From Stone Age to present-day: Springfield Park's remarkable history
If you go to Springfield Park and stand at the top of Wilson’s Hill – the apex of the undulating green landscape - you can scan the gentle-flowing waters of the Lea Navigation, the Marshes across the way, homes, and of course the natural beauty of the sculpted park itself.
But what you don’t see is how Springfield Park slices across history, mapping out human existence in Hackney, from prehistory to the modern day.
Springfield’s past incarnations stretch back thousands of years into the Stone Age; made manifest by the discovery in the 19th century of a Palaeolithic axe and flints found to the south of the 14.7-hectare green space.
Later, the so-called Springfield Boat, an Anglo-Saxon canoe, was unearthed in the park during the excavation of a children’s play area, and a replica now sits in Hackney Museum, in 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 and altered by celebrated Bank of England architect John Soane.
Today, the park is one of Hackney’s most beloved green spaces, visited year-round by the local people.
But rewind nearly 115 years, and the future of the site hung in the balance when in 1902 the land that now comprises it 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 and for the land to be bought by London County Council.
When the purchase was complete 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, 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, but now the 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, upgrade work on footpaths, play equipment and gates, as well as help to preserve the park’s landscape.However, the Council would also like to ask residents how they think the HLF money should be spent, and has undertaken research into the park’s past to help people decide. Residents can:
- Come along to the Springfield Heritage Day in the park on Sunday, 13 March, between 11am and 4pm, to see the exhibition and archaeological artefacts, and take part in lectures and walkabouts on the history of the Park; or
- Visit the exhibition in the Springfield Park café and leave comments from Sunday, 13 March until Sunday, 3 April.
Springfield Park has an incredible, rich history stretching back into the earliest times of human existence in this country - and we want to share that with you. “We’ll use your feedback to help us spend money on preserving all that is best about Springfield and securing its future as a public space for generations to come.
The park is one of the best-loved in the borough, but it is tired and these funds will help bring it back to its former glory as well as improve upon it.