Raphael Park is the western section of the former landscaped grounds of the Gidea Park Estate and lies to the north-east of Romford in the Romford Garden Suburb (q.v.). The southern boundary of the park is Main Road, the A118, which crosses the canal at Black's Bridge at its southern end. The park, surrounded by a network of suburban streets developed from the late C19th to the early C20th, is an irregularly shaped site, sloping uphill towards its northern end and broadening out into a large raised plateau, with a low-lying tree-lined valley on the western side following the northern course of the river feeding Black's Canal. On the south side of the A118 lies Lodge Farm Park (q.v.), created on farmland that was also formerly part of the estate; and to the east of the Garden Suburb development is Romford Golf Course (q.v.), also on the site of the former parkland. In the C17th the Gidea Park estate also included Bedfords (q.v.). Raphael Park forms part of Thomas England's vision of a 'Green Lung' running through the borough connecting Romford in the south to Havering Atte Bower in the north. England, a local trader and Councillor, was instrumental in various public improvement schemes in the borough between the two World Wars. In order to realise his green corridor through the borough, in 1937 he donated 23.5 acres of land for the creation of Rise Park (q.v.) to connect Raphael Park and Bedfords Park. In the 1960s the Romford Official Guides were able to promote a long distance walk through 4 Council-owned parks, including Lodge Farm, Raphael Park, Rise Park and Bedfords Park, from the centre of town to open countryside and Havering Ridge. From 1452-1629 Gidea Hall was owned by the Cooke family, their Elizabethan C15th/C16th house built on a C13th manor. It was located to the north of Main Road and east of today's public park, a moated house within 200 acres of parkland containing a deer park, rabbit warren and fishpond. After 1629 the estate changed hands several times until it was acquired in c.1710 by Sir John Eyles, Sub-Governor of the South Sea Company and joint Post-master General. His son sold the manor in 1745 to Richard Benyon, Governor of Fort St George, Madras, India; it remained in the Benyon family until 1802 when his grandson, also Richard Benyon, sold the estate to Alexander Black (d. 1835). After his widow Alice died in 1871 the estate remained in the family until the death of their daughter Anne in 1892, after which it was sold for development in 1893 to the Land Allotment Company. However, it was resold in 1897 to Sir Herbert H. Raphael, barrister and Liberal MP for South Derbyshire from 1906-1918.
Gidea Hall had been rebuilt as a three-storey mansion in 1720 by Sir John Eyles, who 'also formed the lake and greatly improved the park'. The moat was retained and incorporated into the formal layout of canals and avenues that are shown in Chapman and Andre's Map of 1777. Some of the stable buildings from the C16th house survived until 1922 and the C18th house was demolished in 1929/30. This had stood at the centre of radiating avenues, with a long canal, known as the Spoon Pond, on the northern side, and a fish-pond and a walled garden to the north-east. The Account Books for the Gidea Hall Estate for this period list numerous payments for labour in the gardens; on 12th April 1747 a payment was made for 'taking fish in cold weather out of Water Man's Bridge canal and other cold works' and on 10th February 1749: 'Paid Thomas Allen the gardener three years wages due Michael last, £54-0-0’. The Austrian statesman Karl Zinzendorf (1739-1813) described the park in his diary on 15th April 1768: "C'est un des plus vastes parcs que j'ai vu, peigne que cela fait plaisir, beaucoup des belles avenues, de pieces d'eau, le toute entoure de belles palissades presque jusq'aux portes de Rumford." ['This is one of most vast parks that I have seen, . . . the one that gave pleasure, many beautiful avenues, expanses of water, the whole surrounded by beautiful palisades almost to the gates of Romford."] The Spoon Pond survives from this period, now dry, and with tennis courts laid out along its length.
When he became owner, Richard Benyon enlarged the park c.1776, possibly to the designs of Richard Wood, who was a tenant of Benyon's residing and working in the neighbourhood. A more informal layout was created, with the lake or serpentine canal formed and Wyatt's new bridge of three elliptical arches built to carry the road across the greater width of water. The canal was apparently formed by damming and redirecting one of the tributary streams that are shown on the map of 1777, which must have fed the various water-features of the earlier formal gardens. The water and bridge still survive, now known as Black's Canal and Black's Bridge after the C19th owner Alexander Black. Wyatt also designed a 'Grecian temple for a cold bath’.
