All posts by Andrew Pearson

Trafalgar Avenue bridge

Yes – there is still a bridge taking Trafalgar Avenue over the route of the former Grand Surrey Canal! It was news to this author that the slight rise in the road where it crosses the park disguises a modern concrete replacement bridge, not merely a pile of demolished buildings.

Early Glimpse
A first glimpse of the bridge appears in 2016

It’s not quite clear (maybe someone can explain) why an expensive bridge was built, although the canal had been filled in in 1970.

Unfortunately, bridges need inspecting periodically, and when that time came around last year, it proved to be a bigger task than at first envisaged.

Typically for the development of the park, it was discovered that the void beneath the bridge had been used to dispose of all kinds of waste, including asbestos.

Works have therefore taken quite some time, and the whole space beneath has been excavated in order to build permanent inspection chambers, so that in future, the job will be a bit easier.

Cleared space beneath 2 bays of the bridge
Under-bridge area cleared – visualise a canal now?!

The brick tower next to the bridge above is a ventilation chamber for the 132kV London electricity ring-main, cables for which were laid under the park as it was being developed in the 60s or 70s.

Of course, an imaginative administration might have thought about the posibility of restoring some water to the area, in some sort of memorial to the days of the canal. However, a brick-built inspection chamber is going in and the whole are will be backfilled and restored to grass.

Glass bottle
Archaeological find


Did you spot the ubiquitous R Whites lemonade bottle in the image above? Somehow recovered intact, despite the heavy earth-movers, these can be found all over the park, wherever a hole is dug.



Wooden hump-back bridge over canal
1830 view of what was probably the first Trafalgar bridge, looking west. Glengall wharf and the Peckham branch are behind the artist/extreme left. St Georges church in the background


Glengall Wharf Canal Wall – Update 1


You may have seen our blog 2 years ago on this historic bit of Surrey Canal infrastructure. The only remaining section of canal bank, which marked the junction of the Camberwell branch (1810) with the Peckham branch (1830) of the Grand Surrey Canal, has probably stood in this position, if not this state, for 120-150 years.

However, although still absolutely solid, the surface is beginning to crumble and become unsightly, especially for the new flats opposite, and the council have been determined to replace it. Work started at the beginning of 2017 on a like-for-like replacement (rather than suburban bypass-style concrete block planters), as far as funds and practicality allow. The top end of Surrey Canal walk has been closed whilst this happens.

Cobbles before removal, garden pergola built on top
Cobbles of the former council refuse yard forming a beautiful basis for the garden. Pre-works test pit in the foreground

First up was the removal of a two metre-wide strip of the beautifully worn cobbles on the top surface, which now forms the ground level for the  Glengall Wharf community garden.

The work has been majorly distruptive for the garden, involving the removal of a fine old self-seeded plum tree and many garden structures. However, it was arranged to take place in winter, outside the growing season, to at least minimise this.

These cobbles, known as granite setts, have been taken up with a JCB and as far as possible preserved for replacement when the wall work is complete. It was thought that they’d been set solidly in concrete, but they’ve mostly come away cleanly, minus a few breakages.

Plum tree chopped down and rubble for cobbles
Plum tree cut down and cobbles being taken up


Granite setts being sorted and stacked for storage and reuse

Around the end of January, work started on excavating beneath the garden surface and removing soil from behind the wall. Here things got interesting for the contractors, as they discovered the foundations of the rubbish chutes, visible in the photo beneath, and on our previous blog

Bases of rubbish chutes, buried in concrete beneath the cobbles. Probably cut down at the closure of the yard and formation of Burgess Park
Sailing barges moored up next to steel girder refuse chutes

Now, it’s a case of tearing down the old wall and carting it away.

Note the girder, impossible to remove from the concrete, to be cut back

One or two interesting finds were made:

Stash of earthenware mineral water bottles, various manufacturers. All previously broken, unfortunately!

It also became clear that a previous wall had existed further back than the concrete wall, judging by the foundations uncovered:foundations

Work is due to finish in March 2017, so watch this space for updates. Please do go and see the works for yourself, and don’t hesitate to leave a comment here!

