London Borough of Lewisham
Between Beckenham and Downham, the park lies between Beckenham Hill Road and Bromley Road, Downham.
Map Ref: TQ 380 712.
Site of Metropolitan importance - Metropolitan Open land (MOL) due to be nominated as a Local Nature Rreserve.
Beckenham Place Park is probably the best single wildlife site in Lewisham Borough, with a wide range of high quality habitats. It includes one of the largest remaining ancient wooded areas in inner London, one of the oldest recorded ponds in Lewisham and the only willow carr (swamp woodland) in the borough. The river Ravensbourne runs through the park on its natural bed, meandering around old pollarded willows and over shallow gravel beds (from the south east to the northern end).
Some of the parkland trees are extremely old, pre-dating the landscaping of the park.
The park contains facilities for golf and other sports, and is very popular for recreation, both formal and informal. A visitor centre, run by the Friends of Beckenham Place Park, is open in the mansion, on Sundays, and provides information on the park’s history and natural history.
The main woodland in the middle of the park, known as Summerhouse Wood, is ancient woodland (PDF, 52KB). You can still see the structure of coppice-withstandards, with a few large oaks and overgrown sweet chestnut coppice. The coppice has not been cut for many years, but there are plans to reintroduce coppicing to at least this part of the wood. The ground flora includes a good number of ancient woodland indicators (PDF, 51KB). Bluebells are particularly abundant, forming spectacular carpets of deep blue flowers in spring; in good years, the effect is quite breathtaking. Dog’s mercury, early dog-violet, stinking iris, wood anemone, wood forget-me-not. Sycamore is now widespread and in patches dominant in Summerhouse Wood. Its spread has slowed down in recent years because of a fungal infection which is killing the trees. The dead and dying sycamores of here support many different sorts of beetle including at least one the national rarity.
Stumpshill Wood is the rather narrow strip of woodland running all along the western edge of the park contains a large number of very fine, mature and veteran oaks - the largest collection of old trees in Lewisham.
A sizeable lake once lay in the centre of the park, between the Ash Plantation and Summerhouse Wood, part of this was filled in to extend the golf course, and nearly all the rest of it is now wet woodland (or carr). This has totally different trees: mostly crack and grey willows, with alder in the slightly drier eastern half.
The pond in the west of the park may not look much but it appears on a map dated 1776. It is apparently very deep but is now heavily silted up and fenced off. The water is very rich in nutrients and therefore low in oxygen because of the fallen leaves from surrounding trees.
A few clumps of yellow iris poke out of the water, and common duckweed covers much of the surface in most summers, however it is also home to some very rare plants and minibeasts.
Trees: Pedunculate oak, sweet chestnut, silver birch, ash, beech , wild servicetree, wild pear, field maple, wild cherry, rowan, common whitebeam, downy birch and hornbeam, common lime, Scots pine and other conifers, sycamore and Norway maple, holly, elder, blackthorn.
Breeding birds of the park include sparrowhawk (in some years), stock dove, ring-necked parakeet, tawny owl, all three woodpeckers, blackcap, chiffchaff, goldcrest, spotted flycatcher, nuthatch and treecreeper.
Foxes, grey squirrels, hedgehogs and bats are all present.
The site was originally part of the Manor of Beckenham founded in the early 11th century in the time of Edward the Confessor.
The present park and mansion were built in the 18th century for John Cator. Some woods were planted but it is likely that most had survived from natural woodlands. In the 1780s Cator diverted traffic from the road passing in front of the house by providing a new road, screened by trees, along the route of the present Southend Road. It is quite clear on a map how much straighter the original route was.
The River Ravensbourne formerly ran through the present football pitches around what were called “the thousand islands” - this was later filled in with bomb rubble and grassed over.
The open parkland now occupied by the golf course is shown on the 1871 Ordnance Survey map as a landscape dotted with trees, either singly or in small groups. Two early 19th century prints show cattle grazing beneath the trees. Many of the old parkland trees were cut down during the creation of the golf course from 1907 onwards.
The mansion is now a Grade II* Listed building and provides accommodation for the golf club, a cafe and bar plus conference rooms and meeting space.
London County Council acquired the park and mansion in 1927 and Beckenham Place Park has been a public park since that time.
During the Second World War, Italian prisoners of war were housed here,
and much of the open space was used for allotments.
Conflict over park uses . . .
In the 1990s the company which manages the Golf Course proposed to intensify the sports use of the park. The Council who own the site supported the plans, but local people and park users, with support from environmental groups, notably the Lewisham Group of the London Wildlife Trust, campaigned successfully to preserve the park for people and wildlife, and planning permission was refused after a Public Inquiry in 1993.
As a result of this conflict the Beckenham Place Park Working Party was created in 1995, with representatives from all interested groups. The Working Party created a management plan for the park which was adopted in 1999. This is being reviewed and will inform any future management of the park.
One branch of the Green Chain walk comes in from the north from across the railway footbridge from Old Bromley Road, another comes in from the south east from Crab Hill and the third from the west, from Beckenham Hill Road.
Another entrance comes in from Beckenham Place Park (road)
Train: nearest stations are Beckenham Hill and Ravensbourne
But consult Transport for London’s Journey Planner
Children’s play equipment: Yes, plus skate park at Bromley Road
Other - e.g. pond dipping area? Info centre? good viewpoint?: Visitors
centre with information and displays on the history and natural history of the
Open Sundays 2-4 (By arrangement, the Visitor Centre can be opened at other
times for local groups to visit and have a guided walk around the park. See
contact details Friends of Beckenham Place Park below)
Short grass: Yes
Long grass: Yes
Lowland heathland: No
Clumps of trees: Yes
Other wildlife info attractive to schools: Damp alder carr woodland area
where old lake was.
Key species or habitats covered by the borough’s
Biodiversity Action Plan
Bats (PDF, 51KB), hedgehogs
Website: Borough Biodiversity Action Plan
Nick Pond, Ecological Regeneration Manager
Address: Wearside service centre, Wearside road,
Telephone: 020 8314 2007
Mobile: 0774 3842892
The Friends of Beckenham Place Park
This group works to ensure the protection and improvement of the park’s ecology,
landscape, historic buildings and facilities - for wildlife and people alike.
Telephone: 0208 325 8781
Lewisham ecology handbook