At its sale in 1797, the estate was described as consisting of 179 acres of 'rich land', of which 156 acres were offered for sale, which included lawns, plantations, pleasure grounds and fishponds, and the walled garden of 3.5 acres with choice fruit trees and a melon ground. The house, offices, bowling green and wilderness occupied 16 acres, the vineyard 22 acres and the Spoon Canal 2 acres. The purchaser was Alexander Black, and the 'Plan of Gidea Hall Park and farms adjoining...the Property of Alexander Black Esq.' of 1807, surveyed by J. Chilcot, shows a dark area comprising the park and house and pleasure ground, surrounded by fields. The vineyards are shown laid out on either side of the Spoon Canal, and a tree-lined approach avenue leads across the south side of the park. The Pleasure Grounds north of Black's Canal are also quite thickly planted with trees. The Black family memorial is still found in the former parochial cemetery, now Coronation Gardens (q.v.), and commemorates Alexander, his wife Alice, and daughters Anne and Adelaide.
After Herbert Raphael purchased the house and estate in 1897 he then, in 1902, donated Black's Canal of 5 acres, together with 15 acres of gardens, to Romford Urban District Council for use as a public park ‘for the benefit of the townspeople', probably with a view to protecting his investment in the adjoining Romford Garden Suburb, which he developed from 1910. The Council later bought the Spoon Pond and an additional 16 acres, and Raphael himself gave a further 4.5 acres, and Raphael Park was opened to the public in 1904.
C19th and C20th housing developments abut the boundaries of Raphael Park on all sides, but to the east the Romford Garden Suburb, developed over the site of Gidea Hall itself and its southern parkland, contains deliberately preserved and integrated features from the former C18th landscape.
In its present form Raphael Park preserves many features of the C18th landscape garden including Black's Canal, the Pleasure Ground, the Spoon Canal, and the site of the former Vineyards. The main park entrance is on Main Road, to the east of Black's Bridge, with a red brick lodge of c.1904 close to the entrance gates surrounded by mature yews and oaks, with some municipal-style beds nearby. Black's Canal retains its C18th serpentine form and island; its western bank is now abutted by private houses and their gardens, and a fountain has been installed at the southern end. An asphalted path follows the eastern bank of the canal, which has been clad in cement; a second path runs from the entrance lodge along higher ground on the eastern side of the park. Between the paths on the site of the former Pleasure Grounds are mature oaks, horse chestnut, and some specimen trees, together with more recent planting and a rock-work terrace of c.1960 on higher ground close to the northern tip of the canal.
To the north of the former Pleasure Ground a sunken tree-lined avenue marking the northern course of Black's Canal occupies the same site delineated on the survey of 1807, and on higher ground to the east lies a broad grass plateau now laid out with sports pitches, which is on the site of the C18th Western Vineyard. The sunken outline of the C18th Spoon Pond or Canal, is visible, laid out with tennis courts along its bottom, and a playground sited within its northern basin, encircled with mature oaks and horse chestnuts lining its eastern side. The back-gardens of houses abut the park on its southern side and Parkway running along its eastern side forms the boundary with the garden suburb.
The park is very well used, and the lake attracts common water birds; great crested grebe and tufted duck breed regularly, mute swan occasionally. There are two islands, both covered in woodland of sycamore, oak, horse chestnut and common lime. The Friends of Raphael and Lodge Farm Parks, in partnership with Havering Parks Service, is actively engaged in the park's maintenance and conservation and organises numerous activities.
Sources of information: F Cowell, 'Richard Wood (?1716-93) A Preliminary Account' in Garden History vol 15 1987; F G Emmison 'Catalogue of Maps in Essex Record Office', 1952; D W Collier 'The People's History of Essex'. 1861; P Morant 'History of Essex' vol I 1816; Gidea Park & District Civic Society leaflets; L J Leicester 'The Romford Garden Suburb in Gidea Park' in Heritage Record, 1988; I G Sparkes, 'Gidea Hall and Gidea Park', 1966; B Evans 'Romford, Collier Row and Gidea Park', Chichester 1994; H Jordan 'Gidea Park Essex', 1989; Victoria County History of Essex vols v and vii
Illustrations: OS 1881; OS 1961; Essex Record Office Plan of Gidea Hall surveyed by J Chilcot, 1807; Chapman and Andre Map of Essex 1777; photographs in B Evans 1994; photographs Ruth Guilding 1995. Postcard of women on bench by lake (1900-07) in Nigel Temple Postcard Collection of Parks and Gardens, PC07964.
