All posts by Andrew Pearson

Bridge to Nowhere Opens!

September news is that the bridge has finally opened to the public again, after many years of being fenced and chained off. (See our July 2023 post here about the renovations.) You can now ascend its dizzying heights to admire a panoramic view of the park. You can also examine in close-up the great job the council and contractors have made in restoring the bridge to its original glory!

(click the images to enlarge)

The final image above is set to become historically important as the view changes with the coming demolition of the large Aylesbury Wendover block. This will reveal the Shard in all its glory, before inevitably being screened by an even larger replacement block!

Update: November 2023

Someone decided the new red tiles on the steps could look more interesting, maybe following an example they’d seen in NYC. The council disagreed however – so it was a short-lived experiment.

Bridge to Nowhere gets a Facelift

That familiar sight in the park, the canal footbridge, as recent park visitors will have noticed, has just been having some extensive work done. It was a Godsend when built in 1905, with the area probably at its most dense with housing, factories and people. It sadly became a Bridge to Nowhere from 1970, when the canal it crossed was filled in. Since the 1990s, it’s even been unsafe for sight-seeing from its grand height of about 10 feet up, and looking in an increasingly sorry state.

Southwark Council had to make the difficult decision to demolish or retain and renovate the bridge. Just leaving it to further deteriorate was not an option. Thankfully, following a survey of the condition in 2021, they decided on repair and renovation. For those of us interested in the heritage of the park, that was the Right Decision!

The survey revealed a few areas of deterioration, leading to potential health and safety concerns, and a list of repairs was drawn up:

  • Remove and replace footways on the bridge deck
  • Carry out replacement or repair of deteriorated transverse and parapet beams
  • Replace existing spreader beams
  • Break out eroded brickwork on the south abutment and replace with matching new
  • Supply and install new concrete coping stones along top of existing wall
  • Repair all cracks in existing brickwork and pointing
  • Sandblast all metal parts and re-paint to original colour

Work started in April 2023, and was scheduled for 3 months at a cost of £323,553, sadly around 100 times the original cost of the bridge in 1905! But it’s a thorough job and it’s now looking really smart. All the TLC  should ensure that this great symbol of Burgess Park survives well into the 21st century. AND, we won’t need to change the name of this website!

Read more about the history of the building of the bridge on our dedicated page.

Stop Press!

The bridge is now open to pedestrians! Check the news here.

Passmore Edwards Day

The celebration of 200 years since the birth of Passmore Edwards, as mentioned in the previous blog, was a spectacular success! Held two days after his birthday, on 29th March, we opened the Library on Wells Way, closed for many years, and provided refreshments. We had an exhibition of John Passmore Edwards’ life and achievements,

a rowan tree, planted by the Council on his actual birthday was dedicated by Doreen Evans, a longstanding member of the local community,

we had a book reading by first-time local novelist Jacqueline Crooks.

The main event, however, was a Passmore Edwards architectural tour by our own famous local architect Benedict O’Looney, which looked in depth at the Wells Way building

and the Passmore Edwards Camberwell College of Arts and Art Gallery,

as well as many other contemporary buildings in the area.

A great time and a great way to commemorate the great man!

Friends of Burgess Park celebrates Passmore Edwards

Poster with details of event. Antique engraving of building with superimposed text

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Passmore Edwards’ birth on 24th March 1823, and Friends of Burgess Park is joining with others around the UK to celebrate the Passmore Edwards 200 Festival. He funded the Wells Way Library, now in the Park, and we’re holding a programme of events based at there on Sunday 26th March. There’s an exhibition about the man and his legacy, children’s activities, a commemorative tree-planting, a reading by local author Jacqueline Crooks from her new book Fire Rush, refreshments and more. We’ve also organised a short Bike Tour around three of Passmore Edwards’ south London buildings, guided by renowned local architect Benedict O’Looney. You can book now for the bike tour on Eventbrite – places are limited to 25, so book early!

