Clissold Park and its History

Until quite recently, the very name of Clissold Park was unknown to the majority of Londoners, and to many, even now, it carries with it only  a hazy idea of some outlying open space, that the inhabitants of the surrounding districts have managed to save from the inroads of the ever encroaching builder.

Dim recollections of having seen the the name, in connection with the reports of the labours of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and a lazy pleasure that wherever of whatever it may be, it has somehow been added to the too few open spaces of the Metropolis, sums up the interest of most.

But to those who know Clissold Park, with its magnificent timber, its shady walks, and shining reaches of the New river, its preservation is an article of faith; for to them the builder’s desecration of so charmingly rural a spot, would have been little short of sacrilege. Once within its gates, although still within the four-mile radius, the absolute repose and rural quietude produce an utter oblivion to London and the roar of its traffic, and one seems transported to the sylvan depths of some midland county. Surrounded by every attribute of restfulness and beauty, it is well nigh impossible to bring the mind to believe that within a stone’s throw lies London, with its noisy animation.

On a summer’s evening, when the setting sun has lighted up the western sky with hazy red and brilliant yellow, passing as the eye ascends through tender green and ever darkening grey, this park, with its wealth of stately timber, is a natural panorama of Landscape beauties. The dull green of the trees in the foreground is a natural foil to the rich purples of the distant foliage, while through the mellow half-light, at one’s feet winds the New river, bright in the reflected glory of a gilded sky.

These treasures are jealously guarded, and the utmost difficulty is experienced in obtaining admission to the park; but to the fortunate visitor, five minutes suffice for conversion, and he is prepared to swear, with all who know it, that to have permitted the destruction of such perfect tranquil beauty, would have been nothing short of sin.

Time was when Stoke Newington was a country village, when Southgate-road was a rural lane, and Ballspond covered with corn fields; but year by year the houses have crept over the land, until to-day the village of forty years ago, has become part and parcel of the great Metropolis. Every day sees new fields doomed, and within the last ten years no less than three hundred acres of open fields in this parish alone, have been built upon, and now there remains to Stoke Newington only this small but exceptionally beautiful park, preserved as it were by accident.

About 100 years ago when Stoke Newington was a favourite resort of many London bankers and merchants, and when the old houses, now considerably reduced in rank, were honoured by the residence of such men as Hoare, Burnand, Twells, Leicester, and Bevan, all names of power in the banking world, one of them, Jonathan Hoare, casting about him for a site whereupon to build a house worthy of himself, selected the slightly rising ground at the back of Old St. Mary’s Church. The Banker bargained for the lease of the ground, and sought the services of Mr. Joseph Woods, a noted architect of those days, who had married a Miss Margaret Hoare.

With bricks made of clay dug from the northern portion of the estate, a comparatively small but picturesque house was erected. The date of the erection is not precisely known, but an engraving by Mr. Ellis is extant in which the house occurs, and this was published in 1793. Mr Hoare’s possession, however, did not extend over many years, for business reverses forced him to return once more to a humbler dwelling, and the property passed into the hands of Thomas Gudgeon (Hassell’s engraving of the house entitled “The seat of Thomas Gudgeon, Esq.,” bears date 1804), and later it was sold to a some-what irascible old gentleman named Crawshay, who owned about 27 acres of the adjoining land.

Mr. Crawshay, with his wife and daughters at once took up their residence, and he being a shrewd business man, obtained from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners a perpetual lease of the property. The yearly rental was fixed at “£109 and a fat turkey,” but provisos were inserted in the deed forbidding the granting of building leases, and the cutting down of trees.

Mr. Crawshay was much from home, engaged with his property in Wales, but his wife and her two daughters were constant residents, and regular attendants at the quaint old parish church. The Rev. Augustus Clissold was the curate at that time, and he straightway fell in love with the eldest daughter, who, much to the annoyance of her father, who had a profound hatred of parsons, reciprocated his affection.

The only romance connected with the house, entwines itself with this somewhat chequered courtship, The old gentleman cursed the impudence of the parson and the foolishness of his daughter, and even went so far as to threaten to shoot their messengers. But they quietly waited their time, and at length when death put an end to all opposition, they were free to marry, and the Rev. Augustus Clissold entered into a life possession of “Crawshay’s Farm,” for it was not then called a park.

The pits that had been dug for the purpose of obtaining the materials for bricks at the time the house was built, shortly fell into a neglected a condition and became such an eyesore that orders were given that they should be filled up. Another feature of that park that has also disappeared was the little footway, forming a short cut from Paradise Row to Austin’s Farm, placed by the Highbury Park Tavern.

