The Opening of Clissold Park – A Merry Day in North London – The Park and its History – A Nineteenth Century Romance

(Approximated date)

Such a gathering is not often witnessed in North London as that which assembled in the vicinity of the picturesque suburban thoroughfare known as the “Green Lanes,” on Wednesday afternoon, to celebrate the opening to the public of the new and delightful ground for recreation, contemplation, and quietness, which is to be secured to this quarter of the great human hive we call the metropolis, in the old-fashioned tree-studded estate, named Clissold-park.

Despite the summer showers which ever and anon come dropping upon bright gowns and merry faces, all the joy and brightness of life seemed to fill with a spontaneous flow, the hearts of the glad multitude who thronged the place long before the opening ceremony—eager to hear the words which should seal the ground as their own.

As again and again, in the formal address, and in the speeches which were given, all eternity was annihilated in the , declaration that “for ever ” the park should be the people’s own —that in all the coming ages nought should keep from them the health and freshness they should come to seek amid those grand old trees and on that soft green carpet now glistening with drops of life-giving rain—it seemed as though to even the most casual observer the inner soul of things must be laid bare; the great deep craving of the heart which Nature and God alone can satisfy and fulfil. No lover clasping his new-found treasure with bosom swelling with a strong full tide of joy, could dwell with more lingering tenderness upon these words “for ever,” than did the gladsome crowd who came to claim Cliasold as their own.

The old church tower was gaily hung with flags of many hues, the bells clanged forth the sweetest strains those bells had ever made; and bands made merry melody within the park, their sweet airs telling of sea, and sky and plain, of labour and love and war, of evening revel and of morning sacrifice; while now and then across the breeze came sounds of bell and band in jarring discord, like the throb of pain which often marks the limits of true joy.

At four o’clock the Church-street gate was opened to those who had tickets, of which a very large distribution had been made, and soon a delighted throng was inspecting avenues and trees, shaded paths and shimmering waters; whilst outside an enormous crowd was already collecting, to wait until the opening ceremony at five, should give them leave to enter.

The bands of the 21st Middlesex Volunteers and of the “N” division of the police, were in attendance, and played suitable selections in different parts of the park. Shortly after five the Earl of Rosebery and members of the County Council drove up and entered the gates, where they were received by the Earl of Meath and the other members of the Park’s Committee, and conducted round the grounds, the paths being lined by ticket-holder anxious to secure a sight of the principal actors in the ceremony which was about to take place.

The company then proceeded to the mansion, the raised ground in front of which had been railed off and was reserved for the holders of special tickets. The 1st London Engineer Volunteers, under Major Norton, acted as a guard of honour. The Earl of Meath introduced Lord Rosebery to the local Park Preservation Committee, a large number of whom were present, and presented him with a key to the park, after which an address to his lordship was read by Mr. Beck, chairman of the local committee.

During these proceedings, as the committee were standing round the steps on which Lord Rosebery was stationed, those in the enclosure had to stand up in order to see, and there were a good many cries from those outside, who had not seats, of “Sit clown.” Otherwise, the proceedings were most orderly and enthusiastic, in spite of the descent just at the time of a slight shower.

When the contribution of Islington, to the purchase-fund of the park was read out there was an uncomplimentary demonstration in consequence of its comparative smallness. Immediately on the conclusion of Lord Rosebery’s speech, a shell was fired up, and burst in the air, after which the enormous crowd outside, many thousands in number, slowly flowed into the park, those who had already been in, and who were ready to go, finding some difficulty in escaping. For a considerable distance along the road from the gates, the crowd was so great that a strong force of police was employed in keeping clear a path for vehicular traffic.

The addresses delivered from the steps of the mansion were as follows: Lord MEATH said:

The occasion on which we are met is the opening of the splendid park round which we have just walked in procession. I am sure we may congratulate Mr. Beck and the local committee on the success of their labours (cheers) and I feel certain that the County Council, after having seen this park, will think that the money that has been spent upon it has not been thrown away.

It is my duty to-day, Lord Roseberry, to introduce to you the committee which has been responsible for obtaining for the inhabitants of this metropolis this fine open space; and the further duty has been laid upon me of presenting you with the key to the gates of this park. Unfortunately the committee has been disappointed as to their intention to present you with a more beautiful key, but an ordinary one, if your lordship will accept it, I will now hand to you. (Laughter.)

Lord Rosebery, since you came to the high position of head of the County Council which you now occupy, several large parks have been and are being added to those already in existence in the metropolis. (Hear, hear.) The County Council do not, I am sure, desire to take credit to themselves for parks which were purchased by the late Metropolitan Board of Works, but at the same time this Council, and you, Lord Rosebery, are always anxious to do all you can to increase the number of open spaces at the disposal of the metropolis; and I think the Council may congratulate themselves that they have during the short space of time they have been in existence, been happy enough to open Myatt’s fields, Ravenscourt-park, Hampstead-heath extension, and now Clissold-park. (Cheers.) Four parks within a very short space of time, containing 364 acres. Within a short time you will probably be called upon to open a new park at Dulwich, of 72 acres.

