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Kennington Park

Kennington Park is in Kennington in London, England, and lies between Kennington Park Road and St Agnes Place. It was opened in 1854. Previously the site had been Kennington Common. This is where the Chartists gathered for their biggest 'monster rally' on 10 April 1848. Soon after this demonstration the common was enclosed and, sponsored by the royals, made into a public park.

Kennington Common was a site of public executions until 1800 as well as being an area for public speaking. Some of the most illustrious orators to speak here were Methodist founders George Whitefield and John Wesley who is reputed to have attracted a crowd of 30,000.

The common was one of the earliest London cricket venues and is known to have been used for major cricket matches in 1724.[1] Kennington Park hosts the first inner London community cricket ground, sponsored by Surrey County Cricket Club whose home, The Oval, is close to the park.

In the 1970s, the old tradition of mass gatherings returned to the park which was host to the start of many significant marches to Parliament. Today, this tendency is opposed by a few locals who prefer the model of the Victorian Park. The Friends of Kennington Park, FoKP, provides a local forum for this struggle.


Timeline Kennington Common/Park

Before 1600

Probable site of ton or mound
Probable site of ton or mound

  • c1500 BC Recently discovered post stumps in the south Thames foreshore near Vauxhall Bridge point to a ritual jetty or possibly the first London bridge, by the outlet of the River Effra. The Effra formed the southerly boundary to the common. Three closely related geographic features defined the area of Kennington Common as sacred in ancient times. The sharp bend in the river Effra before it flowed into the Thames, a strategic mound or tumulus, and an important fork in the main road from the river crossing which is now known as London Bridge. This made it a sacred place of 'national' assembly which may have related to the jetty or bridge.
  • The mound may have also been used by the locals of the South London marsh community as a refuge from tidal flash floods. As the flood water receded, the river silt left a level playing field - ideal for grazing animals or, playing team ball games.
  • It should be noted that this ancient history of the park has to be inferred from analysis of its archeology and landscape, since written records of the area are only available for the past 400 years or so.

17th century

  • 1600 gives the first record of the common. "The common was bounded on the South West by Vauxhall Creek" It seems that the common extended over marshy land to the South West of the Roman Road Stane Street, now Kennington Park Road. When the common became bounded by the Kennington Park Road is not known. There is a 1660 record of a common keeper being paid for grazing. See commoner
  • 1661 The infamous Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens are laid out nearby.
  • 1678 First recorded execution at Kennington Common was that of Sarah Elston who was burnt for murdering her husband. Kennington Common was the South London equivalent of Tyburn (now Marble Arch).
  • 1678 24 April John Masters and Gabriel Dean, highwaymen, executed.
  • 1679 7 Dorothy Lillingstone was executed for murder.
  • 1685 29 June, William Disney was executed for High Treason.

18th century

The road fork looking north 2004
The road fork looking north 2004

"During the holiday season, Kennington Common in the last (18th) century was an epitome of "Bartlemy Fair," with booths, tents, caravans, and scaffolds, surmounted by flags. It also had one peculiarity, for, as we learn from "Merrie England in the Olden Time," it was a favourite spot for merryandrews, and other buffooneries in open rivalry, and competition with field-preachers and ranters. It was here that Mr. Maw-worm encountered the brickbats of his congregation, and had his "pious tail" illuminated with the squibs and crackers of the unregenerate." (Old and New London: Vol 6 1878

