Any follower of this website can hardly avoid mention of Charlotte Sulivan. This article from the Fulham Society archives sets out one of her major projects to benefit the people of Fulham. I need hardly mention that Sue Pierson’s splendid book is still available. This subject is also current as work is underway on a new Arts and Community Centre due to open later this year. No doubt many have found fresh air and space here during the lockdown.
Charlotte Sulivan (1824-1911) lived at Broom House in Broomhouse Lane, opposite the Elizabethan Schools, which were built by Charlotte’s father, Laurence Sulivan, in 1855.
Charlotte was obviously deeply concerned with the welfare of the people of Fulham and was indeed the greatest benefactor of the area. Among her many benefactions were the encouragement, building of and endowment of St Dionis Church, St Matthew’s Church, St Michael’s Mission Church on Townmead Road, and Christ Church. On Parsons Green she started the Ray of Hope Coffee Club as an alternative to the local pubs and the Parsons Green Working Men’s Club, in Peterborough Road, among many others.
In 1894 she started negotiations with the Fulham Vestry (the precursor of the Borough Council) with regard to some 10 acres of land in the neighbourhood of Wandsworth Bridge Road to form a park – these fell through as the Vestry did not have the money to take up her offer. However in 1903 the Council (established in 1900) bought 21 acres of Southfields Farm from Charlotte for ‘a public recreation ground’. . The land had been part of the Sulivan private lands though it had been leased to Messrs Veitch & Sons of Chelsea as a nursery for fruit trees. They paid £40.000, a “staggering figure’, according to the Fulham Chronicle. This became South Park. She imposed various conditions on the sale, one of which is that the Council should erect no dwelling houses or buildings except as necessary or appropriate for use as a Recreation Ground or Park.
When Miss Sulivan sold the land, she stipulated that the Peterborough Road side should be enclosed by a solid brick wall to ensure that the park was kept separate from the grounds of her house.
The Park was laid out for cricket, tennis and other field games’. There was a bandstand with dressing rooms underneath. There was a gymnasium with separate departments for boys and girls, plus swings, a see-saw and a giant stride (a pole with a rope hanging on it on which you could swing – allowing the user to make giant strides). The greenhouse, which was part of the earlier garden was demolished in the 1980s.
South Park’s first park-keeper was John Eckett who lived in the gardener’s lodge whilst Miss Gertrude Eckett is noted as being at the refreshment room. This was in an extension to the North Lodge at the corner of Clancarty Road and Peterborough Road. The lodge is currently derelict, as is the refreshment room although this, with a conservatory extension, was used as a nursery school for a number of years. Until the 1980s James Veitch’s greenhouses remained a feature in this corner of the park. They were used partly to grow plants for use in borough parks but also included a traditional conservatory with hothouse plants and a water feature. Now demolished, all that remains is a brick wall parallel to Clancarty Road at the end of the rose garden, now the community garden, in which only a few roses remain..
World War I saw military occupation of the park and allotments and in 1915 South Park became the training ground for three Fulham Brigades of the Royal Field Artillery. In World War II, 11000 cu. yards of sand was dug from South Park and surrounds to fill sandbags needed to protect key buildings and areas. Air raid shelters were created near the present cricket pavilion. In 2004 South Park celebrated its centenary.
After the war there were a series of ad hoc and generally unsympathetic alterations and in more recent years the park steadily deteriorated due to vandalism and inadequate maintenance, overall control or vision for the park. Many of the attractive features including the greenhouses, the terra- cotta terrace walls, and the public lavatories have either gone or greatly deteriorated. Extensive campaigning by local residents eventually produced an improvement to maintenance standards and eventually some physical improvements, chiefly the restoration of the perimeter wall and the main approach through the Clancarty Road double gates, and the complete refurbishment of four of the tennis courts. South Park is now an important sports park and contains the only public cricket pitch in the borough, which is much used in the summer. In 2008 funds were finally made available by Hammersmith & Fulham Council to pay for the development of a Master Plan which is currently under way. A users’ Group was set up and this has now expanded into the Friends of South Park which formally came into being in January 2009. www.friendsofsouthpark.co.uk
Thanks to Sue Pierson for help from her book Charlotte Sulivan (1824-1911), H&F Historical Society, revised 2011. Copies available from Sue Pierson- firstname.lastname@example.org
This first appeared for the Fulham Society October 2016