History of the Park

South Park was formally opened to the public on 10th May 1902. The land of 32 acres was purchased for £11,200 from a local farmer in 1899. At this time much of the Park and surrounding area had been farmland and orchards.

The Park has woodland areas, sports fields and a large lake, which has a number of islands and is fed by Seven Kings Water. It appears that the lake had some excavation as part of the original landscaping, and other works were undertaken in the Park prior to opening.

At or around the time of opening there was a lovely Park bandstand and boating on the lake. To facilitate boating, a boathouse and covered walkways were erected alongside the lake. Postcards from the Edwardian period show these buildings, although only the boathouse remains as a Wildlife, Education and Information Centre.

In 1903 the Clementswood Bowls Club took up residence in the Park and remains there today as the oldest bowls club in Essex.

Up until the 1930’s the only residential housing around the park was in South Park Drive and a few houses at the end of South Park Terrace, (these were built in the period 1905-8) but building expansion in the early 1930’s led to houses being built around the perimeter of the Park in South Park Road, Terrace and Crescent . The daughter of the builder of many of these houses lived in a house overlooking the Park in South Park Terrace for many years.  There was also a vicarage in South Park Road from the earlier period for the vicar of St Marys, the oldest church in Ilford, dating from 1831.  This is still used today as the vicarage.

The Park had a large brick pavilion and cricket and football were a regular part of Park activity. Also there was a brick built café, which was very popular with local people.

At the main entrance to the Park was a keepers/gardeners house and the old clock tower, which had stood at Ilford Broadway, was moved here when the Broadway was redeveloped, prior to the second world war.

From photographs and research from residents, the Park was very popular in the inter-war years. The Park had a team of gardeners and was very well maintained with a number of tennis courts and lovely flower beds, complementing the established trees and walkways.  There remains a number of huge London Plane trees in the Park – these were often planted in cities during the victorian/edwardian period as they are resistant to pollution.

During the Second World War the Park was subjected to at least two hits by enemy action. The worst event was on the morning of 24th November 1944 when the gardeners/keepers house at the main entrance took a direct hit by a V2 rocket. Regrettably there were fatalities and damage to a number of properties, which were subsequently rebuilt.

A young girl, living at No 24 South Park Road, (a house overlooking the Park where the V2 landed) was in the garden shelter at the time. The house was destroyed, but as mentioned above this was the same girl whose father built many houses around the park and she continued to live in a house opposite the Park for over 70 years . In addition to the houses, the V2 destroyed the old clock tower.

We understand from a deceased local historian’s son that the Park was used during warti11me for the storage of military materials, including oil, on the islands.

After the war, up until the 1980’s, the Park retained its gardeners and resident keeper, but there followed a period of deterioration. The boating ceased and the building was left to deteriorate, the permanent gardeners were gone and their buildings demolished, the café burned down and there appeared to be a lack of care and attention. In 2008 a local Councillor concerned about the plight of South Park asked local people to help the Park by forming a Users Group.