  • 1724 18: London v Dartford[1] is the earliest known major cricket match on Kennington Common (St James Evening Post, 16 June)
  • 1725 First record of the Green Man and Horns tavern near Kennington Common. The cricket played on the common used the Horns as a base. Also other sports including quoits and bowling were played.
  • 1739 Methodists John Wesley and George Whitefield preach to 30,000. Whitefield is remembered in the nearby 'Whitefield House' home of the Evangelical Alliance. Dissenting Methodists, such as the son of a slave Robert Wedderburn, spoke in a more radical voice on Kennington Common speaking out against the enclosures and slavery (active from 1786 through 1813). Kennington Common was a key South London place for public speaking, acting as a kind of open air free university of the day.
  • 1739 14 John Hannah executed for robbery and perjury. See an image of him here
  • 1743 24 James Hunt and Thomas Collins hanged for sodomy at Kennington Common gallows
  • 1746 July 30 Col. Francis Towneley and eight men of the Manchester Regiment who had taken part in the Jacobite Rising were hanged, drawn and quartered.
  • 1749 12 April Richard Coleman executed "for a murder he did not committ" Source: The Complete Newgate Calendar Vol 3
  • 1751 A road was "cut through gardens 80 foot wide" from Kennington Common to Westminster Bridge. (Gentleman's Magazine Monday 16 December 1751). The road is Kennington Road and comes up to the common next to the Horns tavern.
  • 1767 The common was flooded by a high tide coming up Vauxhall Creek.
  • 1785 Last known use of the Common as a venue for major cricket.[2]
  • 1790 William Blake moved to North Lambeth and may have attended commons meetings in the 1790s, in all likelihood with Thomas Paine
  • 1792 Mungo, a black prize fighter breaks the jaw of his opponent, a carpenter, in a boxing match on the common. (Peter Linebaugh The London Hanged Verso 2003 p. 414)
  • 1795 3 August Lewis Jeremiah Avershaw an infamous highwayman, was executed for shooting a Peace Officer
  • 1799 The last person to be hanged at the common (six years after public execution was ended at Tyburn) was a fraudster from nearby Camberwell by the name Badger
  • "The Gymnastic Society" met regularly at Kennington Common during the second half of the eighteenth century to play football[3] The Society - arguably the world's first football club - consisted of London-based natives of Cumberland and Westmoreland.

19th century

St Marks Church 1824
St Marks Church 1824
  • 1800 The much-respected Mr Briant becomes landlord of the Horns runs a famous Glee Club. Briant died 1852 but his relatives still live in Kennington, one of whom chaired the Parks Management Advisory Committee in 1996.
  • 1815 February A mob breaks windows 'round the Horns'. LifeGuards called out to quell the mob. The Riot Act was read. In 1819 The Peterloo Massacre signaled an end to repression by violence.
  • 1818 Camberwell New Road built east/west cutting the southern corner of the common off from the rest of it.
  • 1824 St Marks Church by D.R.Roper, built on an enclosed corner of the common, over the river Effra. Promoted by the Church of England as the 'salvation of the common', twenty four years later it was the vicar of this church who led the move to enclose the whole common.
  • 1832 First Reform Act, after which hustings were set up on Kennington Common (outside The Horns)
  • 1845 Surrey County Cricket Club formed (22 August formally constituted on 18 October) at the Horns

The Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common
The Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common

  • 1848 10 April Chartist mass meeting organised by Black Briton and leader of London Chartists William Cuffay. Chartism was a federation of different groups who had agreed on a set of political demands for an inclusive people's democracy. Chartism was the first British national working class organisation. This was a year known for its revolutions (see Revolution of 1848).
  • 1848 10 First photograph of a crowd taken by William Kilburn probably from the Horns. The Daguerrotype negative is now kept by and copyright Queen Elizabeth and is kept in the Royal archives at Windsor Castle.
  • Around 1849 William Booth preached here.
  • 1852 Kennington Common was enclosed. The petition for enclosure was led by the vicar of St Marks, aided by the young Prince of Wales. No more gathering or vulgar recreations were allowed without permission. The sacred mound was levelled, the common fenced and landscaped into an urban park. Planted with mostly sapling London Plane trees (which are still living). North and South game pitches are fenced with iron railings (removed during the Second World War).

"Inclosure, thou'rt a curse upon the land, And tasteless was the wretch who thy existence plann'd" John Clare the peasant poet from Peterborough (1793 1864) By now there were more people in cities than country. London's population had reached 2.5 million.

