Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Victoria Park

London The Unfinished City
Bonner Gate.

One of the parks and, to be honest, areas of London that I have rarely walked around is Victoria Park and, by extension, the East End. I have always had a fascination with the East end, but seldom visit it, considering its history.

So I took the opportunity of having some time away from work to explore the park, which covers some 86 hectares.

Having walked from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park I entered Victoria Park, via St Mark's Gate, and immediately turned right, having spotted two brick alcoves that were once part of London Bridge and, a little further up the path, the War Memorial.

London The Unfinished City
One of the two alcoves from the old London Bridge.

I then made my way along one of the tree-lined avenues. To my left were large open spaces with people training, sitting and enjoying the sun, walking dogs or, like me, just enjoying the warm weather. To my right cricket and football pitches stretched towards the edges of the park.

This brought me to the Model Boating Lake, splashpool, skatepark and the children's main playground and cafe. To my right, hidden behind some trees there was an Old English Garden, unfortunately not in full bloom, so not as impressive at it usually looks, but still nice to see. 

As I continued the East Fishing Lake came into view, on my right, along with the Burdett-Coutts Drinking Fountain and bandstand, while to my left the open green spaces continued.

Crossing Grove Road, via Diamond Jubilee Gate, I entered the West Park and found myself by the West Boating Lake, with its abundance of wildlife. Herons, ducks, cormorants and geese of various species. The trees surrounding the lake were filled with the sound of Parakeets, screeching to one another.

London The Unfinished City
The West Boating Lake.

Following the path to the right, around the lake, to my right the green spaces continued along with another children's play area. As I moved out of the trees I spotted a Chinese Pagoda to my left across a bridge. 

London The Unfinished City
Pagoda Island.

Crossing the rustic bridge I found myself on Pagoda Island, with just a handful of other people taking in this architectural curiosity in the middle of a Victorian Park.

London The Unfinished City
A Chinese Pagoda in the heart of the East End of London.

Leaving Pagoda Island, via the Pennethorne Bridge, I continued eastward passing the Dogs of Alcibiades and left the park via Bonner Gate.

London The Unfinished City
One of the Dogs of Alcibiades.

There was much that I still didn't see, within Victoria Park, so I will definitely be making a return visit in the near future. 

I especially want to do the Memoryscape Trail, which is an audio trail that meanders around the park. You download the tracks from the website or, for a refundable deposit, you can grab a pair of preloaded headphones from the Hub. This trail consists of historical facts and personal accounts of those who grew up near the park.

Brief History

Following a petition to Queen Victoria the Crown Estate purchased 218 acres of land for the creation of a park. The architect and urban planner Sir James Pennethorne mapped out his vision for the park, which was constructed between 1842 and 1845. It opened to the public in 1845.

The park is bounded on two sides by the Regent's Canal, to the west, and what was once known as the Hertford Union Canal, to the south.

London The Unfinished City
Canals still provide a way of life for many.

In 1860 two alcoves from London Bridge, which was demolished in 1831, were installed in the eastern most part of the park.

London The Unfinished City
Engraving on one of the London Bridge alcoves.

Although it was already known locally as 'Vicky Park', Victoria Park took on the nickname 'The People's Park', during the late 19th century, when it became an area for meetings, rallies and free speech, where anyone could get up on their soapbox. So great was the volume of people that attended these speeches that many said that it was more important than Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park.

In 1904 the Victoria Model Steam Boat Club was founded and still continues to this day.

The East Fishing Lake was originally a bathing pond until the 1930s, when a new Lido opened in 1936. The lido was damaged during the Blitz and was repaired and reopened in 1952. It finally closed in 1986 and was completely demolished in 1990.

The park was pretty much closed to the public during World War II, with much of the entire park being covered with Ack-Ack guns, while, in the north of the park, Prisoner of War camps were installed to house German and Italian prisoners. An underground air raid shelter was also built, near St Mark's Gates, which, on October 15, 1940, received a direct hit which claimed 15 lives and trapped more than 100 people inside.

The Bonner Lodge, the Palm House, St Augustine's Church, Pagoda, the Moorish shelter and the lido were either destroyed or severely damaged, during the war.

Bonner Gate, which was named for Bishop Bonner, the last Lord of the Manor of Stepney, is guarded by the Dogs of Alcibiades. They stood here from 1912 until 2009 when they had to be removed and repaired after being vandalised.

London The Unfinished City
One of the Dogs of Alcibiades.

In 2010, following a grant from the National Lottery, refurbishment of the park began. The Pagoda, which had been demolished in the 1950s, was rebuilt using photographs and eyewitness accounts. 

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Detail on the Pagoda.

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The roof of the Pagoda.

The lake was enlarged to its original size and a bridge, that James Pennethorne had envisioned to be in keeping with the Pagoda, was finally constructed.

London The Unfinished City
The Pennethorne Bridge and Pagoda.

The Old English Gardens were also restored.

The Burdett-Coutts Water Fountain, named after the philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts, was restored and the railings, which were there to prevent vandalism, were removed.

London The Unfinished City
The Burdett-Coutts Drinking Fountain.

Nowadays Victoria Park is the largest park in Tower Hamlets and offers something for everyone, from live concerts to festivals

Victoria Park opens at 7am and closes at dusk, 365 days a year.

Victoria Park

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