Pymmes Park's origin is as the 6 acre estate of the Tudor mansion of Pymmes Park House which expanded to more than 50 acres over the years. It runs alongside Victoria Road from Silver Street / Sterling Way to Park Lane with Sweet Briar Walk on the west side and there aren't really any main gates any more. The north half of the park was leased in 1897 and immediately opened to the public. The freehold to the whole park was purchased in 1899 and after some work on the south side to lay it out as a public park it was offficially opened in 1906.
Having been brought up on the Ponders End borders, Pymmes was always a rather remote thing and although I am sure I must have been there quite a few times as a kid I have no real memories of it and I had never got around to exploring it since. The part of the near stagnant lake visible from the street was always off putting and I was told that even in 2002, after the park was supposed to have been improved in recent years, it still stank. So I went to take a look for myself to see if anything looked familiar and to see if I needed to hold my breath...
Approaching from the north end, Pymmes Park is first seen as a large field (above left) south of Park Lane which has a number of football pitches and a building that looks like changing rooms on the north side. An entrance opposite Park Road to the south of this field leads past the toilets towards the children's play area, which they call something like the Children's Centenary Adventure Playground (second rather blurred photo). To the south of this the lake runs across most of the park. The area next to the children's play area seems quite pleasant although the water looks murky and a strange colour but not as murky and as strange a colour as it does beyond the footbridge glimpsed in the photo on the right where there is an island in the lake, and yes it did smell a bit bad there.
A closer look at the play area in May 2005 revealed that the west side is a fairly standard children's playground and the adventure playground is a separate area adjoining it.
Crossing the bridge there are tennis courts visible over on the west side and as there are said to be basketball courts somewhere I guess they are over there. This side of the park is more ornamental than recreational and has gates which are locked over night (the north side is left open).
Pymmes Park House was bombed in 1940 and the only remants of it are parts of the garden walls around the rather pleasant Victorian Walled Garden with a central circular pond. This is neatly hidden behind the park's works area. Beyond the walled garden is the bowling green and its pavilion heading towards a small west gate. Since I walked around it the garden had seemed to be locked more often than not and in 2005 it is apparently being completely trashed and redesigned replanted. Apparently it is to be 'restored' to a 1920s style (or thereabouts). Quite what is so special about that point in it's history hasn't been made clear.
In March 2004 I finally walked around the west side of the lake instead of across the footbridge to see what I had missed. There is a larger entrance gate on that side and to the south of the lake is the fenced off area that was probably four tennis courts once but is now one tennis court and a basketball court with nothing in between. Extremely tatty they look too. There is another set of courts staggered to the south-west of this one but I didn't check them out. To the south of the west side of the lake there is another bowling green (I should imagine it may adjoin the one I saw before) though I don't know whether it is still used.
The park was also noted for a very popular bandstand (left on VJ Day, 1945) and the post war open air theatre (centre -right in June 1946). I don't know how long the bandstand lasted but I can take a guess where it was as the photo shows a lifebelt in the background suggesting is was right by the lake. A little to the west of the footbridge there is a patch of concrete at the edge of a grassed area that seems a likely location (you might be able to see it in the background of the second photo).
I read that the theatre was vandalised to destruction in the 1970s though a correspondent has queried this as he says he worked on a rock concert there in 1980. Again I have to guess the location and again it is a patch of concrete in a grassed area (photo right) that seems a probably location. This area is a little further south of the lake and east of the footbridge.
I have also seem an old photo of the bandstand with the theatre in the background which seems to support this theory.
In 2005 a new performance space has been built in the park. One report suggested this was on the site of the old bandstand but I am dubious of that. Certainly however it must cover what was the site of the old theatre. The area is surrounded by low walls and the grass has been made into two or three low tiers. There is a concrete area at the north end for a stage or whatever.
Next to the walled garden is the white building in the photo above left which does look familiar to me but I can't remember exactly why. I suspect it may perhaps have been used to sell refreshments (maybe it still does). There is a visitors centre at the west end. The building is actually a World War II civil defence centre.
Outside here are the only flower beds I noticed in the park outside the walled garden and heading towards Victoria Road and what seems to be the main gates, such as they are, the lake bends round and there is another small island. The water smells awful at this end too.
A slice of the park at the south side was taken for the massive works on the North Circular Road in the 1990s and there was a notorious incident when a much loved 200 year old cedar tree was chopped down in a weasel act of Department of Transport vandalism early one morning while discussions were still going on about how it would be preserved. I never did hear of any individuals being brought to account for this. There is a sculpture made from part of the tree somewhere but I didn't spot it. I had another look in March 2004 and I still couldn't.
I can't say how much of the park was lost, and some of the loss might have been temporary for the duration of the works, and I can't remember if anything in particular was there before. Now on the east side Pymmes Brook emerges from its culvert under Sterling Way for a hundred yards or so before disappearing under Victoria Road and over on the south west corner is a vaguely familiar looking artificial pool which is somewhat green at the moment. I am not sure if this is supposed to be a fish pond, a boating lake or a rather neglected paddling pool but whatever it is supposed to be, it isn't it at the moment!
In March 2004 the water was much clearer but very still and it needed a good clean up.
Since writing the above I have come across an old postcard which seems to show this pond and it is labelled as the "Old People's Garden". This is one of many areas being refurbished in 2005.
The main gates to the park used to be on the south-east corner where Sterling Way (Silver Street as was) met Victoria Road but these were lost to the road building. All along this side, and around some landscaped areas either side of Silver Street station, are some nice new walls and railings and some nice new gates. Unfortunately these nice new gates (above right) open onto a grassed area and are locked so I don't quite get the thinking behind those.
My description above was mostly the result of a look around in 2002 and in 2003 the park was getting a major revamp. Hopefully this will be prove to be more effective than previous projects as over the years I have read time and again of refurbishments of the park. £2.3 million in Heritage Lottery funding was granted in 1999 (sometimes the figures go as high as £3.1 million) and this is still being spent as of 2005 as refurbishment continues.
When I passed the lake earlier in the year (2003) the part nearest the Victoria Road entrance was dry and being dredged. When I finally passed with a camera it was wet again!
It seems the £500,000 desilting operation was completed in April 2003 though raw sewage from misconnected household drains was already polluting it again. This was said by the local papers to come from Pymmes Brook though I've never worked out how as the lake is well above the level of the brook. Older maps do show another watercourse feeding the area where the lake is now but I don't know anything more about it. Even older maps suggest this stream linked up with an old course of Salmon's Brook.
The council and Thames Water had a bit of a bun fight over this sewage problem for several months. It was confirmed the lake was already toxic again and the council apparently blocked the offending inlet much to Thames Water's displeasure. The council's suggestion that this has been a problem for years has led to comments as to the wisdom of spending half a million quid desilting and cleaning the lake when they knew there was this problem.
Walking around the park in March 2004 I noted that the water still had the rather odd teal colour to it but, although a little still, didn't really smell anymore, except by an inlet in the north-west corner (above right). This is rather where I would expect that stream I mentioned to have been originally. It is separated from the lake by a small wall and that means the water on the inlet side is completely stagnant and it smells terrible. I also noted a smaller inlet on the south side of the lake west of the footbridge which looked like it has sandbags around it (above left). This was presumably the problem area.
I've lost track of what happened with this saga but I think eventually Thames Water just diverted what was really supposed to be a surface water drain into a sewer.