On the death of the Rev. Augustus Clissold, a few years ago, the property once more reverted to the Crawshay family and Mr. George Crawshay, a great iron master became its owner. The new proprietor whose business kept him much in the North of England, thus found himself the possessor of what seemed very much like a white elephant.  He could not let the place; his lease prevented him from subletting for building purposes, and its agricultural value scarcely sufficed to pay the rent of the Commissioners.

Under these circumstances no one was surprised to see early in 1886, large notice boards advertising the sale of about 20 acres of the freehold estate over which he had absolute control. The date of the sale was however altered no less than three times, and it is a fact that the land never entered the public market.

The appearance of these boards, abortive as they afterwards turned out to be, nevertheless raised quite a furore in the neighbourhood and private enquiries were made as to the amount required to purchase Mr. Crawshay’s freehold and interest. Nothing definite however resulted from there pour parlers, but Mr. Crawshay finding public feeling was being stirred by his action, wrote a letter to the “Times” in which he said, “I have expressly reserved the 5½ acres freehold on which the old house stands because of the extreme beauties of the ground, which, together with the well timbered leasehold and the shaded and encircling waters of the New River, make up a whole, which I trust will never be destroyed. But my power to prevent this is limited to my life.”

This promise, apparently made in earnest, was not kept, and four or five months later the information leaked out that Mr. Crawshay despite his letter, had parted with his interest in the estate for £65,000, and that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were the purchasers.

Encouraged by the well known liberality of the Commissioners in the case of Highgate Woods and other open spaces near the metropolis, a strong committee of the inhabitants of Stoke Newington, South Hornsey, and Highbury was immediately formed, under the presidency of Mr. Joseph Beck, and communications were forthwith opened with the Commissioners. Public meetings were called, and the greatest enthusiasm prevailed. During the holiday season the committee busied themselves with preparing a petition, and as soon as the various public bodies resumed their labours, the work was earnestly resumed.

Stoke Newington Vestry, the South Hornsey Local Board, the Hackney District Board, the Metropolitan Board of Works and the Corporation of London were all waited upon, and gave a cordial reception to the views of the various deputations, the Metropolitan Board of Works receiving a petition signed by 12,000 inhabitants of the neighbourhood in favour of the retention of the Park as an open space. Several private bodies, such as the Kyrie Society and Lord Brabazon’s Committee lent eager aid, and the park was viewed by deputations from the Corporation and the Metropolitan Board of Works.

The terms offered to the Stoke Newington Vestry, as the probable purchasers, were as follows: the price was fixed at £95,000, and the Vestry was to be allowed to Michaelmas 1886, to decide. If at that time they accepted the Commissioners terms, but were not prepared with the purchase money, interest at the rate of 4 per cent. per annum was to be charged on the purchase money remaining unpaid.

Michaelmas day passed and no decision was arrived at, and the Vestry made application for an extension of time, at the same time requesting the Commissioners to receive a deputation with a view of securing a reduction of price, notwithstanding the official statement that a syndicate of builders had offered £120,000 for the property.

The Commissioners declined to make any reduction in the price but granted a further extension of time, and the Prevention Committee with Mr. Beck and Mr. John Runtz at the head, at once proceeded to introduce a Private Bill into Parliament to enable the adjoining parishes, aided by the Metropolitan Board of Works and the City Charity Commissioners to purchase. A number of residents and persons interested in the work, subscribe nearly £1,200 as a guarantee fund, and the bill was duly advertised and proceeded with.

At the outset it was opposed by the Metropolitan Board of Works and the New River Company, but Mr. John Runtz who was closely connected with both of these powerful bodies succeeded in persuading them to withdraw their opposition. Eventually the Bill—which by the way reserved to Stoke Newingtee the power of purchasing the house and two acres of ground —went through both houses of Parliament without opposition.

One or two trifling amendments were made, one of which fixes the maximum rate on any parish or part of a parish at Id. in the pound, and a second was the introduction of a clause at the instance of Mr. Courtney that the consent of any parish to rate itself under the Act, must be obtained by a clear majority of the whole Board or Vestry.

Under the Act the City Charities might lie charged to the extent of £47,500, and as the Corporation had unanimously recommended that such a sum should be given by the Commissioners, and the Metropolitan Board of Works promised £25,000, three fourth of the purchase money was as good as provided.

The next step was to induce Stoke Newington to agree to provide £10,000, which meant a rate of three farthings, and to this the Vestry unanimously consented; South Hornsey as unanimously taxing itself in the same proportion to pay its share of £6,000. Application was made to Islington for £10300o but a virulent opposition lead by Mr. Elliott—now a member of the London County Council—succeeded after many meetings and discussions in defeating the application, and accordingly application was made to Hackney. Hackney readily voted £5,000 and thus encouraged, the committee applied once more to Islington when the same opposition, but less strong, awaited them; eventually the matter was compromised, and Islington voted £2,500.