Under your presidency the Council have been instrumental in assisting the acquisition of Vauxhall-park, and probably also of Brookwell-park. (Hear, hear.) At this moment we have under our charge some 42 open spaces, and although;this may seem a large number, it is not more than this vast Metropolis requires—indeed, there is room, if finances permit, for further acquisitions. (Cheers.) I have great pleasure in handing to you this key, and requesting you to declare this park open to the public. (Loud cheers.)

Mr. Beck then, on behalf of the Clissold park Preservation Committee, read an address to the Earl of Roseberry. The document was a somewhat lengthy one, and after thanking his lordship for his presence explained that more than five years ago, when it became known that the owner of Clissold-park was desirous of realising the property, a committee was formed to secure for the public what was the last available open space in a district crowded with homes.

The negotiations were unsuccessful, and in 1886 it became known that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had purchased the estate, and were preparing to build upon it. The estate, which comprised 53½ acres, half of which had previously been held from the commissioners under lease, at a rent of £109 and a fat turkey (laughter) — with a proviso that no trees should be felled or building leases granted, whilst the other half was the freehold property of Mr. George Crawshay.

The estate lay both within and without the Metropolitan area, so that neither the Board of Works nor the Corporation could deal with the purchase as a whole. A Bill was introduced in Parliament, however, giving the Board of Works power to make the purchase, and passed unopposed; whilst the Ecclesiastical Commissioners agreed to give the committee the refusal of the estate at £95,000, leaving 4 per cent. till the completion of the purchase.

Petitions were signed by more than 12,000 residents to the Corporation, the Board of Works, and the Commissioners; the Corporation visited the park, and recommended the Charity Commissioners to contribute £47,500, or half the cost, to which the Charity Commissioners agreed, and the Board of Works contributed £25,000. The parish of Stoke Newington gave £10,000 ; South Hornsey, £6,000; Hackney, £5,000; and Islington, £2,500—groans, hisses, and laughter)– thus making up the total sum required. (Loud cheers).

The Ecclesiastical Commissioners also agreed to give up the interest, which would have amounted to £5,000. (Cheers). The committee had had most valuable assistance in overcoming difficulties from Mr. Runtz, one of their members who was on the Board of Works, and the cost of passing the Act of Parliament had been under £200. (Hear, hear). The park was still in an unfinished state, but its great natural beauties were unimpaired, and it would be a valuable addition to the lungs of the metropolis. (Cheers).

The committee regretted they were not able to offer his lordship the hospitality they would desire, but if at at a more suitable time they should celebrate the event in a congenial manner by a banquet— (laughter)—they trusted his lordship would be among their honoured guests. (Cheers). The address was signed for the committee by Mr. Beck, as chairman.

Lord ROSEBERY said:

Mr. Beck, Lord Meath, ladies and gentlemen, this occasion, joyful though it be, is not one that calls for any prolonged remarks from me, and I have three reasons for not addressing you at length. In the first place, although the House of Lords is not supposed to be an exhilarating audience, it is much better than an audience of umbrellas (laughter), and in the second place I feel I come as a reaper where others have sown, for though the County Council are privileged to see the completion of your labours, it was in conjunction with the Metropolitan Board they were chiefly carried on. (Hear, hear.)

And thirdly, I cannot help feeling, we, in the Council, have strained to the utmost limits of our jurisdiction, and are almost beyond the boundary which divides us from another, and I trust friendly power, the County Council of Middlesex Mr. Beck, I was greatly interested in the record you have presented to us, of the generous individual effort by what this great enterprise has been so well carried out.

I am one of those who believe the contribution of the County Council to these open spaces, is not meant to swamp or supersede, but to stimulate and encourage local effort. (Hear, hear). Wo are the treasury department of the metropolis; we have calls on our purse from day to day, more or less pressing, more or less large, but which we have to meet in a spirit of equity, not merely with regard to those who make the demand, but those who find the supplies. (Hear, hear.)

We hold the purse not of one or another district, but of the whole metropolis of London outside the city, and have to administer these funds, not to make one quarter happy and triumphant, but with a spirit of justice to the great body of the ratepayers. (Applause.)

Now, ladies and gentlemen, we are an infant body struggling among many difficulties, and without perhaps that measure of encouragement which we might expect from our electors. We are an infant body and we have to look abroad without so much experience as we could wish, to see in what way we can best deal with our power for the happiness and welfare of that great mass of opulence and misery which is leaned the metropolis. (Hear, hear.)