From humble Cornish beginnings, Passmore Edwards went on to become a journalist, newspaper proprietor and MP. He amassed a sizable fortune which he used to further the education of working people all over the UK. He did this mainly by funding numerous public buildings – around 70 in total. 

John Passmore Edwards

In all, Edwards funded 15 libraries in London as well as several other public buildings, such as the South London Gallery and the LSE.  Many of these buildings are still in public use today for a variety of purposes. The Wells Way library was opened in 1903. Read more about the Old Library Baths and Washhouse on our page here. Friends of Burgess Park is hoping the bicentenary celebration will focus attention on this significant building which sits, currently unused, in the middle of Burgess Park.

Come and find out more about the remarkable man Passmore Edwards on Sunday afternoon, 26th March 2023. Sign up for the bike tour (2-4pm) on Eventbrite, or drop round to the Wells Way Library from 2pm and join in the fun.

Artworks and Memorials in Burgess Park

Friends of Burgess Park recently had several inquiries about artworks in the park, via our Facebook and Twitter accounts, which prompted us to take a look ourselves, and find out more! Richard Barton inquired about the artworks in order to include them in an Art Walk around Camberwell (now published in the Camberwell Quarterly here), and during lockdown, staff of the South London Gallery were looking for similar information for a park tour they were designing for their own interest.

Art in the Park’s Window Maps showing the history of the area

So together with Andrea from Art in the Park (based in the Chumleigh Gardens enclave) and Monica from Friends of Burgess Park, we’ve compiled as comprehensive a list as we could muster. As always with these things, they’re a work-in-progress, but we now have details on some 12 of the 15 items we’ve identified so far. Please help us if you have more details on these, or let us know of any we’ve missed.

Murals in the Children’s Library, Wells Way Old Library, Baths and Washhouse, which normally need an appointment to view

The list so far is on a permanent page and it covers works ranging in age and style from the 1920 WW1 war memorial outside St George’s Church to the carved tree trunk near the tennis courts, made in 2018. The page has an interactive map you can use to create your own tour of the works, so get out there with your smartphone or tablet and visit as many as you can. They’re all outside (apart from the Children’s Library murals which need a special arrangement to view), so make it your lockdown – and post-lockdown – exercise!

Campaign against over-development!

When the park was conceived, back in the dark days of WW2 (see Abercrombie Plan and Jessie Burgess here), there was a perception of overcrowded areas needing the space of a new park to breathe. As the area around the canal was becoming ‘post-industrial’, and was surrounded by dense, poor quality housing, this part of south London was picked out as a good location for a new park.

The park has developed over the years and had large amounts of money spent on beautifying it and improving the facilities for the surrounding population. Planners and supporters have endeavoured to do this in a balanced way, at the same time providing wildlife havens and linking up with other small pockets of green in the area to create wildlife corridors. Many of the wildlife areas have been created out of parcels of Metropolitan Open Land – a designation similar to the Green Belt around London, designed to protect the few remaining areas of green space in the inner city.

Originally, these areas of MOL were then compulsorily purchased in order to legally become parkland. However, that system of taking over land became unpopular and more and more expensive as land prices in the city have risen. This has meant that various areas of MOL have been left in limbo – intended to be incorporated into the park, but remaining in private ownership. There have been several campaigns in the past to try and ensure the MOL designations in the park are respected – see Southwark News article here. One recent successful application of the principle of MOL has been in the deal done by the Council with the owners of a property in Parkhouse Street. This had an historic spur of land, used as a parking area, jutting into the park and splitting the wildlife area in two. It’s since been fully incorporated into the park and landscaped to match the surrounding area.

Former police vehicle yard in2918 (visible in the trees on the left) jutting into the park right up to the now removed New Church Road. Inset map shows it as green outlined finger in the orange MOL.

