Peckham Rye Common was purchased by the Vestry in 1868 to save it from the developers. In this way, this ancient piece of common ground, was safe to be an open space for ever.
As Peckham's population increased, the Common grew in popularity for sport and other recreation. A large pond occupied an area in the North of Peckham Rye Common. On Sundays and bank holidays the Rye was so crowded that there was concern for the safety of the people.
There was an urgent need for the Rye to be extended. Homestall Farm was adjacent to the Rye and a Dr William Greene put forward a proposal to the Camberwell Vestry re the purchase of the farm so that a park could be created. A report headed 'Extension of Peckham Rye' was published in the South London Press in June 1890. The farm was purchased for £51,000 and the Park was opened on Whit Monday 14th May 1894. On the day of the opening, Dr Greene was presented with an impressive certificate thanking him for the large part he played in enabling Homestall Farm to be converted to Peckham Rye Park.
The Park as we know it today was opened in stages and created from a sequence of land purchase agreements with the freeholder of the farm. The original layout that was opened to the pubic in 1894 included the open stream, woodland walk and open sports fields. A substantial portion of the Park remained as part of the freeholding of Mr.Stevens of Homestall Farm. In 1908 when the remainder had been bought, the rest of the Park was opened and this included the woodland and the east/west route of the elm walk/avenue.
Works were undertaken to establish a new bowling green and pavilion. The Bowling Club was established in 1910 by John Collier who gave his name to one of the competition shields.
The impact of the 'Worlds Fair' held at that time lead to the creation of an Old English garden (later named the Sexby Garden), an American garden, and a Japanese garden which was based around an existing pond which features on an old 1870 OS map. In the South West of the Park, Sandford Cottage located immediately south of The Elms was removed providing more space for the public to enter the Park.
Between 1915 and 1940 after the clearance of buildings in the North West of the Park (including Charlton House), several more renovations were made. A new main entrance was created and an oval bedding area. The Oval was probably established in the late 1930's as a result of the clearance of the villas which formerly occupied the site. Rich carpet bedding once featured in the Oval and the circular areas flanking the oval shape were referred to as the Coronation beds and used to commemorate the coronation of Elizabeth 11 and the death of George VI.
Around this time were also established a rockery and a water garden leading to a stream and pond garden. The paving and pergola structures in the Sexby Garden were upgraded and the original bowling pavilion was replaced with a new building. This was transferred from its position on the corner of the Green to a more central location. It was a lovely wooden structure with a sloping roof and a verandah. Sadly it was burnt down in 1994.
The original Elm Walk or The Avenue as it was called had mature elm trees and a broad path and railings. It was one of the most majestic areas of the Park. The Avenue is a historic feature which pre-dates the Park. It was reputedly used as a smuggling route, when the trees provided hiding places for illegally obtained spirits. It was annexed as part of the public Park in 1908. These trees have all but gone and the Avenue is now but an ordinary path.
There is a lovely account of the open stream and lake written by JJ Sexby in his book on 'Municipal Parks and Gardens of London' in 1905. He writes' In a secluded hollow delightfully shaded with trees a lake has been made. It has an island in the centre and is fed by a small watercourse running though the grounds, which has been formed into a number of pools by artificial dams. This rivulet has its source in a fountain springing out of the rockwork, and thence meanders through the park, receiving some life when babbling over some miniature waterfalls before its entrance to the lake' This account shows a photo of the fountain that sadly no longer exists.
During the Second World War, a number of temporary huts were erected to the North of the Park and by the Common for the detention of Italian prisoners of war. These huts were still standing until recently and despite opposition from the Friends of Peckham Rye Park and the Peckham Society they have been removed.
Peckham Rye Park Bowling Club
Nestling in the centre of the Park is the Bowling Green. Peckham Rye Park Bowling Club was opened in 1910 and over the years has become very successful drawing many excellent players until its disbandment at the end of 2008. John Collier, one of the founder members, started a league which ran for many years. The 'John Collier Shield' was an important fixture for most of the South London club members.
The green used to have a beautiful wooden club house which was unfortunately burnt down by an arsonist in the early 1990s and thereafter the Club had to make do with an unattractive lock-up for many years. Thanks to Roy Taylor and Edith Hill of Southwark Council the lost bowls were replaced. One of the main features of the current restoration was a brand new pavilion for bowling. This photo is all that remains of the lovely new building. Hardly had the Park been re-opened when the building was vandalised and burnt down again. This photo (on the left) is a historical momento as it is probably one of the only ones to be taken of the new but never used pavilion! In 2009 a brand new fire-proof pavillion was built.
There is now consultation with the Council as to what can be built in its place that is vandal proof and may also be used by other clubs in the Park.
History: the Park today...