A beginners guide to Wanstead Park

wansteadhouse

Wanstead Park provides the backdrop for my forthcoming book, The Angel and the Cad, which tells the remarkable story of Catherine Tylney Long. Her gardens were renowned as the ‘English Versailles’, becoming a popular spot for day-trippers and tourists, ‘delighting visitors from all parts of the world’. I hope that my pictures will help readers to visualise Catherine’s surroundings.

Tucked away on the borders of East London and Essex, Wanstead Park remains one of the capital’s most enchanting open spaces. It is a tranquil oasis of natural beauty that hints of its former glory as one of England’s finest pleasure gardens. In many respects it is comparable to Hampstead Heath, but despite having many attributes it is relatively unknown, even to those living in close proximity.

Wanstead Park is one of London’s hidden treasures. One of my motivations for writing my book was to raise awareness of the parkland, and help to stop its decline. Despite its Grade II listing, Wanstead Park has been on English Heritage’s ‘at risk’ register for several years. I hope that you will enjoy my pictures and then come to visit! The park is a mere ten minute stroll from Wanstead Central Line Tube Station. It is also close to ‘Wanstead Village’ buzzing with cafes, bars, restaurants and shops.

The scenery in Wanstead Park is diverse. There are ornamental lakes such as the Basin and the Heronry Pond:

heronry

 There are ancient woodlands:

 woodlands

 Expanses of grassland and ornamental follies such as the Temple pictured below:

 long grass temple

 There are wildlife sanctuaries and a wide range of natural habitats:

 geese

 The most poignant feature is the derelict boathouse, or ‘Grotto’:

grotto

Hauntingly beautiful the Grotto whispers of times gone by; the grand summer parties, popping champagne corks, and pleasure boats bobbing on the lakes. But the Grotto is also has an air of melancholy, a stark reminder of all that has been lost.

For many centuries Wanstead Park has been a much-treasured recreational facility, a sanctuary where working folk can escape for an hour or two, taking a scenic stroll or enjoying family picnic. Every season brings fresh delights. Cold frosts transform the park into a winter wonderland:*

 winter

Springtime sees wild rhododendrons and fragrant bluebell wood:

 bluebell

Summer brings bursts of colour: wildflowers, butterflies and dragonflies hovering over the lily-pads on the lakes. While autumn forests are hues of red and gold.

Wanstead Park became Britain’s first public open space in 1882. The Corporation of London have acted as conservators, reinforcing pathways, planting avenues of trees and protecting wildlife. One of their biggest challenges has been to preserve the waterways, which are in danger of drying up. If this were to happen, numerous natural habitats would be lost. The Friends of Wanstead Parklands are also active in the drive for conservation, and groups of volunteers regularly help with tasks such as clearing away vegetation.

I hope that my forthcoming book, The Angel and The Cad, will help to raise awareness and show that Wanstead Parklands is worth preserving. A long term conservation strategy is in place – but cannot be fully implemented without much needed funding, support and publicity.

Part 2 of this article will explain how Catherine Tylney Long came to own Wanstead House

 

For more about Wanstead Park I recommend the following:

Corporation of London – For up-to-date information about Wanstead Park

Friends of Wanstead Parklands – Dedicated to the conservation of Wanstead Park

Wansteadium – What’s on in Wanstead

* Courtesy of Wanstead Meteo with thanks

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