Wandle Park – a brief history

Early history
The early history of Wandle Park involves two meadows – Frog Mead and Stubbs Mead. The former was mentioned in a manuscript as early as 1543 although the spelling was erratic, it varied from Frogge Mede to Froke Mede. The name presumably meant the area was very wet and that many frogs were to be found there. The other meadow was referred to as Stubbes in a manuscript of 1543 and was probably part of Waddon Court Farm. The River Wandle played an important part in the development of Wandle Park. The river served as a water supply and a sewer and was blamed for the frequent outbreaks of disease and the high death rate in 19th century Croydon. In the 1800s the local Board of Health tried to provide proper drainage for the Town. The first sewage works were built on the eastern border of what is now the park (a slaughter house was later built on the site and during the 1980s the site was cleared and houses built).

The Park created
Wandle Park is amongst the oldest public open spaces in Croydon and like many parks of its time resulted from the Industrial Revolution and the awareness of the need for recreation in the increasingly industrial town.The Corporation bought Frog Mede from the Briton Medical & General Life Association Limited for £1,518. 15s. It had been part of the Waddon Estate and consisted of 7 acres. The Schedule attached to the Deed of Conveyance records 42 Indentures and Deed Polls between 1847 and 1889 – an indication of the unpopularity of the undrained land. The meadow to the north of the river, which the Corporation bought 11 1/2 months later on December 12th 1889, had only been sold once in the same time by Frederick Taylor of Waddon to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.The Commissioners sold 13 acres to the Corporation for £2,700 and stated in the deed that:-The land shall be forever dedicated and used as an ornamental pleasure ground and place of recreation for the inhabitants of the Borough of Croydon and for no other purpose whatsoever and shall forever with the said intended pathway be maintained in good and neat order and condition…

The pathway referred to was to be from the north west corner of the park running northwards beside the railway to a crossing place to enable people to enter the Park.The original fields were reshaped in the middle of the 19th century by the railway cutting through them. The railway was opened in 1855 and was worked by a GP Bidder until 1856 when it was leased to the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company.In 1890 Wandle Park was laid out on the site of Stubbs Mead and Frogs Mead; low-lying land through which the waters of the River Wandle ran together with other streams now no longer in existence. The lake was artificial and constructed at the same time as the park. The original intention was to divert the Wandle to run through the lake and thus keep it full but, while digging it out, sufficient water was found to maintain a fair depth in the lake. The Wandle was therefore taken through the park by an entirely separate conduit so that the sudden storms would not have the effect of fouling the water in the lake.Parts of the Park were tipped with rubbish to raise the level of the ground. Evidence of this tipping was found when trees on the railway boundary were uprooted and Victorian mineral-water bottles and china ointment and paste jars were found in the tree roots.

The Park opened in 1890
The Park was opened by the Mayor of Croydon in May 1890 and from a newspaper report of the time appears to have been a huge event with something like 30000 people promenading the new park, the report continued The majority of these gathered round the borders of the lake, where boating was in progress, and where the proceedings were from time to time enlivened by the precipitation into the water of sundry grave and reverend personages who ought to have known better.The lake became very popular for boating at the turn of the century. Postcards produced at the time illustrated the lake at the peak of its popularity. Originally there was one island in the centre planted with trees, but at the beginning of the 20th century the lake was extended eastwards creating another island. The second island was reached by two small rustic bridges or by small boats which could be hired from nearby. There was a second boat house on the promontory to the south of the lake and boats were repaired in a larger shed near the wall of the abattoir.The lake changed little during the 1920s and 30s but the boat houses disappeared. There was a bandstand, bowling green (where in 1936 the first bowls match, on a Corporation Green, to be played on a Sunday was held) with pavilion and tennis courts.

During the 1930s Wandle Park was the venue for the Boroughs Summer Show, there were pony rides, hoop-la, boat-swings and roundabouts. In the summer children fished in the Wandle or paddled through the culvert down stream of the park to arrive at Waddon Ponds. Rowing boats could be hired on the lake for 6d per hour or a boatman would take 30 children at a time for a punt around the lake, in a boat covered with an awning, at one penny per head.In the winter the lake froze over and was used for ice-skating. Traders sold roast chestnuts and baked potatoes on the island in the middle of the lake.

The River Wandle culverted
During the thirties the supply of water to the lake became erratic and although works were implemented to improve the water supply from the Wandle it was found just before the war that it was impossible to maintain water in the lake at all times.Several schemes were prepared to return the lake to its former glory but the main problem was the water supply and retaining the water. The water table had dropped since the lake was originally dug and the development of Croydon altered the rate at which water flowed off the land and into the river, so although the amount of water was the same it entered the river rapidly and then the level quickly dropped. In 1967 a 10 foot culvert was laid across the park in a straight line from the point of entry to the point of exit and once completed the river was diverted into it and the old river bed filled in, at the same time the expanse of the non-existent lake was filled, topsoiled and grassed.The old course of the river could still be traced by the line of Willows that crossed the park and a small portion of river wall that is still intact. One side of the childrens playground was formed by a low wall faced with flint and decorated with balls of flint at intervals: this was part of the wall on the north side of the river; the southern boundary of Stubbs Mead.

In late 1970s a semi-formal garden was built and planted with roses and shrubs to create a large ornamental area.

Major regeneration project – the River Wandle restored
Between 2010-2013 the Park underwent major redevelopment works funded by:
~ the Mayor of London’s Help A London Park programme
~ the Heritage Lottery Fund and BIG Lottery Parks For People programme
~ the Environment Agency (for river restoration)
~ Barratt Homes (Section 106 contribution as part of planning consent for their New South Quarter development) and
~ Croydon Council’s ‘Parks to be Proud of’ initiative.

Plans were drawn up between 2008-10 which proposed bringing the river to the surface and providing facilities including a new cafe, bandstand, pond, multi-use games area, a new play-space and skate park. A basketball court and a tennis court are located near the skate park. A major part of the regeneration project involved bringing the River Wandle to the surface once again to flow through the Park, creating a tranquil haven and new bankside and meadow habitats for wildlife.

Work on the restoration of the River Wandle within the Park began on 14 November 2011, with works to the new skate park and ball courts. The entire park closed on 9 January 2012 for the river restoration works. The upgraded skate park and games area opened on 11 May 2012, and most of the Park reopened at the end of December 2012. The new bridge was installed in March 2013. The new play-space opened in the summer of 2013 when the grass under the new facilities became established. A well-attended launch event was held in the Park on 6th July 2013. The refurbished pavilion was finished in December 2013, with the cafe opening to the public in July 2014.

The project also included funding for a full-time Volunteer and Learning Officer (Tom Smith, then Andrew Dickinson). This post was funded from 2013 until 31st August 2018.