I believe the County Council have made up their minds that we can in no respect meet the wishes of the population better than by furthering and improving the accommodation of the working classes, and in the second place by securing at every opportunity open spaces for the people. We have to consider the rate at which London is growing, and that what is an outlying piece of ground to-day, not to be separated from the country outside, may have to be secured to-morrow to secure the health and happiness of a vast urban district. (Applause).

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that requires some vigilance, it requires some courage; and it requires at the same time a bold responsibility, and I am bound to say an expenditure which, if not carefully controlled, may yet land an in difficulties. (Hear, hear). I believe if we spend generously, we shall meet an exceeding rich reward. It is an exceeding rich reward to come here and see the anxious crowd outside, waiting to step in upon that domain, which in a moment I shall declare their property for ever. (Cheers).

Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot bring London to the country, we must endeavour to bring the country as far as possible to London. We have, I believe, at this moment in London, more open spaces than in any other city in the world, but that does not meet the difficulty with which we have to cope. In other cities almost every house has its own open space. Our ground is too valuable for that, our open spaces must be in the aggregate, and the more we can increase the number and volume of these open spaces, the more, I believe, shall we deserve the gratitude of the citizens of London. (Cheers).

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it is not now my task to detain you any longer, but I venture to assure you the County Council have had a rich reward for their labours, which are heavy, in coming round been to-day. We have walked the boundaries as the parish schools used to walk the boundaries, but we have not received that periodical flogging which was inflicted on the school children, to impress indelibly on their memories the importance of the occasion. (Laughter).

At present, we see, in all their native beauty, the trees which decorate this park. I don’t know why it is, but the London tree, when it comes under the charge of the public authorities, is lopped and trimmed, till it resembles more an inverted mop than these monarchs of the forest we aim to cultivate. (Laughter).

I hope the trustees will be wise enough to leave the trees to nature as much as can they can. (Cheers). In the meantime, I can assure you this occasion will only stimulate us in our work, in the endeavour to secure for the people of London as many more of these open spaces as possible, on which so largely depend the happiness, the health, and the morality of the people. (Cheers).

In the name, and on behalf of the London County Council, I declare Clissold-park open to the public for ever. (Loud Cheers).    

THE PARK AND ITS HISTORY.

London’s latest acquisition is, without doubt, the finest of her open spaces. We never dreamt that so near the busy, bustling city there stood such a magnificent spot. For beauty it cannot be matched many miles around; and as you enter its gates, walking just a few yards within, so that the chestnut completely screens the entrance lodge, you have no sign whatever that you are so near the might London. Here there is no smoke, no streets, warehouses, or offices in sight; all is calm, serene, picturesque and beautiful.

The old mansion on the right is the only thing to remind you that you are near the habitation of man. At our feet the still waters of the New River reflect the inverted image of the fine old chestnut trees which delightfully grow on either of its banks; and through the spaces between their fine stems we see the green stretches of grassland, dotted here and there by some groups of trees for which the park is far-farmed.

The keeper, Mr. Kempsell, seems to take a thorough interest in these old children of his care, knowing them all, not only by name, but by their individual characteristics. Though they are so numerous, there is not one, of which he cannot point out some peculiarity, or tell some story, and it is really interesting and pleasant, to put yourself into his keeping for half-an-hour and let him discourse and , illustrate as he will.

He takes you along the river bank to show you a very rare and strange looking tree. It is called the Holy Thorn, and is really the same kind of tree as that celebrated one at Glestonbury. It will be remembered that the legend about this Holy Thorn, says that St. Joseph, of Arimathea, came, sent by St. Philip the Apostle, with twelve companions from Palestine to Britain, to convert this heathen nation, and to cast out the Druid superstition; and that throughout his long journey, he used a dry hawthorn stick as a walking-staff. When arrived at Glastonbury, the little company thoroughly weary, climbed a small hill here, and sitting down St. Joseph stuck his walking-stick into the earth, and it at once blossomed into flower.

They called the place “Weary-all-Hill,” by which name it is known to-day; and from that day to this, the dry stick of St. Joseph has lived and bloomed. But the remarkable thing about it is that, unlike other thorns, it has blossomed twice a year. From this thorn, several grafts, and offshoots have been taken from time to time. There are not many, however, known to-day. One by some means, has found its way to Clissold-park, as will be seen by our sketch of it, the tree has fallen flat with the ground, and one branch has actually sunk into the soil.

Whether the legend be true or no, Londoners certainly have a curiosity and a treasure in the old Holy Thorn. We trust that visitors to Clissold-park will take what care they can of it. Such care needs to be taken, for the tree is in a position, in which it is very easily damaged. Our sketch shows the old labornam, just by the side of the Mansion, split and propped. Most Laburnams split likewise, their wood is very heavy, and they have a great tendency to divide and each part start business for itself.