Date of Research: 1995 RG; 1999 SW visit 12/7/99; photos/visit 8/4/06
Research updated: 4/1/2006
Lodge Farm Park is on the southern side of Main Road from Raphael Park (q.v.) and although the site was acquired in 1927, the public park was not completed until 1963. It forms part of Thomas England's vision of a 'Green Lung' running through the borough connecting Romford in the south to Havering Atte Bower in the north. England, a local trader and Councillor, was instrumental in various public improvement schemes in the borough between the two World Wars. In order to realise his green corridor through the borough, in 1937 he donated 23.5 acres of land for the creation of Rise Park (q.v.) to connect Raphael Park and Bedfords Park (q.v.). In the 1960s the Romford Official Guides were able to promote a long distance walk through 4 Council-owned parks, including Lodge Farm, Raphael Park, Rise Park and Bedfords Park, from the centre of town to open countryside and Havering Ridge. In 1918 the owners of the Lodge Farm Estate, Roger Reede's Charity, leased the farm and buildings to the Agent of the High Grade Dairy Company for 14 years, to be used solely for farming. In March 1927 the Charity agreed to sell a number of parcels of the farmland to Romford UDC at a cost of £1,350. The site was part of an ancient endowment of the Charity and was described as ‘A farm consisting of a dwellinghouse called Neades otherwise Staceys Farm’. The sale deeds included 3 restrictive covenants on the land, among which were stipulations that a fence was to be erected to the east and north sides within 3 months of the sale, and that the land would only be used for public recreation or for a public park. It comprised 12 acres 20 perches, and ran from Black's Bridge in the north to Carlton Road in the south. Initially the site was used as a Council rubbish tip, but in November 1937 residents of Kingston Road petitioned against the extent of the tip, which was at least 10 ft over ground level. In 1950 fencing and gates were provided in the southern part of the open space. In 1954 the Council agreed in principle to construct a new swimming pool in what was then called Lodge Farm Park Recreation Ground, but this was turned down by the Minister of Housing and Local Government in 1959 as such use was precluded by the restrictive covenants on the land. A scheme to develop the park was eventually agreed in 1961 at a cost of £42,000, which included laying out two bowling greens, a pavilion, children's playground with shelter, a depot and mess room for the staff, as well as planting and landscaping. The work was largely completed by October 1962 and it was then opened to the public. The new bowling green was celebrated in May the following year with a match played against the Mayor of Romford and his councillors. Lodge Farm Park is largely open space with some ornamental planting of shrubs and trees and its facilities include two bowling greens with a pavilion in the south, playground, gazebo and tennis courts in the north near the entrance on Main Road by Black's Bridge. The bridge was constructed in 1776 when the grounds of Gidea Hall, now Raphael Park, were landscaped and enlarged for the then owner Richard Benyon, which included the creation of the serpentine lake that remains in the park immediately to the north of the bridge. Black's Canal had been formed by damming and redirecting a tributary stream and supplied water features of the earlier formal gardens of Gidea Hall. The boundary on the west of Lodge Farm Park follows the valley formed by Black's Brook, which overflows from the lake in Raphael Park. The Friends of Raphael Park and Lodge Farm Park was formed in November 2004. In spring 2008 a new sculpture was erected carved from Atlantic Blue Cedar. The park has received Green Flag Awards in 2008 and 2009.
Sources of information: LB Havering Recreation and Amenities Brochure, 1970; 'Management Plan for Lodge Farm Park from 2007 to 2017', LB Havering, 2009
Illustrations: Plan in LB Havering Recreation and Amenities Brochure, 1970; OS Map 1896 showing Lodge Farm, 1927 plan of land sold to Romford and other maps, photographs in 'Management Plan for Lodge Farm Park from 2007 to 2017', LB Havering, 2009
Date of Research: 1999 SW; visit/photos 8/4/06
Research updated: 9/1/2010
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Historical information is taken from the London Inventory of Historic Green Spaces, a database of over 2300 sites produced by the London Parks & Gardens Trust.
The LPGT is an independent charity that seeks to conserve and to promote understanding of historic parks, gardens, churchyards and other green spaces across London, for the appreciation, education and enjoyment by the public. For more information on the Inventory, contact Sally Williams at LPGT.