West Ham Park - The Tree Collection

West Ham ParkWest Ham Park

West Ham Park, situated amidst the streets of Forest Gate and Plaistow, is one of those so-called "Green Oasis", common in London. It is owned and maintained by the City of London Corporation, and until its closure in 2016 its nursery supplied some of the street flowers and other plants that were used in the City itself. (For location map, Click Here)

77 acres overall, perhaps the gem is the seven-acre ornamental garden, with trees and shrubs including the national collection of Liquidamber (Sweet Gum).

In 1762 the site, which was part of the Upton House Estate, was acquired by the Quaker physician and philanthropist Dr. John Fothergill.  Fothergill commissioned plant hunters - including the American naturalist William Bartram - to build up a collection from the Americas, the Far East, Africa and Europe, adding many rare plants to existing plantings of cedars, yew and wall fruit. The site became a botanical garden that pre-empted Kew.

Sir Joseph Banks, naturalist, botanist and plant collector on Captain Cook's first voyage, described the gardens as second only to Kew in Europe and it attracted visitors from abroad (Thompson 1782). At Fothergill's death much of his collection was sold, including botanical drawings of the collection, although trees and greenhouses remained.

Following Fothergill's death, the Gurney family owned the park. Samuel Gurney, banker and philanthropist, invested £500 in American shrubs (Pagenstecher 1908). His sister, Elizabeth Fry, lived in a house opposite the park from 1829 to 1844. Her headstone, by the way, is located in the Quaker Burial Grounds in Bush Wood.

When the Gurney family wished to sell the estate in the mid 1860s, the park was purchased by the City of London to be preserved as an open space for the public. It was officially opened on 20 July 1874. By 1887 the park had been laid out, incorporating features from the earlier park which included the mature trees.

The walled wilderness garden of some five acres was described by K. Fry in 1888 as follows :

a winding canal, in the figure of a crescent, divided the garden into two [parts], occasionally opening on ... rare exotic shrubs. .. A glass door from the house gave entrance into a suite of hot- and green-houses, nearly two hundred and sixty feet in extent, containing upwards of three thousand four hundred distinct species of exotics, ... and in the open ground. .. nearly three thousand distinct species of plants and shrubs. (Fry 1888)

Amongst a variety of other specimen trees, a maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba) that was planted by Dr. Fothergill in 1763 is still an impressive feature of the ornamental gardens in West Ham Park. It is interesting to note that the old ginkgo at Kew was planted in 1762. There are also specimens of the cut-leaved hornbeam Carpinus betulus "quercifolia".

TABLE 1. A list of trees noted in West Ham Park

Trees recorded in 2007 by Paul Ferris and Kathy Hartnett

Stace - 2nd edNameStaceDate
Maidenhair Tree Ginkgo biloba  
Monkey Puzzle Araucaria araucana  
Deodar Cedrus deodara  
Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani  
Atlas Cedar Cedrus atlantica  
Yew Taxus baccata  
Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera  
Beech Fagus sylvatica  
Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa  
Fern-leaved Beech Fagus sylvatica "Asplenifolia"  
Turkey Oak Quercus cerris  
English Oak Quercus robur  
Scarlet Oak Quercus coccinea  
Evergreen Oak Quercus x hispanica "Crispa"  
Silver Birch Betula pendula  
Cut-leaved Hornbeam Carpinus betulus "quercifolia"  
Cherry  (numerous species) Prunus avium  
Rowan Sorbus aucuparia  
Locust Tree Robinia pseudoacacia  
Holly  (many varieties) Ilex aquifolium  
Pride of India Koelreuteria paniculata  
Paper-bark Maple Acer griseum  
Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus  
Stag's-horn Sumach Rhus hirta  
Ash Fraxinus excelsior  
  Cider Gum Eucalyptus gunnii  
  Sweet Gum Liquidamber styraciflua  
  Veitch's Magnolia Magnolia x veitchii 'isca'  
  Indian Bean Tree Catalpa bignonioides  
  New Zealand Cabbage Palm Cordyline australis  
  Chusan Palm Trachycarpus fortunei  
  Mulberry Morus nigra