A slide-show illustrating aspects of the Grotto in Wanstead Park.
The Temple in Wanstead Park is situated at the northern edge of the grassy area known as The Plain, adjacent to the two keepers' lodges. It is a Grade 11 listed building. Perhaps the most impressive view of the building is gained on entering the Park proper from the west end, perhaps via Reservoir Wood, passing the Shoulder of Mutton Pond and then along the north edge of the Heronry Pond until the gate in the fence at the bottom of Warren Road track is reached. Through the gate and ahead, the Temple is seen at the end of a double row of sweet chestnut trees.
The appearance now is not what could be seen when the Temple was first built. When that was is not certain, though it is estimated that it was about 1750-60 that the building without the side wings was built. An estate plan of 1779 shows the two side wings added, and the Ordnance Survey map of 1863 shows the additional extension to the south.
It seems that the building has had a variety of uses. The map of 1779 identifies ther building as a "poultry house". In 1815 it it is shown as "Keeper's Lodge, Garden Pheasantry, etc." The building has lower and upper rooms; the entrance from the front or west is the more grand, via a four-columned portico into the upper central portion of the building. The more utilitarian rooms on the lower floor are entered from the back. The upper floor, then, would have been used as a summer garden pavilion, whilst the lower rooms would have been used by gardeners and keepers. Subsequently, the upper floor has been used as a committeee room and more recently for other functions, whilst the lower floor has been used as a keeper's house. The 1901 Census shows the Temple to be occupied by Robert Puffett (Epping Forest Keeper), and his wife Mary, and George Pavely (Park Keeper), his wife Emma and son Arthur. More recently the Temple has been used for display, information and administration purposes.
In March 2002, MoLAS excavated the depression in the fenced area to the south of the Keeper's lodges. This depression was known to have been a pond which existed until the late 19th or early 20th century. An excavation was also undertaken just to the west of the pond, nearer the Temple, where a circular underground brick structure had been found during recent groundworks on the renovation of the Temple. (see below). The structure was thought to be probably an ice house, broadly contemporary with the Temple. (photo)
Major refurbishment work was carried out on the building, finishing in the summer of 1995. Later, a series of work was undertaken on the gardens of the Temple, which lie to the west. In the early 1990's, a double avenue of sweet chestnut trees was planted running westwards from the white picket fence of the Temple towards the Heronry Pond. To enable a better view of the Temple from the tree avenue, a large red oak tree - the only one in Wanstead Park - in the NW corner of the Temple gardens was cut down - much to the dismay of some local people. In 2000, the familiar picket fence was removed and a metal replacement was installed. This was something in the style of those which might surround a large estate's "parkland". Shortly afterwards it was painted a dull green colour. At the same time the "footprint" of the garden was extended some metres westwards, with a bowed shape being introduced at the west end, and the rhododendrons that had mainly been outside the gardens now became enclosed inside. These plants and the old white picket fence can be seen on the photograph above, taken just before the metal fence was erected.
In mid February 2002 closely-spaced holly plants were planted just inside the garden fence on the north and south sides. At the beginning of March 2002 a notice was put up outside the Temple informing of further changes. This read: "Work will soon be taking place to clear the Temple Garden of rhododendron and other trees and shrubs as part of the long-term restoration of the landscape of Wanstead Park. The garden is being cleared back to grass. At a later date an easy access path will be installed and sweet chestnuts will be planted (as in the Avenue)". On March 4, the rhododendrons that can be seen in the photograph were uprooted - including the one on the right foreground that was so old it was almost a tree. The tree most dominant in the photograph (just to the right of the Temple portico) - the only copper beech in the Park - was also sawn down. This followed the only specimen of red oak in the Park, also in the Temple gardens, some years previously.
In August 2004 it was noted that most of the hollies that were planted in 2002 were no longer present. However a specimen of Yucca on the lawn just to the front right of the Temple entrance that had been cut down in 2000 was once again visible, as was another at the south-east corner of the garden. A nice find at the same time was a good patch of Harebells in the gardens - not previously known.
For a photographic record of the recent changes to the Temple Gardens, Click Here
The Grotto - September 2005
Some time around 1760 an elaborate building known as Grotto was constructed by John, second Earl Tylney, on the west bank of the Ornamental Water. The structure was completed by 1764 and is said to have cost £2000, but with the addition of decoration and ornamentation was later valued at £40,000. Grottoes were a type of folly (that is, an architectural erection without functional intention) very popular with rich 18th century landowners. In fact, in many cases it is said that the landowner engaged a person to live in the folly and act the part of a real hermit. Whether this happened in the case of Wanstead Park is not known. In the case of the park's grotto, it is probable that the structure was lived in at some time, and below the living accommodating there was a boathouse - so that this one was more functional than many!
