The park was originally the grounds of Lauderdale House, which dates back to the 1580s and was the home of the Dukes of Lauderdale. Following relentless ‘improvements’ and a fire in the 1960s nothing of the Tudor building remains, but there are still rumours that Nell Gwyn, Charles II’s mistress, used to live there, and the poet Andrew Marvell also had a house in the grounds. The estate was bought by Sir Sidney Waterlow, Lord Mayor of London, who leased the site to St Bartholemew’s Hospital as a convalescent home in 1872. I can’t help thinking that convalescent homes were a great idea which should be brought back into service, but I digress. Then in 1889 Waterlow donated the estate to the London County Council as a ‘garden for the gardenless’. Looking at the range of people using it when we visited, I can’t help thinking what a generous gesture this was. The park suffered a period of neglect in the 1980s and 1990s but was restored with a grant from the Lottery Fund in 2001, and is now in the loving hands of the London Borough of Camden.
There are three ponds, all fed by natural springs. In spite of the signs asking people not to feed the ducks, the number of pigeons, moorhens and ducks who looked hopefully at us as we walked past makes me think that many folk are just doing what comes naturally.
We found this astonishing oak tree, which may have been struck by lightning and then vandalised by some idiot setting a fire inside the hollow. I’m pleased to report that it still has leaves and seems to be doing fine in spite of the nonsense.
We take a wander down to the kitchen garden and amidst the sweetcorn and the cabbages there are these sunflowers, still abuzz with bees in spite of the cold.
The church of St Josephs towers over the park – it was originally established in 1858 by Father Ignatius Spencer, who had converted to the Roman Catholic faith and was a member of the Passionist order, who have a special mission to evangelise on the meaning of the Passion of Christ. The church itself opened in 1889, and a very fine building it is too, with its copper dome estimated to weigh 2000 tonnes. The cost was so great that the church wasn’t consecrated until 1932 when the debt for building it was cleared.
In addition to the church itself there is a community of Passionist fathers who live on the site. Their way of life is described below:
“The Passionists make a special promise to promote the Memory of the Passion of Jesus by word and deed. They do this especially in preaching and in various ministries among the poor and the marginalised of every kind in whom they see the Crucified today.
Another characteristic of the Passionists is their life in community. Passionist fraternity means that everything is held in common. Time is given to community prayer and to the contemplative dimension of life. Passionists are active contemplatives who, in a creative way, unite contemplation and an active pastoral life.” (from the St Josephs Highgate website).
But of course, in addition to the cake I visit places for the plants. And here is a quick view of some of the borders. Notice the sedums, the cosmos, the verbena boniarensis and the rudbeckias. There’s something here for pollinators of all kinds just as they head into their winter hibernation.
Waterlow Park has lots going for it – there are a variety of playgrounds for children and young people, the ponds, the cafe and a variety of art and musical events at Lauderdale House throughout the year (I’ve certainly gone to a very nice crafts/antiques market). But it also has places which are peaceful, where you can sit and read a book and gaze at the trees and feel a sense of serenity gradually seeping into your bones. I shall definitely visit again.