July Central Park officially opened (4.00pm) by the Council Chairman Councillor T L Knight.

1898 attended by 7000 people, with refreshments and music. Plans for Park drawn up by Borough Surveyor W H Savage. Layout and design features are similar to Plashet Park.

There were four entrances, boundaries planted up with trees, shrubs and flowers. The Park enclosed by railings.

Drinking fountain also unveiled. Designed by Joseph Whitehead Jnr (of Studios, Vincent Square, Westminster), constructed of Aberdeen granite and presented by Col Burges.

Mr John Lawrence of Manor Park promises the Park a sundial.

At the ceremony an appeal was made for additional seating, a gymnasium for children, and vases for flowers.

1901 Ordnance Survey plan shows newly laid out grounds with Rancliffe House still standing.

Population of East Ham is 96,018

May: Inauguration of an open air swimming pool of concrete construction with mosaic, 90ft x 30ft, enclosed by 50 changing huts, at a cost of £1,400. Other features include the decorative cast iron bandstand with Acacias planted around, shelter, ornate flower beds, grass areas for sports (cricket, football), a gardener’s lodge, a ‘corner for children’, plans for swimming pool, greenhouse, coldframes and fencing, all at a cost of £4,200.

1902 District Line extended through East Ham (1908 to Barking).

1904 East Ham a Municipal Borough.

Bethell elected first Mayor of the Borough (1904-05 and again 1905-06). Serves as MP for Romford 1906-18 and MP for East Ham North 1918-22.

1905 Gates and stone pier erected at the south east corner. This now becomes the main entrance.

1908 Rancliffe House demolished.

1910 28 July: Bowling Green opened by Sir John Bethell, MP (later Lord Bethell)

1911 East Ham population 133,487. Central Park Bowls Club established.
1915 East Ham a County Borough.

1920 Ordnance Survey Plan (25″: 1 mile). The park is at its most complete. In just over 20 years the Park is almost surrounded by housing.

Paths traverse the Park with avenues, bandstand and sundial in formal gardens, two drinking fountains, tennis courts, bowling, swimming pool and lavatories. Tramway along the Road to the east (now High Street South or North Circular Road).

A keeper’s lodge and glasshouses are shown near the north west entrance. Two small irregular-shaped lakes are shown near the western side of the park (in the same vicinity as the old watercourse, shown in the 1877/81 OS plans).

1921 10 July: Dedication ceremony of War Memorial. It is unveiled by General Lord Horne GCB, KCB, ADC. Designed by R Banks Martin. Central Park Ladies Bowls Club established

1930 Ordnance Survey Plan (25″:1 mile). Shows the Park totally encircled by new housing development.

This plan shows the small lakes are no longer in existence. A model steam railway runs around the southern boundary, past the bowling green. The population of East Ham starts to decline, until after World War II, when there is an influx of immigrants.

1935 King George V Silver Jubilee Celebrations. Central Park is set apart for children’s fetes and they each received six penny vouchers for refreshments and amusements at the Park fete.

1939 Dancing in the Park during the war years. The Park houses demonstration shelters to inform people how to erect their own. Original thatched bowling green pavilion destroyed by fire.

1948 May: Dancing in the Park every Thursday and Saturday.

1960 Ordnance Survey Plan. Bandstand removed to new area to the south and replaced by a pond in the formal gardens. A new playground installed to the west end.

1965 East Ham becomes part of London Borough of Newham.

1972 Ordnance Survey Plan. Bandstand removed, lavatories removed from west end. New café building erected to the current position.

1989 Urns placed in the formal gardens (originally from the London Co-operative Building in East Ham, dating from 1929).

1991 New paddling pool, to the west of the site.

1995 Café refurbished.

1999 New bowling green pavilion erected at a cost of £325,000.

2002 New children’s play area installed.

2004 Construction of the new Play building commences.

Central Park: Bibliography

1.Morton, A. L. and Tate, G. (1973) ‘The British Labour Movement 1770-1920’ The Gresham Press
2.Westall, R. (1995) ‘Children of the Blitz’ Cox and Wyman Ltd
3.Briggs, A. (1965) ‘Victorian Cities. Odhams (Watford) Ltd
4.Schneer, J. (2005) ‘The Thames, England’s River’ Little, Brown.
5.Holmes, R (2004) ‘Tommy: ‘The British soldier on the Western Front 19141918’ Harper Collins Publishers.
6. O’Neill, H.C. (1924) ‘The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War’ Heinemen, London
7.Powell, W.R. (1973) ‘A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6’ Victoria County History This is a book published online at: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/source.aspx?pubid=283