The tree here, has divided much, and is only saved from falling on either side to the ground, by the props which have been fixed beneath them. We were told, too, that any description of Clissold-park would not be complete without some mention of her grand old cedars. As we looked at them we thought they must have been the very objects from which some well-known prints had been taken which are supposed to represent ” Cedars of Lebanon.”

On Thursdays and Saturdays, the visitor will find a very curious effect towards night. Standing on the bank of the extremely pretty river, and facing towards the Alexandra Palace, he will observe a very remarkable sight. The magnificent rockets will be seen to ascend from the Palace up to the clouds, and reflected in the stream, they will appear to be descending into the depths of the water, lighting up with great brilliancy the bottom of the stream. Then, as the firework sparks tall to earth again, they will seem to be rising from the bed of the river to the surface, and rushing to meet their brethren sinking from the air. It is a strange sight, and well worth watching.

The history of the Park is soon told. It is short, but there is a touch of romance about it. The district surrounding the spot, though so thickly populated now, was one stretch of fields and woods about 50 years ago. The little village of Stoke Newington was pleasantly situated, and reached by a lovely country lane, running through corn fields, and now called Southgate-road.

About 50 years previous to that time, one Jonathan Hoare, a rich banker, selected a small hill at the back of the old parish church of St. Mary’s, Stoke Newington, on which to build a house. This Jonathan had a daughter, and this daughter had married one Joseph Woods, an architect. The young man designed, and the old gentleman paid for, the building of the dwelling now known as Clissold Mansion. The date of its erection is not known, but it was about 1790, and it is also known that the bricks and other building material was made from the diggings on the estate.

About 1800, the property passed into the hands of a gentleman, of whom nothing seems to be known, save that his name was Gudgeon. Whilst Mr. Gudgeon owned the house and its grounds, he become acquainted with an old gentleman, who owned 27 acres of land adjoining. This neighbour of Mr. Gudgeon war by no means a pleasant gentleman to live with. He was crotchetty —had a bad temper, and many fads. One of his fads was to become proprietor of Gudgeon’s mansion, which, he thought, would make a splendid dwelling, if united to his 27 acres.

His name was Crawshay, and in a very few years he succeeded in persuading Mr. Gudgeon to sell hie house, and at once went with his family to live there; then to make his new domicile secure and complete, treated with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; for a perpetual lease. This he also succeeded in obtaining, and his rent was £109, with provisions that no building should take place on the land or trees cut down. It is at this time that any romance connected with the park comes in.

Mr. Crawshay was not often at home, or  would have compelled his wife and daughters to be at home on Sundays. The church of St. Mary’s was only next door, and, if nothing else, it would a little change for the old lady and the younger ones if they attended divine service. This they did, and became energetic in the work and interests of church parish matters, and in such work became much associated with the Rev. Augustus Clissold, the curate.

This old gentleman fell in love with the eldest daughter. The old gentleman was wroth, and made the courtship a very unpleasant one. All the obstacles crabby Mr. Crawshay could put in the young people’s way he did, causing them to meet as seldom as possible, and threatening to shoot those he discovered bringing messages between the pair.

Still, though the course of true love never does run smooth, the flowing river finds the ocean at last, and in spite of Crawshay’s abhorrence of clergymen and their work, the happy couple were married at last, though it was not till the death of the irascible old farmer Crawshay. The curate now took possession, and from that time till now the estate hag been called by his name. But, on his death, Mr. George Crawshay, an ironmaster, became possessed of the property. It was, however, very little use to him; the lease would not allow him to sublet, and though he made the attempt, he failed to get anyone to take the whole estate. If he used the land for agricultural purposes he could not raise enough to pay his rent, and he could not enjoy it himself, for he spent most of his time amongst the ship-building yards and iron foundries of the North of England.

The place was clearly a burden to him, and he did the only wise thing he could have done—announced it for sale. For more than three years it has been in this unsettled condition; but is now, as is well known, public property. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners bought the whole of it, about 27 acres, for £65,000. But public interest had been raised, and the inhabitants of the North of London thought what a fine open space it would make as a recreation ground. A committee formed from Highbury, Horsney, and Stoke Newington opened communications with the commissioners, and at last succeeded in getting them to offer the property for £95,000 although a syncidicate of builders had offered £120,000.

on the 10th day of this year the property became its owners for the sum of £95,000. This amount being provided in the following way: The late Metropolitan Board of Worke giving £25,000, the Charity Commissioners £47,500, the Vestry of Stoke Newington £10,000, South Hornsey £6,000, the District Board of Hackney £5,000 and the Islington Vestry £2,500.

What will become of the house in the grounds is not yet known. If we dare suggest such a thing, we should say that it would be splendid, indeed, if it could be furnished with curiosities, historical and literary relics, peculiar to the North of London. The spot is exceedingly fruitful in such things, if

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