The front of the building, facing the lake, was of rough stone with a variety of ornamental details including arches and niches, with a landing stage for boats. A central open arch gave access to a boathouse in which were storage and repair facilities inside. A passage on the north side of the building gave access to a domed top-lit chamber above the boathouse, which was also accessible by means of steps from the lake. The chamber had a stained glass window, an elaborate pebble-pattern floor and was decorated with shells, crystals and mirrors. A remains of a very few of these could still be seen even up to the 1960's, but none remain visible now. There were two smaller rooms behind the chamber - one above the other - which may have served as an apartment for the keeper. When the Park was opened to the public in 1882 part of the enclosed space surrounding the old Grotto was white in early spring with snowdrops.
From 1882 when the park was opened to the public it was looked after by a caretaker, Mr. Puffet, and visitors could pay for a visit. An amusing article describing Mr Puffet was written in an edition of "Punch" magazine. Early in the 1880's, John T Bedford started writing for this satirical magazine under the nomme de plume ''Robert the Waiter" and the article describes a visit of the members of the Epping Forest and Open Spaces Committee to Wanstead Park where they met the newly appointed Keeper Puffet. (click here for the article)
In November 1884 the Grotto was damaged by fire. The most usual account of what happened relates to a workman who was retarring the boat which was kept in the boathouse under the Grotto. He did not notice the tar bubbling over, and the Grotto was set alight. Unfortunately, the lake had been drained for cleaning, so there was no ready supply of water available to fight the fire, and the building was all but destroyed. The facade survived, together with some of the interior and the access passage.
Some renovation work has been done from time to time and an archaeological exploration was undertaken in the winter of 1997/8 by the Museum of London Archaeological Service (MoLAS). This resulted in the exposure after many years of dock of the boathouse which was incorporated into the structure (photo). It was in this dock that the punt that is featured in some photographs of the ornamental waters would have been moored.
When the level of the Ornamental Water is low, it is possible to see on the opposite bank the remains of what was probably a bridge connecting across to the Grotto.(photo).
The Grotto is a Grade 11 listed building.
For Photos and images - Click Here
Florrie's Hill is a wide path that slopes down towards the Ornamental Waters from a small gate off Warren Road, Wanstead. It is one of the lesser entrances to the path, probably mostly used by local people and by golfers accessing the extension to Wanstead Golf Course adjacent.
The gate is known as Florrie's Gate - or at least that is what I picked up from Pete Saunders. The origin of the name is not known, but perhaps it was just the name given because a local resident by the name of Florrie used that gate?
However, the origin of 'Florrie's Hill' is known, because I used it on a map that I drew of Wanstead Park to be used for wildlife recording purposes. I thought - if that is Florrie's Gate, then this must be Florrie's Hill! So on it went onto the map, and it went onto the Wanstead Wildlife website. A couple of years later I was surprised to find that it was being used on a map produced by the City of London Corporation, and there even began to be reference to it in their literature and correspondence.
So often the origins of place names are lost and have to be surmised - this is one that I know for sure. Similarly, I began using the name "River Wood" to describe the wooded area that separates the River Roding from the Ornamental Water north of the straight Canal. I've actually tried this again; adjacent to the Perch Pond in Wanstead Park is an area of scruffy woodland - once the site of an isolation hospital, now a somewhat derelict area owned by London Borough of Redbridge. To attempt to give it some standing ( and even more in the hope that in doing so may help to protect it from development and save it from being built upon), I have named this area 'Aldersbrook Wood'. It will be interesting to see if it take on - and what the outcome may be.
One more may be mentioned: At the end of Warren Road there is a small car-park which is available for users of Wanstead Park, but in a line with Warren Road continuing southwards is a lane that separates Wanstead Park from the Golf Course. Rather than say "the lane that continues from Warren Road", I call this Warren Lane. We shall see.
Paul Ferris - Administrator, Wanstead Wildlife - 24 August 2009
This list was compiled by Pete Saunders from a survey undertaken by him during 2006/7
|Pinus sylvestris||Scots Pine||p (L.1941) L9 a tree on Lincoln Island - dead in 1991.|
|Platanus x hispanica||London Plane|
|Ulmus glabra||Wych Elm|
|Castanea sativa||Sweet Chestnut|
|Quercus robur||English Oak|
|Tilia x europaea (vulgaris)||Common Lime|
|Salix cinerea subsp. Atrocinerea||Common Sallow|
|Rosa canina||Dog Rose|
|Prunus avium||Wild Cherry|
|Prunus padus||Bird Cherry|
|Prunus laurocerasus||Cherry Laurel|
|Aesculus hippocastanum||Horse Chestnut|
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