Our park comes to life at the weekend, with the Saturday morning fun run and the children’s football coaching. It’s great to see the park full of folk having fun and keeping fit. The summer will see more people making use of the outdoor Table Tennis and the two Cricket “tables”.
In the 1890’s Colonel North realised the full potential for sport at Avery Hill. A good sprinter in his youth, North regularly challenged the Tower Hamlets Volunteers; on their annual camp at Avery Hill, to a 60 yard dash. He gave everyone a 5 yard start but would always win! (John Bennion Booth -1957) Booth also quotes that North was a keen football player; I’m not sure which team he supported but Colonel North, ever generous, sent a bank-note to a West Bromwich Albion player injured in the cup final played against Crystal Palace in 1896.
Last month I wrote about the Winter Gardens, Colonel North’s stables and heating system. Colonel North loved extravagance and impressing everyone who visited his mansion! Starting at the west entrance gate and lodge; visitors to the mansion, arriving at the front door cannot have failed to be impressed by the building Col. North commissioned from his architect Thomas William Cutler in 1888. In September 1889 the Express newspaper commented ”Colonel North is amusing himself building an enormous residence, half barracks, half Crystal Palace, at Eltham.” Quote from The Nitrate King by William Edmundson. North thought Cutler had seriously overspent and took him to court. In 1891 the court found in favour of Cutler and North had to pay costs!
The mansion continues to impress to this day; there’s room to alight at the front door from your carriage without getting rained on! You won’t even need a brolly! The impressive mahogany front doors are embellished with Lion’s heads. The University run regular conducted tours; so seek one out and experience the delights once enjoyed by North’s rich guests!
The rich and famous would have once be able to cross the threshold onto the mosaic floor installed by Italian workmen. Turning to your right you would have been able to make your tour through what is at present the Uni. library. Once North’s sculpture gallery, it is lined with red marble. Moving into the main library area; look out for the portraits of the North family and the minstrel’s gallery. This gallery is made of a rare Mexican onyx.
I wonder if these two lovely rooms will be preserved intact by the future owners? We’ll have to wait and see!
At the west end of the Uni. library look out for the bricked up archways; these used to lead into the Winter Gardens. The rich and famous would once have progressed through here to the tropical house, now rather derelict, into the temperate house where you can see the largest indoor example (60 foot at the crown) of a Canary Island Palm. Next into the cold house with the statue of Galatea; re-entering the main house via the drawing room.
Many of the rich and famous took this tour, including the Prince of Wales. For his visit he arrived by train; alighting at Eltham Park station. The platform was graced with a glass roof for the occasion! Alas the station no longer exists but the entrance can still be seen adjacent to the motorway bridge in Westmount Road. Those were the days!
A good bit of folk lore advice for this month! “In December keep yourself warm and sleep”!!
We get the winter solstice on the 22nd when the sun reaches the tropic of Capricorn
and we get our shortest daylight hours.
Apologies to you all for sending you on a wild goose chase last month; the wild mushrooms were few and far between, I was hard put too to find even honey fungus! My preparations for these nature notes always involve a walk around the park in the last few days of the previous month. This year, inspite of the winds, there are still plenty of leaves on the trees. Some are even still green! No doubt it’s the effect of global warming again! We’ve had a couple of hard frosts (November 21/22nd) so that should encourage the trees to shed their leaves. As usual the Caucasian Wing-nut, on the “MUGA” corner of the avenue beside the huge Holly hedge, is still delaying putting on any autumn colour and shedding its leaves.
Last December’s nature notes featured the Thrush family winter migrants, Fieldfare and Redwing. So far this year there’s been no sight of them; we have a glut of berries so presumably there’s a plentiful supply of berries for them not to need to migrate to find ours! Keep a look out for them when the days get colder. The Robins are singing their winter song; you can usually find Robins out and about near the council shipping containers and in the Italianate (Rose) Garden. The numbers of gulls foraging on the playing fields are increasing; look out for the smaller (not so) Common Gull with its green legs. The Crow numbers are building up too but we’ve still along way to go before we rival the numbers of gulls and crows on Plumstead Common!
There are still a few wildflowers in bloom in sheltered places; Dead Nettle and Yarrow. They both have white flowers: I wonder if there’s any significance in that?
Progress on the sale of the Mansion and Winter Garden seems to have gone rather quiet! Rumour has it that one education “Academy” has pulled out but another has been found. Who knows? We’ll have to wait and see!
Don’t forget to come along to the park café for their Christmas celebration on December 12th, 2.00 to 4.00. Our old favourites the Eldorado Players will be entertaining and rumour has it that Father Christmas will be there with mulled wine and mince pies. See you there!
Did Thomas Hood describe November accurately?
“No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees;
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,-
He describes what he saw in the early 1800’s but has global warming had a part to play in the years since? Only time will tell!
As I write this month’s nature notes, it’s the last week in October, I can see an oak tree; still a glorious green! My thoughts about the trees starting their Autumn earlier than usual this year have been confounded!