Marking Places

Art in the Park premises in the Park, with tulips

Art in the Park, based here in Burgess Park, have launched a new project to find out from those old enough to remember, more about some of the places which used to exist in and around the Park, and permanently mark them. They’ve already had some fascinating visits and talks, and have collected some great recordings of local memories.

Check out the project – called A Place to Remember – and see if you can contribute or learn more. Or develop your artistic side and contribute ideas for Markers for these places!

So far they’ve worked on 4 places in the Walworth area – two of which were or still are in the Park – North Camberwell Radical Club and the New Peckham Mosque, formerly St Mark’s church, Camberwell. There’re some fantastic interviews on the website and images to check out.

B/W image of two former victorian house frontages with arched double dooorway in one
North Camberwell Radical Club

The Radical Club ran for around 100 years and was on the northern edge of the park near the lake, fronting onto Albany Road. Art in the Park are organising open sessions for people to contribute to the design for a marker for the Radical club on Tuesday 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th November 2016 from 11-1pm at the Art in the Park studio.

Listen to a SoundArt piece by Jane Higginbottom on the Radical Club, featuring modern sounds from the park, with local peoples’ memories of the club.

Art In the Park are still open to suggestions for other markers in the Park. Do check out the Marking Places page, and contact them to see how you can share ideas and get involved, or come along  on Tuesday 17th, 24th, 31st  January, 7th, 21st, 28th February 2017 to Waterside Care Home, 40 Sumner Road, SE15.

Suggestions so far include:

  • The Cold Storage Depot that used to sit across the Old Kent Road entrance.
  • The corner of then Calmington Road and Albany Rd, remembering people killed and injured in the First World War Zeppelin Raid  – replacing a previous plaque placed in 1927
  • Gilros Sheepskin Factory
  • The Bible Factory
  • The Foundry
  • R Whites factories
  • Bus Depot

Open House 2015


Once again, Friends of Burgess Park will be opening up several usually-hidden parts of the Passmore Edwards building on Wells Way – or to give it its full title, the Old Library, Baths And Washhouse (OLBAW)! This year, we’re forging ahead with making plans for the future of the building, having received a grant of seed funding to assist with this from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Come along and help us visualise the possibilities for the future of the building. The Wells Way Popup in the old library building will provide hospitality with refreshments, and there’ll be a second chance to look at the displays we set up for for the Making of a Modern Park meeting in May.

Old Library Baths and Washhouse building on the left, with Wells Way bridge over the drained canal, in about 1960
Old Library Baths and Washhouse building on the left, with Wells Way bridge over the drained canal, in about 1960


Come and join us 1pm to 5pm, 19th and 20th September 2015.

Piles of rubble turned into a wildflower walk – 8th August

Burgess Park has some of the most beautiful piles of rubble this time of year!

Wildflower planting

Come and find out about them on a guided walk with the designer, James Hitchmough, on 8th August 2015, starting at 11am. Read on for details and links.

At the hand-over of Burgess Park from the GLC (at their dissolution in 1986) to Southwark Council, there were many buildings remaining in the park. In some cases, the GLC had plans for them, which were never realised due to their demise. In other cases, compulsory purchase had not been arranged yet, or there were long leases about to expire.

These buildings were nearly all eventually cleared by Southwark Council in the following ten years. In many cases, the rubble was simply piled up and topsoil dumped on top of it all. So various hillocks appeared wherever the buildings had happened to be.

At the revitalisation stage in 2010, it was decided to make a feature of these hills by re-arranging them into a more meaningful formations.

Piles of soil being bulldozed around
Re-landscaping in the eastern park, 2010 (© Jon Pickup)



The previous low plateaued hillocks became higher and steeper with ‘faces’ providing different climatic conditions to accommodate various kinds of planting.



The designers, LDA, engaged the services of the Sheffield University Horticultural Department to plan the planting. James Hitchmough, celebrated for the London 2012 Olympic gardens, wildflower meadows and horticultural planting, devised meadow and prairie-like elements, and these were sown in January 2012.

