So the gates are shut, and the countdown gets louder. Most of Greenwich Park has been closed to the public since Saturday, with only the flower gardens and children’s playground remaining open for business. At the foot of the hill, the equestrian stadium looks ever more impressive, and a cable camera is being strung up across the Thames, to provide a worldwide audience with a spectacular view across the park. Our temporary loss will be the world’s gain.
In the meantime, though, we’ve lost (most of) our park. But if you live within a couple of miles of Greenwich Park, you’re spoiled by green space compared with other parts of London. Chances are, though, there’s a few that you might not have explored. So over the next few weeks, I’ll be profiling some of those green spaces make this bit of the capital so special. Greenwich Park is great, but there’s much more besides around here.
And where better to start than in Hornfair Park? Because as the locks went up on Greenwich Park, the gates swung open on a long-lost favourite in SE7. Charlton’s got its lido back…
Whisper it, but there’s a quiet revolution going on in the bottom corner of SE7. And for all the stick it gets on this site, it’s fair to say that Greenwich Council is quietly playing a blinder here – although it’s taken its time about it. Three years ago, Hornfair Park had seen better days – unloved, neglected, and a haven for after-dark crime. Definitely the poor relation to neighbouring Charlton Park, its decline was capped by the tatty state of Charlton Lido, left clinging to life after council cutbacks. A botched plan to redevelop the lido as a diving centre didn’t help matters.
Opened in 1936 as Charlton Playing Fields on land originally bought by the old London County Council from the old lords of the manor of Charlton, the Maryon-Wilson family (more of them later), with the lido coming three years later. It was the last of four LCC lidos – the others being at Parliament Hill, Brockwell Park and Victoria Park. All but the latter survive today.
Renamed Hornfair Park in 1948, a long decline started in the 1970s when a cash-strapped Greenwich Council was forced to take it on from the Greater London Council, with opening hours at the lido cut back and it even became a skateboard park for a short spell. A swimming club kept the lido alive for some years, until Greenwich Council embarked on the ill-fated diving centre plan.
It was the BMX bikers that heralded the rebirth of Hornfair Park. Controversial when it opened in summer 2011, the BMX track has brought new life to the flat, featureless field at the rear of the park, which backs onto the edge of Woolwich Common. A revolutionary decision to, er, lock the park gates at night helped cut crime. The tennis courts and paddling pool are being upgraded, and Charlton Lido finally reopened its doors on Monday after a two-year closure, boasting a heated 50m-long pool. More work will continue when the summer is over, and next year a fitness centre and cafe will be added.
Things still aren’t perfect – much of the park still needs a lot of work as the council battles to overcome years of its own neglect. There’ll also no doubt be more tension with local residents as the council seeks to use Hornfair Park as somewhere to inspire young people to take up sport – an issue not helped by Greenwich’s attitude to “consultation”. But while a lot of the talk of “Olympic legacy” in this area is bunkum – in Hornfair Park, if the council can get it right, it’ll be real enough.