In earlier posts, Running Past has followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom and then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley, leaving the river just after it had appeared from the dominant bulk of the railway cutting on Sundridge Avenue. Almost as soon as it arrived into the open it was to disappear into Sundridge Park – which is largely out of bounds for the fluvial flâneur.
Sundridge Park is an old country estate – there had been a three storey brick house on the southern bank of the Quaggy which had been home to a succession of wealthy Londoners. The estate was remodelled by Humphrey Repton in the late 18th century – this included creating a Pulhamite grotto on the hillside close to the current house (see comment from Sarah below). It seems likely that Repton, the preeminent landscape gardener of his generation, was responsible for culverting the Quaggy through much of the grounds – certainly early Ordnance Survey maps (on creative commons from National Library of Scotland) which were surveyed well before the golf courses were built have the Quaggy largely hidden, only reappearing for a lake just below the House. Part of the culverting was removed during the 20th century.
As well as hiding the river, Repton was also responsible for the demolition of the original house, which was located south of the river, around 1792 and a new house was designed by James Wyatt for Edward George Lind and built between 1792 and 1795. Lind sold the estate to (Sir) Claude Scott in 1796, and he employed the prominent Georgian architect John Nash to make additions in 1799. It is an impressive Grade I building (see below – source eBay February 2017), although the extensive conference centre it is now part of it, somewhat detracts from it.
The Park itself is notable for its lack of public rights of way, there are no public footpaths traversing the pair of golf courses of the Sundridge Park golf club (although the Green Chain Walk skirts part of the western course) which was opened by the then Prime Minister Balfour in 1902 on land leased from the Scotts. The valley of the Quaggy is clear on this early postcard of Sundridge Park (source eBay November 2016).
While the golf courses make the park largely out of bounds for the (sub)urban explorer, access was negotiated for following Milk Street Ditch at the northern end of the Park along with some slightly less legitimate looking for the unnamed tributaries of the Quaggy elsewhere on the ‘estate’, the Sundridge Park Ditches. ‘Ditch’ should not be seen as a derogatory term, it is just the local term for a small stream. The photographs below show the river upstream and downstream from Milk Street Ditch.
Once out of the Park the river is culverted under New Street Hill and flows, submerged through part of the 1930s suburbia, an area originally known as Hall’s Farm Estate after the farm whose land was lost to development. While the Quaggy is submerged, it is clear in a valley and the course is followed above ground by tracks to what seem to be largely abandoned garages – too small for 21st century vehicles. The Quaggy is joined by another unnamed ‘Ditch’ which follows one of the streets of the estate Leamington Avenue.
The Quaggy re-emerges into the open in the southern part of Chinbrook Meadows (top left below) before being encased in concrete to take it under the towering mass of the mainline out of Grove Park. A few metres into its tunnel it is joined by another tributary – Border Ditch – whose last metres are behind the fencing in the bottom right hand photograph.
The emergence again into the open is initially bounded by concrete but then gently meanders through the main part of Chinbrook Meadows. This was not always the case – early Ordnance Survey maps (on creative commons from National Library of Scotland) suggest a straightening to allow for easier cultivation in pre-development Grove Park. Worse was to come for the Quaggy, after the farmland was turned into a Park – the river was given concrete banks which discouraged any flora or fauna and hedging was planted which almost prevented park users from even viewing the river. It was a waterway disconnected from its environment and the population around it. This all changed in 2002 and the Quaggy was taken out of its concrete culvert and allowed a naturalised bed to flow in.
The changes help mitigate flood risk and allow the banks to be overflowed and excess water to be safely retained within the park, slowing flows and reducing the likelihood of flooding downstream.
Before leaving Grove Park a brief detour a few metres is worth making, to the Peace Garden – an area opened in 2009 by one of Grove Park’s most famous residents, Archbishop Desmond Tutu – some of whose early ministry was as an Honorary Curate at St Augustine’s between 1972 and 1975.
We’ll leave the Quaggy at this point with a stark reminder of how it used to be – a barren concrete channel.