'Alberts Cottages' - 1852
'Alberts Cottages' - 1852

  • 1853 Prince Consort Model Lodge (aka 'Prince Albert's Cottages') re-erected from the Great Exhibition (where they were provided by the Society for the Improvement of the Condition of the Labouring Classes) and back porch added. Architect: Herny Roberts.
  • 1853 September The new toll house opens at the fork in Kennington Park Road
  • 1854 Kennington Park opened and maintained by the Crowns Office of Works
  • 1859 Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens opened for the last time on the night of Monday, 25 July 1859.
  • 1861 Two panelled gardens laid out by John Gibson on the west side to either side the lodge.
  • 1861 A gymnasium erected (which became tennis courts before the children's playground moved there in 2006)
  • 1861 Meeting of the Juvenile Temperance Society allowed in the summer. (PRO work 1/71)
  • 1862 Felix Slade drinking water fountain designed by Charles Henry Driver. Slade donated this after feeling sorry for the local children who, after playing in the gymnasium, had been taking their refreshment from the cab horse trough.
  • 1869 Sir Henry Doulton donates local artist George Tinworth's 'Fountain of Life'
  • 1867 Second Reform Act Lower middle class and artisans get the vote
  • 1874 Parish of St Agnes, Kennington Park founded.
  • 1877 Church of St Agnes, Kennington Park consecrated by the Lord Bishop of London.
  • 1884 Third Reform Act All adult men get the vote.
  • 1887 Kennington Park maintenance passed over to London's Metropolitan Board of Works
  • 1889 Kennington Park passed to London County Council that later became the Greater London Council, GLC, in 1965
  • 1896 A 7 year old Charlie Chaplin spent a day playing in the park after his mother discharged the family from the Lambeth Workhouse in desperation to see her children. After a day in the park and at a coffee-shop they returned to the workhouse to undergo the shameful admissions process again.
  • 1897 An Arts & Crafts style refreshment house erected which is now a rare survival.
  • 1898 Princess of Wales Theatre, designed by W. G. R. Sprague, opens at the height of the music hall era. (closed c.1934 and site 'Compulsorily Purchased' for flats in 1949) The theatre had one of earliest air conditioning systems.
  • 1899 The first all-night illuminated footpath through a public park.

20th century

The Refreshment House-1897
The Refreshment House-1897

  • 1900 Bandstand completed with seated concerts from military bands playing there until 1950 Sundays, Wednesdays and bank holidays - This was 'Rational Recreation' set against the vulgarity of the surrounding music hall and tavern culture. Charlie Chaplin grew up locally and is said to have met his first girlfriend in the park. His errant father habituated the Horns.
  • 1914 c "The ancient privileges of the 'ton' are preserved, however, on a triangular piece of ground fenced off for the purpose (the site probably of the mound), where a notice states that here public meetings may be held." 'A tradition may neither be made nor destroyed' Benjamin Disraeli (from Prehistoric London: its mounds and circles, by E.O. Gordon Covenant Publishing 1914)
  • 1914 c The railings were removed for war use. The first bomb dropped on London in World War I is said to have been dropped from a Zeppelin on the south field.
  • 1920 Kennington Park Extension Committee formed who bought land that became the swimming pool, flower garden and children's playground
  • 1924 War Memorial designed by Lucas Lancaster and Lodge erected (by public subscription?)
  • 1926 The park occupied during the General Strike
  • 1928 Women enfranchised

