History of Vauxhall Park
Vauxhall Park was opened in 1890 by the then Prince of Wales (later, King Edward VII) but its origin story takes us back to a remarkable couple in the mid 1880s.
In 1875 Millicent Garret Fawcett and Henry Fawcett rented 51 South Lambeth Road. The terraced house was within the Lawn Estate on South Lambeth Road but set back and with a large garden to the rear.
I’ve highlighted the terrace in yellow below.
Today you can find a plaque and Mulberry tree marking the house of Henry and Milllicent within Vauxhall Park.
Meet the Fawcetts
Millicent Fawcett was a politician, writer and activist. She’s most famous for her role in the women’s suffrage campaign and was leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies from 1897-1919.
In 2018 her statue became the first one of a woman in Parliament Square.
Henry was an academic, becoming Professor of Political Economy at Cambridge despite being blinded in an accident aged 24. Later he went into politics, serving as an MP for Brighton and then Hackney. He always supported women’s suffrage and first proposed to Millicent’s older sister Elizabeth Garrett Anderson but she rebuffed his advances to continue her career as a doctor.
(I’ve written about the extraordinary military hospital set up by Elizabeth’s daughter, Louisa here).
Despite the 14-year age gap, Henry and Millicent were a true partnership, she supported his political career while he encouraged her career as a writer and activist. There’s a memorial to them both in Westminster Abbey.
The Campaign for Vauxhall Park
In 1884 Henry Fawcett had died aged 51 and the Lawn Estate was sold to a developer who planned to build speculative housing.
Millicent decided to lead the campaign to save the area as a green, open space in Henry’s memory.
Thanks to her network she managed to secure some powerful backing including Octavia Hill’s Kyrle Society (whose aim was to “Bring Beauty Home to the Poor”) and the local Doulton pottery works.
They managed to raise the requisite funds and I’ve outlined the area covered by the park in red below.
The landscape gardener was Fanny Rollo Wilkinson. You might not have heard of Fanny before, but you’ve probably seen her work.
She was the first professionally trained landscape gardener in Britain and worked on around 70 gardens across London including Paddington Street Gardens in Marylebone, Meath Gardens in Bethnal Green and Red Cross Gardens in Southwark.
Today Vauxhall Park is an oasis of green space encircled by busy roads and railways lines but there’s also some fun things to spot within the park itself.
The Lavender Fields
Before you see the purple haze, the smell will probably hit you first.
The mini lavender field was originally planted in 2003 to commemorate 100 years of Vauxhall Motor Cars.
There’s also a human sundial (ie, when you stand on the correct date patch in the centre, your body’s shadow indicates the time).
The fields were replanted in 2020 with British lavender varieties to better enhance the biodiversity.
When I visit the place was alive with bees and butterflies.
Every year in early September they harvest the lavender and the proceeds made from selling the flowers and oil are put back into the park.
Standing on the site of former bowling greens, is part of a sensory garden named after Henry Fawcett. The plants have been chosen for their scent, texture and bright colours to aid those with visual impairment in memory of Henry.
Another delight within the sensory garden, the collection of 6 little houses were presented to Lambeth Council in October 1948 and created by Edgar Wilson.
There was a similar scheme made for Brockwell Park’s walled garden but according to this website they are in a bit of a sorry state.
Funnily enough if you happen to be on the other side of the world you can also find a model village in Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne! They were a gift of thanks after Australia’s help during the Second World War.
If you think they look a little clumsy, do bear in mind they were made when Edgar was 77 and modelled out of cement.
They were restored in 2001 and a specially decorated one appeared to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee.
So plenty to see in this lovely green space a short walk from Vauxhall Station!
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