Now that the park has become extremely desirable, it’s attracting many new housing developments to the area, at just the same time as it’s attracting more visitors. Most of the north side of the park, originally the Aylesbury estate, is being replaced with a mixed private/public estate which will see a lot more tall blocks overlooking the park, selling for high prices because of their park view. A lot of the south side is so far still industrial land, to the north of Parkhouse Street, with low-rise former industrial premises and factories. However, there have already been several planning applications to replace 3 or 4 industrial premises with around 275 flats, at 9, 10 and 11 stories, right up to the park boundary. On the other side of Parkhouse Street, is the proposed Camberwell Union development of 500+ flats. We consider this to be over-development, in all kinds of ways.

However, a still more worrying development is the plan to replace the long-standing reclamation yard at the corner of New Church Road/Southampton Way (13 Southampton Way). This is on one of the final unincorporated pieces of Metropolitan Open Land, which was always planned to be part of the park. The proposal to build 4 and 7 story blocks right on the corner, adjoining the well-developed wildlife sanctuary will be a big mistake. Like the Parkhouse Street developments, it will overshadow the wildlife area and wildflower meadow, blocking sunlight from acres of ground in the winter. It will make the corner in the road very constricted for traffic and for pedestrians entering and leaving the park, and disrupt wildlife routes.

Proposed development (ringed) on MOL at corner of Southampton Way

Please sign the petition being raised by Burgess Park Action Group here. Please also get involved with the work of Friends of Burgess Park to protect the park from over-development of surrounding streets, to the detriment of the park, its users and wildlife.

Borough of Southwark ‘Adopted Policies’ map showing existing park boundary in green, with orange shading denoting MOL. Ringed area is the proposed development. The former police vehicle yard is shown at upper right

Friends of Burgess Park wins Mary Boast History Prize

We had great news on 30th September 2018! The Mary Boast Prize, which is organised by the Camberwell Society, has been won by an essay from some of the Friends of Burgess Park ‘Zeppelin 1917’ team. A big thank you to all the volunteer authors including the essay editing team of Judith Barratt, Joan Ashworth and Susan Crisp.

The prizewinning essay, which you can read here, tells the story of the 1917 Zeppelin raid on the park, covered on this website, and also the events organised by the Friends of Burgess Park to commemorate the terrible occasion. The winner was announced at the end of a fascinating local history walk around Burgess Park and the surroundings, also covering some of the planned new developments to the area.

The essay is based on work done in 2017 by many volunteer researchers who joined with members of the Friends to investigate the events of 1917 with the help of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. All kinds of information was uncovered with the help of nearby archives such as the Southwark Local History Archive, the Imperial War Museum and the Cuming Museum collection. At the special events organised to commemorate the centenary in October, we were honoured by the presence of several close members of the two families who lost the biggest number of relatives in the bombing. We were able to add their information to the essay.

The Camberwell Society’s annual prize is named after Mary Boast, who was a popular local historian and the archivist at the Southwark Local History Library and Archives. She wrote the excellent, but now difficult to obtain, history booklet – The Story of Camberwell, and has a street named after her.

You’ll be able to read the essay in full in the Camberwell Quarterly magazine, to be published by Christmas 2018. Order your copy now! Or join the Camberwell Society and have it sent to your house for free! Or buy it in any local shop, if you’re in the area. Or read it now!

Launch of Sally Hogarth’s ‘Silent Raid’ – 2018

As part of the commemorations of the Zeppelin bombing in 1917 (see here for more information), Sally Hogarth will be unveiling her new artwork memorial ‘Silent Raid’.  The memorial to those who lost their lives has been commissioned by Southwark Council, and has been a year in the making. The memorial consists of 10 sculptured model houses, placed in 7 locations in the park, close to where the people lost their lives.

House sculpture in Burgess ParkWednesday, 17 October, 5:30-7pm

Meet at Theatre Delicatessen, in the Old Library on Wells Way, for a walk around the locations for the memorial, with speeches, refreshments, a poem by Koko and more. To book tickets for the launch event, please see the Eventbrite page.

