Winsford Gardens, situated off the Croydon Road between Burmarsh Court and Benwick Court, is one of the Penge Parks. It has its own active Friends Group and is the site of the Penge Green Gym.
Formerly the private garden of Winsford House, built in 1936 by wealthy property-developer Stephen Gee, it was given to the London Borough of Bromley in the late 1970s as a public park. The house itself had been named after Winsford Village on Exmoor, a favourite holiday spot for Stephen and his wife Dorothy. Perhaps the Gees were trying to replicate those idyllic vistas on Exmoor (Lorna Doone country) with the water features in their romantic garden.
‘What is your name? she said, as if she had every right to ask me; ‘and how did you come here?’
‘My name is John Ridd. What is your name?’
‘Lorna Doone’, she answered in a low voice, as if afraid of it; ‘if you please, my name is Lorna Doone; and I thought you must have known it.’
Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor, R.D.Blackmore, 1869
The romance of R.D.Blackmore’s nineteenth century novel may or may not have exerted a strong pull on Stephen and his wife but it does seem as if they were trying to recreate a little corner of Exmoor in Penge. He lived in Winsford House until his death in 1956 and is buried in Beckenham Cemetery.
The Penge Green Gym was set up in 2011 by the Conservation Volunteers to restore and improve the area as a recreational green space. Much of the original garden design i.e. the rose garden, was improved and developed by volunteers although the water cascade and pool was not maintained. The original tennis courts did not survive the transition to public park status.
Garden furniture has been made and new planting areas introduced such as a sensory garden and wildflower meadows. The team of volunteers helps on a weekly basis. There is a popular annual Open Day during the Penge Festival.
Since 2013 the Penge Green Gym, aka the Friends of Winsford Gardens, has taken over the running of the park on behalf of Bromley Council. The Friends have won many awards, an environmental award from Bromley Council, several Penge in Bloom Awards, and the prestigious Green Flag Community Award from the Keep Britain Tidy initiative.
In a sense, the Friends are preserving the heritage of recreational green space which was a facet of the former Chesham Park of which this was a part and characterises the slogan ‘Bromley Clean and Green’.
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