On 23rd July 2013 The Rookery on Streatham Common celebrated its use as a public garden for a century. Since its opening, thousands of local residents have enjoyed its Old English Garden, White Garden, open air theatre, cascading water features, orchard, and newly-founded Community Garden.
As part of the plans for the Rookery Centenary it was decided to make an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore the Rookery to its past glory and to learn about its history and horticultural heritage. The main objectives of the project were to:
- Repair of the pathways to secure access for the next 100 years
- A volunteer-led project to research the heritage of the White Garden and Old English Garden, leading to well-considered planting designs for both
- Heritage gardening workshops at Streatham Common Community Garden
- Playing the Rookery, a new musical composition, exploring the way children have used the Rookery
- New signage to improve the visitor experience
The bid was successful and resulted in £50,000 being awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which was supplemented by £6500 from the Friends of Streatham Common fundraising group, and a further £5000 from Lambeth Council. As a result, the Friends were able to embark on an extensive programme of restoration works, public events and volunteer activities, as outlined below.
On the 23rd July 2013, exactly 100 years after The Rookery first opened its doors to the public, the Friends held a one-day festival to celebrate this important date. There were community stalls, tours, as well as performances of a new musical composition, commissioned for the centenary, Playing the Rookery. The piece was created by professional musicians Music Off Canvas in collaboration with local primary schools. It took spectators on a tour around different areas of the Rookery to three different outdoor ‘stages’ where different parts of the composition were performed.
There was also a children’s trail leaflet available, created by Streatham Society and Streatham Festival.
Volunteers played a central role in the restoration work that took place as a result of the Centenary project. More than 50 volunteers were involved with a range of activities from gardening, to local history research to garden design.
A garden design group was recruited in early 2014 and took part in a research project to discover more about the history of The Rookery and to understand the park in the context of other parks and gardens of the same age. The group visited libraries and archives across London as well as gardens of the period and other white gardens for inspiration.
‘I very much enjoyed the visit to Sissinghurst… It was interesting that they are not trying to recreate a former look, but want their garden to be a traditional garden with a modern twist – this is something that I think we all visualize for the Rookery’
(Anna Savage, Member of the Garden Design Group)
The group also made contact with former Rookery gardening staff and interviewed them about their memories, giving us a fascinating insight in to some of the horticultural practices that were used in the 1960s-1980s.
At that time there were no Flymos so we had to cut the banks with scythes. We didn’t mind because we got a shilling an hour extra for scything.
(Mike Shannon, Gardening apprentice at the Rookery in 1965)
Following on from the research stage, the group worked alongside garden designer, Alison Alexander, to create new planting schemes for the White Garden and other areas of the Rookery that have been neglected. Alison trained the group on the key considerations of garden design, invited plant suggestions based on different criteria, and finally drew all of the group’s ideas in to a planting scheme for The White Garden.
As a result of this process and the training received, some of the volunteers have been inspired to create new planting schemes for areas of the Old English Garden, a number of which were planted in 2015/16.
Research and planning gave way to gardening in autumn 2014 when a series of Community Planting Days took place in the White Garden, attracting significant local interest and support. Over 40 volunteers came to help plant approximately 230 plants and 1200 bulbs, representing about 40 species. A further 30 species will be added to the garden in spring 2015.
Repair of the pathways
As part of the project, the crazy paving in the Old English Garden was restored. The paving dates back to the early 20th century and is a key feature of the garden’s cottage-like design. When it was restored, the workmen re-used the original paving stones to retain the atmosphere of the garden whilst making the pathways safer and more accessible.
New information boards were installed around The Rookery containing historical information about the garden and highlighting plants of special interest.
Streatham Common Community Garden
The Community Garden, an independent charity located adjacent to The Rookery, also participated in the Centenary Celebrations by running a series of events based on heritage growing skills. The events included: a talk about the history of gardens and spas in South London by local historian Brian Bloice; two outdoor cooking lessons on the lost skills of a Victorian Garden by local food writer and chef, Rachel de Thample, and a winter Wassail to scare away the evil tree spirits and breath life in to the newly planted heritage fruit trees in the Rookery Orchard.
For more information about the Community Garden please go to their website: