Hello there and thanks for joining me on my next walking adventure of the capital! My walk today in this edition of the London Wlogger is a beautiful stroll I did in the lovely late summer sun where I’ll begin at The Oval Cricket Ground, head through Kennington Park and explore Ruskin Park, before concluding in Brockwell Park. It’s a walk which uncovers some of South London’s prettiest parks and wonderful gardens!
My journey starts at The Oval Cricket Ground, which is based in Kennington and has been the home of Surrey County Cricket Club since it opened in 1845. With a capacity of 25,500, it has the honour of being the first ground in England to host international Test cricket in September 1880.
The Oval was built on the former Kennington Common, which had cricket matches played on it throughout the early 18th century, with the earliest first class match recorded being London vs. Dartford in 1724. However, the Common was also used for public executions of those convicted at the Surrey Assizes, which meant by the 1740s cricket matches had to be moved to the Artillery Ground – so, you could say, it was Executions Stop Play! Kennington Common would eventually become enclosed in the mid-19th century.
In 1844, the site now known as The Oval was a market garden owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, which was a private estate established by Edward III in 1337. The Duchy agreed to lease the land for the purpose of a cricket ground in March 1845 and it was leased to Mr. William Houghton (then president of the progenitor Montpelier Cricket Club) by the Otter Trustees who held the land from the Duchy. 10,000 grass turfs for the pitch and outfield came from Tooting Common and were laid out in the Spring of 1845, which allowed the first match to be played in May 1845 resulting in Surrey County Cricket Club being established that year.
The first Test match in England would be played at The Oval in 1880 between England and Australia, and became the second ground to stage a Test after the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). The ground also had the first artificial lighting to be used in a sports arena in 1889 when gas-lamps were used.
One of the grounds most notable and iconic landmarks are its gasholders, which were built in 1853 and even though they’re no longer being used, they’ve never been demolished due to them being an integral part of The Oval’s landscape. This was further strengthened in 2016 when the gasholders were given protected status. My walks have seen me visit a few gasholders, most notably Gasholder No.8 in King’s Cross and the Gasometers near Bethnal Green on my walk along the Regent’s Canal.
It’s not just cricket that has been hosted in the ground, but its association with football is just as significant. The first ever FA Cup Final was played there in 1872 when the Wanderers beat Royal Engineers 1-0. The FA Cup Final was then played a year later at Lillie Bridge in West Brompton before returning to The Oval every year between 1874 and 1892. The final would move to Fallowfield Stadium in Manchester in 1893 and Goodison Park in Liverpool in 1894. Subsequent finals would be played at Crystal Palace and Stamford Bridge until Wembley Stadium opened in 1923 to host it.
The Oval has a special place in my life as Surrey County Cricket Club is the cricket team I support and I’ve visited the ground many times – firstly in 2002 – and then every summer since then. It’s such a spectacular ground as it perfectly combines the new (OCS stand / Vauxhall End) with the old (Pavilion End). This is the second cricket ground that I’ve explored on my walks too after visiting Lord’s Cricket Ground, which is just as special.
The next stop on my walk today is Kennington Park, which is located in close proximity to The Oval. Opened in 1854, Kennington Park was the first public park in South London and was maintained by the Crown’s Office of Works. Six years later in 1861, John Gibson laid out two paneled gardens on the west side. The maintenance of the park was passed over to London’s Metropolitan Board of Works in 1887 until being passed over to the London County Council in 1889 and later the Greater London Council in 1965. A quirk of the park is that in 1896 a 7 year old Charlie Chaplin spent the day playing in it.
A few years later in 1898 at the height of the music hall era, the Princess of Wales Theatre was opened – designed by W.G.R. Sprague. It would close in 1934 and was transformed into flats, although it did have the earliest known air conditioning system! Another honour for the park was it having one of the first all-night illuminated footpaths through a public park in 1899. In 1920, after the park was used during the First World War, part of the land was bought by the Kennington Park Extension Committee who laid out the swimming pool, flower garden and a children’s playground.
During the Second World War the local areas of Lambeth and Southwark were heavily bombed in The Blitz. In 1940, during the war, the north field of the Park was used for allotments so people could grow their own food. In 1988, the swimming pool, which had become neglected, was closed and replaced with tennis courts. 2011 saw the Park awarded a Green Flag – a national award that recognises the best green spaces in the country.
Walking around Kennington Park gives off a real sense of community spirit as there are many flats outside the area and with people playing sport in it too it’s the ideal place for them to come together and have a really enjoyable time. Like many of the parks in London, there’s a vast amount of trees, which provide enlightening colours.
One of the prettiest parts of Kennington Park is the flower garden. Opened in 1931, the Kennington Park Flower Garden reflects the designs for an Old English Flower Garden by Lieutenant Colonel J.J. Sexby, the Chief Officer of Parks for the London County Council. Sexby was also influential in the designing of other gardens in South London, which will see later on in my walk! In 2015, the garden reopened after restoration was undertaken on it by Lambeth Council and the ‘Friends of Kennington Park’, with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The garden really is a delight to stroll through as there’s such a hive of plant activity and picturesque views. It does remind me of The Rookery in Streatham Common that I walked through.
I’ll now leave Kennington Park and head to my next destination, Ruskin Park. To get there I pass by one of the cool railway totem signs that’s in South London.
Located in Camberwell, Ruskin Park opened in 1907 originally with an area of 24 acres (10 hectares) until this was extended by 12 acres (5 hectares) in 1910. The park is named after poet and writer John Ruskin who lived near the park. The design of the park was created by our friend from earlier who helped design the flower garden in Kennington Park, Lieutenant Colonel J.J. Sexby!
The Park is also home to the Ruskin Park Community Garden, which aims to be a source of education for growing vegetables and is managed by the ‘Friends of Ruskin Park’.
Ruskin Park is also home to a wonderful flower garden, which used to be an old bowling green until the Friends of Ruskin Park turned it into this natural habitat in 2007. One aspect of London I love is that you’ll always discover these beautiful, tranquil flower gardens that provide a little slice of splendour in a park’s setting.
When you walk through a London park you’re never too far away from a bandstand and Ruskin Park is no exception! The bandstand has been there since 1911 and went under a full restoration back in 2006 to preserve its beauty. There’s something so enchanting about bandstands, it might be the classic, traditional designs of them, or the fact they’re associated with hosting marvellous music.
My final stop on today’s walk around South London is Brockwell Park and my stroll there sees me walk past another one of those eye-catching railway totem signs!
Located south of Brixton in Herne Hill and Tulse Hill, Brockwell Park is 126 acres (50.8 hectares) of picturesque parkland. The Grade II listed Brockwell Hall was built between 1811 and 1813 and was owned by glass merchant John Blades. In March 1891, the land and house were acquired by the London County Council and it was opened to the public in June of that year. It was that man again, Lieutenant Colonel J.J. Sexby who designed the conversion of the estate into a public park.
The London County Council acquired a further 43 acres (17 hectares) of the land north of the original park and in the 1920s 13 cricket pitches were present, which attracted crowds of up to 1,500 spectators. As like many of the parks in London during both the First World War and Second World War, Brockwell Park had its role to play. In the First World War it was used for grazing large flocks of sheep, while in the Second World War sites of the Park were used for wartime food production in the form of ‘Pig Clubs’.
It’s safe to say whatever your needs, Brockwell Park will be able to cater for them! It has all kinds of facilities and features, including a football pitch, tennis courts, a BMX track, basketball court, cricket nets, a paddling pool, a café in the old Brockwell Hall, duck ponds and stunning views.
There aren’t too many parks I’ve visited on my walks where every corner of it provides a new surprise or something to see. You could spend all day enjoying the vast range of activities within the park, or just strolling around it, whether that’s the pond or the walled gardens. Some of the views do resemble that of a countryside, but you then get a lovely reminder you’re near the centre of London with the stunning view of the capital.
Like with Ruskin Park, Brockwell Park has its own walled garden too! This pretty area includes a wide variety of flowers, trees and plants, as well as some cute features like a pond and many benches and huts. As you need to go through gates to access the garden, it’s nicely cut off from the main park, so you’re in a kind of secret garden with many little treasures in a tranquil setting.
A really cool little feature outside the park were these sweet cottages!
I was just heading to the exit of Brockwell Park before I noticed this amazing miniature railway track! The 7 1/4” gauge miniature railway operates on Sundays between March and October and was built by Roland Baker in the Spring of 2003. The railway runs for 220 metres (240 yards) between Herne Hill Gates and the Brockwell Lido, with all ages able to ride on it. The current railway is very similar to a former railway that ran in the Park between 1951 and 1961. This is one of many reasons I love walking around London, as you discover such hidden gems just like this that you’d never normally see!
That’s all from me on my walking adventures of London where I’ve enjoyed some of South London’s best and beautiful parks and gardens, as well as discovering one of the world’s most iconic cricket grounds. Hope you enjoyed joining me on my walk and please share your comments below, I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading and in the meantime you can follow all my walks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and don’t forget to sign up to my blog too so you don’t miss a post! Also why not have a read of my other walks which explore all over London, from north to south, to west to east via central, there’s something there for you! 🙂 And don’t forget to read my very special walk of San Francisco! Here are the links to them all below for you!
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