Ravenscourt Park, London W6

Ravenscourt Park, well hidden from the world, lies between the Goldhawk Road and King Street. It is worth every step of the way to visit on a crisp December afternoon if you can spare the time to travel on the tube one stop west of Hammersmith. The train comes out into the air here and strikes across the southern tip of the park on a viaduct, trundling and clacking over the car workshops in the arches beneath.

Ravenscourt_Park_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1231556If you stand a little way off in the park in the early evening you can see the lights in the carriages moving in the middle of the sky, half way up the trees. The squirrels take no notice. Along the west side of the park, like a gigantic Cunard liner, sails the grand red brick Masonic Hospital, 30s to the hilt and every inch of it of tip top. It was designed in flat roofed blocks by Sir John Burnett with sculptured concrete work by Gilbert Baye.

As you cross the park the roar of the traffic in the (Roman) Goldhawk Road is like the far off sound of the sea. These winding paths, the lake and the majestic avenue, once elms and chestnuts, suspend you in another world. Ravenscourt Park, in an earlier guise was the old estate of Palingswick or Paddenswick Manor which, for a romantic time during the mid 14th century, was the home of Alice Perrers a mistress of Edward III.

By the middle of the 17th century the then owner Maximilian Bard had decided to pull the house down and build a new mansion on the moated site. The present lake is probably a remnant of the moat. The final form of the house was readjusted in the 1740s by Thomas Corbel 1. Secretary to the Admiralty, who decided to change the name of the house to ‘Ravenscourt’, an allusion to his own name. The elaborate wrought-iron gates at the entrance by the flower garden bear big ciphers.

Sadly there were to be few generations of Corbell children running about in Ravenscourt Park, for in 1812 the last private owner George Scott came along and snapped it up. Scott was a property developer. Gradually, around the park Regency stucco streets sprang up with plain, elegant little houses – those in Ravenscourt Gardens being among the prettiest. Scott did a deal with the London and South Western Railway who built the present viaduct for their Kensington to Richmond Line (which opened in 1869), and with his new-found wealth he is said to have employed the fashionable landscape designer Humphrey Repton to beautify the grounds.

Whether he did or not the park is still lovely. In 1888, after Scott’s death, a deal was struck by the Hammersmith authorities to acquire the house and 30 odd acres of the park for the public. Today the plane trees soar, there are cedars on the lawns beside the site of the house (destroyed by enemy action in 1941), and black swans on the lake. There are three children’s’ playgrounds, a football pitch, a paddling / pool, a crazy golf course, there is a wooden verandah-ed pavilion above the bowling green (the latter still in the same place after 300 years). There is a walled ‘scented garden’ with herbaceous borders and a rose pergola, a wild garden and a skateboard ramp. Jim Bradley is in charge of the park’s upkeep and designs the spring and summer bedding displays in the ‘scroll beds’ near the lake. Next year is the 75th anniversary of the British Legion and he has chosen to depict their badge in red, white and blue flowers.

(The Ravenscourt Park Tea house in the Georgian stable block of brown and red brick, serves croissons, home made cake and excellent salads.)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons /  Peter Smyly

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