Betts Park is one of the seven Penge Parks. A post-Victorian park, the land was donated by Frederic Betts, a notorious and prosperous property owner of the period. The land once housed the grounds of Oak Lawn, the vicarage to Holy Trinity Church.
Betts was born in Penge, lived at 3 Thesiger Road until the age of twelve and attended St John’s School in Maple Road.
Opened in 1928, the park was named after Frederic’s mother, Sarah Betts, possibly because Betts did not want his own somewhat unpopular name linked with the park. A surviving relative, Matthew Betts, tells of his great (x 2) uncle’s ‘dark side’, stating that he was ‘the sort of landlord you should worry about’ but acknowledges a generous side too. Frederic Betts was ‘a Jekyll and Hyde character with a colourful past’. Further information on: http://familygrowsontrees.com/research/betts-genealogy/landscape/
Betts Park was originally a gated park, and like many Penge parks, locked at dusk. A reminder of this are the tall iron gates at the Croydon Road entrance. There are two other (ungated) entrances from Seymour Villas and Anerley Hill.
A pre-fabricated library was erected in the park after the old library was demolished. Many have fond memories of studying and reading there, with its panoramic views of the park, its gramophone society and various extra-curricular activities.
The park always had a children’s play area and, up until the nineteen seventies, an extensive and beautiful rose garden transversed by ornamental sandstone paths and walls.
Sadly, like many of the flower-beds in and around Penge parks, the rose garden fell into disrepair and neglect and no longer exists.
At the north end is a remnant of old Croydon canal which linked Croydon with the river Thames. An information board on the Anerley Hill side overlooks the canal.
The Croydon canal was opened with much fanfare in 1809 with bands, large crowds and a 21-gun salute. The canal was nine miles long and constructed to link Croydon with the Thames. 22 barges transported their goods: mainly timber but also lime, chalk and agricultural produce. 28 locks made sure the water was at the right level and two reservoirs were dug at Sydenham and South Norwood. South Norwood Lake survives as a reminder.
The cost of maintaining the locks led to financial failure and the canal closed in 1836. The owners sold the canal to the London and Croydon railway for £40, 250.
Much of the railway from London Bridge follows the old canal route. West Croydon station is in the former canal basin. The bits of canal which were not used continued for pleasure boating. The popular Anerley Tea Gardens (1841-1868) were used for this purpose, situated not far from Anerley station near Castledine Road. The railway opened in 1839 and changed the shape and look of Penge.
Betts Park survived in its older configuration until the mid eighties. The canal section was well- maintained enough to encourage swans to settle there – for a while. Football and cricket were played there. An enclosed children’s play area with swings, roundabout, slide and a climbing tunnel attracted younger families. Skateboard slopes were built to cater for teenagers’ interests.
In the nineties a re-ordering of the park took place in consultation with Bromley Council. New paths were designed radiating out from a central gazebo. Owing to objections from local stakeholders many of the more adventurous aspects of the design were abandoned. The gazebo became a circular bench. Later an outdoor gym was added near the Anerley Hill entrance.
A new Friends of Betts Park group, chaired by Walter Leonard, has been in place since October 2020. A website is in preparation and there has been liaison with the Safer Neighbourhood Team. Already the park is looking cleaner with regular voluntary litter picking. A plan of action will be drawn up in discussion with Id Verde and Bromley Council.