These various sums as will be at once seen brought the grand total up to £96,000 or £1000 beyond the price agreed upon. But these struggles to obtain the money had extended over more than two years and the accumulated interest at 4 per cent. amounted to nearly £5,000. It was impossible to obtain the needed £4,000, and in this difficulty Mr. Beck almost in despair waited on the Commissioners and asked them to forego the interest.

To this somewhat startling request they acceded, and the bargain was struck. But here another difficulty arose. The City Charities were chargeable with £47,500 but the Distributing Commissioners had not been appointed—in fact they have not been appointed yet—and although their promise was good enough for the Committee, it was not sufficiently like ready money to satisfy the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and once again Mr. John Runtz came to the rescue and persuaded the Metropolitan Board of Works to advance the £47,000 so as to enable the bargain to be at once closed.

On Thursday morning, January 10th, 1889, Mr. John Runtz attended at the Bank of England (Mr. Beck being in India at the time) and paid in the account of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners a cheque drawn by the Metropolitan Board of Works for £96,000. Next day the keys of the estate were handed over to the Metropolitan Board of Works, and Clissold Park became public property.

No time was lost in proceeding with the work of preparing the Park for public use, Contracts were entered into, and Mr. Biggs, the contractor, at once commenced the work work of draining the land, laying out paths and re-opening the the old ponds and removing the old buildings. Day by day and week by week Mr. Beck and has stuck to the work, and has seldom allowed many hours to elapse without a visit. In fact, he and his favourite old bulldog “Patch” have become as familiar to the workmen as their foremen, and in all and miles drainage of and pathways scarcely a yard have escaped their personal inspection.

The work was very, difficulties arose about the bridges and the railings, but Mr. Beck stuck to his firm intentions to have the Park opened this summer. His membership of the London Country Council and his position on the Parks Committee enabled him to urge on those bodies, and eventually his many struggles and indomitable pertinacity were rewarded, when, on the 5th July he secured a promise that the Park should be opened in the last week of the month, and was requested to arrange with Lord Rosebery for a date.

On July 9th he saw Lord Rosebery, and July 24th, 1889 was fixed as the day on which a triumphant period should be put on the arduous labours which for three years Mr. Beck and his committee have unfalteringly pursued.

  • Members of the Clissold Park Preservation Committee:
    • Sir Lewis Pelly, M.P.
    • Cowley Lambert, M.P.
    • Rev. H. E. Bevan
    • Rev. Herman Gollantz
    • Rev. A. C. Holthouse
    • Rev. Prebendary Reynolds
    • Rev. Prebendary Shelford
    • Rev. H. Shimpton
    • Rev. W. Spensley
    • Rev. W. M. Statham
    • William C. Allen
    • E. Austin
    • Wynne E. Baxter
    • Joseph Beck
    • J. T. Bedford
    • George Cable
    • S. W. Casserley
    • A. W. Ernst-Champness
    • Frederic Cox
    • E. Dean-Jones
    • F. J. Dryhurst
    • J. S. Elmore
    • William Eve
    • Charles J. Fox
    • A. W. Franklin
    • F. M. Franklin
    • J. Glover
    • H. Clifford Gosnell
    • T. Greenwood
    • J. Hadfield
    • W. Harrison
    • G. A. Hasler
    • J. C. Hopwood
    • Charles Horsley
    • Thomas K. Howden
    • R. Hunter
    • R. Jobson
    • Marshall Lang
    • Henry Lee
    • J. G. Manton
    • Robert Mather
    • J. E. Mathieson
    • George Motion
    • G. L. Munro
    • R. Parker
    • T. Perman
    • William Prince
    • Andrew F. Reed
    • Henry Rummey
    • John Rüntz
    • J. J. Rüntz
    • E. J. Sage
    • H. Sarson
    • Andrew Sclanders
    • John Sharp
    • Matthew Shaw
    • Rober Sutcliff
    • A. M. Torrance
    • W. B. Trick
    • Dr. Tripe
    • Metford Warner
    • R. T. Watson
    • Elijah Wheeler
    • Frederic E. Wheeler
    • H. R. Williams
    • Dr. Wyatt
  • The following is a list of the names of gentlemen, who came forward as Guarantors, for the expense of promoting the Bill in Parliament for the acquisition of Clissold Park:
    • Rev. Preb. Shelford
    • Rev. W. Spensley
    • W. C. Alexander
    • E. R. Allen
    • W. C. Allen
    • E. Austin
    • Wynne E. Baxter
    • William Eve
    • A. W. Franklin
    • F. M. Franklin
    • John D. Dry
    • T. Greenwood
    • W. Harrison
    • Charles Horsley
    • C. M. Hotson
    • R. Jobson
    • E. Dean-Jones
    • Henry Lee
    • Crosby Lockwood
    • J. G. Manton
    • J. E. Mathieson
    • G. L. Munro
    • W. Prince
    • John Rüntz
    • J. J. Rüntz
    • Edward J. Sage
    • F. Sarson
    • John Sharp
    • Matthew Shaw
    • E. D. Till
    • A. M. Torrance
    • W. B. Trick
    • Metford Warner
    • Elijah Wheeler
    • John Wheeler