The launch will be exactly 101 years after the attack and is part of the Zeppelin 1917 programme of events in Burgess Park about the First World War.


Saturday 20 October, 2-5:30pm

Photos of the workshop
Plans and production of the art installation by Sally Hogarth. Photos by Alexander Christie.

An afternoon of FREE events at Theatre Delicatessen, Old Library, Wells Way. 

  • Come along to the open-to-all history walk telling the story of the “Silent Raid”.
  • Find out more at the mini Zeppelin 1917 exhibition based on the centenary commemoration last year including Keith Roberts’ Zeppelin artwork
  • Listen to the fascinating podcast audio adaptation of the Animated Walk from the Friends’ Zeppelin 1917 season.
  • Take part in the drop-in family art workshop by Art in the Park.
  • Refreshments
2.30 pm  Camberwell Community Choir sing songs from the First World War 
3.15 pm History walk to view the art installation of memorial houses including Q and A with the artist Sally Hogarth
4.30 – 5.30 pm  Performance of THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER 
The Unknown Soldier is a moving show, often humorous, but above all thought provoking. It looks at the First World War from a new perspective, through the eyes of a man who has survived the carnage but who finds it hard to return home. A story of comradeship, betrayal and of promises both broken and kept following the carnage of World War One. Official EdFringe 2016 sell out show by award nominated writer of Casualties.  Book for 4.30 performance  

Unsung Heroes – scratch night with Theatre Delicatessen

21st October – Four unique acts capture the spirit of WWI

Scratch Night at Theatre Delicatessen is an evening of variety, ideas and fun; a chance to see artists present brave, new work at the first stages of development.

The four performances brought a real insight into the impact of WWI and how it affected the lives of people at home.

A new spoken-word performance – Anonymous Is A Woman – kicked off the evening. Reflecting on the life of a young women who could have known the families from Calmington Road, the poem by Koko Brown, in collaboration with director Tania Azevedo, compared local domestic life with the extraordinary news about Mata Hari who was shot as a spy on 15th October 1917.

Koko Brown performs Anonymous Is A Woman

Two of the scratch theatre pieces performed material written during the war. The Way To Win, from 1915, was a recruiting piece which toured through music halls across the country. It pulls all the patriotic strings to encourage young men to sign-up, to gain respect and love from family and friends. The second, God’s Outcast, a sombre piece from 1918, shows a heartbroken father and a young wife who have each lost a young man to the war. Meeting in a railway station waiting room they confide how much the loss means and how they cannot bear to continue to live. The contrast between the two plays is stark.

God’s Outcast

On a brighter note, We Have Been Gloriously Happy, written and performed by Beth Watson and Sadie Clark, presented a series of dialogues showing the new roles that women were taking on: suffragettes setting up local committees to support the war effort; women taking on the medical profession and establishing field hospitals; and munitions workers wondering what the future would hold once the men returned and took back the jobs after the war.

We Have Been Gloriously Happy

The performers had access to all our research about WWI and the lives of local people in south east London, especially Camberwell, where the Zeppelin air raid took place in October 1917. Theatre Delicatessen’s knowledge of new writers and performers brought these stories to life, showing the social impact of WWI to a new audience.

Posted by Susan Crisp, 9th November 2017

Zeppelin 1917 – The Animated Walk

Along with over 60 others, I set out on the afternoon of Saturday 21st October for a breezy walk around Burgess Park, to find out more about what happened 100 years ago on Friday 19th October 1917, when the Zeppelin bombing raid struck over Walworth, South-east London. The event took the shape of an animated walk – the narrator guides walkers around significant points in the park where actors play out the voices of people caught up at the time of the Zeppelin strike. If you missed the event itself, an audio version will be available soon as a podcast.

John Whelan, the project lead, narrated the events, and one of the first things we learned was that the weather was very similar on that night, with a heavy, gusting wind that meant the Zeppelins were not heard until they were almost overhead – the Silent Raid.

