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Places are like people when they’re on their uppers it doesn’t half show. Nudged by the first snow flurry this I thought it would be a good time to visit the Winter Garden at Avery Hill.  After all this is what they were built for, a reminder of sunshine in the long winter months.

Avery Hill Park

Avery Hill Park

Last time I visited there was a vibrancy with lots of information about the refurbishment plans.  An enthusiastic gardener spoke to me about the stage 2 Heritage Lottery Fund application was being developed which involved comprehensive repairs and a new heating system to reinstate the main conservatory into a temperate house. The announcement by Greenwich University, just before Christmas, that they are putting the site up for sale has filled the place with gloom.  The application  to English Heritage was never submitted and in a stroke the figure of Mercury, that tops the  was replaced by the sword of Damlocles.

Walled Rose Garden

Walled Rose Garden

On this visit I was the lone visitor in the magnificent Victorian structure with one worker locked inside a booth. No lively conversation this time. Outside was no better, the light covering of snow could not disguise the drabness of the walled garden. It was flat with not even a hint of architectural planting to give winter interest.  Back in the early C20th the gardens were used to supply other parks and grow specialist planting. All that remains is the one walled garden and a car park now covers the former fruit garden.

Winter Garden

Winter Garden

The Mansion House site is surrounded by open parkland. Below the ancient Conduit and Pippenhall Meadows two springs feed the River Shuttle which is in a culvert.  In Victorian and Edwardian times rivers were diverted, often underground, which created a network of lost urban rivers. In recent years more rivers have been restored or ‘daylighted” as this helps to reduce flood risk and increases bio-diversity. The river emerges at the far end of the green space on the Alderwood Estate. Restoring Avery Hill Park to wetlands would certainly give the parkland more interest.

Winter Garden

What does the future hold? Well, firstly the covenant put in place by the London County Council, ensuring that the Winter Garden remains open to the public, cannot be revoked.  A challenge for any potential developer and the refurbishment costs are huge at an estimated £7.5million. The land is not designated for residential use, so it will be quite some time before luxury apartments appear.

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Lovelace Green

Lovelace Green

I doubt if there are many places that have such a lyrical place name as Lovelace Green. It is a wonderful space and although it sounds as though it should be in a rural idyll it’s in Eltham, South East London. It’s one of the open spaces in the Progress Estate, stumble into this place and you are transported into the countryside.

Lovelace Green Progress Estate

It’s a village green surrounded by individually designed homes. Look up and all you see is sky and trees no high rise buildings overshadowing. This is a testament to everything Ebeneezer Howard set out to achieve in the Garden City Movement. As he sets out in Garden Cities of Tomorrow 1902:

“ ..a Garden City that, as it grows, the free gifts of Nature- fresh air, sunlight, breathing room and playing room- shall be still retained in all needed abundance”

The name of the place is intriguing.

Lovelace Green Progress Estate

The roads on the estate are named after munitions production such as Congreve and Shrapnel. Others named after managers at the Royal Arsenal; Moira, Ross and Downman. Lovelace Green, however, is named after the 17th Century poet Richard Lovelace. If you google him it is likely to say that he was born in Woolwich or Holland. However, the more authoritative biographies confirm his South East London credentials.

Lovelace Green Progress Estate

Richard Lovelace a Cavalier fought for Charles I during the English Civil War. He was imprisoned twice during this period being finally released when Charles was executed. His story is one of great personal loss. He lost his personal fortune and the love of his life Lucy Sacheverell. She was betrothed to Lovelace but believing him to be dead, during his imprisonment, married another suitor.

Lucy Sacheverell is featured in many of Lovelace’s poems and is generally identified with Althea in his poem To Althea from Prison:

When love with unconfinèd wings
Hovers within my gates;
And my divine Althea brings
To whisper at the grates;
When I lye tangled in her haire,
And fetter’d to her eye,
The birds, that wanton in the aire,
Know no such libertie.

When flowing cups run swiftly round
With no allaying Thames,
Our carelesse heads with roses bound,
Our hearts with loyal flames;
When thirsty griefe in wine we steepe,
When healths and draughts go free,
Fishes, that tipple in the deepe,
Know no such libertie.

When (like committed linnets) I
With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetnes, mercy, majesty,
And glories of my King.
When I shall voyce aloud, how good
He is, how great should be,
Inlargèd winds, that curle the flood,
Know no such libertie.

Stone walls doe not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Mindes innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedome in my love,
And in my soule am free,
Angels alone that soar above
Enjoy such libertie.

“Stone walls doe not a prison make” the much-quoted line seems a fitting ideal for a place founded on the Garden City movement.

River Shuttle Eltham

There are not many places in London where can you walk from the source of a river to the point where it flows into a tributary. You can in South East London. The source of the River Shuttle lies between Pippenhall and Conduit Meadows in Eltham. It flows in an easterly direction and into the River Cray close to Hall Place in Bexley. The walk is well signposted and there are areas in which the river can be seen and in some it is hidden underground.