Tinworth Fountain 1869
Tinworth Fountain 1869

  • 1930s Wooden shelter (replaced in the 1950s and repaired at the end of 2006)
  • 1931 Old English Garden designed by Col. J. J. Sexby opened
  • 1931 The Lido provided by the LCC was opened (It closed at the end of the 1987 season - see external link below)
  • 1934 Last license given to Princess of Wales Theatre
  • 1938 Architecturally bland Park Superintendent's house built in north east corner.
  • 1940 The local areas of Lambeth and Southwark very heavily bombed in The Blitz.
  • 1940? Horns pub bomb damaged
  • 1940 15. A public bomb shelter dug as a grid of trenches in the field, known as the 'south pitch', suffers a direct hit. An estimated 104 people are killed. Only c. 50 bodies could be identified by name. Due to treacherous wet ground conditions, with the shelter walls collapsing on rescuers, the remains of up to another 54 local people were left in the ground, covered in lime, and the trenches were filled in.
  • 1940 The Park used for allotments so people can grow their own food. (source: aerial photos taken by the Royal Air Force)
  • 1949 A 24 ft high illuminated Christmas tree erected in the park

Kennington Park House - site of The Princess of Wales Theatre (see 1898)
Kennington Park House - site of The Princess of Wales Theatre (see 1898)

  • 1950s The Horns Tavern was 'one of the most famous landmarks of South London'. It is still remembered as being a centre of Kennington's community spirit in the 1950s.
  • 1958 24, St Agnes new parish church, designed by Ralph Covell, (who was the parish organist) is consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Kingston. The old church was demolished in the 1940s following bombing by enemy action. John Betjeman, poet laureate, dedicated his first Collins Guide to the English Parish Church to the memory of St Agnes Kennington Park, describing it as being destroyed by the diocese of Southwark after some war damage.
  • 1960s Horns demolished (replaced by Col. Richard Siefert's Department of Social Security - see photo) From a social centre to a centre of social control?
  • 196? Land to the east of St Agnes Place is designated public open space that becomes Kennington Park East.
  • 1963 Two piece bronze Reclining Figure No 3 by sculptor Henry Moore bought for the new prizewinning Brandon Highrise Estate, Southwark (adjacent to Kennington Park East)
  • 1971 Control of the park passes to Lambeth Council.
  • c1976 Radical religion returns to Kennington Park with the establishment of the Rastafarian Temple in St Agnes Place backing onto the park.
  • 1974 St Agnes Place housing squatted and defended against demolition (1977) with a high court injunction (the first to be obtained by telephone)
  • 1977 Bob Marley visits the Rastafarian Temple frequently whilst recording his record "Exodus" in London. He also enjoyed playing football with friends in the park.
  • 1978 The Kennington Skateboarding Bowl was erected on the site of derelict netball courts.
  • 1978 November Public gatherings return to the park with a municipal firework display and bonfire.
  • 1981 Lambeth Fightback Campaign used the park as an assembly point. This was the first recorded use of the park for a political gathering since the enclosure.
  • 1984 Oval Fountain designed by landscape architect Georgina Livingston.

Oval Fountain - site of public hangings until 1800
Oval Fountain - site of public hangings until 1800

  • 1986 5 Gay Pride march started in Kennington Park, followed in the next ten years by many political rallies.
  • 1988 The much loved but neglected swimming pool is closed, filled in and covered with tennis courts.
  • 1990 31 A branch of the historic Poll Tax march starts in the park.
  • 1996 KP Management Advisory Committee (the MAC) started by Lambeth Council prepares lottery bid with the architect Carl Callaghan.
  • 1997 A 16 page pamphlet on the park's history from a working class viewpoint written and published by Stefan Szczelkun. In the following year it sells over 1,000 copies in local newsagents and bookshops.
  • 1998 10 The 150th anniversary of the Chartist rally was commemorated with banners, song and play, by a motley crew of later day Chartists organised by Marianne and Louisa.
  • 1998 12 Reclaim the Streets and Liverpool Dockers March rally sets off from the park

21st century

Department of Social Security site of The Horns
Department of Social Security site of The Horns