New Hills in 2013
New Hills at the western end in 2013

The north slopes comprise a ground layer of sown, shade-tolerant, mainly woodland perennials from which emerge summer and autumn flowering tall perennials. The West facing slopes support a heat and drought tolerant cosmopolitan meadow, running down to a drainage swale at the base. Despite some of the challenges, public response to the wildflowers has been extremely positive.

Professor Hitchmough will lead a walk explaining the design and planting, and describe how he arrived at the design. The walk will start at the western end, at the Tennis Courts near Addington Square, and visit the hills nearby. It will then move on to St Georges Gardens at the eastern side of the park, where he designed complex garden-like planting, which is looking beautiful now.

Please sign up for the walk on Eventbrite, where there will be a small deposit to pay, refundable on the day.

St Georges Gardens
St Georges Gardens


The Making of a Modern Park event – how was it?

Crowded room with 4-person panel at the front, Robert Hadfield speaking
Photo: Sam Tilling

On 23rd May 2015, we followed up last year’s Bombs to BMX talk on the history of the the area by bringing the account of the making of the park almost up to date. Once again, we were privileged to have an auspicious line-up of guests, and the panel included some of the key players from the park’s growing years:

David Sadler MBE (former Burgess Park Manager) Joyce Bellamy OBE (GLC Parks Department) and Robert Hadfield (former vice-chair of Groundwork Southwark), chaired admirably by Barbara Pattinson (Chair of SE5 Forum)

David Sadler kicked things off in a relaxed style with his own memories of the challenges of running the park day to day. Metaphorically and literally down to earth stuff. He’d been Deputy Park Manager (working for the London County Council) for a few years in the 1960s and recalled helping plant some of the very first trees of what was then known as the “North Camberwell Open Space”. It would eventually be renamed Burgess Park – even though, as he later recounted, if the local schools had had their way, it would universally have been named Georgie Best Park.

Schools involvement was later a big part of his work – the nature area on Cobourg road for instance, where school groups were invited along to study wildlife reclaiming a bomb-site.

Having moved on to work in West Kensington, no less, it was a call from out of the blue that queued up a mystery promotion opportunity. It proved, of course, to be Burgess Park. Despite some friendly dismay (“why do you want to go there? it’s not even a park!?”), David returned to Camberwell, and the streets he’d known as a boy, now as Parks Manager. He would stay throughout the 70s, until the abolition of the GLC in 1986, when “we all found ourselves very suddenly out of a job”. But before then there were colourful stories of run-ins with the Richardsons on Neate Street, Cypriot festivals, discoveries of warehouses full of contraband whisky and even a proud turning point visit from the Duke of Edinburgh himself in 1985 – rudely derailed by the Brixton Riots.

Joyce Bellamy followed – always engaging, and once again on fine form. Joyce gave a very clear account of the painstaking piecemeal acquisition of land that went to build up the green space – over literally decades. She recalled the sheer scale of endeavour involved in decontaminating every inch of acquired ground – like the creosote contaminated ex-timber-yard plots. Over in Addington Square there’d been a scientific instrument makers, painting dials with gow-in the-dark paint, where “the soil in that area ticked when it was tested” [for radioactivity, with a Geiger counter]. The square, she noted as an aside, lacks tall trees in the centre to this day, because of the air raid shelter beneath it.

As ever Joyce displayed her usual knack for marrying big ideas to on-the-ground details, such as the local impact of the Civic Amenities Act, and recalling a later period “when the police had seemingly decided that all trees harbour muggers”. But her overarching tone was clear – one of quiet pleasure in seeing the park today blooming, and especially looking so well used.

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Robert Hadfield, Joyce Bellamy, David Sadler (speaking, in front of a newpaper image of himself c.1980) and chair Barbara Pattinson (Photo: Sam Tilling)
Robert Hadfield’s take reflected a later age, where grand visions were viewed a little more warily. Southwark Council had acquired the park rather suddenly in the mid 80s, and it seems initially nobody was quite sure what to do with it. Robert recalled with horror some of the dubious past plans (all thankfully fought off) to sell off plots of park land, noting in hindsight how they’d always occurred in June, July, & August when there were no Council meetings and the officers ran riot… There was almost a touch of W1A farce in some of the stories, including one of a war memorial being nicked, then spotted on the back of a lorry in east London and chased into the suburbs, later to be returned to its spot in front of St George’s church. On the surreal landscape of residual derelict buildings awaiting outright demolition, was the observation that they provided both hazard and resource alike – to  eagle-eyed Robert on the lookout for a bit of skirting board or spare parts from the car-breakers’ yards.

