Sleepy, shaded, walk-through, refuge, scented, playground - all the different moods. If there's one thing I love, it's discovering a park. Which is what I did recently in Vauxhall. No, not the (probably) much better known Spring Gardens, on the site of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, but Vauxhall Park, just down the road from it.
Bless the Victorian philanthropists. Houses stood on the site originally, belonging to MP and Postmaster General Henry Fawcett. When he died, his widow Millicent and social reformer Octavia Hill, with the backing of the Kyrle Society (dedicated to improving quality of life), raised funds to buy the land and commissioned a landscape architect. The park, created by an Act of Parliament in 1888, opened in July 1890.
I intended at first, like so many, to merely stride across, on my way to the surprisingly quiet roads sandwiched between the A3 torrent and the ghastly traffic-race around Vauxhall Station. However, the peace starts at its gates (designed by C Harrison Townsend, architect of the Horniman Museum) and I slowed to a ramble.
It's clear from the website of the Friends of Vauxhall Park that it's got enthusiastic supporters. I fell for its numerous little surprises. The formal garden, fenced off from dogs, has a way to go, as you can see...
...but is part way there with some roses already well up the pergola.
Tucked into one corner, and surely unique in London, is a lavender field, created in partnership with Vauxhall Motors to mark their centenary in 2003. Volunteers are invited to cut it in September, when the lavender will be sent to the volunteer-led Carshalton Lavender in Surrey to be distilled, then sent back to be sold in the local Italo Delicatessen.
Eliciting a double-take was the model village, made in 1949 by Edgar Wilson of Norwood (who had quite a hobby, donating villages to Finsbury Park and Brockwell Park also, though only these and a set in Melbourne, Australia, still exist). The houses were restored in 2001 and who can resist a miniature medieval village?
It looks a little grubby at the moment, but I suspect that's temporary as, in the pictures taken by Guided Walks in London in 2014, they look to be sporting shiny new paint.
Elsewhere in the park are a children's garden, community orchard, a dog exercising area, children's playgroup, tennis courts, café and, of course, large areas of grass to lie around on (also offering a sports area for school children when I passed last).
A current challenge for Friends of Vauxhall Park is to create a development plan to ensure it's up to supporting 3000 new residents, especially as work is increasingly done by local residents and corporate groups on a voluntary basis. Looking across to the high-rise blocks under construction, it's hard not to reflect on the contrast between the astronomically expensive housing that's being snapped up by investors and the investment in society embodied in the formation of Vauxhall Park.
Of course, developers had their eyes on prime land in those days too. And there's the Kyrle Society would certainly recognise the Friends' wish to ensure Vauxhall Park as "a place of freedom, recreation and enjoyment for all sections of the local community". We can only be grateful that it's fortunate to be in an area where it's valued, loved and maintained and, thanks to the Victorians, is safe from destruction except by Act of Parliament.