Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

Battersea Park

From Albert Bridge it is but a few steps into Battersea Park, and the building sites and rubbish tips of the last hour are forgotten in this 200 acre oasis in the midst of the city.

Two hundred years ago this area was known as Battersea Fields and was a well-known venue for a spot of duelling. I found a story that on 21st March 1829 the Earl of Winchelsea and the Duke of Wellington came here to settle a matter of honour. It seems that having both turned up they decided that honour was satisfied, and Wellington deliberately missed and Winchelsea did the same and apologised to the Duke.

Battersea Park was the home ground of The Wanderers, who won the first ever F.A.Cup in 1872, beating the Royal Engineers 1-0. (Trivia; don’t believe that sharp practice and skulduggery are unique to today’s footballers. The winning goal was scored by Morton Betts, who was playing under the assumed name of A.H. Chequer who was clearly the first ringer to win an FA Medal; beat that Motty!).

The park was also the venue for the first game of football to be played under FA rules. This was an exhibition game held on 9th January 1864. Before then it seemed that each club played to its own rules, something that some of today’s team managers believe should still be the case, obviously their own interpretation being the one that is used.

Battersea had interesting beginnings. Like so many things we have today it came about not because it was something that the people wanted, but because somebody else wanted to regulate what everybody else could do, and do a bit of “social engineering”. As we shall see, Battersea was used many times in its 150 years for this.

During the 1830’s public parks were being considered as a way of improving public health by providing open spaces away from the overcrowded and disease-ridden slums that were growing up as a result of the industrial evolution. Parks were also seen as a way of regulating behaviour and morals, and encouraging respect for Queen, Country and Empire.

The first designs for the park were drawn by James Pennethorne in 1845. Pennethorne was something of a parks specialist, being also involved in the designs for Regents Park, Kennington Park and Victoria Park. The original landscaping utilised the excavated material from the Surrey Docks to build up the ground. The carriageways and lake were added in 1854 by the first park superintendent, John Gibson. Gibson introduced trees and shrubs from around the world, creating in the process a rich landscape incorporating space and shape that was greatly admired. The work was completed in 1858 with the grand opening by Queen Victoria. The park became highly popular and was a destination for all levels of society.

The war years saw the park utilised for anti-aircraft batteries and barrage balloons. Large areas of the gardens were given over to allotments for the growing of vegetables. Another area was used as a pig farm.

Following the austerity of the war years, the government planned the Festival of Britain to demonstrate an optimistic future to the population. The South Bank area was to be the main focus for culture, and I will be walking that stretch tomorrow. Here at Battersea the focus would be on entertainment for the masses. Thirty seven acres of the park were devoted to the Battersea Pleasure Gardens in 1951. This was originally a temporary plan, but the huge popularity of the attractions kept the funfair going until its closure in 1974.

Wandsworth Council took over the management of the park in 1986, and with the support of funding from the European Union and the Heritage Lottery Fund have restored it to its former glory.

The park is certainly pleasant, and on this sunny spring day is being well used. To my right there is another surprise. What is that doing here?

An oriental monument, right in the middle of Battersea Park.

London Peace Pagoda, Battersea Park
London Peace Pagoda, Battersea Park

Standing at over one hundred feet high, this is the London Peace Pagoda. Gilded statues of Buddha look out over the park, and wind chimes tinkle in the air. It was built by the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order with assistance from the Greater London Council to celebrate the GLC Year of Peace in 1985. The Pagoda is one of many around the world dedicated to the promotion of world peace. In fact it was the seventieth to be completed. There is another one in England in, of all places, Milton Keynes.

The first Peace Temples were built in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The original driver for these was a Buddhist Monk by the name of Nichidatsu Fujii (1885 – 1985) the founder of the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Order. He had met and was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi in 1931, and in 1947 began instructing his followers to erect Peace Temples to promote peace throughout the world. The Temple is currently under the supervision of Rev Gyoro Nagase who was one of the volunteers who constructed the Temple.

The end of the park comes too soon, and it is time to leave the river again for yet another detour. This time it is around one of the most recognisable outlines in London, the derelict building that was once Battersea Power Station.

< Previous Page | Next Page >