River Shuttle Eltham

As you walk across Avery Hill Park you will not see the river it is in an underground channel or culvert. In Victorian and Edwardian times rivers were diverted, often underground, which created a network of lost urban rivers. In recent years more rivers have been restored or ‘daylighted” as this helps to reduce flood risk and increases bio-diversity. The river emerges at the far end of the green space on the Alderwood Estate. Restoring Avery Hill Park to wetlands would certainly give the parkland more interest. The Quaggy has been restored and is now a major feature in Sutcliffe Park Eltham.

River Shuttle in Bexley Woods

From Alderwood the river runs in a channel along a residential road and then into parkland. A long ribbon of meadow, of variable width, follows its path. This in itself is astonishing; that there are approximately 10 miles of meadow in South East London. On the water’s edge are nettles, coarse grasses, canary grass, sedge and soft rush. This vegetation provides shelter for small animals as well as food for birds and insects.

Weeping Willow banks of River Shuttle

The alders that run along the banks of the river are renowned as the best in London and give the name to the estate and the primary school. Other native trees along the banks are weeping willows, Lombardy Poplars and whitebeam. You will have walked about 4 miles by the time you get to Bexley Woods. If your feet are tired you can relieve them by putting alder leaves into your shoes. This and other folklore stories in on a helpful information board. A great urban walk.

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Greemwich Cemetery

If you’re a fan of Gothic there’s no better place to admire it than a Victorian cemetery. Greenwich cemetery is situated on the corner of Shooters Hill and Well Hall Road, so it’s actually Eltham. It may not be as famous as Highgate but its one of the largest cemeteries in London, with striking views across London and has two Gothic chapels. There’s even a connection with Russia. The Russian poet, political activist and exile, Nikolai Platonovich Ogarev (1813-1877) was buried here. In 1966 his remains were exhumed, cremated and his ashes taken back to Russia by two of the Soviet Writers’ Union. They were buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Greenwich Cemetery

There are some impressive examples of urns, obelisks and statues which have, sadly, become obscured by dense ivy and brambles. One obelisk commemorates Ellen Amelia (Nellie) aged 7 and her sister Olive Madeline aged 4, followed shortly afterwards by their parents Robert and Amelia Abbot Moore who both died on 19th August 1889. The imagined tragedy still heart-rending;the memorial set up for eternity now shrouded in vegetation.

Greenwich Cemetery

The cemetery is close to the Royal Herbert Hospital and the Royal Military Academy so, as you might guess, there’s some notable military personnel buried here. The grave of General Sir Arthur Holland, Commandant of the Royal Military Academy is confusing as it had the surname Holland and Butcher. Apparently he changed his name. James Jameson was a Surgeon General and Director of the Army Medical Services. On the noticeboard you will see an intriguing pink section which is the Norwegian area. Here are buried about thirty Norwegian refugees killed in the 2nd World War.

Greenwich Cemetery

A large white memorial to the dead of the First World War dominates the far end of the site. The view from this vantage point follows the Thames from Greenwich to Canary Wharf and the City. The inscription is: Their Name Liveth for Evermore. Scattered though the grounds are distinctive white huts with red roofs. All but one are boarded up. I’ve heard that prospective parents visit cemeteries to get ideas about names, you can do that here and there’s more to see.

Cliefden House

Cliefden House

It’s a fact that you can pass a place or building frequently and not really see it. No, it’s not magic it’s just that places become familiar and we rarely look above the first storey. Take Cliefden House on Eltham High Street. Locals may shout “where’s that?” Well, it’s Costa Coffee on one side and a pawnbrokers on the other. Move to the other side of the street, take another look and you can see the shape of a large, early 18th Century house. To add insult, to this house of architectural significance, are the unsightly down pipes and other fixtures that have been added.

Rear view of Cliefden House

Rear view of Cliefden House

Now take a look at the back of the house. To do this you take the pathway at the side of the HSBC bank, work your way through the detritus of the retail trade and you will find a 17th Century stable block. It’s in a really sad state of repair; unloved and surrounded by rubbish. From here there is a view of the rear of Clieffden House, hemmed in and its full elevation totally obliterated from view.

18th C stables at rear of Cliefden House

18th C stables at rear of Cliefden House

Stables at rear of Cliefden House

Continue on this path and encounter The Orangery, a Baroque garden building, 1717-25. Originally it belonged to Eltham House which was demolished in the 1920s. Whilst giving its name to the lane in which it’s situated, it’s now an inconsequential part of it. It was repaired in 2003 and now work is in progress to add an extension. From this perspective it looks out of balance and the new wing dominates. From the Orangery Lane perspective it doesn’t look as bad as the extension is on an incline and slopes backwards. The Orangery is hemmed in by car parks and hard surfaces. Previous planning decisions leaving a nightmare of a scheme for future generations. Architects’ drawings show a small green space in front as a nod to its past life, in reality, it’s of postage stamp proportions. The development will be studio offices.

The Orangery Eltham

The Orangery Eltham

Within a walking distance of 200 metres you have three 18th Century buildings that are buried in the town’s modern topography. They are all listed by English Heritage. Two buildings, The Orangery and Clieffden House, are in the elite 8% of all listed buildings of outstanding interest and have a Grade ll*. The joy of buried treasure is that it can be found. Let’s hope so.

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