The Friends of Wanstead Parklands today (25 July) led a special walk to celebrate Love Parks Week, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of parks and green spaces. Now in its ninth year, the event is a platform for thousands of park lovers to join forces in the UK’s largest celebration of green spaces.
The walk began with a guided tour of St Mary’s Church, Overton Drive. Denis Keeling, of the Wanstead Historical Society, gave a fascinating talk about the history of the building, which was intimately linked to the now-vanished Wanstead House, which stood close by until its demolition in 1824. Now the only Grade I listed building in the London Borough of Redbridge, St Mary’s has been the heart of Wanstead’s community for more than two centuries, as its mediaeval predecessor had been for at least six hundred years before that.
Richard Arnopp then took the group, of about 20 people, on a brief tour of the churchyard, focusing on a small number of memorials to prominent people buried there.
- Vice Admiral Robert Plampin was best known for arriving late for the Battle of Trafalgar, but he had also been naval commander with responsibility for guarding Napoleon Bonaparte during his sojourn on St Helena. Bonaparte’s opinion of Plampin, whom he met a number of times, wasn't flattering! Plampin also caused a stir on St Helena by his irregular domestic arrangements with a lady to whom he was not married.
- Rev. James Pound had experienced unusual adventures for a clergyman, having narrowly escaped a massacre in 1705 while serving as an East India Company chaplain in India. The following year he was appointed Rector of Wanstead by Sir Richard Child. Both he and his better-known nephew, James Bradley, had been eminent astronomers, and had carried out much of their work in Wanstead.
- Joseph Wilton, RA, had been a very successful and highly-regarded sculptor, whose long life was latterly clouded by financial problems, attributed by some to “dissipation”. He had worked for Wanstead’s Lord Tylney while in Italy, making copies of antique sculptures for him. He ended his career as Keeper of the Royal Academy, which he had done much to bring into being.
- A few yards from the Wilton Memorial was the much more humble monument to Adam Holt, the nurseryman and landscape gardener who had played a part in laying out Sir Richard Child’s gardens at Wanstead, and had designed the park’s ingenious water supply.
- Finally, in the southern part of the churchyard, lay the grave of Oliver Dawson, one of Wanstead Park’s early historians and a pioneer of colour photography. Richard Arnopp had produced a new edition of his work on the park in 2014. He thought it poignant that Dawson lay in what had once been part of the park, and only a short distance from the site of Wanstead House, which is visible over the churchyard wall.
The walk then continued to the park via the Warren Drive, past the stables of Wanstead House, which are now occupied by Wanstead Golf Club. Richard Arnopp then pointed out the site of the American Garden, one of the last additions to the landscape, which had survived in the grounds of a private house until 1938. Entering Wanstead Park, the group continued down the Long Walk, the great east-west vista through the old pleasure gardens. Turning south past The Grotto, the group passed the Ornamental Water and Perch Pond, finally dispersing at The Temple.
Richard Arnopp said: "We are grateful to Denis Keeling and the Parish of Wanstead for giving us access to the Parish Church - one of London's hidden architectural gems. Our walk in the park was enhanced by the beautiful weather, and I hope the party enjoyed it".