The history of Springfield Park
One of Hackney’s most beloved green spaces dates back thousands of years
IF you visit Springfield Park and stand at the top of Wilson’s Hill – the apex of its undulating landscape – you scan the gentle-flowing waters of the Lea Navigation, the wilderness of the Marshes on the other side, homes and, of course, the natural beauty of the park itself.
But what you don’t see is how the park slices across history – striations that map out human existence in Hackney – from prehistory to the modern day. Springfield’s past stretches back thousands of years to the Stone Age, shown in the discovery in the 19th century of a Palaeolithic axe and flints found to the south of the 14.7-hectare park.
Later, the so-called Springfield Boat, an Anglo-Saxon canoe, was unearthed during the excavation of a children’s play area and a replica now sits in Hackney Museum, Reading Lane.
In more recent times, the park has played host to industrial factories, docks, as well as three magnificent villas, one of which was formerly a Tudor house that was remodelled by celebrated Bank of England architect Sir John Soane.
Today, the park is one of Hackney’s most beloved green spaces, visited year-round. But in 1902, the site’s future hung in the balance, when the land was put up for sale.
Locals, horrified at the prospect of forever losing this green treasure in the heart of crowded Hackney – then under Stoke Newington Borough Council – launched a campaign to raise money for the land to be bought by London County Council.
When the purchase was completed in 1904, the great Edwardian park designer Colonel JJ Sexby set about transforming the land into the park we know today, removing two of the three large Georgian mansion houses (they could not be saved), later diverting Spring Lane which, at that time, ran through the centre of the park, and creating an island in the lake, and a bowling green. He also commissioned an extensive programme of planting and landscaping.
At the ceremony to open the new park, on 15 August 1905, the Clerk of the Council told his audience: “This beautiful park is now destined to minister to the health and happiness of the present and future generations of the enormous, and in many cases overcrowded, population of the surrounding districts.”
Indeed, it’s been doing that ever since. And now Hackney Council, working in partnership with Springfield Park User Group, wants to restore and enhance the space using a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant that has been earmarked for the site.
Ideas include refurbishment of all of the park’s surviving buildings, work to upgrade footpaths, play equipment and gates, as well as preserving the landscape.