Which-ever direction you take for your walks around the park this month, keep a look out for the fungi. October was so dry that there were not many about; so provided we do not have too many frosts they should be popping up all over the place. My favourite is a woodland one, Fly Agaric. This is the classic poisonous one of fairy stories; red with white blotches on the cup. Sorry I can’t guarantee there will be an elf perched on top! We do have a few poisonous fungi varieties in the UK and our pharmacies don’t provide specialist advice in the way they do in Switzerland; so my best advice is to look, take a photo but don’t pick! If you find anything unusual please let us know. So far recorded in the park are: Bracket Fungus, Honey Fungus, Jelly Ear, Puff Ball, Shaggy Ink Cap, Field Mushrooms and Fairies Bonnets. Good hunting!
On the “twitching” front, our summer migrant birds should all have flown south by now; off to warmer climes! However as the temperature drops we do have our winter visitors to look forward to. In the mean time we’ll have to put up with our resident birds. The Starlings seem to have had a good year and there are small flocks of them about. Green Woodpeckers are around probing the grass with their long beaks and of course there’s our old friend the Robin still singing its wintry song and reminding us Christmas is not so very far away!
The latest news on the University selling the Mansion site is that the “Preferred Buyer” has pulled out. So we are not about to be another educational academy after all and it’s back to square one for Greenwich University’s “sale of the century”!
We’ll keep you posted as soon as we hear of any further developments.
If you were expecting the Keats’ quote for October, “Season of mists” etc; sorry to disappoint you! This month it’s Spenser with “Then came October, full of merry glee”!
The park is looking splendid this month with the hedges festooned with berries. Folklore maintains that this will herald a hard winter. I wonder? What it definitely tells us is that the pollinating insects were very busy last spring! The trees were very early to change colour this year; starting in the 3rd week of September, for the first time that I can remember.
We’ll have to wait and see what winter will be and in the meantime just enjoy the autumn tints in our lovely park!
If you’re walking past the MUGA (Multi-Use Games Area) on your way to the little valley formed by the Pippenhall Stream and then Grey’s (the rugby) field. Take a closer look at the very large tree at the start of the avenue alongside the Holly hedge. This magnificent specimen is a Caucasian Wingnut; the dangling “ropes” of seeds give insight into why this tree was named “Wingnut”. If you want to show off your botanical knowledge, the seeds are “samaras”; Sycamore and Ash have samaras too!
Last month I wrote about the bats in Avery Hill Park. Having watched them more carefully over the past few weeks; I’ve come to the conclusion that our bat numbers are down this year. The evidence is that the tell tale urine stains at the entrance of our 5 bat roosts are much shorter this year. We had a very cold spring; with no food about the females will not have given birth. Keep your eyes open at dusk and see what you can spot flying around the hedges and larger trees. Bats don’t like wet, windy or cold weather. If you can see your breath condensing in the air as you breathe out; it will be too cold for the insects and bats to be flying. However, there’s a great food source and a chance to fatten up for the bats hibernation, now the Ivy is in flower. The Ivy flowers attract lots of insects and the berries later this month are a food source for many of our birds.
Whatever the weather, get out and enjoy our park; our park users are very friendly and our café always has a warm welcome.
What to look for in the park this month
“Fair on September 1st, fair for the month.”
“September dries up wells, or breaks down bridges”.
I wonder what the weather has in store for us this month! Whatever the weather the park hedges and trees will be full of seeds and berries; a guaranteed feast for the birds!
Now is the time to see the “glamour act” of the bird world, the Goldfinch. This pretty little bird loves to feast on thistle seeds; a group of them has the very apt name of a “charm” of goldfinch! Most of our feathered friends will still be around in family groups. Most easily identified is the Wood pigeon; they’ll stay together as mum, dad and a couple of kids for a while yet!
Most of our wildflowers have finished flowering; look out for their seed heads as you walk around the park this month. If you’re taking your walk around the park at dusk, look out for our resident bats. They’re mating this month so the males in particular will be high profile! One of their favourite hunting places is in Grey’s field, alongside the hedge bordering Charlton Athletic and our park rugby field. Moths are attracted to the floodlights and the bats will be in position to ambush them. The larger Noctule bats can be seen swooping down on their prey but the smaller Pippistrelles will get their share too!
On the sale of the mansion front, our council tree protection officer has been to inspect the Winter Garden’s specimen trees. The Palms, Norfolk Island Pines and the Kumquat now have tree preservation orders; so thankfully will still be around for the foreseeable future. Let’s hope we can all enjoy our magnificent Winter Gardens for many years to come!
The university’s “preferred buyer” will move onto the mansion site this month; initially to occupy the Stud Stable site by the university car-park and the tower block at the east end of mansion site. Will things move on apace? Only time will tell!
Fairest of months. Ripe summer’s queen! The hey day of the year;
All parks have a great history, created as public open, green spaces by visionary men and women for the people to enjoy.