GET TO KNOW THE DELIGHT THAT IS BECKENHAM PLACE PARK
By Marcela Ferreira
Beckenham Place Park is a real gem.
Not only is it one of the largest green spaces in Lewisham, it has recently reinvented itself as one of the borough's go-to places to visit with the family.
Brimming with history, the mansion and surrounding parkland has previously been a boy’s school, a sanatorium, a prisoner of war camp and most recently a golf course.
It’s a truly vast place, with 237 acres of lush gardens, ancient woodland, meadows, nature trails and plenty of wildlife. Unsurprisingly it’s also a local nature reserve, and part of London’s Green Chain Walk.
And believe it or not, I only came across it last year.
Beckenham Place Park was commonly known as a much-loved golf course. In fact, it was the first municipally owned course in England and in 1933 also one of the busiest. And although its used changed during the Second World War, its golf club status remained until October 2016.
And I am guessing that is why so many of us (less inclined to take up golf) had not been aware of it.
In 2016, Lewisham council decided to restore its natural heritage features and enhance its facilities and activities to attract a wider range of visitors. Since then, the park has been buzzing - with some areas restored, others modified, and many events hosted on its grounds.
Like most change, these have been met with a little controversy. Some golfers felt let down by the council’s decision to close the course, whilst there was also concern over the high number of dogs suddenly using the space. Important issues such as how best to protect the park’s environment and biodiversity have also been raised, and rightly so.
In my opinion, having access to Beckenham Place Park means we also have a responsibility towards it. After all, no-one wants to lose the amazing bluebells or any other of its plants due to increased footfall!
I have visited with my kids on both hot sunny days and cold wet ones. They have scooted, (tried to) climb trees, played hide and seek, explored, ran, picnicked and made fairy circles amongst many other things.
The best thing about Beckenham Place Park is the sheer size of the place. Even though there are a lot of visitors, the grounds are so vast that it often feels like you have entire parts of it just to yourself.
So yes, the park has become one of my favourite places in south east London, but not just because it’s large and pretty to look at. There is a little more to it than that:
The Mansion House
It’s believed the mansion house was built between 1757 and 1762 and is now Grade II listed by English Heritage. It might need a little TLC in some places, but there are still lots of beautiful original features to see, such as its Georgian fireplaces and ornate ceilings.
Even the Attic can sometimes be accessible (if being used as part of an event) and it’s worth a look as its original rustic features have been kept mostly unchanged from when it was used as servant’s quarters.
Walks and picnics are always great, but there are plenty of other children’s activities on offer. The mansion is also the home of the Splatter Make creative workshop who run a number of activities for children and adults alike.
Kids can either join their free Monthly Splatt Club or any of their other (paid) children’s workshops – like their after school clubs or regular weekend classes - so make sure you check out their website for full listings and availability.
Lewisham Council also organises family activities at the mansion such as bike rides (free, but you must register) and forest school sessions (£5 per child), but please check their website for dates available slots as these can often change.
Food + Drink
When you visit, you can bring your own snacks, or a picnic (the grounds are perfect for it), but the truth is you don’t have to. The Mansion has its very own café with plenty of homemade food for sale, hosting regular supper clubs as a way to showcase other local food businesses. The cafe use as many ingredients from the grounds as possible, which is a nice touch. It is a young business, so it can be a little rustic at times! Don’t expect huge menus, baristas on hand or speciality coffees. You have been warned.
Beckenham Place Mansion is managed by the same team behind the successful Bussey Building in Peckham so it’s no surprise that there is a fantastically diverse calendar of events. These range from sewing and craft activities, singing, poetry and painting exhibitions, creative writing courses, life drawing, meditation workshops as well as beer tasting evenings. The Mansion also has a fully operational yoga and pilates studio called Studio Kooks (open 7 days a week). A comprehensive list of all events held at the Mansion is available on their website.
Events such as So Last Century (vintage market) and Crafty Fox Market have been included in their yearly calendar and have been successful in drawing new visitors to the grounds. But if vinyl is more your thing then you can visit the mansion’s own resident record shop - Cigarette Records.
Beckenham Park Mansion have also teamed up with Catford Arts hosting a 3-day free art exhibition fair for local artists and makers – with more rumoured to be scheduled in the future.
Two new markets have opened their doors for the first time this year; Sunset Foodie Market (every Thursday 5 - 10.30 pm) and Beckenham Market (3rd Sunday of every month 10 am – 3 pm), so you can visit with the family or without.
Apart from being stunningly beautiful the park grounds are perfect for long exploratory walks with the family. The sheer scale of it means there is enough room for picnics, games, and dog walkers to enjoy without getting on top of each other.
There is also a beautiful sensory garden maintained by the Friends of Beckenham Place Park, who organise special walks and events so visitors can learn more about the site, from its history to its wildlife. The Friends of Beckenham Place Park open their visitor centre every Sunday from 1.30 -3. 30 pm so if you want to find out more about the place or decide what to look for during your visit, go and have a chat with them. Their informative website, which includes a handy map of the grounds, is also worth checking out.
Since closing the golf course, Beckenham Place Mansion has worked hard in establishing itself as an arts cultural and community centre. More plans are in development for a number of new features such as the restoration of its original lake, the addition of a playground and a wet woodland area, so watch (their) space!
You can enjoy the park’s stunning views by joining the weekly Beckenham Place Park run (every Saturday at 9 am) and can also hire one of the rooms for a corporate function. It is a magical place to have a wedding and if you’re in the movie field, can also hire the park as a film location.
Opening times are 8 am – 10 pm every day of the week. It’s easy to get to the park by public transport; Beckenham Hill and Beckenham Junction stations are both a short walk away and the number 54 bus stops right outside. There is limited parking in the park, but this is often very busy and some surrounding roads have parking restrictions, so if possible, it’s good to travel on foot or by public transport.Why not go and see the splendour of the park for yourself?