But Robert’s overall theme was a cheerful reminder – that despite the highs and lows, and even the odd collective ghastly moment, the park always has been used and enjoyed by thousands, day-in day-out.

After a brief interval with refreshments and exhibition, the second half was given over to a lively audience question session. It was great to see a few familiar faces in the audience, such as Tim Charlesworth (author of “THE STORY OF BURGESS PARK – FROM AN INTRIGUING PAST TO A BRIGHT FUTURE”, and a memorable guest speaker last year), and the good folk of the Walworth Society.

We hope the supporting exhibition went down well – our thanks to Southwark Local History Library & Archive for permission to reproduce some of the images.

Finally a word of thanks to the Wells Way Pop-Up, who hosted us beautifully, providing seating and café.

Listen to Part 1 – presentations from the three speakers, following introductions from Susan Crisp – Friends of Burgess Park and Chair Barbara Pattinson – chair of SE5 Forum:

Listen to Part 2 – Questions from the floor:

The making of a modern park

2-4pm, 23rd May 2015

Wells Way Pop Up, The Old Library, 39 Wells Way, London SE5 OPX

The story of the post-war creation of Burgess Park, told by some of the prime instigators. A free Friends of Burges Park Heritage Event, as part of the Chelsea Fringe (donations gratefully received).

Come and join in the conversation with Joyce Bellamy, OBE, former head of parks for GLC, Dave Sadler, former park manager, Robert Hadfield, formerly with Groundwork.

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The chat will be illustrated with images, maps, brochures and newsletters showing the development of the park from its WWII bomb site beginnings through the multi-million pound 2010 make-over to the present day.

There’ll be light refreshments available from the on-site cafe. This is a free Friends of Burgess Park Heritage Event, as part of the Chelsea Fringe festival (donations gratefully received).

Buses 343 and 136 (Elephant and Castle/Peckham/Lewisham) go almost to the door. Wells Way Pop Up is not fully accessible to wheelchair users: The access to the building is up 7 stone stairs and there are no level access toilet facilities in the building. If you can manage the entry steps and the steps to/from the basement level, we can assist with your access requirements.

Please help us plan for the day by registering on Eventbrite:

For more information, contact:


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Council to demolish last vestiges of canal

Southwark Council has decided that the original retaining wall of Glengall Wharf should be replaced with a concrete block barrier similar to those used on motorway embankments. Flowers and plants in the gaps will look ‘nice’, but effectively erase any idea of a canal bank.

Showing old wall with rear of Glengall Terrace behind Glengall Wharf Garden
Original wall of Surrey Canal round Glengall Wharf

The existing wall is certainly not pretty, but it’s a major piece of industrial archaeology from the days when the canal ran alongside and turned down towards Peckham. Apart from the small low concrete ledge in the grass oppposite, it’s the only piece of original canal bank left on the entire three and a half mile length of the Grand Surrey Canal. It features in numerous historic photos of the area.

Black paintede wall around wharf, with 2 sailing barges
Glegall wharf around 100 years ago. ©Museum of London

In this image, you can see the black painted wall with timber fenders attached part way down. In the present-day image above and below, the black painting is still visible, with plain concrete below, where the fenders had been attached.

Two stone blocks just visible, embedded in concrete
Two stone blocks just visible, embedded in concrete

It’s also still possible to see large stone blocks embedded in the wall, if you take a walk today. These were the footings of the large loading chutes visible in the historic image. There are 12 visible on the Peckham route, corresponding to the 6 loading chutes which were on that side of Glengall Wharf.

It seems a great shame to bury almost the last signs of industrial canal heritage for the sake of a tidy-up.

See more on the history of the wharf here.