Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Brenchley Gardens is a long narrow park that was created on a slope slightly north of the bottom of One Tree Hill. It lies between a road that bears the same name that leads to Camberwell New Cemetery and a former section of the high level Crystal Palace to Nunhead railway line. Beyond the old railway line are the Honor Oak Reservoir and the Aquarius Golf Club.
The land was purchased in 1900 by Camberwell Borough Council as part of the parcel of land required for the new cemetery. The park was opened in 1928 and named after Alderman William Brenchley, Chair of the Borough of Camberwell Public Services Committee. There is a dedication plaque on a concrete post that may have been something like a sundial or drinking fountain originally which bears the inscription: “The Camberwell Borough Council have named these gardens after Alderman William Brenchley JP to mark the appreciation of the citizens of Camberwell of the many years public service which he has rendered for the benefit and advancement of the Borough.” The park was laid out with a sunken garden planted with rose bushes which has recently been renovated. Also recently renovated and repaired is part of the granite embankment which used to run alongside the railway line.
The Crystal Palace was moved from Hyde Park to Sydenham when the Great Exhibition ended and the Crystal Palace to Nunhead railway line was opened in 1865 to bring visitors to the attraction from central London. The stations along the route were Honor Oak (in Wood Vale and not to be confused with Honor Oak Park Station), Lordship Lane, Upper Sydenham and Crystal Palace High Level. The line continued to operate after the Crystal Palace burnt down in 1936 but was finally closed in 1954 due to falling passenger numbers. The tracks were removed and Brenchley Gardens extended over the area where formerly the trains had run. Housing estates have been built on the former sites of Honor Oak, Lordship Lane and Crystal Palace High Line stations but the ornate and very grand pedestrian subway that led from the station to the actual Crystal Palace remains. Only open now on rare occasions, there is a Friends Group campaigning to make it safe and make it accessible to the general public.
It’s possible to see in Brenchley Gardens where the railway tracks once were and to walk along where the trains used to run. It’s like being in the country in parts with established trees and noisy birdsong but it's hard to forget that central London is only a few miles away as the views that can be glimpsed between the trees are a stunning reminder.