  • 2001 Last municipal fireworks display.. This was the only park event attended annually by almost everyone locally. (Patrick Keiller's film 'London' (1993) has a long sequence of the bonfire.)
  • 2002 July Park Arts event. 12 artists install work in the park for the day.
  • 2002 Inaugural meeting of Friends of Kennington Park, FoKP. Their formation is sparked by concern for the current condition and up-keep of the park, which is very poor. The cafe is in disrepair and shut.
  • 2002 Organised cricket returns to Kennington Park with Tony Moody's inner-city cricket project. Kennington United CC is financially supported by Surrey CCC, based nearby at The Oval and receives coaching from professional players.
  • 2002 The renovated cafe re-opens and becomes a popular haven of relaxation.
  • 2003 Trees for London (now called Trees for Cities) moves into Prince Consort Lodge and hold a very well attended community tree planting day in the park on 29 March 2003.
  • 2003 Lambeth council get eviction order against St Agnes Place.
  • 2003 12 First memorial service at St Marks for those who died in the park bomb shelter in 1940.
  • 2004 5 A march to start the Cannabis Festival in Brockwell Park started from Kennington Park.

War Memorial-1924
War Memorial-1924

  • 2004 cJune Lambeth Council posters announce illegality of ad hoc barbecues in the park.
  • 2004 The public toilets are reopened.
  • 2004 July Jumble sale organised by Cathy Preece raises over 700 for park bird boxes made by local community eco group Roots & Shoots
  • 2004 August An Ecuadorian community group are excluded from using the park for volleyball, after complaints over public health matters are received by the council.
  • 2004 4: Commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the park with a funday organised by FoKP.
  • 2004 October 'SaveKPVolleyball' campaign group sends an open letter to Lambeth Council defending the use of the park for Ecuadorian community volleyball. But volleyball continues to be excluded.
  • 2004 November/December Birdboxes are installed by Roots & Shoots, as reported in South London Press Friday, December 3, 2004 Page 7
  • 2005 12 Community Planting Day in Kennington Park east, to define the boundary of the new cricket pitch. Young cricketers and other local volunteers do the planting including fifteen Lime trees. Trees for Cities with Friends of KP.
  • 2005 29. Riot police evict the squatters in St Agnes Place adjoining the park. The Rastafarian Temple is temporarily spared. Demolition of all the houses follows.
  • 2006 17 Kennington United Cricket Club play their first formal at home game at Kennington Park against Temple Bar. TB batted first, 169 all out. KUCC won 173 - 6

Naphtali - Rastafarian and project coordinator of NN-3 on St Agnes Place
Naphtali - Rastafarian and project coordinator of NN-3 on St Agnes Place

  • 2006 14 A memorial is unveiled to victims of Blitz entombed in the park shelter. Designed by sculptor Richard Kindersley, it takes the form of a rough slab of Caithness stone, and bears the dedication: To commemorate the wartime suffering of the people of Kennington and in particular over 50 men, women and children who were killed on 15 October 1940 when a bomb destroyed an air-raid shelter near this spot. Rest in peace. It also bears an inscription from poet Maya Angelou: History despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived but if faced with courage need not be lived again.
  • 2006 Has been a good year for the park in terms of material improvements. There has been: a new fitness course; a new playground (with old toilets converted and attached); a five aside /basketball court where the playground used to be; a temporary pavilion for the Cricket club; new tennis court surfaces (and summer tennis school); renewal of the all weather pitch surfaces; the memorial to the civilians who died in the park in WW2; repair and painting of the wooden shelter; the green link between old and east extension completed and opened; many new steel benches provided by the 'Friends of Kennington Park'; draining and reseeding of the football pitch on KP east.

Congratulations to Jonathan Meares the Lambeth parks officer and his team

  • 2007 24 The Archbishop of Canterbury was amongst the speakers at an outdoor service to commemorate the passing of the Slave Trade Act 1807.
  • 2007 12 The Rastafarian Temple on St Agnes Place was raided by 60 armed police, with about 150 other officers as back-up, after it had been taken over by drug dealers. 23 people were arrested, although only three people were charged, and no class A drugs were found. The Ethiopean World Federation was awarded over 8,000 of costs from the police). However, by 21 May demolition was underway.Source: BBC


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