The Rookery, Streatham | A Beautiful Historic Garden on Streatham Common
Often in London, a lovely little garden has more to it than just beauty. Such is the case with The Rookery, Streatham tucked at the top of Streatham Common.
The Rookery appears on John Rocque’s 1746 map of London 10 miles around, labelled as Streatham Wells.
Wells and spas were commonplace across London in the 18th Century, springing up (sorry, couldn’t resist) outside of the City of London and were places of health tourism, entertainment, raucous behaviour and medicinal quackery.
The Streatham springs were discovered in 1659 and by 1786 a large house, known as The Rookery, was built surrounded by 3 acres of gardens. The house catered to visitors to the spas, giving them a place to stay overnight.
Today only the gardens survive.
But if you’re after a building that has survived, you’re in luck! In 1792 the wells were found to be contaminated and closed. Anxious not to lose out on a lucrative attraction, more springs were found at nearby Valley Road and another Well House was built in 1783.
There’s a photograph from 1946 and the building still exists as part of a residential development called Spa Court on Well Close, off Valley Road;
© Stephen Richards and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
Another great photograph from Lambeth Council Archive dates from 1910, showing a sign to the wells proclaiming their properties are “beneficial in Bilious and Liver complaints, headaches, jaundice, digestion” and very serviceable for skin diseases!
Speaking of survivors, it’s lucky that we even have these gardens at all…
The Rookery Gardens, Streatham
In 1912 as the area was in danger of development, being buried under new housing for the ever-growing London. However, local resident Stenton Covington led a campaign saving the site and – though the house was demolished – the new gardens were opened and looked after by the London County Council, opening to the public in 1913.
The 19th century brick terrace – mentioned in the Historic England listing is dedicated to Stenton Covington.
Features of the Rookery gardens include an impressive mature Cedar of Lebanon (image below) as well as the Rock Garden, White Garden and Old English Garden.
Like something out of a fairytale, the Old English Garden is a very pretty walled garden, originally part of the kitchen gardens of the 18th Rookery House.
There’s a sundial and fountain towards the centre, as well as the last surviving remnant of a well. This wishing well that acts as a reminder of the three mineral wells that were here, providing health benefits and purging properties to eager Londoners.
The flagstone walkways are covered with pretty rose-covered pergolas.
On higher ground, site of the former stables, is the Rock Garden. There’s a series of ponds and tiny water falls, a traditionally Edwardian (early 20th century) design that evoked informal woodlands with a hint of exotic plants from Asia.
The final garden is the White Garden, unique for a London public park, complete with white benches and plants exclusively in white, silver or cream.
Have you explored Streatham Common and The Rookery Gardens? Let me know in the comments. Personally I’m not sure I would’ve been a fan of the sulphurous water, but I certainly enjoyed the gardens.