At a meeting of the Stoke Newington Vestry held on Friday, July 19th, in referring to a letter received from the London County Council in relation to the opening of Clissold Park on Wednesday, July 24th.

Mr. Beck said: Perhaps I may be allowed to say that after a great deal of difficulty, we have at last succeeded in bringing the matter to this point—that the main portion of Clissold Park will opened to the public, as has been already announced, on Wednesday, July 24th, at five o’clock in the afternoon, and I sincerely hope that every member of the Vestry who can manage to attend will be present on the occasion.

The arrangements, as at [SECTION MISSING] as follows: The Parks (Committee?) [SECTION MISSING] Church Street entrance to the Park by the Lodge will be open at 4 o’clock to all persons who are provided with tickets.

Lord Rosebery will arrive at the entrance opposite the Church at five o’clock, and will be received by the Parks Committee. A procession will be formed, headed by a band, the Clissold Park Preservation Committee leading the way. The Parks Committee of the London County Council will next follow, then the Members of Parliament, and the Chairman of the London County Council, who will be followed by the members of the County Council. They will then proceed, headed by the band, along the pathway on the right-hand side down the avenue to the Park.

They will then walk round the ponds, or lakes—whichever you like to call them—round by the avenue to the Green lanes and thence by the Terrace along the New river to the House. On arriving at the House, the Parks Committee will present the key of the Park to Lord Rosebery. An address will then be presented to Lord Rosebery, who will reply to it and declare the Park open to the public for ever. A gun or some other explosive will then be fired and the gates will be thrown open for the admission of the public. This ceremony will be a very simple one and will be in accordance with the simple efforts which have been made by those who have taken an active part in securing the Park for the public.

The great desire of all those who have had anything to do with this movement, is simply that the public may enjoy the benefits of the beautiful place at as early a time as possible, and I think we may now congratulate ourselves that the Park will be opened before the London County Council adjourns for its summer recess, and that some of the members of the Council who work hard may endeavour to gain a little fresh life from the delicious atmosphere of the Park.

I may inform the members of this Vestry that the lakes are now filled with water, an although the Park, is far from being finished, it is sufficiently advanced for the public to enjoy walking along the beautiful walks which are made there. (Hear, hear.) I only hope that every one who goes there will assist in seeing that order is preserved, and that no damage is done to the Park through its being in a rather unfinished condition.

This caution is especially needful in connection with the New River. The fence which will be eventually placed round the water will not be there, and I hope that all will endeavour to prevent the little children from playing with the water, which bring us into trouble with the New River, and at the same dine endanger their lives.

I don’t think I have any more to say, only to express the hope that you will all be present on the occasion, and if any of you have friends who desire to be present, I think I can supply them with tickets which will enable them to be present—at any rate as far as I am able I shall be most happy to do so.

The London County Council has no fund to supply anything towards making the occasion one worthy of the importance that it it ought to assume. I have heard it hinted in the neighbourhood that as the cortege goes down High street and Church street the people in the district would be willing to close their shops for the time and make a display of beauty suitable for the occasion. (Hear, hear.)

But I know nothing of what is contemplated to be carried out. I don’t suppose we as a body have any power to take any steps towards making decorative display, if not I have no doubt we shall all be willing to join any effort which may be made by the inhabitants in giving a cordial welcome to the newly born local infant – The London County Council. (Laughter and applause).

If there are any questions members of the Vestry would like to put to me as to the proceedings or as to the arrangements, i shall be very happy to answer them to the best of my power. (Loud applause).

Mr Shaw: Mr Beck has alluded to the desirability of our doing something towards giving Lord Rosebery and the members of the County Council who will accompany him a warm reception. I should like know whether this Vestry has any power to give anything towards this expense.

The Clerk: I think is is quite clear that we could not spend anything in the matter.

The Chairman: I should like to give my congratulations to Mr. Beck for the success of the great efforts that he and others have made to secure this Park for the public use, and we must all feel satisfied at the near approach of the end of their labour. (Hear, hear).

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