Victoria Park

Victoria Park, Tower Hamlets/Hackney

A 213-acre, boot-shaped park with lakes and amenities, situated between South Hackney and Bow’s Old Ford locality

geograph-4825276-by-Des-Blenkinsopp - Victoria Park Pagoda

Vic­to­ria Park was cre­at­ed to beau­ti­fy the East End, pro­vide recre­ation­al space and improve pub­lic health. Two pos­si­ble sites were con­sid­ered: at Bow Com­mon and in south-east Hack­ney. The con­sul­tant plan­ner Sir James Pen­nethorne rec­om­mend­ed Bow Com­mon, which he felt was less flat and dull. How­ev­er, the Hack­ney option was pre­ferred, pri­mar­i­ly because the land was cheap­er, although land­scap­ing proved unex­pect­ed­ly expen­sive.

There were nurs­eries and orchards here before, but the fruit trees were cut down for fear that they would pro­vide an incen­tive to thiev­ing and dis­or­der. Dis­or­der­ly gath­er­ings had been a fea­ture of the neigh­bour­ing Bonner’s Fields, most of which sub­se­quent­ly dis­ap­peared beneath access roads and hous­ing.

The Burdett Coutts drinking fountain is one of the few original structures surviving in Victoria Park
The Bur­dett Coutts drink­ing foun­tain is one of the few orig­i­nal struc­tures sur­viv­ing in Vic­to­ria Park*

Vic­to­ria Park opened unof­fi­cial­ly in 1845, while land­scap­ing was still in progress and before the lakes had been cre­at­ed. Numer­ous orna­men­tal struc­tures were added in sub­se­quent decades but most have been lost as a result of war-time bomb­ing or neglect. Among the notable sur­vivors are a pair of stone alcoves from Old Lon­don Bridge and Baroness Bur­dett Coutts’s ridicu­lous­ly grand drink­ing foun­tain, shown on the right.

The cre­ation of the park stim­u­lat­ed house­build­ing in its vicin­i­ty. New streets were laid out and sub­stan­tial ter­raced hous­es and detached vil­las filled the area over the fol­low­ing three decades. Vic­to­ria Park had a sta­tion on the North Lon­don line from 1856 to 1943, with access from the north side of Wick Road. Some hous­ing was replaced after the 1960s by pri­vate and coun­cil flats but a con­ser­va­tion area now pro­tects most of the Vic­to­ri­an prop­er­ties, which have been described as ‘for­ev­er up-and-com­ing but nev­er quite mak­ing it into the Isling­ton league’. Estate agents refer to the area as ‘Vic­to­ria Park vil­lage’.

In 1994 Vic­to­ria Park became the sole respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Lon­don Bor­ough of Tow­er Ham­lets, which com­plet­ed a major pro­gramme of improve­ments in 2012. The £12  mil­lion works includ­ed a play­ground, a Chi­nese pago­da (shown in the pho­to­graph at the top*) and new flower dis­plays.

The park has host­ed polit­i­cal gath­er­ings through­out its his­to­ry, includ­ing Chartist ral­lies soon after it opened, strik­ing dock­work­ers’ meet­ings in the late 19th cen­tu­ry and a Rock against Racism car­ni­val in 1978 that was attend­ed by more than 80,000 peo­ple (includ­ing this author). Nowa­days its events tend to be more com­mer­cial, with music fes­ti­vals gen­er­at­ing around £100,000 a year for the coun­cil.

Postal districts: E9, E3 and E2
Population: 13,231 (Hackney’s Victoria ward, 2011 census)
Further reading: Philip Mernick and Doreen Kendall, A Pictorial History of Victoria Park, East London History Society, 1996
Websites: Victoria Park, Victoria Park Village

 

* The pictures of the Victoria Park pagoda and Burdett Coutts fountain on this page are adapted from original photographs, copyright Des Blenkinsopp, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is freely permitted under the terms of that licence.