The start of the walk outside Theatre Delicatessen in Burgess Park

The first ‘Voice from the Past’ was the Zeppelin commander, Kapitänleutnant Waldemar Kölle, who gave an account of the long flight from Germany. The Zeppelin flight was affected by the wind, getting blown off course – they were aiming for the northern industrial city of Sheffield – and had to climb higher into the freezing atmosphere to avoid  gunfire from British planes.  Kölle praised his gallant crew who were frozen and tired yet stayed at their posts – but it was hard to see what alternative they had!  Eventually, after crossing London and dropping it’s bombs, on its way back to base, the Zeppelin ran out of fuel, crash-landimg in France where the crew were taken prisoners of war.

Captain Kohle

We heard more Voices from the Past – some of the people involved in the war effort: the so-called Canary Girls, whose skin and hair turned yellow due to the chemicals they were working with in the munitions factories; the newly-introduced air-raid warden – issued with a whistle to warn people to take cover! And from the reporter restricted in what could be published by the all-encompassing ‘Defence of the Realm Act’ (DORA).

Over the course of the afternoon we had sunshine, while listening to the Voices from the Past of the conscientious objectors, who had to defend their position in court, many of whom were imprisoned during the war…

Conscientious objector Ada Salter speaks to the crowd

… and also rain, as we heard the Voices from the Past of distinguished visitors who came to see  the bomb-site at Calmington Road and talk to the survivors, no less than the Prime Minister of day, David Lloyd George and their majesties King George V and Queen Mary.

At one point there was a rainbow, symbol of hope, as we walked from one location to another.

The most poignant part of the walk for me, was when we reached the actual spot where the bomb fell, at what used to be the junction of Calmington Road with Albany Road.

Images of six of the people who died, almost on the exact spot

The photographs of the victims on the railings and the sad stories of those who died, those who survived but lost children, or were affected for the rest of their lives, really brought home the grim reality of civilian deaths in wartime.

One of the most moving aspects of the whole project was the involvement of the families of the victims and survivors of the bombing raid. We were able to meet with the siblings and descendents of both the Balls family, who lost two members, and the Glass family, who lost four. Greta and Peter, younger sister and brother of Eddie and Sonny Balls (pictured far right on the railings above) attended the opening of the season on 7th October (see report here). Barbara, daughter of Jesse Glass and granddaughter of Emma Glass (pictured far left, above) attended both the opening and the animated walk, travelling with members of her family to London from St Leonards.

Barbara with images of her Uncle and Aunt who didn’t live to know her

The whole family found the exhibition and walk very informative and moving. Many people involved in the war didn’t like to dwell on the suffering and so details were often not discussed with family members in the aftermath. Mark (grandson of survivor Jesse Glass) wrote to us after the animated walk very movingly:

‘…after only really having to hand over the years the details that my Nan could feel at ease with discussing …. it all feels quite surreal, and indeed on a personal level even overwhelming at the moment, to suddenly be receiving so much information in one go.’

 ‘Auntie Barbara seeing for the first time what her Nan, and her Aunties & Uncle, actually looked like was quite an experience …’ ‘… for Auntie Barbara … watching someone play her injured Mother who was calling out in the darkness to her own Mother … for us this was, very understandably, to be the most emotive experience of the day.’

‘My heartfelt appreciation to you and your colleagues for all your hard work’

Well done to John Whelan and all the actors and project volunteers who put together a vivid and moving portrayal of the events of the Zeppelin raid 1917. If you missed the walk itself, the soundtrack will be available shortly as a podcast for download or listening online.  Please visit our newly-launched podcast pages now to listen to our archive of previous talks, and if you subscribe to the series in your podcast app (for free), you’ll receive the new Zeppelin episode automatically (as well as any episodes in the future) as soon as it’s published in the next few weeks.

Posted by Helen Crisp, 26th October 2017; additional details, 15th November.