Battersea Park

History of the park

The beginnings of public parks

Battersea Park opened in 1854.  By the mid 19th century, London's population grew from 1.1 million to 7.2 million as the industrial revolution spread across the country from 1801-1911. The city could not cope with this influx, along with disease sweeping in from across Europe. An 1833 report of the select committee on public works noted the benefits of parks. By the 1840s public parks were part of a package of measures to improve living conditions.

1840s: Plans are made to turn Battersea Fields into a park

A tavern called the Red House in Battersea Fields was known for illegal racing, drinking and gambling. The public park was created to eradicate this behaviour and to provide space and beauty.

In 1844, Thomas Cubitt, a speculative builder, envisaged the development of Battersea Fields as a park, with the surrounding land designated for housing.  In 1846, the Government passed an Act of Parliament which enabled the Commissioners of Woods and Forests to lay out a royal park at Battersea.

A schematic park design was drawn up by James Pennethorne in 1845 (he had already helped design Regent's Park and went on to outline Victoria and Kennington parks).

Seven hundred and fifty thousand tons of material excavated from Surrey Docks was used to raise the level of the site and further material was moved to create the ground shaping. At low tide it is possible to see how much the river embankment has been raised to create the park.

1850s: John Gibson designs and builds the park

In 1854 the carriage drives, lake and mounding were designed and built by the first park superintendent, John Gibson, who had been a pupil of Joseph Paxton, the head gardener to the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth. Joseph Paxton also designed one of the first public parks at Birkenhead and sent Gibson on a plant-hunting mission to India, which inspired one of the park's horticultural highlights, the Sub-Tropical Garden.

The park was officially opened in 1858 by Queen Victoria. It became a major attraction for all and it continued to be a unique destination until the early years of this century.

The impact of the First and Second World Wars

During both wars, anti-aircraft guns and barrage balloons were installed to help protect London from enemy air raids. Shelters were dug, part of the park was turned over to allotments for much needed vegetables and a pig farm was also set up. Maintenance of the park was reduced as the war effort took priority.

1950s: the Festival Pleasure Gardens are developed

After the Second World War, the government proposed the Festival of Britain, offering an optimistic vision of a new modern age.

The Festival Pleasure Gardens were to offer a light-hearted alternative to the more serious cultural exhibits that were developed across London.
Thirty-seven acres of the park were developed to form the Pleasure Gardens in 1951. They were popular and ad-hoc repairs were carried out until the large funfair was removed in 1974. Since then some repairs and were carried out in a piecemeal fashion until the restoration works completed in the nineties.

The overall quality of the 19th century landscape also declined over time, the feature areas and high quality horticulture had been lost.

1980s: Wandsworth Council becomes responsible for the park

When we became responsible for the park in 1986, it was showing serious signs of neglect. A project to improve the park, particularly the lakes and surrounding areas from 1993 to 1996, was jointly funded by Wandsworth Council and the European Union .  With the assistance of Heritage Lottery Funding, a four year restoration project was implemented. Starting in 2000 the park was returned to its former glory by restoring or recreating the most significant Victorian and Festival features of the Park

Post restoration

Following the completion of the major works of the restoration, the parks has had a period of "consolidation" and improvement of facilities, including upgrading of sports facilities, resurfacing of many carriageways and paths, and refurbishment of buildings. In 2011 the newest garden of the park was officially opened - the Winter Garden in the south west corner of the park was a project initiated and fundraised by the Friends of Battersea Park. The opening of the garden, designed by Dan Pearson and created in phases, was the culmination of 7 years or work and cooperation between the Friends the Council. The garden sets a new benchmark for the future improvements of the park.